Is There A Difference Between D/s And BDSM?

By Galen Fous

“I have been exploring my submissive desires for about 6 months with my boyfriend/Dom. I find now that I get really turned on sexually, but struggle to be submissive otherwise. I generally enjoy being in service to others. I aim to be pleasing, but sometimes it feels uncomfortable or even abusive to be treated like a servant. I want to be pleasing, but my defiance rises up when I feel ordered around. On the other hand, if he grabs me by the hair and tells me to kneel, my knees quake and I get dripping wet. I would do anything he asks or demands in those moments. It’s very conflicting at times. Do you have any suggestions to ease this conflict?
Judy, Temecula, CA

difference-between-ds-and-bdsm-2Excellent question, Judy. You describe a common issue many people exploring D/s-BDSM may encounter – the very important distinction between the D/s (Dominant/submissive) Power Exchange day-to-day aspect of your relationship, and the BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) sexual aspect.

Understanding that D/s and BDSM are two very different but intertwined dimensions of your relationship may help you better address the conflict you feel.

In this regard, I think of Ds/BDSM as the yin/Yang of Kink. Together they represent a sublime paradox. Two opposites. One side I consider sacred or light – the noble, romantic day-to-day relationship side of D/s. The other side I view as  profane or dark – all that is taboo, forbidden, cruel and fierce within the sexual BDSM aspect. I do not mean sacred or profane. light or dark, in any moral nor religious sense. I mean it in a mythic way. I will explain more about that in a moment.

I believe negotiating separate protocols and agreements for your day-to-day D/s,relationship interactions and other agreements that may apply exclusively to your  BDSM sexual engagements with your partner may offer a helpful approach for your concerns..

From your question and the issue that sometimes you feel mistreated when ordered around, perhaps there is some boundary or edge that needs to be stated, or renegotiated about non-sexual service to your Dom. This could clarify for both you and your Dom what ways and when you are willing to be in service, and not, in the non-sexual, day-to-day D/s aspect of your relationship.

Clear communication is paramount here to take any issues you feel out of the unspoken realms where resentment can fester, and into the open where you can actually build more trust between each other through respectful listening and getting to agreements that work for both of you. And to be clear, you as the submissive have every right to negotiate whatever boundaries are right for you. This is true for your Dom as well.

Consciously engaging these sacred/profane dimensions of D/s-BDSM as a committed couple, or just as play partners, can allow an enrapturing, exquisite dance to unfold between each.

To “consciously engage” is really the more challenging part. To me consciously engaging includes aspiring to impeccable honesty, transparency, responsibility, integrity, courage, compassion, self ownership, presence and other such notions applied to my D/s-BDSM engagements

There are no hard and fast rules for creating Conscious D/s-BDSM relationships, other than what two reasonable, mature and responsible adults agree is right for them.

Some couples may agree to include some level of Dominance/submission and Erotic BDSM as an occasional part of their sex life. For others it will be the context for all of their sexual relations, but not be part of their day-to-day life relationship.

And there are those for whom the yearning for the power exchange aspect is so innate and instinctive that they “naturally” desire to extend these aspects into the ongoing day-to-day dynamics of the relationship itself.

Let’s drill down deeper now into the paradox starting with the Dominant/submissive aspect.

difference-between-ds-and-bdsm-3The D/s, or sacred aspect as I view it, pertains to the human-to-human, heart-to-heart relationship itself and the negotiated power-exchange protocols that may be desired. These protocols can apply to a one-time negotiated Erotic BDSM scene with a play partner or for some couples, they can extend into the day-to-day relationship itself.

Through negotiated agreement, the Dominant has authority and control of the submissive in certain aspects of the relationship, or an individual scene. D/s does not in itself, require there be an Erotic dimension, though there certainly can be, and most often is.

At the early stages these agreements and protocols you create as Dominant and submissive should be considered flexible. As you both learn more about your edges and desires through direct experience over time you may find it necessary to adjust the protocols to better match the desired experience you actually seek.

From an archetypal view, the Dominant can aspire to the mythic nature of the King or Queen. This means the Dominant seeks the highest standards of leadership, integrity, wisdom, responsibility, vision, blessing and other such qualities that are personally meaningful to them.

