Bringing the Shadows Into Conversations
I've been thinking about writing more about power exchange roles for awhile…writing more about it here, and for a certain audience. My service does not focus on power exchange per se, but it is an undeniable part of the dance we all do in life, in various forms. It seeps through in ways both intentional and not in our relationships, and how we interact in the world. Because of this, and because of how it is often woven in to eroticism, I want to encourage more awareness, and mindful engagement, as a way to harness these energies, and steer them where we want.
Power exchange is the place where our shadows live. Our play spaces are fun, safe places we can engage them, and do deeper shadow work in order understand ourselves better, but how that manifests will be different for everyone.
This piece is not an attempt to convince anyone to follow a path they are not being called to follow, but rather, allow those that are getting whispers the tools and permission to invite those shadows into their play. The audience I am writing for today is not lifestyle BDSM players, or those who have already done a deep dive into what roles they prefer, and why. This piece is for the person that casually or sporadically engages fantasies of power exchange, and is only one part of their interests.
I meet people like this all the time…people who are curious, or who only have certain fantasies crop up every once in awhile. They have occasional longings, but don't want to be defined all the time by those roles. They just know that sometimes power exchange is a more prevalent part of their fantasies, but it can be intimidating to know how to talk about or explain it when you don't have much experience with it. I want to help give these people more information and language, not only to help understand themselves better, but also better communicate what they want.
Oftentimes people look to me as an expert about some of these things... They assume they can just bring it up mid date, in a moment where they are feeling courageous, and there will be a seamless implementation on the spot: that I will read their mind and know exactly what they mean when they say they want to give up control.
It's not that simple, even though fantasy stories and movies (even mainstream) can make it seem that way.
Trying to radically switch gears mid-scene is not a great recipe for success…no matter how much I may or may not know about what you want, or what level of expertise I might have. Bringing up something out of the blue that we have not talked about before and wanting to try it on the fly is what is considered renegotiating mid-scene, and is generally considered a faux pas, and bad form, in the BDSM world. In professional settings, this has happened to me many times. In lifestyle scenes, it happens less…because there is greater awareness and education about why this is a bad idea.
And FYI - even if I can, or were able to accommodate such things mid-scene (I have done so MANY times to accommodate my clients needs in the past...), that does not mean it is ok, or right, even if it all turned out ok. These are not healthy patterns of how to communicate and negotiate scenes, so this piece is also my way of changing those old patterns, especially with established clients who may want to continue to expect this of me.
Why is it a bad time to bring it up mid-scene? Especially if/when you are finally feeling safe, and ready to try something new?
When our nervous system and hormones are activated is not a time where we generally are thinking clearly, therefore we are negotiating under the influence of an altered state. This can sometimes be ok with partners who are really familiar with each other, but not necessarily… People can sometimes agree to things they normally wouldn't in this aroused state, then come to regret it later, once the chemicals & hormones surging in our bodies calms down.
Also, when decisions are being made in the midst of activity, there is a pressure that exists to agree and go along with what is being suggested, lest the mood/flow/moment be ruined. There is no way someone has the time to really think clearly about how they feel about engaging something under such influence. (I will talk about how to navigate & encourage spontaneity mid-scene another time...that is still an important element to cultivate, but mindfully).
With power exchange in particular, there can sometimes be a psychological impact to the activity that has the possibility of having lasting effects far after the time we share together. I want to make sure when you leave, you have returned to a state of equilibrium and balance, not one that distracts you from what you need to return to in your life.
Another possible pitfall is not having the info I need to navigate, having the entire scene fall apart, then we both end up feeling like failures. No one wants that. I certainly don't...
So even though I welcome people sharing such vulnerabilities, and certainly welcome that happening during our dates (preferrably when we are relaxed and talking already...), and the more I have learned about responsible power exchange & how to create better scenes, the more I have learned that mid-play is not the time to try and renegotiate, let alone negotiate a power exchange scene that has not been discussed. There are a lot of possible pitfalls in operating that way, and most people interested in your well-being will model appropriate boundaries and protocols for how to have those conversations, introduce new forms of play, and teach you how to properly negotiate a scene.
