BDSM (as most of us know by now) stands for bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism. I want to focus on the D/s in BDSM, and more specifically, the D - because being a dominant takes a lot of practice, self-control, self-awareness, and respect for your partner.
I’ve previously written about some of the things you need to know about being dominant in bed: things like respecting your submissive’s boundaries and keeping your ego in check...but I’ve really only scratched the surface with that article.
Now, I’m in a monogamous long-term relationship with my dominant, but I would say I’m still somewhat active in the BDSM community (and have been for about two years now) through research and participation in various BDSM forums online.
First, let me start by saying this: having dominant tendencies in the bedroom is not inherently one or the other (healthy or unhealthy)...it’s the ways you express that dominance that can be either healthy or unhealthy.
Throughout this article, I’ll be comparing the two a lot (unhealthy and healthy dominant behaviors). I’ll be using male (dominance)/female (submissive) language simply because that is what I know best - but these rules can go for doms and dommes alike.
Are you new to the BDSM (dominant) scene? Well, let’s start you off just right with some tips on how to become the good kind of dominant.
Lesson one: the dom really doesn’t have all the control. At first glance, it may seem that way - but really, if we’re measuring who has the most say in things, it may even be the submissive.
While I like to refer to the dominant as being “the leader of a story you’ve written together”, some suggest that the submissive actually holds all the cards. Their willingness to give up control is what ultimately allows the dominant to have that control. If the submissive isn’t willing, there really isn’t a scene to be played.
Lesson two: you don’t just “become” a dominant. It’s something that requires practice, learning, understanding, and patience. Especially if you want to be a good dominant (which you do) - then you’re going to need to control your urges and hone in on your submissive’s needs and desires.
Additionally, you’re going to need to check your ego at the door here - at least for a while. While there is a certain part of dominance that requires a bit of confidence, having an ego is what gets many doms checking the ‘red flags” list of toxic dom traits.
Put your ego aside and acknowledge that you may not know all the answers straight away - you may not know how to act in certain situations until you read about it or experience it. Even then, you can always learn how to better care for your submissive with each new experience.
Lastly, this experience will look so different for everyone. Reading, watching, learning, asking questions - all of that is so, so helpful and I highly recommend you spend time doing it if you want to better yourself as a dominant. However, ultimately, your dynamic with your submissive is going to be something extremely personal and independent from everything you’ve ever read.
Think of the resources (like this) as tools for you and your submissive to create a well-functioning, healthy, balanced D/s team.
Some of the more toxic dominants I’ve come into contact with will often use the excuse of “just being a hard dominant”. These are people who claim to be dominants (Alphas, Masters, whatever title they think they’ve earned) but have no actually put in the work to ensure they are being the right kind of dominant.
It can be extremely scary to come across one of these “toxic” dominants. Inherently, as a submissive, I look to dominants to lead the narrative, as do most submissives. In this lifestyle, sometimes you feel a “pull” towards certain people (whether it be physical attraction or the intense feelings that can build between a dominant and submissive) - but giving your trust to a toxic dominant can be devastating.
Likewise, if you’re a dominant person, not recognizing some of your own behaviors as toxic or harmful can be incredibly damaging to your own growth as a dominant person. Perhaps you’re new to the scene and aren’t aware that the things you’re doing are harmful - or maybe you’re a veteran Dom who has always done things a certain way but never stopped to think about how that way could be improved for the sake of everyone involved.
Regardless...it’s extremely important to understand the difference between a dominant that is hard and a dominant that is just downright toxic.
A soft dominant is someone who asks you to obey instead of demanding it. They can push your boundaries and are consistent in their role, but in a more gentle manner.
They may give soft commands that are based more on encouragement than on fear or degradation. A soft dom may verbally check-in throughout playtime and will be extremely affectionate during aftercare.
A hard dominant is someone who demands that you obey them. They will get off on making you obey and can push limits, giving more harsh commands. Hard dominants may look for ways to have you use your safeword. They may use degradation and pain to get the submissive where they want.
A hard dom may verbally check-in throughout playtime, but may also just focus more on body language and stop only when the safeword or gesture is given. Hard doms can also be extremely affectionate during aftercare.
