Being dominant isn’t about being “in charge”, it’s about being the leader in a story you’ve written together. Being submissive isn’t about submitting without question, it’s about trusting someone enough to want to submit to them.
These are two fundamental truths you need to acknowledge and understand in order to be in a healthy D/s relationship.
This article will focus mostly on submissives who need to watch for “red flags” in potential/current dominant partners.
Being submissive is about being able to be submissive and feeling comfortable at your most vulnerable. To give that vulnerability to someone as a gift can be an incredibly powerful and emotional thing. It’s intimate and exciting and very easy to get caught up in. However, being caught up in your dominant partner (and the excitement of the BDSM lifestyle) may cause you to overlook some warning signs of unhealthy or even toxic dominant behaviors.
Below is a list of red flags for dominant behavior. These are things that may seem insignificant at the time but might be indicators of larger problems in your dynamic.
A healthy D/s relationship consists of a kind of “give and take.” Despite being the submissive, you don’t need to give more than your dominant. There should be a basic understanding, a layer of respect, trust, and compatibility that you can build upon. In order to create this base layer, both parties need to be contributing to it.
A dominant doesn’t just become a dominant to someone - this is an earned position. As a submissive, you know this - you know that your submission isn’t just given to anyone who claims to be a dom/me.
This kind of relationship is something you build up to, not something you just are entitled to having because you claim the title of “dominant”. If you notice a dominant in your life is becoming more demanding without contributing anything (either to the base layer of trust and respect or during playtime), then they may have self-serving interests that can negatively impact you as a submissive.
A dominant can be incredibly charming and, in some ways, irresistible. What they shouldn’t be is intimidating. Being attracted to someone’s dominant side is totally normal (especially if you’re naturally a submissive), but knowing the difference between domination and intimidation can be incredibly important in helping you find a dom/me who really cares about you.
Using intimidating language (such as “or else” or “because I said so…”) can be red flags for unhealthy dominant behaviors. Of course, as a dominant, they may boss you around - maybe even at your request. However, these things need to be discussed and agreed upon first, or they can end up being the start of unhealthy dominant tendencies.
If there is anything I’ve learned in the last 2 years, it’s that the BDSM community can be incredibly helpful. Relying on people who understand the kind of sex you have, the way you express your sexuality and the importance of certain things within the BDSM lifestyle (like trust, boundaries, consent, safewords, etc) can be really helpful in exploring who you are as a submissive.
When you talk so openly about sex and relationships, it can be very easy to become attached to members of the community. This is okay, as long as you’re not crossing boundaries that your dominant/partner would not be okay with. However, your dominant/partner shouldn’t be monitoring or restricting your access to others in the community.
If you notice that your dominant is sneaking around, attempting to spy on your interactions with others or wanting you to cut ties with people in the community who you’ve become close with - this can be a red flag. Of course, if there is cause for concern (like you’ve become unhealthily attached to someone else who is not your dominant/partner), then this behavior isn’t exactly justified but more understandable.
However, if you notice this behavior from your dominant when you’ve really given them no reason to distrust you and simply want to rely on the community for support, this is a big problem.
Limits and boundaries are some of the most important things you can set in your D/s relationship. While your dominant should always respect your hard limits, it’s natural to attempt to push soft limits in the name of exploration, adventure, and “trying it out” - but your dominant should only ever “push” you in ways you’re comfortable with and have discussed beforehand.
If you notice your dominant attempting to push your boundaries in the middle of a scene without having discussed that first, they may be doing it for their own gain, because they want more, without considering how you feel about it.
If you notice your dominant pushing your soft boundaries in a way that you’re uncomfortable with (by using guilt or manipulation), put an end to the scene and have a conversation about why you want to push boundaries, what your limits are in that and how you’d like them to push you.
If you notice your dominant experiencing excessive mood swings when it comes to playtime and aftercare, this may be a reason to pause and re-evaluate. This could be many things, from mental health struggles to identity struggles to just bad, unhealthy, and toxic dominant behavior. As a submissive, you need to look out for yourself. When you notice these types of hot-and-cold mood swings from your dominant partner, talk to them about it.
