Being dominant is about balance; when that fails, there is a risk of burning out through service. I should write by ‘only’ being in service or doing it too much. Dominating someone is a paradoxical balance between holding space and being selfish. Almost everyone wants to be a good master by taking care of the submissive, and almost everyone is empathetic and caring. Of course, some people are psychopaths, but this text is not about them. Many find the dominant side of the power dynamic interesting as it allows them to learn about and focus upon themselves. Their default is already to ‘over serve.’ It’s their comfort zone, where they feel safest interacting. This is great, don’t get me wrong, I’m just saying that they will eventually burn out.
At some point in one’s journey learning to tie advanced rope, one gets to the point where one says, half-jokingly, “I’m not going to be an amusement park anymore”. In the long process of learning the suspensions, one is often grateful for practising the techniques. At this stage, having a partner looking for the endorphins rollercoaster rather than a deep power play is perfect. Eventually, however, the focus will shift from the rope pattern to the power play, and then the dominant will likely say ‘I’m closing the amusement park’. This statement symbolises a significant shift in the dominant.
When I meet people starting to learn the tying techniques, I see that they struggle with feeling selfish and concerned to give their partners a profound experience. Yet once they excel at the techniques, practice in and of itself no longer balances out the ‘holding space and being selfish’ scale. One needs to find another way of being selfish or risk burning out.
How to do that? The Japanese have a term I love in their kink scene: to ‘be maniac’ about something. Here, this refers to finding something to lust for about the submissive, and dive deeply into it. It could be anything they find arousing – how their hair smells, the sounds they make when aroused, how they sob, how their mouth tastes. Or guide the submissive into a play that drives the dominant wild. Dive in and selfishly feast upon that. Sure, the desires of the dominant and submissive might dovetail – nice if they do – but the important thing is for the dominant to learn keeping the balance and not ignore their own selfish needs.
It’s always amusing for me to see this acted out on a micro scale during retreats. Most people choose to be submissive because there is such insecurity about being selfish.
The Submissive Is Also Selfish
For the submissive, there is also a balance to maintain, and that often gets skewed during self-appraisal. We understand the rules of the game: the dominant gives orders, the submissive follows. This can lead to the submissive (especially the types who are more dominant outside of play) to question themselves constantly: did I perform correctly? Did I follow the instructions correctly? What is the dominant trying to achieve and am I doing what I should? This can easily lead to a paradox wherein the submissive, instead of truly surrendering and submitting to the dominant’s will instead steps into the situation and ends up taking back some control. Their challenge is to strike a balance between understanding that what is happening is taking place within their boundaries and taking over too much.
The evaluating mind can significantly interfere with the bodily process of truly letting go into submission and surrender. Usually, when offered the possibility of not having to evaluate or even understand the play, submissives will express colossal relief at not having to think too much. But what about consent – could abandoning the evaluation process compromise that in a significant way? There are two parts to that answer. One is in the trust of the relationship with the dominant partner, which can be evaluated outside the play, or together by reflecting on what happened in the session. Secondly, embodying self-protection is a broad subject. It starts by learning to be transparent with one’s experience and showing how the scene impacts the submissive—by using body language, breathing, and sound. For example, suppose the play involves more risky elements, like rope suspensions and heavy impact. In that case, the submissive must learn to recognise dangerous pain and use their body to mitigate the risk or communicate it. It’s all easy to write, but it takes a lot of practice to embody.
Being Selfish Is Being Vulnerable
Anyone observing domination play will instantly see that this is an act of vulnerability. The submissive’s surrendering of control makes this plainly evident. However, vulnerability lies elsewhere as well; as a dominant, you expose your perverted and socially deviant desires. Usually one’s deepest desires are not the first stop along the bondage road, though – technical skills are. I have massive admiration for those people who attempt to walk this tightrope act in a highly emotional field requiring great self- and other-awareness. There is artistry and beauty involved in playing fairly, in recognising the subtle nuances involved, and sometimes I just stand back and watch as if engaged by a most beautiful piece of theatre.