In my early explorations of BDSM, I read a blog on submissive rights. In the comments section a man who claimed to be a Dominant declared that his sub – his slave – had one right and one only: The Right To Leave. I have no idea if he was just another online fantasist, we know they’re there! I hope he was, but I don’t doubt there are pairs out there who have that arrangement.
But even at that early stage in my journey that concept felt jarring. It set me thinking about not only the rights of submissives, but those of Dominants and the responsibilities that come with them, and ultimately the privileges that allows.
In writing this article, I am, as always, writing from my perspective, my instinct. But I’m also making a bunch of assumptions: Principally that Dominants care about their subs, want the best for them, that they cherish and nurture them. That they put their subs first. That they’re not users or abusers.
There are many different arrangements in D/s from online only, to bedroom only, to 24/7, up to TPE/master/slave. I believe they all share a baseline for mutual respect in an exclusive D/s relationship.
Being entirely judgemental, I believe that without these fundamental rights, responsibilities and privileges, then users and abusers they are.
Of course, any union may have negotiated or evolved many more rights, responsibilities and privileges as you’d expect.
Health And Wellbeing
In any trusted exchange of power there is a risk attached. Submissives privilege Dominants with a high degree of vulnerability, and trust us not to abuse that position.
The physical vulnerabilities are clearer and easier to define: they’re the limits and consents that exist, that have been negotiated directly, or that have been understood by putting in the time to understand. But even they have judgement calls within: Yes, you can spank, scratch, pull and bite. But precisely how hard is too hard?
Importantly, it’s not just the physical vulnerability of being bound, gagged and helpless in a way that enables a Dominant to do whatever he pleases, including abuse that vulnerability. There are emotional, psychological and social vulnerabilities, too.
Emotionally a sub (and a Dom) have a right not to have their emotions used to manipulate them. This is no different to any relationship in and out of bdsm, of course. An imbalance in emotional attachment must be recognised and both must keep an awareness of it, particularly during dispute or negotiation. Otherwise there’s a risk the threat of withdrawal might be used as leverage: “I’ll leave you unless…” As with so much, the responsibility for this awareness and management lays in the hands of the Dominant. Worse still is the phrase “If you were a proper sub you would…”. This is simple manipulation. It lacks any consideration. I’d go so far as to say any time a sub hears that phrase, she should get dressed, leave and not return.
It’s the psychological vulnerabilities that make aftercare so important. A sub has an absolute right to expect care, support and expressions of appreciation for her, for her submission. For gratitude. To be told how much she pleased her Dom. That she’s his good girl. It’s in that praise that many subs find their fulfilment. She has a right to receive proper care throughout her period of subdrop, a right to expect her Dom to check on her regularly, ensuring he is doing all he can to minimise her drop and reassure her.
Social wellbeing is crucial, too. A sub has a right to the privacy that we all value in kink, a discretion that avoids the social harm of exposure within their family, work and social groups, and the judgement and reputational harm that might result. This right doesn’t expire at the end of a relationship. It’s an enduring right that covers any and all aspects of the relationship during and after.
Right To Respect
Right Of Self Expression and Choice
If a sub cannot develop and explore her changing submission and desires then she will become unfulfilled. A sub must know that she has a safe space with her Dom to discuss, explore and develop those desires.
This needn’t mean that a Dom should put his own feelings and instincts aside and pursue his sub’s every whim – he has choice, too – but that he must listen and understand before deciding.
That right to growth, to a voice, to be heard, extends into every aspect of the relationship. A right to add and amend limits, to broaden or narrow consents, to express her feelings about any and all things. Her Dom is her guide and mentor, too, after all. The right to not express her desires is part and parcel of this voice. If she doesn’t wish to share just yet, then she mustn’t feel obliged, although the reasons behind the responsibility to communicate have to be considered.
Rights give a sub protection from her Dom. Whenever there is an exchange of power, whether it’s business and customer, government and citizens, or Dominant and submissive, the one without the power has the bulk of the rights.
For Her Dom To Act In Her Best Interests
A sub must never be given cause to doubt that her Dom has her best interests first and foremost.
Her Dom will believe he is the best person to protect, care for and guide her, or he ought to let her find someone better suited. She has a right to know that even when that protection might appear to be self-interested, acting in her interest to protect their bond is the goal.
For instance, there will be times when it appears he is being selfish, possessive or jealous. At those times and others, a sub must have confidence that even if she doesn’t have the information he has, or can’t see the problem he sees, he is acting to protect their bond.
There will be times when discipline is required. Again, at those times it’s crucial that she understands he is disciplining her because she has acted against her best interests, and trusts him to see that bigger picture.
The reason I wrote about rights first is because without ensuring those rights as a minimum set, a Dominant cannot meet one of his primary responsibilities: Protection for his sub – even from himself.
The bulk of responsibility of course, rests on the shoulders of the one with power, the Dominant. That doesn’t mean he necessarily has more responsibilities within the relationship, but that he must take responsibility within the relationship. When communication fails, or when he and his sub are not seeing eye-to-eye, when it is “six of one and half a dozen of the other”, when they can’t agree, he must accept responsibility to put things right. That doesn’t mean he has to accept blame for the situation, or apologise, but that it is his task to guide, to repair and to find a way forward.
