In this guide, you’ll learn both sides of the coin. You’ll learn about how to be a dom and you’ll learn how to be a submissive. What it all means and how to actually practice it.
Pleasure and pain. Reward and punishment.
Are you ready for this?
If you don’t know, those are lines of Christian Grey. Ha!
But there’s more to Dominant-submissive relationships than what you read and watch portrayed by the media.
It’s not always kinky (but it could be), and there’s not always a Red Room of Pain involved (although you could have one if you want to).
We rounded up 10 crucial rules to follow in a D/s relationship and an in-depth guide to navigating around this dynamic.
Table of Contents
What Is a D/S Relationship?
A Dominant-submissive (D/s or Dom/sub) relationship is a type of relationship where each partner takes on a role: one is dominant while the other is submissive.
It’s part of a broader category in BDSM (Bondage & Discipline [BD], Dominance & Submission [DS], Sadism and Masochism or Sadomasochism [SM]).
And while most people associate it with sex, it’s not always the case.
In fact, it’s actually more psychological than physical. D/s relationships involve power dynamics where one dominates over the other, and the other one willfully submits.
Note: Despite what most people think, not all doms are sadists, and not all sadists are dominant. Just like how not all subs are masochists, and not all masochists are submissive.
While there are rules to follow, it doesn’t always require contracts or NDAs (unlike what you’ve seen in some movies).
Types of D/S Relationships
Each D/s relationship is unique. And there are A LOT of variations depending on what each party negotiated, cultivated, and agreed on. However, these are the common types:
- 24/7 – The D/s roles are followed every moment of every day, whether that’s in bed or when grocery shopping. Often referred to as the Master/slave (M/s) relationship and TPE (Total Power Exchange), some even go through collaring ceremonies (similar to a wedding to solidify the union).
- Casual – Usually, for short-term goals, D/s partners could schedule their scenes but not interact outside those encounters. Almost like friends with benefits (FWB), it’s common for those with primary partners outside the D/s dynamic.
- Bedroom-only – The D/s dynamics are only observed during sex.
- Non-sexual – An exchange of power without sexual or physical intimacy. For example, a Dom tasks their sub to report every single meal they ate in a day.
- Service-based – Subs gain purpose through acts of service like cleaning, preparing meals, or serving a footstool. It could involve sex or not.
- Rope-bondage-based – Rope play or other forms of bondage in sex, but it could also be outside of a sexual context. Subs are often the rope bottom (person being tied)—but not always!
- Caregiver/little – The caregiver, referred to as Daddy Dom, takes on the role of a nurturing disciplinarian to the little (sub). They also typically use a punishment/reward system that could be sexual or purely emotional and mental play.
- Brats/tamers – Similar to the caregiver/little dynamic, but the brat (sub) purposely “misbehaves” to be punished by the Dom.
- Chastity-based – The Dom is the keyholder, while the sub is kept in chastity. They may use a chastity device, but it could also only be in the concept of controlling the sub’s sexual pleasure.
Misconceptions of D/S Relationships
D/s relationships are often portrayed in the media as negative, violent, dangerous, and abusive.
They often focus on the more extreme spectrum, like Master/slave relationships where partners have super heavy 24/7 arrangements. Plus, they depict it as always involving pain, bondage, and whips.
But as we mentioned, D/s relationships are diverse. It is just like any relationship with its own arrangements.
And as long as it’s between two consenting adults, there’s really no point in these misconceptions.
Are D/S Relationships all about whips, chains, blood, and pain?
D/s is different from S&M, which is sadomasochism. This is a dynamic where the sadist enjoys inflicting pain (often in a sexual context) while the masochist enjoys receiving it.
Some D/s partners MAY incorporate some sort of S&M into their D/s dynamic, though. So, yes, spanking could be involved from mild to moderate levels.
But, let’s be real. Many “vanilla” couples have tried some bits of spanking in one way or another in the throes of passion. It’s not exclusive to S&M. *wink*
Are D/S Relationships all about kinky sex?
Many D/s relationships indeed lean towards the sexual aspect. But could you blame them? Well, it’s hot, right?
However, it’s primarily an energy dynamic between people. And many naturally flow into a “dominant” or “submissive” role in a relationship even if they don’t define it as D/s.
Often, people explore it as a sexual role play in bed. Others expand it by setting rules to follow. For example, the sub needs to ask for permission from the Dom to masturbate when they’re not around.
It could also cross the line to the more in-depth lifestyle of Master/slave relationships where the dynamic is practiced in all aspects of their connection.
What is involved in a D/S Relationship?
A D/s relationship involves a consensual exchange of power.
An individual can identify as the dominant, submissive, or switch. The switch means the person could be dominant and submissive at certain times.
You can stick to only one role throughout, but you may also take on a different role on different occasions.
It’s really so customizable to the needs of everyone in the relationship.
Again, this power play could be in the realm of sexual acts. But it also goes beyond that if you wish so.
