Dom/Sub Relationship: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Doublelist Team

January 10, 2023 10 minutes read
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The dom/sub relationship is a key dynamic in BDSM (or bondage, discipline/domination, sadism, and masochism as a type of sexual practice). The relationship refers to the unbalanced power play between the Dominant, or the leader, and the sub, the follower. A power play that occurs inside and outside the bedroom. What makes the Dominant/submissive dynamic so erotically appealing to those who practice it? What are the rules in a D/s relationship?

What Is a Dom/Sub Relationship?

Pop culture (mostly referring to the 50 shades phenomenon) has sparked wanton interest in BDSM and the dom/sub relationship. This greater interest, however, helped perpetuate more myths than it did truths about BDSM role play — which is more than just about ropes, cuffs, blindfolds, and whips.

There is a distinct power play in a D/s relationship — which even the name literally represents with the big “D” and small “s.” The Dominant and submissive titles explicitly define the roles that each person willingly and eagerly commits to play within the dynamic. But this relationship goes beyond simply identifying who leads and who follows. A dom/sub relationship requires a deeper level of dedication and trust than what typically exists in a vanilla relationship.


BDSM Dom/Sub Relationship

There is always a Dominant and a submissive in BDSM role play. But d/s role-playing can also be done outside of the BDSM box. The dom/sub relationship can be exclusively played out in the bedroom; it can be the major driving force in a romantic relationship or an entire lifestyle.

Sexologist and Founding Director of the Center for Sex & Culture Carol Queen, PhD., explains that “Dom-sub play can involve much more than genital sex (and need not include that kind of sex at all). It can involve service, exhibitionism, and the other elements of the BDSM acronym (bondage, discipline, aka spanking or impact play, sadism, and masochism, aka eroticizing intense sensation). It can involve pretty much anything, as long as the participants want to do it, and it can be contextualized in a dom-sub framework.”

There are different types of D/s relationships, but they all have one vital factor in common. “Nothing occurs without open communication to create a trust that, in turn, fosters explicit consent” in a D/s relationship, according to kink specialist Mistress Kye.

Dom/Sub Dynamics Outside BDSM

BDSM and the Dom/sub dynamic do not always go hand in hand. A couple may choose not to include bondage, sadism, and masochism in their D/s power play. Domination and submission can be played out in other ways, both in and outside the bedroom. For example, dominance can be exerted simply by making all the decisions for the sub. Submission can be displayed by being absolutely compliant with a Dom’s demands. The crucial factor in a non-BDSM dom/sub relationship is the absence of pleasure and pain, humiliation, fear, and other similar elements of BDSM.

Dom/Sub Roles

Let us break down each person’s roles in a dom/sub relationship.

  1. The role of the Dom
    The Dom’s power and control are given by the submissive in a sense because the sub chooses to surrender to them. The Dom, sometimes also referred to as the Top, directs and manages all role-playing scenarios; they decide what happens and how things play out. They can choose to be gentle and nurturing, or they can be aggressive and forceful.But the Dom is always responsible for their sub. A big part of this responsibility is keeping the sub safe throughout any role-play they engage in and ensuring that boundaries are respected.

    The Dom can play out their role in different ways. They can perform sexual acts on their sub during role-play; they can make all the decisions whenever they spend time with the sub; they can punish the sub for misbehaving and take on a caregiver role.

  2. The role of the sub
    The sub, also referred to as the bottom freely and eagerly relinquishes all control to their Dom. Their main obligation is to please or serve their Dom as the Dom wishes. They must follow all the Dom’s rules — but remember that these rules are previously discussed, agreed upon, and mutually consented to. But while the sub gives the Dom power, they’re not powerless.“They establish their boundaries and limits at the outset and have the ability to end the scene at any time by invoking a safeword,” explains Dr. Justin Lehmiller, Kinsey Institute Research Fellow and host of the Sex and Psychology Podcast.

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Types of Dom/Sub Relationships

If you want to test the waters of a D/s relationship or are eager to wade into them deeper, here are the different types of Dom/sub relationships you can explore.

