Archive for July, 2011

books: love, fear and technology
July 29, 2011

(Warning: this post really isn’t much about sex, but it is about books and politics, and those things, to me, are pretty darned sexy. For those who are less intrigued by such topics, I promise the next post will be more suitably along the usual lines.)

I’m writing this post from my laptop on the highway that leads from Haines Junction to Whitehorse, Yukon. This summer I’m taking an intensive reading course on psychoanalysis and sadomasochism, which has me reading a ton of Freud and later theorists. One of my typical reading strategies when dealing with heavy material is to read sections interspersed with a bit of light reading to clear my head—sort of like the sorbet they serve between courses of a heavy Italian wedding meal. Most of the time I choose porn, but occasionally something else strikes my fancy, and it was with that in mind that I purchased a copy of Book Love, subtitled A Celebration of Writers, Readers, and The Printed & Bound Book (inconsistently and excessively capitalized in an oh-so-charming fashion), edited by James Charlton and Bill Henderson.

The book is partly what it purports to be—a collection of 600 delicious quotes about the beauty and value of printed (yes, on paper) books. Considering that I’m currently lugging no fewer than 25 books with me on my little seven-week summer jaunt away from home, and that I have not (yet?) opted for an e-reader (mostly because when you’re reading a stack of Freudian psychoanalytic theory, more than half of the stack won’t be available in e-format anyway), the topic of this little gem seemed quite apropos.

But the book is partly also a thinly veiled, and at times not veiled at all, diatribe against technological innovation. Some of this anti-technology sentiment is expressed with what could potentially be read as self-deprecating humour, such as this quote from Sarah McNally:

When things get tense in a book, you start doing things like stroking the edge of the pages. When you do that on your iPhone, the next thing you know you’ve frozen the thing.

Others read more like the kind of overblown hand-wringing that makes one roll one’s eyes, such as this one from Jill Carpenter:

I miss library card catalogs terribly, and I hate searching for books using the on-line catalog. Reading books on a computer seems like having one’s hand cut off.

Um, really? Perhaps Jill Carpenter might like to have her hand cut off and see if the experience is anything like looking at a computer screen.

Or take this one, from William Gibson:

The (digital) present is more frightening than any imaginable future I might dream up. If Marshall McLuhan were alive today, he’d have a nervous breakdown.

Or this one from Russell Baker:

The oversell on the “information superhighway” exploits the same public gullibility that true atomic-energy believers exploited decades ago. It’s a gullibility that flows from a touchingly credulous eagerness to believe that new miracle ages are constantly lurking just around the corner.

Or this one from W. Scott Olsen:

I think that, fiction, poetry, and essays on the Net are heading toward the status of junk mail.

(Apparently in addition to odd capitalization, the editors have decided that misplaced commas are also charming. Perhaps they might invest in paying someone to practice the age-old and quite respectably fusty art of copy editing. They could even insist that it be done on real paper with a real red pen. Or maybe a quill and ink-jar, just to keep with the theme.)

At least William Gibson had the courage to say what’s going on here outright: fear. Russell Baker chooses condescension—a classic manner of retaining one’s threatened sense of superiority—and W. Scott Olsen opts for some more hand-wringing (as if the quality of fiction, poetry and essays somehow magically drops if they pop up on a computer screen instead of on a piece of paper). But these writers are all essentially saying the same thing: we are terrified of change.

To be fair, the book is also filled with wonderful quotes that do, indeed, celebrate the joy of the printed word, with great eloquence. Unfortunately the inclusion of what more or less amounts to a lot of rather pathetic-sounding technology-bashing leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.

