Dominance and submission: a guide to Dom/sub dynamics

If you’ve always wanted to try kink but not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place.

There are hundreds (probably thousands) of guides to kink, but they often don’t focus on the building blocks of a healthy kink relationship.

We have to walk before we can run, you know?

Enter the basic level of the kink: the dom/sub dynamics, or D/s. “Domination and submission is the general container for almost all kinks,” explains Julia Chiaramonte(Opens in a new window)a kink teacher, writer and sex Expert.

Understanding what the dom/sub dynamic is, how it works, and how to negotiate around it in your own relationships is key to creating the kinky sex life of your dreams. It’s the base layer. It is the basic configuration of the role-playing game.

Once you have a solid understanding of D/s, the rest – the whips, chains, blindfolds, sitting in jelly, using fake blood, etc. – can be built on top of that. We’re not here to suck anyone’s tidbit when it comes to your weaknesses, but we want you to be sure how to address them.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What the dom/sub dynamics actually are.

While dom/sub dynamics are primarily found in kink, they actually play out in most forms of sex. One person is usually the more submissive partner while the other is more dominant. But in the context of BDSM, these dynamics become even more apparent. BDSM stands for bondage, dominance/dominant, submissive/submission and sadomasochism. This is when two or more people engage in a consensual exchange of power. The sub readily relinquishes power within the scene to the dominant.

The key word here is “consent”.

“BDSM provides a framework for individuals to engage in [this] consensual exchange of power,” says dr Nazanin Moali(Opens in a new window)Sex therapist and host of the Sexology Podcast.


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The key word here is “consent”. Kink is all about giving and taking power in an empowered way. “Because consent is the cornerstone of these practices, it offers a way to ensure [that] The person giving up control and the person in charge stay within the sexual boundaries they set,” Moali adds.

How D/s can play out in BDSM scenes.

The D/s dynamic plays out in every kinky scenario because it is at the heart of the practice. But how it turns out is another story. This is one of the things that makes Kink so attractive. You can fully customize an experience based on your specific interests.

Some examples of dom/sub relationships:

  • A classic D/s bondage scene: the dom acts as the master of submissiveness. This usually involves punishment, sensory play, etc. Think: 50 shades of graybut not shit.

  • A nursing scene: the cathedral “takes care” of the submarine. The sub is called a little in this dynamic.

  • A dom/brat scene: The sub is a ‘brat’ and intentionally ‘disobeys’ the dom in order to receive punishment.

  • A Master/Pet: The Dom is a pet owner and the sub is the pet.

There is a common misconception that dom/sub dynamics are inherently pain-focused or violent. That is simply not true.

Chiaramonte explains that the paddles, harvests and ropes are all about deepening the bond between the Dom and his sub. “A dom can consensually practice bondage with his subordinates to deepen their practice of power,” she explains. “Bondage can be used as punishment, reward, or a sensory experience in this scenario to safely show who’s boss.”

There is a common misconception that dom/sub dynamics are inherently pain-focused or violent. That is simply not true.

But nurturing a dom/sub dynamic is not relegated entirely to the realm of pain play. Kink can involve sensory play, elaborate painless roleplay, and much more. These scenes are made by two or more people playing them. It’s a unique and fully customized experience.

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Negotiating boundaries within a dom/sub dynamic.

The submarine is not under the coercive control of the dominant. You are an equal member of the electricity exchange. This means that BDSM and kink are all about negotiation. “The discussion you have before the game is where you both express boundaries and expectations and set the stage for agreement,” says Chiaramonte. “It helps establish healthy boundaries before entering a dynamic.”

Moali says that while you “should be sure you have a ‘safe word’ that you can use during the scene to stop all action immediately, it is what it is [also] It’s important to have regular conversations about your boundaries.” If you’re new to BDSM, you may not be quite sure what your boundaries are. Feeling confident about exploring boundaries, with the ability to say “no” when something isn’t right is key.

Don’t move forward in a situation without first having a conversation.

While all boundaries and scenes are negotiated, the Dom takes a lot of responsibility within this dynamic. You are responsible for the safety of the submarine – both mentally and physically. When taking on a dom role, you need to be aware of the care you need to take to ensure the sub’s boundaries are respected. As Dom, you took the reins to control the scene. And that should not be taken lightly.

Don’t act in a situation without first talking, says Chiaramonte. “If someone asks to play before setting any negotiations and boundaries, [that’s a] red flag,” she explains.


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This does not mean that the sub has no power. Everything is highly negotiated and complemented by the use of a safeword. A safe word is a non-sexual, agreed-upon word or phrase that indicates the sub has reached their limit. As soon as a safe word is called, the game stops – either completely or for a break.

The importance of aftercare after the kink game.

BDSM and kink scenes require a lot of concentration, a lot of emotional intensity, and physical demands (e.g. dealing with pain, tying knots, etc.). “When we go deep into sub-space or dome-space, we experience a high almost identical to that of drugs: we are stimulated, [have] heightened emotions and can feel in another dimension,” says Chiaramonte.

Subspace has been described as resembling a deep meditative state – the research shows(Opens in a new window) can feel incredibly therapeutic and has many psychological benefits. However, since this meditative state in Kink can be very emotional, we need to consider the aftermath. You need to take some time to “come down” from the scene.

This is where aftercare comes into play.


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Aftercare is when the dom and sub have some connection time. This can include cuddling, getting the sub a glass of water, talking through the scene, and more. As with border negotiation, you need to take the time to figure out what type of aftercare you and your partner(s) need.

Aftercare is crucial in BDSM as it allows us to return to a state of balance and calm after particularly intense scenes. “Engaging in aftercare promotes a sense of trust and provides a sense of connection,” says Moali.

Aftercare isn’t always just the dom taking care of the sub. Sometimes the Dom also has great post-scene emotions. We all need nurturing after emotionally complex experiences; Having empathy for it can make your kink experiences so much better.

Learning new dynamics is rewarding.

The D/s dynamic in kink (and all sex) can be incredibly rewarding and an enriching way to look at your sexuality and sexual experiences. Taking the time to fully appreciate the complexities and nuances of the roles we play in sex offers us a better insight into who we are as human beings. Dominance and submission: a guide to Dom/sub dynamics

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