  1. D/s lovers
    They’re like typical lovers in all ways but one; they enjoy engaging in D/s role play when having sex. No whips and chains are involved, but playing with handcuffs or silk scarves is acceptable. The Dom calls the shots, and the sub is always eager to sexually please the Dom or to have them do whatever they want, as with a CNC kink.
  2. Master and servant
    This Dom/sub relationship is not only about the sub servicing their Dom sexually. The relationship can depict the typical master and servant dynamic. The sub takes care of all of the Dom’s everyday needs, such as cleaning for them, preparing their clothes, bathing them, etc.
  3. Caregiver/little
    This dynamic often involves age play. The Dom takes on the role of a caregiver (e.g., a mother, father, nanny, etc.) for the sub, who plays a younger role. The role play may begin with the sub acting as a baby and then eventually progressing into various stages of growing up. The caregiver nurtures the sub and attends to all their needs; they also dole out punishment when necessary.
  4. Training relationship
    The dynamic in this relationship is similar to that between a teacher and their student or an owner and a pet. The role play involves a training regimen set by the Dom for their sub, wherein the Dom helps the sub explore their sexuality and develop sexual skills.
  5. Bondage play
    In this relationship, the D/s partners enjoy bondage play with harnesses, ropes, blindfolds, etc., during sex. Bondage play requires a great deal of trust between partners, so it’s always best to engage in it with a regular/long-term partner.
  6. Keyholders
    This Dom/sub relationship closely resembles chastity play, which involves a literal key to a chastity belt or cock cage. During role-play, the Dom or Keyholder decides when and where the sub can touch themselves, when to orgasm, etc.
  7. Female-led relationship
    A female-led relationship (FLR) is often an ongoing BDSM relationship wherein the Dom is female, and the sub is male. In this day and age of fluid gender identities and roles, FLR can describe any dom/sub relationship that is not “male-led.” In this dynamic, the female takes on the leadership role in the relationship and makes all relationship decisions.
  8. 24/7 D/s
    This is a long-term or permanent D/s play and, therefore, typically involves long-term/lifetime partners. The Dominant and submissive roles are, more often than not, fixed. The dynamic is a preferred lifestyle, but the rules may be renegotiated.

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Dom/Sub Relationship Expectations vs Realities

Plenty of inaccuracies and myths about dom/sub relationships still persist. Let’s address some common dom/sub relationship expectations that a lot of “outsiders” incorrectly believe.

  • D/s always involves BDSM. As we have previously pointed out, D/s is always part of BDSM play, but it can also stand on its own. That is, a couple may have a dominant/submissive relationship any way they want and without engaging in any BDSM activities.In a loving relationship, the D/s dynamic becomes a unique, more intense, and deeply passionate journey for both partners. Any successful, long-term D/s relationship requires absolute trust between the Dom and the sub.
  • Dom/sub relationships always involve whips, chains, and pain. D/s play is not the same as S&M or sadomasochism. The Dom does not play the role of a sadist, and the sub is not a masochist. Some D/s relationships may incorporate some S&M elements into their scenarios, but these elements are only a minor part of their role play and are often mild.
  • D/s play is all about kinky sex. The pre-determined, unbalanced power exchange between partners mostly defines the Dom/sub relationship. Many D/s partners only take on their respective roles during sex and therefore indulge in a sexual kink. But the D/s dynamic often goes beyond sexual activities.
  • The Dom has all the power, and the sub is entirely powerless. “A true D/s relationship is based upon the needs, wants, desires, and curiosities of the sub — she defines the flow and boundaries of the relationship. The Dom’s job is to listen closely to her, ask questions, intuit what she says and sometimes can’t, and help her creatively and safely explore her innermost self, mentally, emotionally and yes, sexually, too.”

This is how a long-time female sub describes a health D/s dynamic in a SheKnows article on Dom/sub relationships.

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Aftercare in a Dom/sub Relationship

Aftercare in a Dom/sub relationship is just as important as trust and honest communication. Aftercare allows one or both partners to have an emotional reset and connect outside the d/s dynamic. Different d/s couples often have different aftercare routines, but these usually include the following:

  • Talk to your partner to ensure both of you are on the same page.
  • Asking your partner how they’re feeling, especially after an intense D/s role play.
  • Communicating with your partner about things that you or they may want to change or rules/boundaries that might need renegotiating.
  • Reassuring each other that however wild or intense their scenarios play out, the respect you have for one another will never change.
  • Cuddling, massaging, giving each other a relaxing bath, or doing whatever the other person needs to feel grounded and safe.


Where to Indulge Your Dom/Sub Curiosity or Fantasies

Are you curious about the Dominant/submissive relationship? Or are you already familiar with this relationship dynamic? An adult dating site like DoubleList is the perfect place to explore the D/s possibilities that are waiting for you.

DoubleList welcomes straights, gays, bis, queers, the curious, trans, and couples. Whatever your sexual preference, you’ll find something to excite and satisfy you on DoubleList adult personals. Signing up for a DoubleList account is free, easy, and secure, and you can remain anonymous. You’ll find matches based on your location and interests. So if you’re a Dom or a sub or still undecided, you can safely go on a D/s journey on DoubleList.

DoubleList is available in more than 248 locations in the United States, so you have great odds of connecting with someone in your area whose needs and desires match yours. Set up your next hookup soon! Sign up for a free account now!

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