What Power Exchange is Really About | 30 Days of D/s
What is power exchange really all about?
Ultimately, it’s about the exchange of power between partners. One person holds a level of control. The other person cedes control to their partner.
Within that definition, a lot can happen. Sexy fun times. Strict rules and protocols. Mundane tasks. Self-care. Kinky fuckery involving all manner of BDSM toys, gear, and equipment.
What you need for your power exchange will be completely different than what someone else needs. Both sets of needs are valid.
Are there any universal truths about power exchange, if everyone’s experience of it will be unique? Our technical answer is…sort of.
Here’s what we think power exchange is really all about, beyond our individual needs as kinksters.
Power Exchange is About Mutual Respect
Whether you’re together for a single scene or you’re trying to build a long-term D/s relationship, mutual respect for the other is required. Respect means you honor boundaries, stay within limits, care about the other persons needs and wants, and seek an outcome that serves all partners.
You care about their humanity as much as you care about your kinks. You see them as a full person, even if you don’t know everything about them.
It means wanting both of you to have a good experience. You’re here to get what you want, but you also want to make sure they get what they want.
That needs to be true in kink moments that last five minutes and those that last 50 years.
Power Exchange is About How We Relate to Each Other
For many kink relationships (casual or long-term, platonic, romantic, or sexual), the point of everything is the exchange between two (or more!) people, how you relate to each other. Whether for a scene or for the rest of your lives together, one will top while the other bottoms. One will serve and submit while the other dominates.
Even switches who may traverse this dichotomy faster, more often, and more fluidly than the rest of us will experience some level of this at some point. (Keeping it vague because there’s no single way to switch, either.)
We believe that Dom and sub, top and bottom, are two sides of the same coin. You’re each trying to achieve a mutual goal or shared outcome, and you each have a role to play in it.
Whichever “side” you land on in the moment or with this partner must find a way to relate to each other in a complementary way. Otherwise, what are you exchanging besides time?
Power Exchange is About a Negotiated Power Imbalance
I admit it; I once said (a few times), “Submissives have the “real” power in D/s because they can withdraw consent at any point.” And I get why statements like this make the rounds. I certainly know why I said it.
Submissives often need to be reminded that they do hold power in their relationship.
We all do. Because, yes, when needed, any of us can withdraw consent.
Which means I don’t have patience for Dominants who think they’re all powerful and that submissives are lesser than, because they’ve given up control. (If a Dom or top believes that, it shows a complete lack of respect for their partner. See point one above.)
That old statement of mine is problematic, though, because it leaves out another important reminder. Dominants can withdraw consent at any point, too. They don’t have to wait for a submissive to tap out first.
Dom and sub, top and bottom, both are equal partners in the dynamic. Neither is inherently more or less powerful than the other.
You’ve negotiated the power imbalance. The only way to do that in a safe and ethical way is to treat each other as equals first.
Neither is better than or lesser than the other. This is a meeting of equals who’ve just happened to negotiate a shift in power and control — on some level, for some amount of time.
Power Exchange is Whatever You Need It to Be
Let me clarify — it’s whatever you need it to be within the boundaries and limits of your partner and your values, morals, and ethics.
Need sexual gratification in your power exchange? That’s valid.
Want a very specific dynamic with a very specific type of person? You’re not alone. (Make sure you’re not fetishizing actual people, but otherwise, go out and find who/what works best for you.)
Only want power exchange once every six months with a new partner each time? Cool. Have fun!
Can’t imagine ever having a partner other than the person you’re with now? A lot of people can relate.
Ready to explore power exchange in multiple ways across multiple partners? The people who will embrace that desire are out there waiting to meet you.
Whatever makes power exchange important to you is the “right” way — for you, in this moment. There’s no single correct way to explore D/s or kink other than with the clear communication and informed, understanding, enthusiastic/willing consent of a partner.
When you find yourself saying, “D/s just isn’t right without [fill in the blank]!” remember to add the often unspoken “for me” to that declaration.
“D/s just isn’t right for me without sex. Without love. Without bondage. Spankings. Total obedience.” You get the point.
What’s wrong for you may be perfect for someone else, and you’re both right.
Yes, There are Limits to What Power Exchange Can Be
Of course there are. You can want to skydive out of a plane completely naked while flogging your submissive partner mid-air. That might be the epitome of power exchange for you. And it’s not going to happen. (But if it does, please record it for the internet.)
We all walk around every moment of every day with unfulfilled needs or desires. Sometimes, that lack drives us to change our life, uproot everything we’ve known in the vanilla world, and embrace our kinky selves.
Sometimes, we acknowledge the lack of a fulfilled need with a shrug and realize what we have (kinky or not) is fine the way it is. And of course, sometimes we find a middle path that suits us best.
Also, if your D/s desires mean that you can’t see the humanity of another person (outside of a negotiated, carefully planned scene, of course), and you treat them as beneath you simply for existing, then you’re not engaging in ethical power exchange. You’re a douche-canoe. The breadth and depth of humanity is a literal fucking rainbow, and we don’t have to “understand” someone’s reality or experience for it to be respected.
We won’t always experience everything we think we want in our kink lives. Sometimes it’s too dangerous. Sometimes it just needs to stay a fantasy. But within those limits, there really are a near-infinite number of possibilities.
Power exchange and BDSM, in general, doesn’t have too many universal truths. Mostly because we all experience it in unique ways based on our own needs and desires. But there are a few principles (beyond communication and consent) that we should all honor if we want happy, healthy power exchange relationships and experiences. Also, understanding these principles helps prevent you from being a douche-canoe, so there’s that.
Today’s prompt for 30 Days of D/s is on sex not being required for D/s. In thinking about that concept, especially since we’ve talked about it before (here and here), I thought about what D/s and power exchange does require. For us, this is what it’s all about.