With the best of intentions it’s impossible to get it right all the time. But if a Dom or a sub don’t strive to meet their responsibilities to each other, learning from the times that they fall short, then there is a lack of care at the centre of the relationship. I’d feel that is a red flag for both.
Happiness is the outcome of fulfilment. Fulfilment is the goal of any relationship, kink or otherwise. There’s also the recognition that some people aren’t capable of happiness, or aren’t happy unless they’re angry or have something to moan about (we all know someone like that!) There’s no problem with that route to fulfilment, or course, so long as you’re both comfortable with it.
How you take responsibility for each other’s fulfilment and happiness is between the two of you, but I’d advocate that as a minimum it should include ensuring the other responsibilities to each other are met…
To Have A Care For Feelings
The emotions and responses in D/s are intense for both sub and Dom, there will be days when either might need to hear a kind word or reassurance. It’s natural that they will turn to the person who’s words mean most to them. This most basic care takes only a moment and means so much.
To Be Cared For
The ways that you show care for each other will be unique to you. It’s shown in many changing ways every day. Care rarely shown, or shown in ways you can’t see, amounts to none at all. Often it’s the ways you show care and the recognition of how it’s shown by your partner and how they need it to be shown that are the foundation of success.
What constitutes good conduct is, of course, something that is unique to each couple. But that good conduct is a vital element to a relationship. Breaching it leads to hurt. Behaving in a way that reflects badly on your Dom or sub, or suggests that they or your connection don’t deserve your consideration, is potentially fatal to a bond.
Whereas behaving with others outside the relationship in a manner that is respectful to the bond, that reflects well on each other, strengthens a bond. Behaving in a manner that your sub or Dom would be proud to see builds trust in their absence, and boosts your own self-esteem. To know that your manner, behaviour would make your sub or Dom proud, makes you proud of yourself. To do otherwise risks feeling that you’re letting them down.
Communication is crucial to any relationship. The challenge is to maintain it at the very times that the temptation is to clam up, run or argue. When problems arise, however difficult it is to talk about them, it’ll be harder by far to resolve them if you’re unable to talk freely.
This requires both of you to ensure there is a safe space to talk, a place without judgement, that when there is hurt or misunderstanding, you run to each other, not away.
Honesty is vital, without it no other communication can be relied upon to be based on truth. Dishonesty – even when it is a well intentioned white lie – only serves to draw into question everything else that is said. It is always ultimately more harmful than the truth it was intended to disguise.
Dishonesty is also insulting, suggesting that your partner is too stupid or blind to eventually learn the truth.
Other People and “Teaming”
Friends and family outside the partnership are important, and both people have a right to be friends with who they wish, neither have a right to tell the other they cannot be friends with someone. But that must be balanced by the responsibility to ensure they are not maintaining friendships that are harmful to their bond.
If someone outside their bond has created frictions, then both Dom and sub should have a care for how the other may feel about continuing that friendship. For a Dom to maintain friendships that unsettle his sub, makes her feel unsafe or uncomfortable can only be harmful. For a sub to maintain friendships that upset or displease her Dom should be no less a cause for concern.
Such friendships, not toxic in themselves or necessarily with toxic people, may be toxic to the bond. Who is more important. The Dom/sub, or the friend. Ultimatums shouldn’t be issued, but shouldn’t need to be. If either were to pursue such friendships, the other should consider if the bond is important after all.
Both of you should be able to rely on the other to strive to understand and (for want of a much less childish term) take each other’s side when one of you is unhappy or has concerns about a third party. I, for instance, have ceased friendships because I know they were with people my sub mistrusted or disliked. She didn’t ask me to, she didn’t have to. We are a team, and our bond should be more important. Others shouldn’t even come close.
The sense of betrayal when a sub or Dom takes the side of someone outside the relationship can be very harmful to trust and he bond between you.
To Nurture And Build Trust And The Bond
People talk of trust being a bubble. One prick and it’s gone. When it bursts, that’s it.
But it’s also like a well. You can draw water from the well over and over, relying on that trust to be there. But why would you force that? Because eventually you’ll empty the well, it’ll run dry. You have to keep filling the well, too. Not because there is mistrust, but to prevent any question of mistrust arising – keeping that well of trust sparkling and fresh. This is nurturing trust and the bond. How you do that is dependent on circumstances, of course, not only of your relationship but of the specific situation.
You will know each other well enough (and better each day) to know how to keep that well topped up, how not to necessarily drain it.
How you privilege each other depends entirely on you. But there must be privileges, or there’s nothing special between you.
There are the sacred acts of submission, but what they are for you depends on what fulfils you and what you keep just for each other: tasks, the administration of correction and discipline, sexual engagement (unless agreed beforehand), terms of address, enjoying the routines and rituals of their connection, … The choices are endless.
I believe that you cannot have a sustainable and healthy relationship (D/s or otherwise) if you don’t have a care for these minimum rights and responsibilities. Some of these rights are enduring, and do not end with the relationship. For instance the protection from social harm: all those private pictures should always remain private!
Because of the intensity of the dynamic, the end can be disorientating and emotionally devastating. In that event, you both have a responsibility to make the separation – however bitter and angry it becomes – as bearable as possible by not raising the spectre of betraying your enduring responsibilities to each other.
Most pairings will have other rights, expect other responsibilities to be respected. That will be how you show care in your relationships. Communication is, as always, the key.
I’m aware many will disagree, and I encourage you to comment.
© Charles Rochester 2016