Hard or soft dom, if it’s done right, both can be equally positive. Hard doms just have a different goal and mindset than soft doms. A soft dom may focus less on aggression and ownership, but with a hard dominant, those things could be paramount.
It’s very possible to be a hard dom without being a toxic one.
A toxic dom, on the other hand, can be a nightmare. A toxic dominant will not put their submissive’s needs and limits above their own desires. A toxic dominant will push things, and not in a good way, to get what they want.
This can look like many things, but here are some giant red flags when it comes to toxic dominant behavior:
When discovering what traits are good and bad in dominant leaning people, I realized there are quite a few things that being a dom should (and shouldn’t) be...so I created a little list.
Open communication and negotiation are the pillars of a healthy BDSM relationship. As a dominant, you are “in charge” of your submissive - this doesn’t just mean they are eager to please you. This means remembering their safe words and gestures, their limits, what they’ve said they are and aren’t comfortable with, etc.
This is one of the main reasons you can’t just “become” a dominant, that a dominant is something that is built up over time, because it takes time and effort to communicate with each other until terms have been reached. Once you have that solidified, it becomes much easier to naturally slip into D/s playtime together.
This is something that (surprising to some) needs to be spelled out in big block letters.
Just because you are the dominant, does not mean you can do whatever you want whenever you want to do it. That’s not how this works.
Your submissive, should they choose to give you the gift of their submission, trusts you to stay within the boundaries they’ve outlined for you. This can be difficult as a dominant (more on that below), but it’s extremely important.
This is the big one. Being a dominant sometimes means having your submissive give you what they want (when this is what pleasures both people)...but sometimes it means having to go without what you want. In fact, sometimes it means stopping something that feels good in order to respect your submissive’s limits.
Stopping something that you want, something that feels good in order to care for submissive is extremely important if that’s what they need, but it can be incredibly difficult to do. This is the main reason why being a dominant takes plenty of self-control and it’s important to take things slow in the beginning of new D/s relationships.
Just because you meet someone who is submissive does not mean they will (or should) be submissive to you. Submissiveness (like dominance) is a gift. It’s something that is built between two people.
Becoming someone’s dominant is a very meaningful position of trust.
Just because you like to be bossy and dominant doesn’t mean you’re entitled to be that way with any (or all) of your sexual partners. As I said, dominance is a position of trust that’s given to you, not something you’re inherently able to become with someone when you want to.
A lot of importance is placed on submissiveness because it means putting your trust into a dominant to be careful with you, to push you (in the right ways) and to use you how you’ve consented to be used.
Being a dominant is also just as intimate and meaningful. Dominants need aftercare, they need reassurance sometimes, they need to know they’ve done well in their leading role and this isn’t an easy thing to embrace with someone when you don’t have that solid D/s foundation into place yet.
Many of the “fake” or toxic dominants I’ve come across all have something (many things, but this one in particular) in common: they are in it for themselves. They want submission the way they want it, when they want it and from whoever they want it from. There’s no patience, no courting, no negotiating, no communication. These are the types of people who scroll through Twitter calling submissives they find attractive “my baby girl” or “my good girl”, not understanding that those terms can be incredibly sacred between two people.
In my research, I came across this heartbreaking article. If you decide to read through the article, please be aware that it does detail emotional abuse of a submissive at the hands of a toxic “dominant” (if he even deserves that title, which he doesn’t.)
“When I first met him, I was over the moon, and he apparently was, too. Things moved so quickly that within a month or two, we were discussing moving in together,” the person explains about the day they met their now ex.
“We are both into the BDSM lifestyle, and he was both my boyfriend and my Dom. He would test my limits, and I would tell him “please don’t do this without verbally warning me beforehand.” He would abide by that for a while until he “forgot” and did it again without the verbal warning we’d agreed was necessary.”
This is a big red flag for toxic dominant behavior. I definitely don’t shame this person for not seeing it - on the contrary, I think it’s very common for submissives to not be able to see the kind of toxic dominant behaviors like this. However, a dominant doesn’t “forget” safewords or limitations put into place by someone you care about...they simply don’t acknowledge them for selfish reasons.
