Sex & Relationships

How To Start Dom/Sub Relationships, According To Experts

“Remember that negotiation is a skill, a verb, and the dynamic can always change over time.”

The dom and sub meaning is varied and expansive, dependent on individual relationships.
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Trying new positions, toys, or techniques in the bedroom are all great options to spice up your sex life and keep things exciting and fresh. It’s one way to maintain intimacy and passion with a partner, especially in a long-term relationship. If you’re familiar with kinks and power dynamics, you might have heard of dominance and submission. This dynamic can be practiced in numerous forms, both inside and outside of the bedroom, and can vary greatly in how it appears — but what is dominance and submission, exactly?

“Dominance and submission is the idea that one person will lead and another follows,” says Dr. Sara Sohn, a pelvic floor physical therapist and sex counselor. “Power exchange is inherent in all relationships. Dominance and submission plays with the power exchange to enhance connection.” The ways people practice a dominant/submissive dynamic (usually abbreviated as D/s) are often personal to the nature of their relationship.

Exploring a D/s dynamic with your partner can be both exciting and intimidating, and there are safety tips and pointers to keep in mind before you dive in. Read on for everything to know about trying a D/s dynamic with your partner, straight from the experts.

How Can I Know If A Dom/Sub Dynamic Is Right For Me?

The world of kink and BDSM is vast, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re first entering it. Rather than commit to one lifestyle or dynamic, like D/s, take time to assess how it could fit into your life and benefit your relationship. For example, if you or a partner have an Acts of Service love language between you, playing that up in your intimate life with dominant and submissive roles might feel really good.

If you’ve seen movies like Fifty Shades Of Grey, you probably have a specific image in your head of what it looks like, but these portrayals aren’t the only models for the dynamic (and usually not the most common). Your main focus should be figuring out what the best D/s situation looks like for you and your relationship, says Lola Jean, sex educator and headmistress of 7 Days of Domination. Focus on what brings you and your partner pleasure and fulfillment.

“You may not necessarily feel a ‘calling’ to add a power dynamic to your relationship, but adding this can definitely be enriching to your current relationship,” Lola Jean says. “D/s or even kink can help a couple better communicate with each other and tap into their playful sides, [and] they’ll also get a better handle on how they’re feeling and how to communicate this.”

What Does A Dom/Sub Dynamic Look Like?

Many people adhere to certain “standards” in their relationships, which are often based on patriarchal or heteronormative models, says Lola Jean. “Our socialization can influence where we think we are supposed to be,” she says. “So a cis-male may have a harder time communicating or even realizing submissive desires because it’s associated with being ‘un-masculine.’”

Rather than focusing on these outdated assumptions (i.e., a man being the Dominant and a woman being the submissive), Lola Jean encourages you to focus on what feels right in your relationship. “Instead of getting wrapped up in labels, why not focus on the feelings desired by each party, which can translate to either side of the slash,” she says. This might mean each person tries both roles.

Some couples occasionally try these roles in the bedroom, and others commit to D/s full-time in their “normal” life. If you feel a desire to serve your partner, or for them to take control in some way, consider exploring your submissive side. This could look like being told what to do, consenting to being punished in the bedroom with something like spanking or bondage, or surrendering to your partner full-time and living the dynamic 24/7. For a more dominant partner, they might want to be referred to with a certain title — like “master,” “sir/madam,” or “mommy/daddy” — and physically or mentally control their partner for mutual satisfaction.

There are also certain established structures for D/s in the kink community, according to Sohn. These include SSC (Safe, Sane, Consensual), RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink), PRICK (Personal Responsibility, Informed, Consensual Kink), and Sohn’s personal favorite — TICK (Trauma-Informed Consensual Kink, created by Candace Liger). These power exchange structures are ways to adhere to safety and consent in your relationship, while providing room for personalization and exploration.

How Can I Safely Explore A Dom/Sub Dynamic With My Partner?

If you want to talk to your partner about trying out a D/s relationship, Sohn recommends “think[ing] of scenarios where you and the partner have fallen into the lead-and-follow dynamic and [where it fits] well. Use that as a launching point.” Do you usually make your partner breakfast in the morning? Do you usually delegate chores to your partner on the weekends, and give them specific pointers on how you want them done? If so, these could be elements to play into when trying a D/s dynamic with a partner. Sohn recommends asking questions like, “Hey, I enjoy when I make your coffee in the morning. What do you think about making that a responsibility of mine in a power-play exchange?” or “I enjoy taking control of sex and letting you check out. Would you consider exploring that in a more formal way?”

According to Sohn, both sides of the D/s spectrum are centered around service. While the Dominant partner may get pleasure from the other submitting to them, their act of dominance is also a form of service itself. “In a romantic relationship, sex aside, a great way to practice a power exchange is through service,” Sohn says. “From the Dominant side it could be making choices when decision fatigue sets in. From the submissive side it could be negotiating that coffee ritual with a gesture, or word. Service can be both a Dominant or submissive act; it depends on the intentionality.”

The point of D/s is for both you and a partner to achieve mutual and consensual pleasure. “If you know about kink from existing or watching movies, check your ego at the door,” says Lola Jean. “You’re going to need a lot more than a safe word. Don’t feel pressure to ‘get to the end’ or make every activity ‘successful.’ You have all the time in the world to build on any kink or activity.”

Taking time to slowly build up knowledge and skills related to the dynamic is key. Lola Jean recommends making a date night, taking a kink or D/s-related class, and looking at resources like her Domming 101 course (for people new to the role), or any of the 60-plus courses featured on 7 Days of Domination, which are all taught by professional dominants.

Remember, you and your partner should be doing this for mutual benefit. Focus on what excites you and what you want to try together, says Sohn. “Use an opt-in system for negotiations when starting, rather than an opt-out. Try the things that you feel an enthusiastic ‘yes’ [about]. Negotiation is a skill, a verb, and the dynamic can always change over time.”


Dr. Sara Sohn, pelvic floor physical therapist and sex counselor at Better Sex by Sara

Lola Jean, sex educator and headmistress of 7 Days of Domination