There are often pre-arranged scenes for the power exchange.
The submissive partner serves the Dom food, massages them, or takes any of their orders. The dominant partner can discipline the sub or set rules for the sub on needing to ask for permission.
For others (particularly M/s), it could be a 24/7 lifestyle.
Meanwhile, some couples do this for a longer period (not only for one sesh), but not in their everyday lives. For instance, they could go on a holiday to practice this particular dynamic.
Difference Between a D/S Relationship and a Traditional Relationship
The difference between a D/s relationship and a more “traditional” one varies.
It could be a vanilla relationship with a bit of power play during sex, which is often the case for many D/s couples.
In many aspects, it’s not that much different. One person often takes a specific role even in vanilla couples, like one tends to:
- Take the lead more during sex
- Have more responsibility in handling the finances
- Be more of a follower
- Looks after the other person more
- Make decisions more
However, these roles are more explicit in D/s relationships than vanilla ones. So communication may be the key difference here.
D/s couples negotiate at the very start of the arrangement to define who’s going to do what. (Which is something you don’t really do in vanilla relationships.)
You negotiate and agree on what’s allowed and what’s not, as CONSENT is very important.
Some people even have contracts and checklists, but others are more casual.
Roles of the Dominant
The Dom is the manager of the scene. They are given the power by the submissive—the sub surrenders control to the Dom.
They hold and exercise control, and they enjoy the role of being assertive and directing how the scene plays out.
- Holds the space of trust.
- Exercises control with responsibility.
- Holds the sub in safety throughout the scene.
- Ensures boundaries are kept and respected.
- Handing out punishments for misbehaving or breaking agreed-upon rules.
Roles of the Submissive
The sub follows, pleases, or serves the Dom. They surrender power to the Dom. Handing that power is a precious gift given with full consent and freely.
They have a desire to please their dominant and elevate their dominant’s needs above theirs.
But it’s important to note that the sub isn’t “powerless.” In fact, they hold a lot of power. They establish the boundaries and limits at the outset. And they can end the scene at any time by saying their safewords.
- Expresses desire to please the dominant.
- Likes the feeling of being controlled.
- Offers act of service like doing tasks ordered by the dominant.
- Leaves all the decisions to the Dom.
- Is able to take pain (if agreed on) for punishments like spanking or flogging.
Why Do People Prefer D/S Relationships?
The “why” varies from one person to another, TBH. It could be that:
- Some people like decision-reprieve. As a submissive, they surrender control and leave the decision-making to the dominant. This is a good break for them to eliminate overthinking every once in a while.
- The taboo or “wrong” nature of being a dominant or submissive turns them on.
- Some are fulfilled in taking control and power and nurturing another individual.
- Others find satisfaction in serving another individual, which encompasses showing their affection through servitude in normal relationships.
- The act of submitting is healing or spiritual for some people.
- Some people simply enjoy it as a fun experience and adventure of sensation, physicality, and intimacy.
Ultimately, the brain is the biggest sex organ. And people in D/s roles find it appealing—the words, orders, reprimands, and tone.
It makes them more aware of their sensuality and sexuality and helps them learn more about themselves.
The Benefits of a D/S Relationship
You might not know it, but there are benefits to having a D/s relationship, which are:
- Building stronger bonds for couples
- Improving communication
- Increasing intimacy
- Easing mental health
- Encouraging fidelity
- Reducing psychological stress
- Decreasing anxiety
Well, D/s people often experience a release of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, which are dopamine and serotonin. It makes people feel more bonded and feel happiness, joy, self-confidence, tranquility, and emotional well-being.
They are also more open and secure, which are associated with the trust, willingness, and vulnerability present in D/s dynamics.
Its physical healing is often linked to physical touch as well.
Beginning a D/S Relationship
The first step is to communicate.
But how do you bring it up? It could vary for a one-time fling, casual partner, or long-term relationship.
For flings and casual partners, this conversation should come up early in the connection to get the interest or intention across right from the start. This way, you’ll know from the get-go if you have common interests.
If it’s a long-term partner, it might be a bit tricky. Still, bring up the topic that it’s something you want to explore.
Remember that consent is the key to a D/s relationship. There should be no forcing or coercion.
If they’re not into it, then let it be. And if it’s something you find crucial for you, it might boil down to incompatibility.
You can start by creating a list of sexual activities you know. Label them as “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” if they interest you.
It could be challenging to compile all sexual practices out there.
You can take our BDSM Kink test here to make it easy. It helps you figure out the role to take that matches your desire and other kinks.
10 Rules In A D/S Relationship
Being open-minded is essential for any type of relationship, but even more for D/s relationships as it’s not a more conventional approach.
The Dom may be the one who executes and directs the commands, but it doesn’t mean there is nothing to learn from the sub.
It’s a dual effort for the D/s couple, and there should be an openness to explore and learn from each other.
Dominant and submissive partners need to be sensitive to each other.
