BDSM...the four best letters in the alphabet for anyone with a kinky bone in their body.
If you’re here, you’re likely familiar with the term. But if not - here’s a little crash-course: BDSM stands for Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism, and Masochism. While most of us know what it stands for, not everyone really knows what it means...because BDSM is more than just how you conduct yourself in the bedroom.
Various parts of the BDSM culture have been claimed as lifestyles, ways of identifying, ways of proclaiming what you like and who you are as a sexual being.
And obviously, there’s the crazy hot sex - that’s also in there.
Today we’re going to talk about what it’s like to be dominant in bed. What it means to self-identify as a dom, what BDSM terms you should be familiar with, consent of your submissive partner (which is very important), and how to be a good dominant partner.
First things first...let’s talk about what being dominant in bed really means. Many people assume that because you’ve taken on the dominant role, you’re “in charge” of the scene or situation.
It’s easy to think that slapping on some leather, holding a flogger and being a bit bossy is enough to dub yourself a dom, but there’s far more to it than that.
In fact, the most important thing to remember about being a dominant personality in the bedroom is that it’s not just about being “in charge”...it’s about being the leader in a story you both have written, together.
Think of being a dom as being a kind of leader that’s sole purpose is the sexual gratification of everyone in their command. A good leader knows when to listen to their troops, they know when to push forward and when to pause...when to listen and when to take action. They are in charge of making sure the mission is carried out properly. In this case, the mission is mind-blowing sex in a safe and consensual environment.
While you may be giving instructions, they should most definitely be instructions you know your sub is comfortable following. As I said...being a dom is so much more than just telling your sub what to do and how to do it.
Kinkly puts it best when they say “at best, you are a co-author in this story.”
Being a dom doesn’t mean you can set the scene and act like a dictator/director, calling the shots and having someone follow your lead without question.
That’s not how healthy sex works, but it can be incredibly easy to power-trip when given the metaphorical reigns (or literal reigns, if your partner is into being leashed) in a sexual situation.
How do you actually become a dom?
Well, being dominant can be anything from a wardrobe style choice to a selection of words you use in the bedroom that makes you feel powerful and strong. It can be about how you conduct yourself, what you’re called or how your body moves during sex.
But by far the most important thing about being dominant in bed is knowing the importance of communication and making sure that line stays open, and things go according to the plan you’ve set out together.
People who experience domspace or topspace explain it like being high on drugs with an amplified sense of power, control and a sort of out-of-body feeling.
You’re not you, not anymore - you’re the master, a dominant.
This kind of altered state of mind can be kind of intense. The dominant person channels their dominant personality into the BDSM scene, often closing out the outside world.
This can be an incredibly intoxicating place to be, and many people lust after finding their own dom-space, but keep in mind it can be a bit dangerous though because as a dominant there is a very important power that lies with you in being sensitive to your partner’s safe words and limits.
It’s incredibly important to have ways of “grounding” yourself for when you get too far into this alternate personality because you don’t want to lose the connection and safe-space you’ve created with your submissive. Sometimes the couple will set aside another safe-word to use specifically when the dom in the scene has gone too far into their alter-ego, to help pull them back to reality.
This is also often referred to as being in your topspace.
While many people don’t inherently go to this place when they participate in a BDSM scene where they are the dominant partner, it’s said to be a kind of euphoric feeling and many people try to chase the idea of being in their own dom-space. But the easiest way to feel this is to let go and immerse yourself into the scene you’re in, be completely in the moment.
RACK (or Safe, Sane & Consensual):
Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK) is often used to describe situations in kink where some risk is present. If you’re familiar with kink, you’ll know that many fetishes and kinks involve a bit of risk - so this acronym is incredibly important.
These risks can be anything: say your partner has self-harmed in the past and you’re interested in knife play...there’s an obvious trigger/relapse risk there for them.
Or say you are prone to anxiety attacks but also love to have thrilling sex...the risk of a panic attack happening during sex is very high when you’re dealing with more out-of-the-box kinks. It can even be something a bit more physical, like if your partner has a bad back but also enjoys being tied up...there is a physical risk there you both need to be aware of.