“He would tell me things like he was being supportive and patient with me to help me heal, and I felt like nobody else would ever be that kind or compassionate with me. I felt that I was too damaged for anyone else to be willing to deal with me. I now realize that he systematically, slowly, broke down my self-esteem and sense of self-worth until I was fully dependent upon his approval.”
The reader goes on to explain the damage caused by having this kind of “dominant” in her life.
Articles like this are the biggest reason why it’s important to understand toxic dominant behavior and call it out when you do see it.
Do you think there’s a chance the D/s relationship you’re in may be abusive? Give this article a read.
While we’re on the topic of red-flags, let’s discuss some “dominant” behavior that needs to be put to an end immediately. Whether you yourself realize you’ve been doing some of these things or the dominant you know has been - they are things that are not part of a healthy D/s relationship.
As outlined in the emotional article I discussed above, there is ownership (the sexy spit-in-my-mouth, tell-me-how-to-cum-for-you) kind, and then there is ownership of another kind...a kind where the dominant systematically takes control of the submissive’s life in ways that are extremely unhealthy.
This can be something as simple as telling you they don’t want you in contact with other people from the BDSM community (for whatever reason) or as intense as not “allowing” you to talk to your friends or family.
It’s very true that sometimes a submissive desires to be broken down during play (degraded, humiliated, mocked, etc) - but this should only ever happen when there is a solid build-back-up plan. This should be accompanied (or follow up by) praise, affirmations and aftercare.
Dominants who simply seek to use their submissive and not follow up with any aftercare are extremely toxic.
Don’t commit to a scene unless you can commit to the entire scene and the aftercare it may entail. A really big problem is when a dominant wants to play, gets what they need from the submissive and then is not present for any form of aftercare. When a dominant becomes cold and distant after playtime, this can be extremely difficult for a submissive, especially if they are in the very delicate trance of subspace.
If there are insults being thrown that the submissive didn’t specifically consent to (especially if these happen outside of playtime) this is a huge red flag and most of the time (in my experience) an indication of other harmful relationship tendencies this person may have.
You can be a good dominant to one person and a bad dominant to someone else. This is a very, very important truth that needs to be understood.
Now...you may not have this with every submissive you meet. There are some people that bring out different qualities in us. Being a good dominant to one person doesn’t mean you will be a good dominant to someone else. This is why staying in tune with yourself (and regularly checking in with your partners) is important.
Becoming a good dominant with healthy behaviors is an incredibly important thing to do. Opening yourself up to learning and being okay with evolving your own understanding of what it means to be a good dominant for your submissive can help you become the dominant they deserve.
You may be the storyteller, but you’re not the only author. This story was written by both the submissive and the dominant. You’re in this together.
Respecting safewords is an obvious one, but getting to know your submissive in intimate ways can allow you to read their body language in certain situations. Pay attention to the way your submissive acts during scenes and always strive to ensure they are comfortable, safe and happy.
Becoming a dominant can be tricky. There’s a reason why “domspace” or “topspace” exists - there is a reason why many people find it difficult to be dominant...it can be a little bit of a power trip. It can feel exciting, to have this newfound “power”, and abusing that to get what you want might not always be something you do intentionally.
Be willing to ask yourself hard questions to ensure you’re really putting the safety and comfort of your submissive above your own desires.
Dom/mes have limits too, you know. You’re not unbreakable. Dom/mes need aftercare and reassurance, they need that connection as much as the submissive does sometimes. And that’s more than okay. During negotiations and communications, don’t be afraid to voice your own limits and needs.
It’s not easy to admit when you’ve made a mistake, especially during sex, and very especially when that mistake could have caused your submissive to feel badly. However, admitting you’ve made a mistake and being present for the aftermath of that (whatever that looks like) is key to ensuring it doesn’t happen again.
If I can leave you with one final piece of advice on how to be a good dom/me, it’s this: listen to your submissive. Listen to what they need, how they feel, what they are thinking. Before, during and especially after scenes. Aftercare is incredibly important and can be a very surreal experience for both dominants and submissives - navigating that together is the best way to do it.