The basic premise of a D/s relationship is that someone is the dominant (dom) and someone is the submissive (sub). Although, you may use different titles: Master, Mistress, Daddy, Mommy, Sir, Lord, and Lady are a few examples of the titles sometimes taken on by the dominant while submissives might be called littles, girls, boys, slaves or yet other names. A name may feel more personal or simply more fitting for your particular Dom sub relationship.
These titles may also dictate roles. For example, a Daddy and little relationship often include child-like and parental elements, but not every D/s relationship looks the same. Perhaps you want your D/s relationship to reflect traditional gender roles. Check out domestic discipline.
Similarly, many dominants are sadists, and many submissives are masochists, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. In sensual domination, pain is minimized, and the dominant focuses on providing sensation. More on that in this post.
Your natural proclivities influence your title, role, and activities within a D/s relationship. In this way, every Dom sub relationship is unique and stands out from others. You might have a 24/7 relationship or a more casual D/s relationship. It’s up to you!
Many people feel that the role they play in their D/s relationship is one that’s inherent to their personality. You might not just be playing a dominant, but you are one. The drive to dominate, inflict pain on, care about and protect a person come as naturally to some dominants as does attraction to the opposite sex does to others.
The same goes for submissives; although, switches are people who feel comfortable in both roles and may not identify strongly with either role.
To find out whether you’re more dominant or submissive, take our sexual blueprint test.
Learning Dominance or Submission
Does this mean you can’t enjoy a D/s relationship if you don’t feel this innate draw? Or if your partner doesn’t? It’s true that many people look for potential partners who are already into D/s. Although, a willing partner who is relatively inexperienced when it comes to BDSM might find that they also like donning a dominant or submissive mantle.
However, in some instances, especially for submissives who desire a carnal dominant, changing a vanilla (traditional, non-D/s relationship) relationship to a D/s relationship may not be realistic or satisfying. The situation sometimes arises when a naturally submissive person couples up with someone who isn’t naturally dominant.
While attempting to play the role, the vanilla partner might wind up seeking validation and instruction from the submissive person. In turn, the submissive isn’t able to cede control to someone who is just following direction and not fully feeling the role. Keep this in mind when picking potential partners to avoid disappointment.
Still, it’s not impossible to learn how to become more dominant (or submissive). Another dominant (or submissive) can act as a mentor to help you learn the skills and become comfortable with the role, however.
Find Your Flavor
We listed a few different titles above. These titles help to form your D/s dynamic. You might be turned off from D/s if you don’t find your favorite flavor. For example, you might not want to engage in whipping or wear PVC and leather.
Guess what? You don’t have to! You can engage in light BDSM. Your D/s relationship may include acts of service where the submissive performs an act of service like a maid, chauffeur or waiter might perform. You can choose whether you want to add bondage and discipline if that’s up your alley, but again, you don’t have to.
Related: 8 Ways to Satisfy a Foot Fetish
Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you need to be submissive, either! Many women enjoy being dominant. They’re known as dommes, and your partner might love it if you pick up the flogger! Check out these femdom ideas if this turns you on.
Compare your fetishes with your partners to ensure your Dom sub relationship works for both of you.
Stuck on what you might like to try? This list of kinks and fetishes might help!
If you’re both interested in pushing your Dom/sub relationship to its limits, then keep reading!
The most drastic form a D/s relationship might be 24/7 domination or total power exchange (TPE). People in this type of relationship often use the Master and slave titles, but this isn’t always the case.
In a TPE relationship, you’re always in your role whether you’re in public or even not feeling particularly submissive or dominant. These relationships are particularly demanding. A submissive gives complete control to their dominant, possibly to the point of requiring permission to spend money (financial domination) or go to the bathroom. On the other hand, a dominant becomes completely responsible for a submissive’s health and safety – not to mention sexual satisfaction!
In some TPE relationships, the Master creates all the rules. But a couple may also brainstorm rules that are realistically attainable for their TPE relationship.
Some couples find a 24/7 relationship too difficult to sustain and choose to revert to a more lenient D/s dynamic or only to enjoy bedroom BDSM, instead. Start slow and progress slowly. You can always add intensity, but you may not be able to save your relationship if you dive in head first without doing the prep work.
Common Elements in D/s Relationship
Below you’ll find a few elements that are common to D/s interactions. You can choose to incorporate them as is or modify to meet your needs.
- Contracts outline expectations, roles, medical history, the process of negotiating the relationship and D/s interests and limits. Find examples here.
- A collar is worn around a submissive’s neck to indicate “ownership.” It may be worn permanently or only during scenes. The collar may be an actual collar, and dominants sometimes have a custom collar made. A necklace or other piece of jewelry can take the place of the collar, especially if you wear it in public. Dominants may give collars in collaring ceremonies.
- Training is a way for a submissive to learn activities, poses and even patterns of speech to the domination’s satisfaction. A submissive may be corrected or even disciplined for disobedience, failing to practice or otherwise performing unsatisfactorily.
- Safe words or actions or systems can be used by the submissive and the dominant will respect to slow or halt play. Your safe word can be anything, but you might need to use something other than a word if your play involves mouth bondage. Learn more about safe words in this post.
- Aftercare occurs after a scene. It involves treating your mental and physical state after BDSM activities. Both the dominant and submissive may need aftercare.