In my mind, advocating for the sensual pleasures of the book does not require that other avenues for publishing be denigrated. The printed book’s many virtues are sufficiently strong without that kind of dubious assistance. A book is a meaningful object in a way that a PDF cannot ever be. A book has a look, a smell, a feel, a weight in the hand. It is tangible in the way that a scratchy blanket or a lover’s slightly damp skin or a cool, pleasantly rounded stone is tangible. It lends itself to physical enjoyment—for instance, burying one’s nose between pages to catch a whiff of the rot of old bindings, the pungency of fresh ink, the vaguely plasticky scent of photograph gloss. If a book were only ever meant to convey information, then it wouldn’t have become such an artistically produced object in the first place. Monks would never have toiled for a lifetime at illuminating biblical manuscripts, nobody would ever have bothered inventing hard covers and sturdy gold-embossed leather bindings, and today’s publishers wouldn’t invest in commissioning cover art, developing original typefaces, choosing paper weights and so forth.

It seems to me that rather than spouting fear-based anti-technology rhetoric, we should instead be considering the questions of purpose, pleasure and access.

Purpose: Why are we reading? To keep up with friends? To study? To masturbate? To better understand history, or science, or art? To have our perceptions of the world challenged, or perhaps affirmed? If you’re like me, you read for all of these purposes and then some at various points in time, and that means that you may choose a wide range of methods and formats for your reading. None of these methods is inherently better or worse than the others. They are simply more or less appropriate to a given goal.

Electronic reading presents advantages that paper books do not. Most people don’t extol the sensual virtues of the latest cheap pocket novel, the papery pleasures of leafing through a scholarly article, or the wonders of the morning paper’s typeface. That’s just not really what these items are for. The first is for fast, forgettable amusement; the second is far more about content than form (and with the average scholarly article that applies as much to the writing style itself as to the format of its delivery!); and the third is about immediate access to a steady stream of swiftly changing information.

Pleasure: Where does pleasure come into the picture? What kinds of pleasure do we seek in our reading, and how is that pleasure attained?

If I’ve learned anything from all this Freud I’ve been reading, it’s that we constantly seek pleasure and seek to minimize pain. As such, it doesn’t make much sense to rage about what “should” be taking place in the realm of reading, as though we’d learn to hate search engines and love Crime and Punishment by sheer force of an external guilt trip. Reading is pleasurable. Even when it’s hard, perhaps especially when it’s hard, it expands our minds and nourishes us in places we sometimes don’t know we’re hungry. If people want to sacrifice the pleasure of the printed page for the convenience of the e-reader, but they are still reading, what on earth is the problem?

Access: What kind of material do we, or can we, gain access to with new technology? What kind of material have we lost access to? Are there ways to bring back lost access?

As a scholar, I can say without a doubt that my academic work is immeasurably facilitated by the existence of electronic access to reading material. I’d much rather spend my time actually reading and thinking than hauling my ass 90 minutes across town to my university library unless absolutely necessary, or laboriously poking through a card catalogue for the sake of indulging in misguided nostalgia instead of using a fine-tuned search function. Also, the technologies that have emerged to assist readers with learning disabilities are making books more accessible to people who might never have been able to read them in the past. To me, these are clear gains.

As a reader who values marginal, emerging and local voices, I am deeply disturbed by the death of small and specialized literary presses, because I think they provide a much-needed relief from the slew of interchangeable bestsellers out there; some works that twenty years ago might have become underground classics will simply never see the light of day in the publishing world of 2011. These deaths are intimately related to the deaths of small bookstores and the growth of giant booksellers whose aim is profit, not love of literature. These giants are interested in sales growth by any means necessary, which means they underpay authors, negotiate punishing bulk discounts with publishing houses, and stock sure sells rather than taking a chance on emerging writers. As a culture we have supported these giants in their rise, and in so doing we’ve killed far more interesting and culturally valuable works of literature, publishers and booksellers. This, to me, feels like a terrible, crying loss.

But let’s be clear: this situation has not come about because of electronic access to literature. In fact, new technologies, while certainly hawked ad nauseam by the evil bookselling giants, are also potentially one of the routes to salvation for the little guys. gives you instant access to thousands of small and secondhand booksellers worldwide; author and small publisher websites and e-books allow us to buy directly from the source rather than give a chunk of the profit to the middleman; print-on-demand publishing means less overhead for small publishers, who can then focus their resources on the actual work; social media and online presence allow authors and publishers to promote their work directly to current and potential readers, and in some cases, a blogger with a good following can demonstrate to a potential publisher that their work will sell because they can show exactly how many people already read them. Technology is a tool. Like a fork, like a gun, like a piece of rope, it can be used for any number of purposes.

