Domination and submission

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Domination and Submission (also known as Dominance & submission, D/s, D&s or Ds) is a set of psychosexual behaviours, customs and rituals relating to the dominance of one individual over another. In terms of BDSM this occurs within an entirely consensual framework and is desired by both the dominant and the submissive person.



D/s is often referred to as the "mental" side of BDSM, as no physical contact is necessarily required. D/s partners sometimes even conduct a relationship over telephone or by email without ever even meeting, or knowing each other's real names. In other cases it can be intensely physical, sometimes blending into sadomasochism.

In D/s, one takes pleasure or erotic enjoyment out of either dominating or being dominated. Those who take the controlling position are commonly called Doms (male) or Dommes (female), those who take the controlled position are called subs or submissives (male or female). Submissives generally outnumber Dominants in the general population, with male subs outnumbering Dommes by the widest margin, often three to one or more. "Dominatrix" is a term usually reserved for a female Professional dominant who dominates others for pay. It should be noted that a Dominatrix is not a prostitute, and no sexual services are provided.

There can be any number of partners in a D/s relationship, with one Dominant sometimes having several subs, who may in turn dominate others. Relationships with multiple Dominants and a single submissive are rarer but still possible. The most common combination is a pair with a Dominant and submissive, often in an ongoing committed relationship. Romantic love is not necessarily a feature in D/s, but is common; partners can be very much in love or have no romantic relationship at all.

It should be borne in mind that Domination & submission is about an interaction between people. That someone chooses to dominate someone in a personal relationship does not necessarily imply that they are generally dominant in the rest of their lives or, if they are, that it is noticeable. Likewise, someone who is submissive in a relationship will not necessarily be generally submissive. For some submissives, it can take a great inner strength to go against social pressure and allow the dominant partner to make decisions on their life.

Variation in BDSM is extensive and activities take many forms, and may include servitude, verbal abuse, humiliation, consensual slavery and sexual slavery, and may be combined with other forms of BDSM in myriad combinations. Bootblacking is another form of D/s, where one person polishes and lavishes attention on another's footwear as an expression of submission. D/s participants often refer to their activity as "play", with an individual play session called a "scene".

Some D/s relationships are sexual, others completely chaste. Fantasy role play can also be a part, with partners taking classic dominant/submissive roles such as teacher/student, police officer/suspect or parent/child. Animal Play, where one partner takes the role of owner/caretaker and the other takes the part of a pet or animal, is also considered D/s play. Some people maintain a special room or area, called a dungeon, which contains special equipment (E.g. shackles, handcuffs, whips, queening stool, spanking bench, etc.) used for play scenes. Or, they may visit a BDSM club that maintains such facilities.

Consent is a vital element in all psychological play, and consent can be granted in many ways. Some employ a written form known as a "Dungeon negotiation form", for others a simple verbal commitment is sufficient. Consent can be limited both in duration and content. It's not unusual to grant consent only for an hour or for a evening; such arrangements are often termed New Style as opposed to more lengthy Old Style relationships. Some "contracts" can get quite detailed, especially if a scene is to last a weekend or more.

Many submissives and slaves wear a collar to denote their status and commitment. In lasting relationships, it can be much like a wedding band, except that only the submissive partner wears one.

Who brings up the idea of a D/s relationship

This section describes some not-very-scientific statistics from a 2001 poll in which 48 people responded.

Around half of all D/s relationships start out from single people seeking a dominant/submissive relationship.

Of those who convert an existing marriage into a dominant/submissive relationship, it is most often the wife who brings the idea to her husband. (The great majority of married couples are maledom/femsub.)

Of those who convert an existing unmarried relationship into a dominant/submissive relationship, it is usually the man who brings the idea to his girlfriend.


A more intense, invasive and potentially permanent condition is chosen by a few people using a Master/slave ownership model.

See Master/slave.


Since D/s is not necessarily a physical activity, there is less physical risk in such relationships. But both partners should be aware of one's mental health at all times, and be wary of people who may take advantage in a D/s relationship. Especially subs must be aware of Dom/mes who seek to isolate you from others in the community or who seek money or title to your property.

Dom/mes should also be concerned for their own mental health in additon to that of the sub, the strain of increased responsibility and the curse of "tops disease", a feeling of infallibility and omniscience.

One should also be concerned about unstable subs who can cause financial or personal ruin with a trip to a lawyer or Police station.


One meaning to being a submissive is about compliance. This may be the biggest difference between simply living with someone who tends to take the lead and living with "a Dominant" as his Sub or Slave. We all comply with things, we all comply with other people's demands (if in doubt about that, consider police prosecutors, judges, jail, and the law) but only a lifestyle sub/slave will be expected to always obey their partner's commands.