Communication is important with things that can carry some risk during sex. This talk doesn’t have to be a long and overly-complicated one, it can be something as simple as setting a safe word or checking in with your partner throughout the games to make sure they are still in a good head-space.
D/s is something you may see when cruising through your favorite porn site, dating app or fetish-friendly online forum...it means dom/sub or dominant/submissive. This can be used to explain what you are looking for in a sexual relationship or can be used to describe a scene.
Top/Bottom are often used to refer to your sexual identity, many people associate being a “top” with being dominant and being a “bottom” as being submissive, but this isn’t always the case.
For example, it’s totally possible to identify yourself as a top without taking on a dominant personality or alter ego. Likewise, it’s very possible to be a bottom in a scene without being totally submissive.
It may be easiest to think of “top” and “bottom” to explain temporary shifts of power, sometimes you want to be in charge and sometimes you don’t. Whereas with the terms “dom” and “sub”, many people will tell you this is a lifestyle, a persona, a way of being - instead of just a one-time preference.
These are the potential titles of your dominant personality - many people prefer to be called Mister/Master or Mistress/Queen, some like to be referred to as royalty and some like to be referred to as more of a position of power, like Commander or Master.
However, for people who participate in dominance in the bedroom, these are far more than just their preferred names, these are who they become, an alter-ego, another way of being when you are in a scene.
Aftercare (in the world of BDSM and sex) refers to the time and attention shared between two (or more) people after sexual activity. This time can be a pretty broad thing, but most of the time it includes conversations, cuddling, or doing something together like watching a movie, for example).
Galen Fous (a sex educator and kink-positive therapist whose name many of you might be familiar with), aftercare can look different to every one, since sexual preferences and experiences can be so different themselves.
In the most basic form, aftercare means communicating and caring for one another in some way after sex. This ensures that all parties involved are comfortable, satisfied and happy with what transpired. Which, you can imagine, is very important when it comes to the edgier and “pushing it to the limits” kind of fetishes.
Now, sex etiquette is important, even if you’re the one on top.
Maybe even *especially* if you’re the one on top because the sub in your little game will be following your lead. Your goal is to make this a safe, consensual, pleasure-filled space, and there are right ways (and wrong ways) to do that.
So let’s talk about dom etiquette...
Whatever role you take on between the sheets (or in the playroom), there is one critical thing to remember: a relationship is ultimately a partnership. It doesn’t matter what kind of partnership you’re in (monogamous, polyamorous, a one-night stand or something more long term) - a partnership takes two people to work...and those two people are not you and your bedroom alter-ego.
If D/s is more of a “way of life” for your relationship…
Some couples do enjoy exploring their dom/sub personalities outside of the bedroom and in their relationships, but this can be a slippery slope.
You not only need to be on the same page about this, but you need to be looking at the same letter of the same word on the same line of that same page.
If your d/s personas trickle into “real life”, you need to communicate very well with your partner that this is what you both want - otherwise resentment, fear, instability and maybe even hostility can grow into the relationship.
If you want to keep the d/s game in the bedroom?
Being a dom lets you engage with your inner badass, bringing out feelings of power, control, and domination (obviously)...and as we mentioned above, it can be really easy to get sucked into this new personality. Power, after all, is addicting... so how do you ensure your role stays only in the bedroom and doesn’t spill over into the more serious sides of your relationship?
Check-in with your partner.
After the deed is done, check-in with your partner. You can talk about how things went during this particular session or you can even talk about something as simple as what’s for dinner or a favorite TV show.
Discussing how you both felt during that scene can not only be a good method of self-care but you can also take that time to have a breather (if you’ve worked yourselves, up - which I’m hoping you have) and to talk about what you’d like the next time to be like.
Something as simple as talking to your partner about everyday life is a good way to help you leave your bedroom alter-ego and re-enter the role in the relationship you normally take.
Have safe-talk specifically for this.