So let’s point the finger where it should be pointed: profit-hungry multinationals, not technological progress. It is terribly shortsighted to scapegoat e-books, of all things, for the current rotten state of literary culture, which is quite simply about capitalist greed, the soulless appropriation of literature by profit-hungry corporations, and our own willing participation in the whole system. I don’t see anyone in Book Love coming out guns ablaze against Amazon and Chapters-Indigo. Why not? I applaud those who wish to celebrate the book, but I deplore their lack of courage in focusing on false enemies when there are real ones looming ever larger, fed by our own hand.

Book Love’s preface, written by Henderson, bemoans the popularity of social media:

Twittering away, we never stop to think. In fact, we may be losing the ability to think. Nicholas Carr in his The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010) notes that his friends, after years of digital addiction, can’t read in depth anymore. Their very brains are changing, physically. They are becoming “chronic scatterbrains… even a blog post of more than 3 or 4 paragraphs is too much to absorb.”

I’d love to know what kind of “science” Carr used to come up with that little idea. Unlike Henderson and Carr seem to think, I don’t think my brain is turning to mush because I like Twitter—as a reader I’d like to be given a bit more credit than that, thank you very much. Last I checked, using social media is not a sufficiently powerful experience to single-handedly strike a death blow to my ability to read a book. Those who only ever read tweets may well lack the patience for Dostoyevsky, but that’s not Twitter’s fault—these are probably the same people who fall asleep halfway through a movie or topic-hop mid-conversation. Rather than pointing the finger at electronic media, you’re probably better off blaming excessive sugar intake, a lifetime of lowest-common-denominator advertising copy, and an upbringing or education that simply did not instil a love of meaty reading. Thirty years ago, people were blaming television and Archie comics for the state of kids’ intellects. A century ago, they were probably upset about typewriters causing people to lose the ability to write by hand. I mean, really, it’s all a bit silly, don’t you think? (Also, there is a particular irony in the idea of decrying the 140-character tweet in the introduction to a book that is entirely made up of one- or two-sentence quotes.)

Truly, though, beyond a purely logical deconstruction, what makes me cringe about the “it-was-better-back-when” comments is that they sound a whole lot like the kind of comments that homophobes and other bigots make. Fear of change, nostalgia for “simpler” days—people who rail against progress on principle make me twitchy. They sound far too much like the people who’d rather we go back to the simpler days when marriage was just between one man and one woman, and women’s place was in the home, and “we” all ate the same foods and read the same canon of (dead white male) literature which of course was only ever in English (except maybe for some French because that’s sexy), and “we” all went to church and there was no such thing as all those “other” holidays and so all “we” had to do was say Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays, and by gosh everything was so much easier because “we” didn’t have to think about the diverse needs and perspectives of a diverse range of people, or bother learning very much at all about the world outside “our” happy little white middle-class English-speaking heterosexual bubble, unless of course it was excitingly exotic in a way that both titillated us and shored up “our” sense of superiority.

I’m not accusing those who prefer books to e-readers of homophobia, sexism or racism per se. But holding a preference in terms of how you like your reading packaged does not require that you start pooh-poohing other people’s choices. Close-mindedness has a terrible tendency to spread, and in some ways this type of stance is particularly shocking when it’s taken by writers and booksellers—the people who, in theory, are some of the most concerned with providing as many people as possible with access to new ideas. If you’re resistant to the new because it’s less comfortable to you than the old, if you don’t wish to learn new things or be challenged or stretch your brain, then your mind is already far more atrophied than those of the tweeters and blog followers and e-book readers you accuse of having precisely this problem.

what are we doing, here, exactly? or, conceptual frameworks for d/s relationships
July 11, 2011

The theme of D/s and power relationships has been at the forefront of my mind of late. Not too long ago, I put out a post about what I call This Thing—a particular sort of ownership-based D/s dynamic that some people call M/s (Master/slave). I realized, after writing it, that I haven’t ever attempted to lay out the other types of D/s relationships or dynamics that exist out there. But recently I’ve been having some thought-provoking conversations that have made it clear I need to develop a broader model in which to insert This Thing, so that’s what I’m attempting to do here.