It could be that your partner is struggling with top/dom space, is having trouble leveling out, or is experiencing something else entirely that is permitting them from acting like the responsible and caring dom they should be.
As a submissive, this can be a very painful and scary thing to experience with a dominant partner, especially if they don’t usually act this way. Taking a step back, pressing pause, and communicating with your dominant when they are acting unusually is a very important care ritual you should always be willing to practice in your D/s relationships.
Aftercare is so very important, and how much effort someone puts into aftercare can be a very big indicator of how they view their D/s relationship with you. Toxic dominant behavior will have the dominant not putting in much effort (if any at all) in aftercare. They may even appear cold or distant once playtime is over.
Even if your dominant does participate in aftercare, if you find they are not very attentive or not giving you the kind of support you need (after you’ve explained what you require from aftercare), they may be placing more importance on the “fun” aspects of BDSM rather than the important stuff like ensuring you’re safe and comfortable after a scene.
Subspace (like domspace), can be an incredibly scary thing to go through if you’ve never experienced it before. Even if you have experienced it, having someone there you trust to guide you through to normality is important. If you find, for whatever reason, you don’t trust your dominant to help you level back out after playtime, there may be a bigger problem between you.
Just because you are a submissive does not mean you are not in control. In fact, some may argue that you are very in control, as you are choosing to submit to your dominant and choosing to trust them. You can revoke that trust at any point, and the fun would be over. While it’s never good to argue over who has the most power (after all, a good D/s relationship will be based on underlying equality and respect, even if one plays as the superior and the other plays as the submissive).
If your dominant is asking you to do things simply because you’re the submissive and should follow their instructions, this is no good. A good dominant will ask you to obey them because you want to. A good dominant will be happy that you trust and respect them enough to submit to them. A big red flag when it comes to dominance is just expecting submission in whatever way they desire without actually earning that submission.
If your dominant has a sense of entitlement to you and suggests that you need to obey them because you’re submissive and they are dominant, they may be using your D/s relationship just to have someone make them feel powerful.
A good dominant should never resort to guilt trips or condescending nature in order to get a submissive to submit. In fact, their goal should never be to “get” a submissive to do anything. Good dominants will understand that this kind of relationship comes in stages, it takes time, and that they cannot really “make” their submissive do anything.
If you find your dominant using manipulation to guilt you into doing things (even if they are things you’re okay with doing), this is a very big red flag. Similarly, if you find your dominant speaks down to you in a way that’s condescending (in ways you haven’t consented to), this is also an indicator of bad dom/me behavior. For example: as a bratty submissive, I love to be degraded, but there is a key difference between agreed-upon degradation and just being a condescending, rude person.
If your dom/me has an air of confidence to them, that’s great. In fact, for many submissives, that’s what is so alluring. The confidence, the magnetism…I get it - but you can be dominant without being an asshole to everyone around you. (There, I said it).
If you find your dominant to be a little “rough around the edges”, okay - but if you find your dominant to be blatantly rude to people both inside (and specifically outside) of the BDSM community, you may have a bigger problem.
Despite what they may have you believe, being dominant isn’t about rising up above everyone else so they are all below you and need to submit to you. Being a good dominant is about gaining the trust and respect of submissive(s) in your life through hard work and sincere dedication to them, and allowing them to put you on a pedestal while remaining down-to-earth and humbled by the fact that they trust you enough to do that.
A dominant who puts themselves up on that pedestal is very likely to be dismissive of everyone else’s (and your) feelings, which can lead to disaster when it comes to playtime with you.
I want to make one thing abundantly clear: one does not just forget a safeword. Especially if that safeword is being said by someone you supposedly care about. During play (or even roleplay), if your dominant “forgets” your safeword or doesn’t stop immediately upon hearing about it, they don’t really care about you.
