Domination and submission
What it is
Domination and submission is the term used to describe a relationship---even a short-term one---where the slave or submissive delegates some form of authority to their master or dominant. Often this is the authority to choose when, where and how some BDSM activities are performed. In other words, the master or dominant alone gets to choose what gets done, where and how. This is also known as D&s or D/s.
As opposed to scenes where the involvement or engagement has a specific start and end, D&s begins when the submissive agrees to delegate authority over some or every aspect of their BDSM life to their dominant partner and the dominant accepts this authority. Importantly, there is an implicit understanding and expectation that the dominant will use this new authority in a manner which is satisfying to both partners.
For people in a long-term relationship this delegation of authority may remain for the duration of the relationship. For people who decide to engage in D&s play at a party the delegation may end when the party ends.
Topping and bottoming are about the performance of some specific BDSM activity---such as flogging, cutting, caning, sensation play and so on. Topping and bottoming only occur after both the person doing and the person receiving have agreed that this is what they're going to do. When we're talking about people who identify as tops or bottoms this agreement is reached before every activity or scene. There is no delegation of authority which allows the top to unilaterally take their bottom partner and start doing whatever they want. Each and every time something is done the bottom needs to agree, and they also retain the authority to stop the action any time they like.
On the other hand, D&s is about that authority to decide being handed over well in advance to the dominant or master. This requires a certain amount of surrender on the part of the submissive or slave because they no longer know or can control when BDSM things are going to happen. Thus a slave or a submissive is much more aware of the control their partner wields over them than a bottom is. Commonly the submissive or slave has much less input in the when, where and how of what goes on compared to a bottom and this also contributes to the awareness and feeling of being controlled. For many, this awareness of being controlled is as important or more important than the actions or consequences of specific forms of play.
Because D&s is about authority---which is intangible---as opposed to particular BDSM activities, recognising D&s is more about the relationship and interaction between the master/dominant and the slave/submissive than what they do.
Here are a few examples:
- The dominant decides when and how the submissive will achieve sexual satisfaction,
- The dominant decides when they and their submissive will perform BDSM scenes or activities together,
- The dominant decides what the submissive will wear, or how they will behave, or
- The submissive will serve the dominant---in other words, the dominant will express wants and needs and the submissive will strive to satisfy them.
Discipline and punishment
Along with the delegation of authority, the dominant is frequently expected to impose standards of behaviour or performance on their partner. Implicitly or explicitly, often part of the authority is the right to compel the attainment of those standards through discipline ranging from:
- Speaking sternly to the submissive, to
- Punishment, such as withholding privileges (e.g., no sexual satisfaction, no BDSM play), confinement, or whipping or caning
In fact, punishment and discipline can be a very important part of D&s. They show that the dominant has requirements and standards which they expect to be achieved and that they are ready to make them happen.
As noted, D&s is about the use and exercise of authority. Implicitly the submissive or slave expects or needs their partner to use this authority in ways which can be felt. If a dominant sets up shop with a submissive and then endlessly asks their partner if what they're doing is OK, then this is not D&s. By asking all the time the dominant is not claiming authority. They are instead compelling their submissive partner to retain authority. This is often not what the submissive is looking for. They end up not feeling controlled at all because their "dominant" isn't doing any dominating at all. In fact, the dominant is effectively asking for permission all the time and is loading the submissive with even more authority rather than taking it away.
For a submissive or slave to feel D&s they must have choice removed, and they must feel the consequence of that choice being removed. This involves them being required to do things when they're not expecting it, when they're not ready, or when they don't even really want to. Inversely, it also involves them not getting things when they're ready and not doing things they want to.