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The Nuances of Power Equations in BDSM

Apparently, everything in the world is about sex. And sex is about power. In most cases, we see instances of this power being abused. It is because of the convention of who holds power – social, legal, financial or other forms – in sex, that a lot of men are able to get away with rape, marital or otherwise. It is again because of who is conventionally seen to hold power – of beauty, seduction, pleasure or something else in bed – that some of the most powerful women in history have also been sexually very active and beautiful. So much so, that non-binary genders and asexual people are not even taken into consideration.

The fact remains that power equations in sex are driven by multiple factors. Irrespective of the gender or sexual orientation of the people involved, the only way the scales of power can be balanced in favour of everyone involved, is through explicit, well-informed consent. Sure, we could debate these riders and what they mean, but that’s a topic for a separate discussion.

What is more interesting to me as a BDSM practitioner is that there are also lifestyle choices where the power dynamic is willingly consented to. For instance, what happens when a Submissive consciously chooses to let their Dominant control their time together? What happens when a consenting adult willingly surrenders all their rights to their partner in spirit, if not legally?  Would one call it abuse, conditioning, manipulation or self-awareness and mutual comfort?

What also interests me and many other practitioners is the nuanced nature of these interactions. While some people submit only in the bedroom,  some submit more than there; others, much more; and some others, totally. Let’s look at some of these nuances.

The most basic form of Dominant-Submissive (D/S) interactions is that between a Top and a Bottom. The Top-Bottom dynamic is most common in the bedroom or in intimate interactions, which kinksters often call ‘play’. The Top is the ‘giver’ and the Bottom the ‘receiver’. For instance, in case of a spanking, the person who spanks becomes the Top and the person who gets spanked is the Bottom.

But this is not the only kind of interaction that happens. The Dominant needs a Submissive counterpart.  The Switch can both submit and dominate and hence, gets the best of both worlds. In fact, if one looks deeper, there are switches who can play both the roles with the same person. There are also Switches who can only Top person A and be a Bottom to person B. Such a relationship is often more intense and encompassing than the Top-Bottom dynamic. It usually also includes the non-sexual, mental and the emotional spaces of the people involved.

Typically, while a Top and a Bottom are involved only in sessions, a Dominant and their Submissive may actually end up discussing finances, children, professions and often times Dominants may instruct a Submissive on behaviour modifications outside their relationship as well. In cases like this, the dynamics would border upon mentorship.[1]

There is the Daddy/Mommy who takes care of a Baby Girl / Baby Boy. This dynamic for instance should not be confused with incest, or role-play or even age-play. For most people who practice this kind of dynamic, this is their way to care and be cared for. It is also not uncommon to see that the Daddy or the Mommy is usually a relatively older partner. However, that is not necessary. Is it similar to women seeking partners like their fathers, or men like their mothers? Is this similar to the Oedipus-Electra complex? I cannot say.

Last but not least, there is the other end of the extreme of TPE (Total Power Exchange) relationships, like Mistress/Master-Slave or the Owner-Property/Pet dynamics. These are situations where one person trusts and loves the other so much that they are happy to belong to their partner in totality.

Such relationships are usually not legally valid and are punishable by the law of the land if exposed thus. However, who is anyone to judge whether or not they are valid emotionally and morally, especially if they are consensual? After all, since morality is subjective, one can’t stereotype any relationship, even those that seem violent or painful.[2]

Even where one or more partners are asexual, there are instances of them finding comfortable, clearly communicated Domestic-Discipline and Domestic-Servitude dynamics. In cases like these, the Submissive takes the responsibility of the chores and the Dominant assumes the role and the responsibility of a disciplinarian. They may or may not have other partners as a part of the household.

While I have listed most of these dynamics in the order of their increasing intensity, I suggest caution in conflating intensity with meaningfulness or permanence. Some people may start off and jump into a Master-Slave relationship, only to realise that they may be a Master and a Slave in their own right, but are not mutually compatible. Similarly, some people could have been a Top and a Bottom to each other for years, while only being social acquaintances or friends outside the bedroom.

Clearly, transience and fulfilment aren’t synonymous with the intensity and encompassing nature of the dynamics in these examples. However, what is certainly clear in these cases is that there is a  power dynamic, which is both driven by and drives the sexuality of the people involved.

What is paramount however in this discussion is the importance of valid, informed and explicit consent of all parties. In fact, it is consent that differentiates these power dynamics from the usual social conditioning that expects people to play specific gender roles. It is consent that differentiates the ability of people to find pleasure in sexual expressions which may otherwise not be considered acceptable. To say that everything is about sex and sex is about power is not accurate. Instead the new dictum could be, Everything is about freedom of expression of sexuality or the lack of it, and freedom is about consent and respect”.

 

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[1] An excerpt from BDSM Concepts: A Practical Guide by Asmi Uniqus.

[2] An excerpt from BDSM Concepts: A Practical Guide by Asmi Uniqus.

Cover Image: Pixabay

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Article written by:

Asmi is an active BDSM practitioner, lifestyle coach based in India, a writer and a vocal, empowering person, who experiments actively with BDSM, feminism, LGBT, sexuality and erotica. She is very active in several real-world BDSM communities and has close connections with a wide spectrum of other practitioners both in India and globally. She has authored a series of 3 books about various aspects of BDSM, available on kindle. She can be reached on Facebook or via email at: asmi.uniqus@gmail.com

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