I want to make a couple of disclaimers before diving in. In fact, there are five, but I’ve placed the last three at the end of the post in order to avoid weighing down this intro too much. Scroll to the bottom if you want ‘em now, or just read them at the end!

First, I’ve laid this post out in the form of a list, which necessarily ends up looking like some kind of hierarchy. But creating hierarchy is not my purpose. For starters, I’ve personally engaged in relationships at pretty much every point on this list, sometimes simultaneously with different people, so I’m hardly one to argue that any point is better than any other. I’m much more interested in engaging with people in precisely the way that best suits a given pairing than in trying to judge what kind is best. I hope you read this list with the same philosophy in mind. But also—and I discuss this more later—different kinds of pleasure can be taken at different points on the list.

Second, for all that I realize I have no control over what you do with this once you read it, I want to add a caution as to how I’d like to see this list to be used. I see it primarily as a way of describing what exists between two people—not as a way of either setting goals (“I’d like us to get to number 7”) or setting limits (“I can’t really handle much more than a 2, so let’s stop there”). As I discuss in more detail later, I don’t think we can really decide what kind of power dynamic exists in any given relationship; we can simply decide whether or not to act on it, and how. Being more conscious about what these different points might look like can help us to make wise decisions about whether to deliberately take action to deepen a dynamic or choose to avoid taking action in order to keep it lighter, but I don’t think you can will a dynamic to be 24/7 if it doesn’t truly suit the pairing of people involved, and I don’t think you can carve down a broad dynamic fit into a scene or two if it’s meant to be much more.

Okay, on with the show!


1. Vanilla. There are plenty of power dynamics in vanilla relationships, they just aren’t articulated or engaged with in quite the same way, or using the same vocabulary, as I’m about to do here. So I’ll just pick one of many examples of how power dynamics might work in a vanilla relationship, just to have a point of departure for comparison purposes: Person A likes Person B’s shirt and says so; Person B starts to wear it more often.

2. Scene-based D/s. The people engage in a power dynamic that starts when they say it does or when the SM play begins, and ends when the SM play or a prescribed amount of time comes to an end. Person A tells Person B what shirt to wear or what shirts not to wear, or Person B asks; but once they’re done, Person B can change back into the shirt Person A hates.

3. Temporary or short-term D/s connection. General parameters are set that apply between the people even if no SM play is taking place. Person A tells Person B what shirts to wear all weekend, say. This has no particular bearing on what next weekend will look like between them. You might consider it an extended scene, in which the players aren’t necessarily engaged in full SM acts at all times but in which the power dynamic is in place the whole time.

4. Occasional regular D/s connection. General parameters can be set; the power dynamic is in effect any time the people are together. Sort of like Point 3, only repeated on some sort of regular basis such that it can be assumed that the dynamic will happen this way whenever they spend time together, until someone calls it off. They may have contact in between times that is not framed in D/s terms, and they may, in some instances, see one another without engaging in D/s, for instance if they run into each other at a grocery store. But their primary purpose in spending time together is for D/s. Person A tells Person B what kind of shirts to wear and not to wear whenever they’re together as a general rule, rather than negotiating it each time.

5. Regular but not ongoing D/s connection. Basically, Point 4 with the addition that the “together time” during which the people engage in their power dynamic includes types of contact outside physically being in one another’s presence. So the dynamic extends to telephone calls, e-mails, essentially any interaction between the two people. Person A tells Person B what kind of shirts to wear whenever they’re in contact. Still, it has no bearing on what Person B does when not in contact with Person A.