Related: The Complete Guide to BDSM Aftercare
Note that these elements can be quite subtle! A D/s relationship doesn’t need to advertise itself obviously if you’re not comfortable with that!
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Adding elements of BDSM or getting into a D/s relationship can be quite exciting! But you should proceed with caution. If regular sex requires thoughtful communication (it does – learn how here), then adding potentially risky activities to your relationship and sex life requires even more discussion!
We’ve already discussed a BDSM contract, which is something you might opt for to ensure you’re on exactly the same page as your partner. Talk about what you’re interested in, what has you worried, fantasies (discover the ten most common fantasies) and fetishes you have, your romantic and sexual history (including any trauma) and your health (diabetes or arthritis may require you to adjust your D/s activities).
The more you talk, the more likely your D/s relationship will provide you with what you need and want from it.
Do You Come Out As Kinky?
Sometimes people who live in D/s relationships come out to the people in their lives, including but not limited to friends, family, doctors and mental health professionals. Coming out may be a necessary part of explaining a collar, bruises incurred during bondage and discipline play or the dynamic of the relationship. However, many people choose not to come out if they can help it because D/s relationships are not always understood and accepted. These people may only be out to other people in the lifestyle or perhaps not at all.
Consider whether the person you want to come out to would be accepting of your D/s relationship. They might have hinted at liking kinky sex themselves, which makes it easier.
If you choose the wrong person, it could jeopardize your family or career. It’s important to choose the first person wisely. Pick someone who is likely to be supportive. But remember that not everyone likes kinky sex or even understands the difference between D/s and abuse (which we’ll touch on later). You might need to artfully change the subject if someone asks about your bruises.
Expect that not everyone will understand. You’ll need to exit the conversation gracefully without making a scene or having an emotional reaction. Of course, it’s understandable if you feel hurt when someone doesn’t understand or outright rejects your D/s relationship. It might feel like a personal attack (and it may actually be one if someone’s reaction is especially poor). This is why it’s important to pick the right people to come out to.
Finding Kink-Aware Professionals
At the very least, we recommend coming out to your doctor or mental health provider. Coming out to your existing professional can be difficult, especially because an interest in BDSM was part of the official manual of mental malfunctions until 2013 .
I enjoy kinky activities including bondage and impact play. The latter caused bruising on my butt.
If your doctor isn’t kink-friendly, you may be shamed for your sextracurricular activities. But it’s important because you might be at risk for certain illnesses and diseases, including Hepatitis C , as well as kink-related injuries. It may be important for your health to find a kink-aware doctor if your experience this.
A D/s Relationship Isn’t Abuse
There’s Room for Negotiation
One of the tenets of a D/s relationship is consent. If both parties sign a contract, they’re consenting. In the popular movie and book 50 Shades of Grey, Christian makes signing the contract feel like an obligation, not an offer.
In real life, you choose whether a contract that works for you (or even if you want to sign a formal contract). You can alter it, too. Furthermore, the option to update the contract and thus the terms of your relationship is always there. Some D/s couples specifically outline when they’ll discuss the terms of their contract (30 days, 3 months, 1 year, etc.).
Even without a contract, your D/s relationship should leave room for renegotiation should you decide you want to try more or less or stop altogether. For example, if you are the victim of sexual assault, the nature of your D/s relationship may need to change so you can heal.
Consent is Key
All of this harkens back to the idea of consent. Everything that happens in a D/s relationship requires consent, even if it doesn’t look like that from the outside. This is true for everything from hardcore consensual nonconsent (rape play) to the lightest of bondage. You say “Yes,” or it doesn’t happen.
For the dominant who receives consent from a submissive, receiving consent is an honor that comes with great responsibility. It’s also a reassurance that this person wants to engage in play, even the type that could be risky. If you have to coerce someone into having sex with you, being in a D/s relationship with you or signing a contract, it doesn’t really show that they’re interested in it, so why would you want to?
Whether you personally understand the draw of a D/s relationship or BDSM, in general, it doesn’t revoke the fact that consent is a cornerstone of these interactions. In fact, there are two guiding principles that kinksters like to follow, and both emphasize consent:
SSC stands for safe, sane and consensual, and RACK stands for risk, aware, consensual kink. The main difference is that RACK highlights that BDSM always involves inherent risk, even with lighter activities. Risk can be mitigated, but safety can never be guaranteed.
With that in mind, there’s a world of difference between abuse and D/s relationships or BDSM. Consent and context matter. While someone might be a masochist who enjoys a flogging when highly aroused, they’re unlikely to enjoy being sucker-punched during a fight. As an outsider or onlooker, you just might not see that consent and context.
A D/s Relationship Won’t Fix Your Problems
While D/s relationships can be healthy – some studies suggest that kinky folks experience better mental health than their vanilla counterparts  – a D/s relationship isn’t going to fix your problems. The only exception is if you and your partner have kinky inclinations and both want to try D/s. But if your relationship is already struggling, the additional element of D/s isn’t going to be your saving grace just like having a baby, getting married or opening up your marriage won’t save a floundering relationship.
If your relationship is experiencing troubles, work on these troubles first before even thinking about transitioning to a D/s dynamic.
Not every relationship can or should be a D/s relationship. But for some people, this type of relationship is fulfilling in ways that a vanilla relationship can never be. With the proper care and feeding, your D/s relationship can shower you with rewards that make it well worth the effort.