power play

So your partner just asked you to be their dom… Now what?

closeup of shirtless man wearing black leather pants

If you’re like me, your stomach dropped the first time you were asked to be a dom. I like to consider myself a gentle soul, so the thought of hurting my partner freaked me out. Or maybe you’re more of a natural dom who’s dying to get into power play but doesn’t know where to start. Whatever the case, exploring BDSM is just that: an exploration. Hopefully, this article will help you navigate it a little more easily. At the end of the day, it’s all about power play–in all its forms–and most people find they enjoy it one way or another. 

What’s the Deal with BDSM?

Leather pride flag waving in the wind. Close up of BDSM banner blowing, soft and smooth silk

First things first, let’s clear the air about some BDSM misconceptions. Contrary to what some anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers might believe, being interested in BDSM is not a mental illness (even though it was classified as one until 2013). 

People who enjoy this are as mentally healthy as everyone else, and it’s more common than you might think. In fact, over half of men fantasize about being dominated sexually. Statistically speaking, that means one sub per couple, and if you’re dating someone then you can probably guess who’s who. 

In simple terms, a dom/sub relationship means that one partner takes a dominant role and the other takes a submissive role. (No, it’s not the same thing as being a top or a bottom!) This gives each of them a psychological feeling of power or submission that intensifies sexual pleasure. 

That sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s rarely that simple. Some couples do this 24/7, while others keep it in the bedroom. Sometimes the sub acts like a brat (you know who you are) so the dom will punish them. In other cases, the dom can act like a caretaker or a daddy. 

Sometimes, though, your sub just wants you to take an assertive lead during sex. This might mean chains and whips, or it might mean deciding on your sex positions and where you want to go out to eat after. Every dom/sub relationship is different depending on the parties involved.

Communication and consent

By now you should know the drill–consent, consent, consent! Anything you want to try with your sub should be discussed beforehand so that everyone is on the same page. BDSM is definitely not the time to showcase your improvisation skills, so keep “yes and…” out of the bedroom.

Likewise, if you feel uncomfortable trying something as a dom, say so! Just because you’re the one doing the choking or holding the whip doesn’t mean that your opinion isn’t important. It took me weeks to build up the courage to choke my partner like they wanted. A dom doesn’t have to be the gruff leather-clad pain junkie stereotype that we’ve all seen in movies. You can still be yourself. 

It’s okay to start small, too. If you’re not a natural dom, ease yourself into it with baby steps. Choking is a great place to start because it’s dominant, most people enjoy it, and it’s easy to measure. You can start gently and build your way up to more pressure as you communicate with your partner. 

Safe words, gestures, and guidelines

close-up of man wearing black latex t-shirt

Dom/sub relationships are all about trust. Your sub is trusting you to dictate the sexual experience in a way they enjoy, so you need to agree on a safe word first. However, safe words don’t work for everything. For instance, if you’re choking your partner with your hands (or maybe, um, something else), then it won’t be easy for them to get a word out. In times like these, my partner taps my arm or waist when they want me to stop. 

It’s easy to get carried away in the moment, so you and your partner need to agree on limits beforehand. You should also talk about how they want to be treated. Do they want to be punished? Do they want to be rewarded? Do they just want you to take the lead and be assertive? All these are good things to establish upfront.

Experiment and explore

Man with blind mask made of rubber latex with mouth hole and naked body

Once you start to feel comfortable (and safe) being dominant, you can explore new ways to treat your sub. Dom/sub relationships are an energy dynamic that exaggerates the roles we may naturally fill–or the opposite. You might find that shifting this power back and forth is exhilarating and sexy, or you might want to keep it the way it is.

It can be fun to think of new ways to dominate your partner with things like ropes or pain play, but power dynamics come from all sorts of places. Try to understand your sub’s needs on a deeper level. 

As an example, my last sub had to make stressful decisions all day at work. Part of the reason they loved being submissive was that it removed the anxiety of decision-making and made sex all about pleasure. I’ve found myself, on the other hand, enjoying being a dom a lot more when I felt my life was out of control.

Still, people love dom/sub roles when those situations are reversed or for other reasons entirely. Lots of people have no idea why they love it. Understanding your sub makes you a better dom, and it helps you decide what to explore and how to experiment. On top of that, it’s a ton of fun!

Aliyah Moore (she/her) is a certified sex therapist with a Ph.D. in Gender & Sexuality Studies. She loves to educate and empower women to embrace their sexuality and identity. She’s also the resident sexpert at SexualAlpha, where she shares sex and relationship advice so everyone can have the best sex of their lives.