The Dom should not only fulfill all their fantasies and disregard the submissive’s needs. The sub may be expected to act as the “servant,” but D/s couples should SERVE each other.
For example, some Doms want them to be addressed as “master,” “sir,” or “madam.” Always remember that trust is important to establish. Ensure you’re worthy of being called with such a title and if your sub is comfortable with it.
3. Honest communication
Unfortunately, your partner isn’t a mind reader like Edward Cullen. Bummer.
You can’t assume what your partner thinks, wants, and needs. And vice versa.
Communication is the groundwork for a trusting relationship, especially in D/s.
Be vocal about your expectations, rules, contracts, health, sexual needs, boundaries and limits, and experiences.
The more information you have about each other, the easier and more comfortable it will be to settle in your roles.
And after the talk, let your partner know they are heard at any time.
Being healthy—physically, emotionally, and mentally—is crucial for D/s relationships to be happy and comfortable.
This responsibility often falls to the Dom to take care of and is something they should ensure for themselves as well as for their sub.
You should have a stress-free lifestyle, good sleeping habits, nutritious diet, and minimal alcohol intake.
This way, you’ll get the mental fortitude and physical strength you need to accomplish your scenes and maintain a healthy D/s dynamic.
Similar to a vanilla relationship, you don’t just go around ordering (or getting ordered) by your partner. Patience is important to understand each other, communicate, and be gentle.
The Dom should be gentle and caring to offer a comfortable atmosphere for the sub. This role doesn’t equate to being a domineering, commanding partner, especially in areas outside the agreed D/s environment.
Meanwhile, the sub could show their interest in the relationship by striving to please their partner and not being impatient in getting their needs met.
The dynamic of this power exchange could only work if there is trust in each other.
The Dom partner should trust their sub to heed their commands and safe-word when they reach their limits. At the same time, you should show your trustworthiness to your sub to be a worthy dominant.
Submissives also need to have that trust, especially when they are being punished to the limit that serves their well-being. Not fear.
Because then it would be abusive, not a D/s relationship.
7. Use a safe word
A safe word is a signal for D/s couples when their mental, physical, or emotional boundary is crossed or approaching.
Saying “stop” is often not enough because it could be part of the D/s performance. Hence, you need to have a certain safe word you’d clearly agreed on beforehand.
Some safe words people use are “red” and “elephant.” Basically, pretty random words don’t come up naturally in the conversation.
Nonverbal cues are also essential if there is gagging involved. Some people may also have difficulty speaking up when going into a physical, mental, or emotional state.
Being too proud isn’t good. Instead, be humble and only handle what you actually can.
Of course, this is both for the Dom and the sub.
Doms should not attempt doing something they’re inexperienced in, especially as they are the ones who are responsible for the sub and the situation.
Subs, meanwhile, should also be honest in setting their boundaries. Just because they want to please their Doms doesn’t mean they should agree to things they are uncomfortable with.
9. Lower your expectations
There are limits to what you can actually do in real life. You don’t have to recreate everything you see in fiction.
Sure, you could take inspiration from them. But be realistic with your expectations.
To subs, don’t forget that your dominant is still human. They could be indecisive, awkward, and make mistakes sometimes.
And for Doms, you can’t always expect your submissive to wait for you kneeling with bowed heads as soon as you enter a room. They still have their own will and mind, and they won’t always be at your beck and call to fulfill each and every fantasy.
D/s relationships come with a lot of rules that are essential to make them work. But, despite that, don’t forget to have fun.
If it’s only causing you stress in your life, then it shouldn’t be something you should continue doing.
There are different levels of D/s relationships because some individuals are in tune with it in different ways—some more than others.
Find the joy out of it, particularly in embracing your sensuality, learning more about each other, and forging stronger bonds with your partner.
Signs of a Healthy D/S Relationship
Unfortunately, D/s relationships could quickly become toxic and abusive if not handled well and respectfully.
It must be consensual. And the submissive partner should derive pleasure from being a submissive.
You DO NOT FORCE a person into submission. Because by then, it’s no longer D/s or BDSM. It’s abuse and predatory.
Here are some signs that a D/s relationship is healthy:
- Negotiating wants, needs, and boundaries for both sides. There is no coercion or compromise. You can freely define hard and soft limits and work out punishments versus rewards ahead of time.
- Initiating aftercare to reconnect with your partner after the scene. This is the time to talk about the experience—what worked, what you want to change, and what you want to try again. Aftercare could be a:
- Soft kiss
- Warm bath or shower together
- Meal together
- Understanding that your needs may shift over time. Re-establish ground rules, and don’t forget that communication should be ongoing.
- Accepting that submission can be taken back at any time. And once that happens, the scene or dynamic is over. So consent should always be ongoing and enthusiastic (aka not forced).
A D/s relationship is not for everyone. But if it’s something you’re interested in getting into, educate yourself as much as possible before jumping into the gun.
And don’t forget to stay safe, sane, and consensual. (Keep your safe words close by!)