6. Limited ongoing D/s dynamic. General parameters apply even when the people are not together. So Person A tells Person B what kind of shirts to buy, and Person B never wears shirts that Person A doesn’t like. The power dynamic is always in effect, but its territory may be limited—for example, Person A has full control of Person B’s wardrobe, but has no say over Person B’s job decisions or workout routine.

7. 24/7 power dynamic. Parameters always apply, with a view to all-encompassing or very minimally limited authority. It’s not just about shirts anymore; it’s not just about shirts, pants and workouts. Person A and Person B both want Person A to have authority in most of Person B’s life. Component by component, Person A and Person B work to extend Person A’s authority and Person B’s submission. Still, for any number of reasons, there may still remain areas in which Person A does not have authority—family visits, say, or jurisdiction over Person B’s job decisions.

8. This Thing. Some people call it M/s. I laid out how I see this type of relationship as different from others in a recent post, which describes seven key features. Here, areas of authority are no longer seen individually, as components to be added as appropriate. Rather, the baseline framework is that Person A owns Person B, and therefore has authority over everything; the particulars are then navigated and discussed from that standpoint.


Bleed between one of these types into the next, or a jump from one to another, can happen either on purpose or by accident. For instance, a temporary or short-term D/s arrangement can turn into a regular one by default, simply by the people doing it more than once. It’s a lot clearer and healthier if they discuss this—“I realize we’ve done this twice now and I really like it. If you feel the same, is it safe to assume we plan to continue doing it until one of us says otherwise?”—but it certainly can happen with no discussion. As another example, Person A puts a collar on Person B in a scene but then leaves it on once the scene is done. If the collar retains its meaning or symbolism and continues to support or induce a submissive headspace in Person B even after she goes home, then they’ve effectively jumped into a limited ongoing power dynamic, whether or not that’s what Person A was trying to accomplish.

Bleeding and jumping can be regulated to some extent. Partly this is about carefully thinking about what you’re doing, making decisions that recognize what might cause you to move around on the list, and doing so only when that kind of movement is precisely what you want. Partly this is about discussion—in this respect, it is always a better idea to lay something on the table than to leave it unsaid. For instance, if Person B thinks they’re doing a temporary or short-term D/s thing but Person A thinks they’re doing an occasional regular D/s dynamic and therefore starts assuming that anytime she and Person B are together they’re going to be behaving as dominant and submissive, they’re both likely to be offended at how the other behaves. Person B will wonder why Person A is being so pushy, and Person A will wonder why Person B is being so disobedient. This can easily move into non-consensual territory, so this is me making yet one more push in the direction of clear, direct conversation.

Influence, however, is harder to regulate than behaviour. So if Person B realizes that she’s only wearing blue shirts ever since Person A said she liked them, then it’s Person B’s responsibility to tell Person A that, otherwise they can’t discuss the meaning of it. Person A also shares the responsibility for noticing the areas of her influence and asking Person B questions about the meaning of that influence. Clearly, the more observant, self-aware and communicative you are, as a pair or group, the more likely this is to all go smoothly.

Once it’s on the table, Person A can then decide if that’s comfortable to hold, and if so, how best she wants to do so. (Weekly shirt guidelines that change seasonally? A wardrobe evaluation and a twice-yearly shopping trip? A basic “no yellow” or “all shirts must have some blue in them” rule?) When I talk about Person A “holding,” I mean holding up her end of the bargain as the dominant—remembering the rule or parameter, sustaining the expectation that it will be met, providing appropriate support in making sure that this is possible, consistently enforcing clear and appropriate consequences if it is not met, and following up on some sort of regular basis to be sure that the parameters are still working and feeling good for all involved. This is a dynamic process, not a one-time decision; it requires investment to sustain.

If Person A decides she doesn’t want to hold that, that’s a different story. Person B can change her behaviour by wearing other colours of shirts. Sometimes, a simple change in behaviour effectively short-circuits the power dynamic in a given area. But there’s no guarantee that will work. Behaviour change or no, it is very difficult to “make” Person B stop wanting to wear only blue shirts if she deeply desires to please Person A and knows this is a way to do so. It’s also very difficult, if Person B’s inclined to submit to Person A, for Person B to see wearing other colours of shirts as anything other than obeying Person A’s wishes that she no longer wear only blue shirts. In short, a behaviour change should not be confused with a change in power dynamic; it can be purely cosmetic.