Doing this work, I learned early on that sometimes people have a lot of confusion and shame about what they want and how they want to get it, and can't talk about it outside of the actual date. In the heat of the moment, when they are open to being more vulnerable, and are in a supportive environment, that can often help them feel safe in sharing. (YAY! I love that, and it is part of what makes me feel like I am doing my job well!)
But outside of that erotically charged moment, they might bury those thoughts, desires and needs until they build up, and bubble up, another time (which is often how shadow stuff operates). Some don't think a lot about these turn ons except when fantasy & erotic energy are engaged. And when that happens, the blood is often not flowing to the brain, and people often aren't trying to disect the hows and whys of the turn-on for fear that too much dissection might ruin it.
But if you don't know, or haven't thought about the difference between wanting to bottom like a big slut, perform perfect slave protocols, and/or what it feels like to be in sub space, then decide mid-scene to ask to be submissive, that can also derail the erotic energy we have worked to create in that moment. I don't want to reject your vulnerability, but I also then need to stop and ask a bunch of questions…questions you may or may not be able to answer, and may require time to think about.
So I am going to start writing about different concepts and nuance that are not always discussed or fully fleshed out in the media we consume that often helps fuel our fantasies. Hopefully this will help facilitate conversations before a date, or at the beginning of a scene, so we can create better results when we are together, or in any other relationship in your life! xoxo <3
Power Exchange: what does that mean?
I use the term "power exchange" to denote any chosen shifts in the balance of power within a relationship or scene. Some power exchange can be the foundation for a relationship, others are chosen for specific amounts of time, or a "scene". A "scene" can be a part of a date, or the entire date.
To what level that balance shifts is negotiated, and may or may not be the same all the time. ie: If we assume that power in perfect balance is 50/50, someone who is just experimenting may only be comfortable giving up a small amount of power in a scene, like 60/40 or 70/30 for the Top & bottom respectively (more on what these roles mean in a moment…), whereas a more experienced submissive that I have a long standing relationship with might want to give up 100% control during our time together. Being able to give this type of ratio helps build a concrete foundation for how to plan a scene, and what you are looking for.
I purposefully choose to avoid saying "domination" because the relationships I seek are not about dominating another person, but about a exchange we both choose to engage in (see my recent piece about FLR here for more about those preferences). Anyone who submits, serves or bottoms to me is doing so of their own free will, and as a choice. A choice they can revoke at any time (just as I can as well).
I enjoy having control over others who share similar interests and intentions for what we are trying to create, but it is not my turn on to "dominate" others, or force anyone into submission. It has taken me a long time to understand how this nuance has created conflict for me in finding what *I* enjoy, which is another reason why I feel this conversation is important. There is nuance in these roles that are not black & white. I am not a Domme, and do not seek to dominate others… I am a powerful woman who enjoys worship, service, and people who like to amuse and please me, and sometimes in ways that require them to struggle… (evil grin) Seeing people endure challenges to prove their dedication pleases me. Seeing people choose to ignore normal rules & behavior in order to please me is highly erotic, but part of that is in them choosing that. It turns me on right now just thinking about this…
The roles we play: why does language matter?
Another reason I don't like to identify as a "Domme"? Because I sometimes like to bottom, especially for sensation play. Of course, I think you can identify as a Dom/Domme and still bottom (or even switch), but the title feels so loaded with expectations for me that I avoid it. As with all language, an important part of making sure we are communicating well is using the right words, and understanding how all participants are using the same terms. We all might speak the same language, but we can sometimes use words differently, and to mean different things. Sometimes people say "submissive" when they mean "bottoming", for instance. To clearly communicate what you want, you have to use the most precise words you can find, but also understand language is not perfect or complete way to express ourselves. We have to take the time to talk about what those words mean to each of us as well.
