Now that you’ve had an introduction to the concept of kink from our wonderful guest blogger, I think it’s only fair to delve a little deeper into one aspect of that which is near and dear to my heart: power play.

Power play has a lot of baggage to unpack, because of the associations we make between gender, identity, and the practice of domination.  For example, we generally think Male Dominates, Female is Dominated, or in the case of a same sex relationship, Butch = top, Femme = bottom (butch being a more masculine man/woman, and femme being more feminine).  But of course this isn’t always the case.

This article from Carnal Nation gives a good primer on the subject:

“In fact, sometimes people who are larger, because they are larger, like being able to surrender, to turn their bodies and their size and their stature and their presence over to someone else, appreciating the temporary release of their own control. I know some people who are dominants, and who are smaller in size, and who love topping people who are larger than they are, because it takes more than just physical strength in order to dominate them. It takes psychological or emotional strength, the will to induce someone else to surrender.”

This concept of giving and receiving of power- of playing into the dominant/submissive dichotomy willingly- is an amazingly complex one, but it has the power to build incredible intimacy.

…It takes great strength to be capable of giving up power.  It takes the strength of discernment, being able to choose a lover with whom you will be safe when you give up your own power to them. It takes a certain fearlessness, knowing that your power will come back, even if it’s frightful at times to experience physical surrender, physical and emotional vulnerability.”

Upon relinquishing power, you leave yourself vulnerable, and the ability to do so demonstrates and builds immense trust between partners.  On the other side of this, though, is the potential for hurt on both sides of the equation- the submissive being pushed too far or the dominant being uncomfortable with the role s/he/ze has taken on.  I wish I could link you to the Sugarbutch article which does such a good job talking about how hard it can be as a dominant, but sadly, it is a protected post.

Nonetheless, let’s try to illustrate.  If you are deeply, romantically and/or sexually involved with someone, the incorporation of D/S can mean purposefully abusing them, causing them pain or discomfort (of course, this is what a sub wants- to be used, to abdicate control of their desires).  But even if you personally KNOW that this is what your partner wants, that he/she/ze has explicitly said “Do not stop when I say it hurts, when I say ‘no,’” there is still an immense psychological boundary to leap over in continuing when your partner actually says that.  Even if the rules have been established, you still feel like you are hurting your partner, doing something completely unacceptable.

This is something doms have been dealing with for a long time, but it doesn’t apply exclusively to such heavy D/S play.  Many vanilla couples have probably encountered it when it comes to that contentious but desirable practice: dirty talk.  The Canadian paper Globe and Mail did an entertaining piece about the hesitation to use dirty talk in the bedroom, which echoes the same problems that dominants have in topping their submissives:

“Part of talking dirty can involve theatrically using the language of degradation. For the generations of men raised by feminists, this can feel problematic, but Stacey May Fowles, publisher of Shameless, a Toronto-based feminist magazine for young women, says this shouldn’t be the case if it’s what a woman wants to hear…

“Early on when she was experimenting with her sexuality, Ms. Fowles says, she requested that a former boyfriend call her a dirty name. His response, she tells me, was, “I won’t call you that because I don’t want to think of you that way.” Fair enough – a man is allowed to have his boundaries – but what struck me most was this guy’s confusion of fantasy and reality. And if your sex partner can’t tell the difference between the two, you may have bigger problems on your hands.”

With dirty talk as with D/S, practices involving degradation or humiliation end up confusing how we truly think of our partner and how we desire to “play” with them.  And even for the most prepared of us, this can be a hard line to navigate.

Another Carnal Nation writer, Madison Young, touches on how her personal fetish- rope play- can fit into this challenging dichotomy.

Why do we engage in rope bondage as a tool within D/s? Why is it fascinating and erotically stimulating to engage in power exchange and to disassemble power structures that have been put in place by a social normative? We are breaking the rules. As queers, as feminists, as kinky persons, and sexual outlaws we have always been breaking the rules. Going outside of the designated sexual norms as we search for connection, community, and fulfillment in our sexual lives and identities….

“In the relationship with one in which I serve, rope is used as a treat or a reward for good behavior. In this way rope is largely used to gain power of me as a submissive and to motivate my behavior. I know that if I do as I’m told I will be rewarded with rope.”

In her relationships, rope is the manifestation of a D/S relationship- the object which controls the power struggle.  The same elements of domination and submission are still present as in relationships without a fetish- the abandonment of control, inherent trust in her dominant, and a deep understand of what she personally wants from a sexual interaction- but the rope provides the additional element which is most erotic to her.

So what does all this D/S talk add up to?  A better understanding of who we are as sexual beings, what we want from our interactions, and the challenges of both abdicating and taking on power for another’s sexual experiences. These practices can encompass everything from how we talk to one another to the use of restraints and physical punishments in sexual play.  These things can be scary and intoxicating and incredibly powerful; but used properly, the can take a sexual relationship to whole new levels.

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