What direction this goes in is dependent on a host of factors—personalities, circumstances, the nature of the dynamic, and so forth. I am of the opinion that the two people involved in a power dynamic are only minimally in control of their desires; those desires organically create a power dynamic between them, whether it’s discussed or not. They are much more in control of whether, and how, they act on those desires. Even then, though, I caution that when one or more people discipline their behaviour to make it look as though they aren’t doing D/s, they’re essentially investing a lot of energy in denial rather than in simply trying to do the power dynamic in a healthy way. Any relationship that spends a lot of energy avoiding talking about things or trying to make them not happen strikes me as inherently not so healthy. At the very least, if they have the discussion, Person A, knowing how her influence seems to affect Person B, can then decide whether or not to say anything about shoes, pants, cars, or Person B’s job; she can also make it clear (if applicable) that she will not be holding up her end of the deal no matter how much Person B would like her to, so that there is no cause for a break in trust or the development of resentment.

The good news is, you get to decide what to do at every step. The bad news is, that statement is only sort of true. You can choose to act in ways that deepen a power dynamic, that extend its realm, or not. But it is extremely hard to go back to a less intense power dynamic once you’ve already gone deep, unless you break it—as in, drop the person and break their trust (from either end of the dynamic). This is true even when you’ve gone deep by accident. If ever there were a reason to get really good at noticing shit and talking about it, this is it!

On the up side, when you have decided you want to go somewhere deeper, the deliberate cultivation of the dynamic is the fun part. The process of noticing, discussing and deliberately extending the spread of the dominant’s influence is how a 24/7 dynamic is built, and how ownership is articulated into meaning.

Note that all of this is awfully hard to do when you’re just starting out. You don’t know what to look for, or what to ask about; you don’t necessarily understand and can’t necessarily predict the impact of an action or statement. You don’t know what will feel good to give over or to hold, or what will make you feel overextended. You will fuck up. For that matter, you will fuck up even if you’ve been doing this for a really long time. So it goes. We are human. (My five steps for fixing a fuck-up might come in handy here.) And there is no road map for this kind of relationship, or only the most minimally useful ones (hey, I have no illusions; this post is not going to make everyone’s D/s happier and healthier). Some stuff you have to learn on your own and make your own. Everything I’ve figured out about this shit has come at the expense of my own pain and the pain of the people I’ve hurt. My best promise is to try not to make the same mistake twice, and to fix my fuck-ups as best I can. I would wish the same for you.

Let me be clear that I’m not trying to lay out a hierarchy of validity in relationship here. Different items in this list involve different kinds of intensity—not necessarily different degrees. The further away from the real, everyday “you” your dynamic takes you, the better it is suited to a short-term scene. Most people can’t, and don’t want to, inhabit a “not-me” or “very narrow facet of me” persona at all times. Similarly, the intensity of activity / play / protocol that you can have in a two-hour scene is usually not sustainable 24/7. A scene can be a break from real life, but the longer the time you spend in your dynamic, the more likely that real life will happen, and you need to deal with it as such. If you ignore real life for too long in order to engage in D/s, you will end up with some version of emotional burnout, or facing other, more practical consequences.

As such, if you do want to sustain your dynamic 24/7, the more you can imbue your everyday activities—sleeping, eating, washing, dressing, working, and so forth—with qualities that reinforce the D/s dynamic, the more solidly and soundly it can be lived. It’s much harder to try and create a 24/7 situation that requires a person to leave aside the everyday in order to do the dynamic. Thus: “My Mistress chooses all my clothes for me because she wants me to be pleasing to her eye when she sees me and to reflect her good taste everywhere I go” is much easier to sustain in a healthy, integrated fashion than “My Mistress requires me to be naked at all times, so I had to quit my job.”