Sometimes your partner can get through to you in ways other people in your life can’t...and sometimes they have trouble getting their point across...it happens. Having a safe-word that acts as a catalyst for talking about things during the session that didn’t go according to plan or got a bit out of control can help create a safe space for you and your partner to connect and talk.
When you get an idea (particularly one that involves you feeling immense pleasure), it can be hard to let that idea go. Kinks and fetishes become addictive for this reason...we want what makes us feel good, we fantasize about it, we over-think it, we plan it...we can even become a bit obsessive over it.
But what do you do if your partner isn’t interested in doing certain things you really want to do? While we’ve written a post all about what to do if your partner hates your kink, there is something a bit more delicate about respecting boundaries within the confines of a BDSM relationship.
Your partner has boundaries, they have limits...and while BDSM can be about flirting with your limits, pushing past what your lover is comfortable with can be detrimental in many ways.
Practicing healthy forms of BDSM is about experiencing pleasure (of course) - but it’s also about building this trust and connection between two consenting adults and sharing your wildest, deepest (and sometimes darkest) desires.
Breaking that trust by pushing too far can cause damage to the relationship that simply cannot be repaired.
We’ve mentioned it before, but now is a perfect time to talk about the high that comes with being a dom, and how to leave that high behind once the games are over.
Who you are in the bedroom can be a healthy addition to who you are, if you are able to have some kind of separation between the two. This line can be really blurred for many reasons...maybe you’re in the sex work industry and channeling your inner dom is part of your job. Or maybe you and your lover spend a lot of time in your playroom and you’re finding it hard to leave your dom at the door, so to speak.
Leaving dom-space can be difficult because you can experience something called a dom-drop. This is like the crash after the high, an extreme drop or dip in your emotions...some people even feel a bit of a physical drop as well...a kind of lull.
Why do people feel dom-drops or a “low” after being dominant?
The reason is quite simple: you had something, and now you don’t have it anymore. Being dominant can feel intoxicating...and when it’s time for that to be over, that can feel like you’ve plummeted from the top floor penthouse down to the pits of the sewers.
While you may think that analogy is a bit extreme, it really can feel like you’ve traded lives with someone more exciting, someone more powerful, someone more passionate...and then was switched back to being “just you”.
This kind of drop is extremely important to acknowledge. The best way is to use some kind of self-care, reflection or additional connection, intimacy or time spent with your partner to help you “come down” from your alter-ego headspace.
Communication is key.
Isn’t that true with practically everything? Yep! And for good reason...communication really is important. A good dom knows when to listen to their partner when to push when to ease up...but mostly, a good Master knows when their sub has had enough.
Listen for safe words and get to know your partner’s body language for signs that they are ready to stop.
You’re the leader...and the leader keeps everyone safe.
While you may not be “in charge”, being a dom means leading everyone into sensual, orgasmic, safely-achieved bliss.
Discussing safe words beforehand, making sure all sex toys are in working condition, making sure any rigs or ropes you’re using are tied correctly...all of this is important in keeping you and your lover(s) safe and happy.
Work through the awkward and find your stride.
Being dominant doesn’t come naturally for everyone, and if this is something that is a bit new to you, it can feel a bit abnormal and strange to step into this role (no matter how much you want it).
Take your time and experiment with different things...change the way you speak, how you breathe, how you carry yourself, how you walk...slowly you will find things that feel natural to you. It’s totally normal to need a bit of an adjustment period when it comes to stepping into your dom-outfit.
Speaking of dom-outfits...get into character.
A dom’s wardrobe is much more than just fabric...it’s a uniform. When you lace up your leather and slide that flogger into your hand, you become someone else. You take on a new way of being, you may even have different mannerisms or ways of speaking.
Different looks bring out different personalities, so try a few different things until you find something that feels right.
Everyone does D/s differently… it’s important to remember this when changing partners.
People are very different, even people who like the same things as them in different ways. If you are with multiple submissives, it’s very important to remember they are two distinctly different people...with different limits, different safe words/gestures, different tastes and different desires.