The popular conception of Dominance and submissionary outside the BDSM community features an evil, sadistic Dominant and a meek, giving submissive. The Dominant preys on the submissive in all sorts of foul ways, and the submissive complies (often under duress) with the Dominant’s demands, giving them whatever they ask for even though it may cause them pain or distress. Picture Snidley Whiplash, complete with mustache and whip, standing over poor, innocent Nell bound to the railroad tracks, and you’ll have a fairly accurate mental image of the perception of most vanilla folk (though even the most anti-BDSM vanilla folk somehow seem fascinated even as they condemn it).
As usual, however, reality does not match perception. I have long maintained that playing a Dominant role often requires at least as much giving as taking, and that rather than being a predator-prey relationship, a D/s couple instead forms a symbiosis.
A relationship may be defined as symbiotic if all participants derive benefit from it. Symbiosis basically means that the participants each end up better off by virtue of their relationship than they would be if the relationship did not exist. I argue that a consensual, BDSM relationship meets this definition quite handily, as both members, Dominant and submissive, have needs and desires fulfilled by the other in ways that could or would not be available in a vanilla relationship.
What needs are met? What desires are fulfilled? From an external view, the Dominant side of the equation is the easiest to see. However, based on my experience, I believe that the Dominants actually sit on the high end of the teeter-totter when it comes to needs and desires. I believe that the submissives actually gain more fulfillment from the relationship than their Dominant partners do.
The D/s aspect of my relationship with Joy provides me with three benefits that I am consciously aware of. There may be others I don’t realize—I’d almost guarantee that, but since I don’t know what I don’t know, I can’t really write about them. The three benefits that I do know, however, are:
- Sexual Excitement: BDSM contributes greatly to the excitement of sex for several reasons, including the “forbidden” flavor it adds, the variety it introduces to sexual escapades, and probably most importantly, the feeling of power it provides.
- Creativity: Playing a Dominant role allows me to exercise my creativity around an area that I love—sex. It allows me to show off my creativity for the benefit of a partner who I love—Joy. And it allows Joy and I to partner creatively on projects that we both can enjoy— BDSM scenes.
- Self Esteem: I’ve said before that Joy is a strong and intelligent woman. When Joy submits to me, it bolsters my own self-esteem. My subconscious can whisper, “See this lovely, smart, strong woman? See how she gives herself to you? You must be hot stuff!” Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter to my subconscious–it’s pleased with itself just the same.
On the other hand, Joy receives benefits of her own. I’m listing the ones I’m familiar with, either through direct observation or through our conversations. Of course, there may be others I am not aware of, but here’s the known list:
- Sexual Excitement: Joy benefits from the increased excitement of BDSM sex in the same way that I do, and for many of the same reasons. The area that differs is, of course, control—Joy derives much of her excitement from giving up control, rather than exercising it.
- Forbidden Pleasures: Joy, having been raised to believe that sex was tolerated rather than enjoyed and took place only between married couples in dark bedrooms in the missionary position, feels inhibited about indulging in some of her darker desires. By allowing herself to be controlled by me, she can mentally absolve herself of some of the guilt associated with such “wicked” acts, and therefore enable herself to participate in them. After all, how can she be responsible when she is bound and cannot resist?
- Ability to Give Up Control: There is both great freedom and great excitement in giving up control of oneself. Joy gains freedom to act in ways she normally wouldn’t allow herself to act as described above, and freedom from worry because she has fewer decisions to make when we are together. At the same time, the loss of control can trigger her body’s sense of being “at risk”, cause adrenaline to flow, and charge her with sexual energy during an adventure.
- Security: Joy has explained that ceding control to me allows her to feel “overpowered”, and my ability to overpower her adds to her sense that I can protect her and keep her safe. If she perceives me as stronger than she is herself, then her perception is that I can face dangers better than she can, and therefore keep her more secure. Again, the question of whether or not this is really true is moot–it’s her perception that matters.
- Cherished Possession: When Joy gives herself to me and allows me to make use of her body, she allows herself to feel as though she’s my possession. When I lavish her with attention, either tender or harsh, when I dedicate time to making her body convulse with pain or pleasure or both, or take pleasure in her myself, she feels special, as though she’s the most prized jewel in a collection. She feels loved and desired and used and wanted and needed all at the same time.
Together we satisfy each other’s needs, and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the two parts. Could we give up BDSM and go back to being a vanilla couple? Well, in theory it’s possible, but I’m not sure. When we have a successful adventure together, we feel so much closer than we ever did before we started down this path. Losing that closeness would be very difficult, and I could see it leading to issues between us. Personally, I hope that this is a direction we never have to explore!
So the moral of this story is this: Despite the popular conception, a Dominant and his/her submissive do not equate to Predator and prey. Instead, think of them as Yin and Yang, one on Top, the other on the bottom, but both fitting together and supporting the other. In other words, a symbiosis.