The Submissive Holds all the Power? Of Course They Don’t.

If you’ve been in the kink scene for long enough you’ll probably have come across this phrase. It’s supposed to empower subs and challenge the distorted representations of BDSM you see in the mainstream media. The only problem is, it isn’t true.

Subs absolutely have the right to set limits for play, decide what dynamic they want, and have the power to end a scene whenever they want. But so do Doms. If anybody in a dynamic feels pressured to do something they genuinely don’t want to do, or can’t stop a scene when they feel uncomfortable, then there’s a consent problem which needs to be addressed. This perhaps comes up less often with Doms, as they control what happens within a scene, but they still have the same rights as a sub.

When people are playing together the Dom holds the power. I personally have a lot of bratty dynamics where the sub will talk back and might have their own ideas of where they want the scene to go. But the Dom still has final say over what happens in a scene (within the boundaries of what has been negotiated), they can choose to ignore what the sub is asking for. This is the basic premise of a power exchange dynamic.

In a similar vein, you also come across the idea that submission is a gift. To me this implies that people submit purely for the benefit of the Dom, which feels misleading. When I submit it’s not a gift, it’s because I want to share an incredible experience with a partner, I think this is true of most subs. Submission is a dynamic which all participants get something from, if it is a gift, then so is domination.

Focussing on the power of the sub can give people inaccurate ideas about the nature of power exchange. There is also scope for focussing so much on the rights of subs that the rights of Doms can be overlooked. When I started out in the kink community there were times when I felt pressured into dynamics as a Dom that I was uncomfortable with. If I had been better educated in the idea that my limits and boundaries as a top were just as important as the limits of my sub, perhaps this could have been avoided.

I hesitated before writing this because I agree with some of the sentiment behind this idea. I want subs to be empowered to negotiate consensual dynamics which work for them. I dislike the perception that Doms hold all the power and use BDSM as an excuse for abusive dynamics (yes I’m looking at you 50 Shades). But I think this phrase is misleading and dangerously simplistic. There’re enough confusing and inaccurate narratives around BDSM in the mainstream media without kinksters contributing to them.


  • I have used the terms sub and Dom for simplicity, the same can apply to a range of different dynamics.
  • This is largely based on my own experiences, I don’t claim to speak for everyone.

I welcome discussion and the sharing of alternative views or relevant experiences in the comments, but please keep it respectful.

3 thoughts on “The Submissive Holds all the Power? Of Course They Don’t.

  1. A good scene is often a dynamic exchange between the dom and sub to get the most arousal for both parties. If either goes too far, the scene could end quickly. Neither Dom or sub want that to happen .

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