He looms over you with the riding crop, watching you struggle, spread-eagled, against your wrist and ankle restraints. Will he be kind in his choice of landing spots, or will he choose to strike at the sensitive bare inner thigh or your even more sensitive pink parts? He looks cool and collected, in contrast to your flushed face and writhing and growing consternation. He acts like he has all the time in the world, running the crop edge slowly along your leg, while with every passing second, fear and anticipation grow bigger in your heart.
It’s obvious who’s in control here, right? If someone who knows nothing about BDSM walks in on this scene, they’d assume the dom has all the power: the power to hurt or give pleasure, the power to tie or untie, the power to show affection or withhold it, etc.
But hmmm…if someone who does know something about BDSM and consent and safewords walks in on this scene, they might say the sub has all the power: the power to choose the instruments of pain or pleasure, the power to say, “Untie me right now” or “Red,” the power to allow the dom to do certain things, etc.
So which person is “really” in control? I think the answer is both—and neither.
If the standards of the BDSM community have been followed, both people have chosen in some way to be in this scene. They’ve discussed limits (for both of them) and possibly desires beforehand. They’ve discussed safewords. Either of them can end the scene at any time. While there’s a dom-sub dynamic, they each also have control over areas the other person doesn’t. The dom controls the means of impact, for example (likely choosing from a pre-approved list of implements), while the sub controls their response (yell, cry, curse, whimper). They are each playing different roles and controlling different parts of the scene. I don’t think you could accurately say that either person has any more control than the other—just a different kind of control.
Now let’s zoom out to the macro level. I’ve really begun to embrace the idea in general that control is an illusion. Even the smallest choices that seem very much within our control are affected by things beyond it. Example: I chose oatmeal with apple pieces for breakfast this morning. But maybe I would’ve chosen strawberries if they were in season, or eggs if the store hadn’t run out of organic. Maybe I would have chosen a different breakfast entirely if a convincing article on the Paleo, Zone, or Atkins diet had crossed my path recently.
Choosing to engage in D/s scenes is within our control, but the genetic and environmental influences that led us to even consider D/s are not. Choosing the specific person to play with or have a relationship is within our control, but the forces that led us to even be attracted to that person? Not so much.
And is it really so important that one person or the other be the absolute, undisputed wielder of power in a D/s scene anyway? If my partner and I each end up fulfilled in my own scenes, I’d happily credit my teddy bear or my partner’s left shoe as having all the control. Why get caught up in concepts or semantics that may take your focus away from what will really make your scenes fulfilling for you and your partner?
Your turn: How do you feel about control in your D/s scenes or in life? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.