I know that line seems harsh, but when we’re talking safewords, consent, and boundaries, you need someone who is 100% in your corner, able to stop when you need them to. This is especially important with activities like CNC (consensual non-consent) but this can be equally as important in all aspects of your D/s relationship.
You need to be able to trust them with your life - because the reality is, sometimes during BDSM play, things can get really dangerous. If there is any question about how much you trust your dominant to stop when you tell them to, you need to take one (or 5) giant steps back and re-evaluate what type of dom/me you’re paired with.
When it comes to being a supportive, compassionate, good dominant to a submissive partner, there should be no comparisons. Your dominant shouldn’t be trying to “compete” with other dom/mes you’ve been in contact with - they should only be focused on your relationship with them right now and how to make that as healthy and happy as possible.
When dom/mes begin to compare themselves (and your D/s relationship) to others either within the community or from your past, there can be a kind of unhealthy competitiveness that may push them to push you beyond your limits in unhealthy ways.
While this is hot during roleplay, oftentimes, referring to someone as your Master/Daddy (or alternatively, if the dominant is a woman, Mistress or Goddess) means that you trust them. It means that they’ve earned this title, they have been rewarded with your submission in the form of you calling them their preferred names of respect.
Dominants who demand this kind of respect and trust right away without building that relationship and trust with you first may very easily disrespect what those things mean to you, either intentionally or not. This is a huge red flag because it suggests that they really don’t know what it means to be someone’s dominant.
Someone I deeply respect on Twitter (who goes by the name Markie), actually put in her bio: “my daddy kink doesn’t make you my daddy” - and I think this is a very unfortunate thing to have to put in a Twitter bio, but I really understand why she did it.
There are dominants out there who will want to jump right into the good part of a BDSM relationship without putting in any of the work. These names that we call each other (whether it be you referring to your dominant or them referring to you) have a lot of meaning attached to them for many people.
True, for some people, a name is a name - but to me, the word “slut” or “good girl” should really only be said to me by someone who I already have that D/s relationship with.
Mentors are wonderful. It can be incredibly important (especially to submissive’s who are new to the BDSM scene) to have someone to explain things (like this) and guide you through this exciting new world. But in no way does this mean you OWE them your submission in return.
If you come across a dominant who wants to be your mentor and is willing to take things slow and communicate with you without play or sex, that’s great. However, if you come across a dominant who says they want to play with you (or have sex with you) in order to show you how to be a “good” submissive...run for the hills. They are a giant red flag, bad sign, no good.
BDSM relationships can be quite different to typical relationships in that they can get very intense very quickly. In any type of relationship, you want to know your partner is consistent, will show up, and is reliable - but these things can be particularly important in a D/s relationship where your mental health and sometimes physical safety is dependent on them being reliable.
If you notice a dominant partner isn’t very reliable (with meetings, messages, playtime - really anything) - this can be a big red flag. Creating a healthy, long-lasting D/s relationship takes commitment and patience - and if your dominant isn’t willing to put the effort in, they may end up using you for their own gain and leaving you feeling abandoned in the end.
This may seem like an obvious one, but when you’re in the heat of the moment, it can be tricky really understand that the way your dominant is acting isn’t dominance but more anger and frustration directed at you for not doing what they want.
If you notice your dominant becoming angry when you put boundaries into place, can’t commit to a scene or attempt to negotiate your limits - this is obviously a big red flag. This may even happen in ways you don’t notice at first - it can be calling you derogatory names you haven’t consented to or it can be just acting cold and distant as a way of “punishing” you.
Submission is a gift not what the dominant deserves. It’s really that simple. To submit to someone, to create this kind of bond with someone - it can be an incredibly emotional and intimate experience. If you end up paired with a dominant who has toxic traits or isn’t looking out for your best interests, it can become incredibly unhealthy and painful, sometimes even impossible to break out of.
At the end of the day, choosing to give your submission to a dominant is a big deal. You should take every precaution possible to ensure the D/s relationship you’re committing to is one that will serve everyone equally and put everyone’s happiness on the same level.