Of course, this kind of dynamic does not have the same type of intensity as a scene does; there is no arc of warm-up and release and cool-down, no catharsis, no aftercare. It is a different beast. On the flip side, a 24/7 dynamic allows both people to always be in the kind of headspace they thrive in—if, indeed, they do thrive there—and the all-the-time character of it is its own kind of intensity.

I realize that I’m discussing 24/7 here as though it were different from ownership—two separate points on my list. I do think this is true, or at least that, regardless of the specific vocabulary you use to discuss these topics, that there does exist a type of relationship that I call This Thing, which is focused on ownership and as such is different from any number of other types of otherwise full-time power dynamics. Some people do 24/7 relationships that they don’t articulate as being about ownership. I’m not necessarily the best person to discuss them as I am very ownership-oriented and I don’t think I am likely to ever do 24/7 that didn’t turn into ownership. But others do. I’d actually be curious to learn more about how they work—it’s not like we have a ton of resources laying this stuff out. One form I can think of is the Daddy/boy relationship and its related types, where the dynamic is to varying degrees a parental one. Jack Rinella describes a few other power relationship types in his book Partners in Power. But there isn’t much to refer to.

The one thing that’s true of both This Thing and other types of 24/7 relationships is that they are emphatically not just a super-long-term scene. It is in fact entirely possible to have such a relationship in which no SM play or sex ever take place at all. That said, in the context of 24/7 and This Thing, SM play may happen, and when it does, it may look a whole lot like a regular scene between any other people. The difference is that when these players go back to their everyday lives, those lives are infused with D/s.

The two key lines I see here, within my list, are between 5 and 6—when the dominant’s influence extends beyond the time of actual interaction between the partners—and between 7 and 8—when we shift into an ownership-based model rather than one of two independent entities. These are both key conceptual shifts, and they are the places where things most often get sticky. I think a lot of people engage in D/s that fits somewhere in the 2 to 5 range without ever laying out clearly what they’re trying to do. Two people in the same relationship can be on slightly different points in that range for weeks, months, even years and while it will certainly cause misunderstanding and friction, it’s not necessarily going to break a relationship. But it’s much harder to be at differing points when one of you thinks you’re at a 5 and the other at a 6. And the leap in mindset between 7 and 8 can also take a lot of mental and emotional work to make, with attendant possibilities for difficulty.

I could probably go on musing about this list for quite some time, but I’ll rein myself in for now. I hope it provokes your own musings, and perhaps helps you articulate what the hell it is you’re actually doing (or what you want to be doing, or what you don’t want to be doing!). Above all, if you’re doing D/s at all, I sure as hell hope you’re having a good time with it. Joy is, after all, the whole bloody point. So while I believe we need to take power seriously and discuss it clearly, I also think we need to make sure we don’t forget how to have fun with it along the way.


And here are those last three disclaimers:

Third, you might notice that I don’t say much about switches in this post. This isn’t for any lack of respect for switches and the beautiful, complex ways in which they manage D/s dynamics. It’s for the simple reason that I’ve never been in a relationship with someone in which the power dynamic switched, so I am really poorly placed to say anything about how that might work. That said, while I know that some switches like to switch with the same person, I also know that some switches like power dynamics to be constant with each person in their lives but to engage in D/s dynamics with more than one person at once, such that they get to be submissive to one person while dominant to another, for instance. This latter type of switching is perfectly compatible with the list I’m putting out here. For switch dynamics within a given relationship, I will leave the floor to more competent thinkers than myself.

Fourth, you might also notice that I don’t say much about groupings, or poly, or multiples. This is again not an attempt to slight anyone. Rather, I would argue that the points here should simply be multiplied to account for larger groupings. A D/s triad is still made up of three dyads, for example, and each dyad can be located at a point in this list.

Fifth and last—and this is especially relevant in points 2 and those nearby—I’m in no way aiming to imply that all SM play involves D/s. It doesn’t. This list applies only to pairings in which a power dynamic is present and makes no assumptions about any other kind of pervy enjoyment you might like to take outside that framework.


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