Perfect compliance is never possible in natural life - even the armed forces don't manage that in the relatively narrow spheres within which they work. Compliance is an acceptance that even though something may not make sense at the time, even though it may be inconvenient or difficult, it is something that should be done simply because it is asked / commanded / expected / required.

We all make internal decisions about what we will comply with, and what we won't; this is normal, and almost certainly healthy, though the grounds for such decisions is often unknown or irrational. When one considers compliance issues like school homework, drinking age, road speed limits, social or sexual customs, fidelity ... it is clear that most people pick and choose, often upon little conscious moral or ethical basis. Such choices are not the distinguishing marks of dominance or submission: few people would consider a soldier to be submissive just because he has a high level of compliance in his work.

Sometimes we comply with people out of the fear of doing otherwise (e.g., the police), sometimes out of ingrained habit (e.g. parents - though at some point this can dwindle), and sometimes from love (like when your partner asks you to make a cuppa). We might also comply because we want to (e.g., "let's go out tonight") but that has nothing to do with subservience.

In a free country, compliance is not unique to a submissive. Compliance to a Dominant partner's instructions is unique and is one thing that defines a submissive.


Dominance and submission almost certainly pre-date homo sapiens, and is widely practised among most species.

But this article is about D/s and usually connected with erotic attitudes, which can be hard to document, especially in cultures where one gender or another is presumed to be inherently dominant. It can be sometimes hard to tell if one submits because it is pleasurable or for more practical reasons, such as food and shelter.

Still, there are many writings from ancient times through modern times that would clearly indicate a willingness to submit for purely romantic reasons.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1342 - 1400) describes in his work "The Canterbury Tales" a clearly D/s relationship with a female dominant in "The Wife of Bath's Tale".

A somewhat later example is European courtly love, a medieval ideal wherein a Knight served his courtly lady (ie, love service) with the same obedience and loyalty which he owed to his liege lord. This act was definitely submissive, and sometimes became fetishistic, with the Knight performing acts of cross-dressing and self-flagellation.

There are also accounts from the 17th and 18th century of prostitutes in most major European cities that catered to male submissives, as well as masochists. In a male dominated world, it was all too easy for a submissive woman to find a strict male dominant, but some women still found ways to leave husbands who were "too soft".

One of the most famous works related to this issue is Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus im Pelz (Venus in Furs, 1869), in which the protagonist Severin entreats a woman, Wanda, to be her slave and offers to serve her and allow her to degrade him. The book has elements of both social and physical submission, and is the genesis of the term masochism coined by the 19th century psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing.

The Rolling Stones song "Under my Thumb" (M. Jagger, 1966) is said to be about a D/s relationship (see Music).


Common myths about D/s-

  • Dominants are naturally cruel people
  • submissives are naturally weak-willed "doormats"
  • submissives are attempting to re-live childhood abuse
  • Women who are into D/s are nymphomaniacs, or indiscriminate sex partners
  • D/s is usually a case of "role-reversal" with people who have much power and responsibility in real life often preferring a submissive role.

There is little or no factual evidence to support any of these concepts; submissives and Dominants come from every part of society and most people into BDSM are quite selective about who they play with. if only from the STD risk of promiscuity, this is not surprising, but in fact, few D/s practicioners hop from bed to bed.

There is no evidence that people into D/s or BDSM have any greater history of childhood abuse than the general populace.

Literary Styles

It is popular, but by no means mandatory, for persons in the BDSM world to capitalise words and names that refer to Dominants, and not to capitalise those that refer to submissives, hence the capitalisation of D/s.

This convention began on Internet chatrooms, to make it easier to identify the orientation of the writer or the person being written about.

It is also popular for slaves and submissives to eschew personal pronouns, instead referring to "this slave" or "Master Bob's girl". This is seen as an attempt at modesty. It is entirely optional, and many consider it an affectation.

See also

Notable authors (fiction and non-fiction)

References and further reading

  • Jack Rinella "The Compleat Slave: Creating and Living an Erotic Dominant/Submissive Lifestyle" Daedelus publishing Co, 2002 ISBN 1-881943-13-5
  • Jack Rinella "The Master's Manual: A Handbook of Erotic Dominance" Daedelus Publishing Co. 1994 ISBN 1-881943-03-8
  • Guy Baldwin "SlaveCraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude--Principles, Skills and Tools" Daedelus Publishing Co. 2002 ISBN 1-881943-14-3
  • Claudia Varrin "Art of Sensual Female Dominance: A Guide for Women" Birch Lane Press (April 1, 1998) ISBN 1559724471
  • Claudia Varrin "Erotic Surrender: The Sensual Joys of Female Submission" Citadel Press (March 1, 2001) ISBN 0806521813
  • Philip Miller, Molly Devon, Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism, Mystic Rose Books, 1995. ISBN 0964596008.


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