The submissive can embrace the potent mythos of the devotee, or self-less dedicated servant.

They may choose to aspire to service, surrender, seduction, selflessness, devotion obedience and more.

These are potent and beautiful qualities of character to reach for, that can inspire each individual and the relationship itself to deeper dimensions of soulful connection and profound love. In the right blend, the psychological foundations of conscious D/s power exchange can bring forth a noble, chivalrous, elegantly romantic quality to the relationship.

On the other hand, the profane side of the paradox, the Erotic BDSM side, holds all that is dark, taboo, forbidden, painful, degrading cruel et.al. in ways that carry a potent Erotic charge for both partners. While some may adhere to a more tender side of the profane edge, many are drawn towards to more intense edges of BDSM.

To allow for risk aware, pushing-the-edge explorations of these profane energies, the Erotic BDSM aspect can be thought of as being protectively held within the all-encompassing noble codes each partner adheres to in the D/s side of the relationship.

In the above distinctions between D/s and BDSM we are confronted with the paradox. There is the sharp contrast between the noble dimensions of the relationship with the ignoble exchange in the sexual realms. Understanding how to consciously blend the sacred with the profane can allow both dimensions to be fully expressed in a healthy, ecstatic manner.

difference-between-ds-and-bdsm-1Creating D/s Protocols that include clear consent, negotiated boundaries, mutual respect, and heart to heart connection, allows our profane sexual desires to have a more safe and strong container to be held and expressed within. They are intended to protect and sustain the soulful, loving, intimacy between a D/s couple, and allow them to safely shine the light into the dark, forbidden underworld of their edgiest fantasies.

This deep central connection allows the partners to enter the enticing realms of the taboo, the forbidden, into erotically charged layers of pain, suffering, cruelty, degradation, sadism and other, in a way that does not traumatize the core body, heart and soul of each, but in fact increases trust, intimacy and fierce erotic ecstasy.

Both aspects of D/s-BDSM need to be untangled from each other, and allowed separate contexts so that both can fit tightly together, express fully and not be diminished or inhibited by the other. This can allow them to flow seamlessly back and forth as is right for the moment, with clear negotiation, without confusion or emotional harm.

But to be clear, exploring the depths of D/s-BDSM in relationship or play, is very complex territory. It requires self-examination, healing numerous ways we may have been wounded around our sexuality or our sense of personal value. It will demand skillful communication practices that can allow for the resolution of inevitable conflicts that may arise.

I hope this response has brought some clarity to your very important and insightful question, Judy. There is no perfection we can achieve in these regards, but we can have the clear intention to do our best. I wish you and your partner every pleasure on this noble journey into Kink.

– Galen Fous

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About the author:

Is there a difference between Ds and BDSM

Galen Fous MTP is a sex-positive transpersonal psychologist, therapist and educator helping individuals and couples get honest, shame-free and empowered around their authentic sexuality. He sees clients via Skype or in person in Portland, OR. For info or to arrange an initial appointment go to GalenFous.com. He is the author of the highly acclaimed Decoding Your Kink – Guide to Explore, Share and Enjoy Your Wildest Sexual Desires. His innovative, free, research survey, Discover Your Personal Erotic Myth, with over 2400 participants so far, helps people consider and embrace the depths of their own erotic nature, and contributes to Fous’s sex-research mapping the Erotic psyche. Take the survey here. He is also the creator of the Tetruss 3 in 1 Portable Dungeon, Suspension Bondage Rig and Sex Swing, sold the world over since 2000.

One Response to “Is There A Difference Between D/s (Dominance/submission) And BDSM?”

  1. Zak Jane Keir (@decadentmadamez)

    Some good points, but the most important one is this: DS is NOT COMPULSORY. It’s certainly not ‘superior’ in any way to other forms of kinky sexual interaction, and the idea that all kinky relationships should progress towards a d/s set up is just as stupid as the idea that all vanilla relationships should progress towards longterm commitment/living together/breeding. WRT to kinky relationships, it’s potentially more dangerous as the emphasis on ‘real’ power exchange as desirable can be useful to abusive people in getting their own way.

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