So let's cover a few basic roles, and how *I* use them with my personal play partners:
Top - Someone who is doing a thing to someone else. This may or may not include other elements/energy of power exchange. ie: if I am giving someone a massage, I am the "top". If I am in a more active position during sex (cowgirl, giving SO to someone bent over…). I can also be spanking or flogging someone as a Top but not necessarily be "dominant". Sometimes people will "service Top" and negotiate doing a thing to someone else as an act of service, often when it is one of their particular skills. When I first started becoming interested in singletail whips, I had a friend top me as a favor, so I could see what the sensations were like, and how he built scene energy, not because I was seeking to submit to him.
Topping - The act of doing something to someone else. Someone who is a "slave" can be ordered to peg their Master as an act of service. The slave in this instance is topping, which does not change their status as a slave. They are still following the orders of their Master, even if they are the one in the more active/giving role. "Service topping" can be done by anyone of any role/identity, as is considered a service because of who the activity is being done for: the person bottoming.
Bottom - a person who receives an action from someone else. This can be a cane, a spanking, a fist, fire cupping, play piercings, and more. Masochists often seek to bottom for extreme sensation/impact play, but may not necessarily seek psychological submission to a dominant partner. I will sometimes role play as a submissive, and bottom, for people who want to experiment with their Top/Dom energy. My psychological state is not actually submissive, therefore I am just "service-bottoming" (providing a service to the person topping).
Bottoming - receiving an action from someone else. Bottoming can be done for a variety of reasons, including education, curiosity &/or experimentation. As stated above, a Dominant/Master can be "bottoming" for an activity they ordered a sub/slave to do for them, but their psychological energy and authority is still the dominant.
Dom/Domme/Dominant - An identity role denoting someone who seeks to hold power/authority over others. People can sometimes start out topping, then after experimenting may decide they want to develop and hold more authority in their relationships dynamics. This requires more mental/emotional/psychological elements then just toppping, so is a different "head space" then topping usually is.
Domination - A psychological state of influence where someone holds power/authority over others. May or may not include physical acts to express power and control, but always includes verbal, non-verbal, mental, and emotional expressions of power/authority.
sub/submissive - A person who seeks to relinquish power and/or control to others. A well-grounded & self-aware submissive takes the time to find the right Dominant who shares similar interests, and is properly qualified with the skills required to care for them properly.
submission - the act and psychological state of giving up power and/or control to a Dominant partner. This is a mindset outside of a scene, but can be heightened in scene where someone falls into an altered state often called "sub space", often a feeling of complete surrender brought on my the chemicals/hormones created in the body from certain activities. It's important to note that bottoms can also access these altered states also, since it has to do with physiological/biological changes that can occur with repetition, sensation/impact play, sensory deprivation, oxygen manipulation, and does not actually denote a person's psychological needs outside of a scene.
Master - a person of any gender who holds authority over a slave(s), and has advanced knowledge of D/s lifestyle and lives it 24/7. Masters/slaves usually practice particular protocols specific to the leather community, but often tailored to their own needs, and specific interests shared in their relationships.
slave - a person who enjoys being in service to a Master, taking care of their needs as ordered, and following protocols 24/7 (or as directed). slaves do not always have a submissive mindset, and are a distinct identity that should not be conflated as being the same as submissive.
Within the confines of these roles, a whole lot can be negotiated re: how these dynamics play out. Sensations, impact, role play, location, switching, psychological impact, etc. are the ingredients that help refine the experience.
But knowing what type of role you want to play is often an important jumping off point. In many instances, I find people just want to role play a scenario where power exchange is a part of that, just to get a taste of what that feels like. Some are satisfied by just those occasional experiments, and taking a brief break from the usual power dynamics they engage in, while others find a calling and a need they have ignored for a really long time. No matter what your interest level might be, I hope this helps you communicate those needs more clearly so you can get better results.
Look for more articles soon on other important topics to understand around power exchange, and how to engage in these activities more mindfully/safely.