A little perspective – many of the ideas explored below are applicable across much variety of relationship dynamics, sexual orientation and gender identification, there will be differences which you need to judge best for yourself and your lifestyle. I am writing from a perspective as an alternative lifestyle coach, a kink consultant to counseling professionals, and my own personal experience. After all, it is the journey we take and the lives we touch and are touched by that changes us most profoundly, every day.
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
This article assumes the foundation of mutual negotiation & consent between a Dominant and submissive and common moral frameworks. As someone that often concentrates on Power Exchange relationship dynamics, I can attest to training as a necessary element in the progression of “ownership”. That said, there are many kinds of training, just as there are many kinds of service which a submissive may provide. Each mode of service or submission has a focus to be encouraged and enhanced through training.
Training of submissives is focused or concentrated effort practiced over time to gain skills or expertise. This is often to hone, refine, or change behavior – which is different from a “mind-fuck” scene. To clarify, training is about changing the submissive’s previously held expectations, beliefs or assumptions and reorienting them to the Dominants goals or objectives. Whereas a “mind-fuck” type of scene often plays on the subs concept of reality and then pulls rug out or breaks the mental game board of the submissive. This is something that interrogation scenes or psychological predicament play is really all about. Such a scene can provide a thrilling experience in adept hands that is highly revealing and involves a great deal of trust because of the psycho-emotional vulnerability the submissive may feel.
Submissive training is NOT just playing with the sub’s head in a scene. Quite the opposite, it’s a purposeful and mindful building a new game board, one square at a time, often with great subtlety and care. Submissive (or slave) training usually does not create a break in their sense of reality as much as it restructures or puts things into a different context, from which one can establish a new framework in which to operate. Initially these might be done through protocols and rituals, changes to language, position or posture while walking/sitting/kneeling, management of wardrobe, oversight of priorities, primary services, regular journaling and communication, etc.
Training allows the Dominant and submissive the opportunity to work out the dynamics of the relationship by example. It establishes basic rules of expectation, conduct, and even methods by which specific results are achieved. There can be training in terms of various modes of sexual service, domestic service, pampering or personal “concierge” services, etc. Training should also include reward systems and possible framework for punishments if so inclined. Essentially, training is the early “working out the kinks” – both figuratively and literally.
It is my opinion that any slave that is exploring service submission (i.e. more than a dungeon bottom) should have some manner of submission/slave training to help embrace certain acts or signs of submission. I would not prescribe what those “should” be, as they are different for each person, both submissive and Dominant alike. However, training can not only facilitate the adoption of the role but also be a very bonding experience. Be they in form of protocols, habits, house rules or what-have-you. Training is a way of enjoying the roles while simultaneously cementing the dynamic of the relationship outside the dungeon or specified “play” time.
The goal is normally to transition to a more “hands-off” approach, once the submissive has acclimated to the customs and manners of their Dominant or Owner. Training helps the submissive “reorient” their perspective to be effective while within the role. Example, how can a submissive get their Dominant or Master/Mistress, who might be in ill health, to change a decision which might be against their own best interests? The question itself is purposefully flawed to make a point – or while the submissive can simply ask, a submissive doesn’t GET their dominant to do anything, and telling them, hovering, pestering, or passive/aggressive behavior and the like would be inexcusable. How then do you care for or service without crossing boundaries..?
If we think of a professional butler, how might they approach it? Service must still be provided, yet while remaining deferential – perhaps by suggesting the wisdom of another course of action. One could offer the goal or reason to another approach by describing the benefit (doing X will help you heal and be at your best) or by risk or cost (doing Y will only hurt you further and slow you down). Perhaps the submissive could start by offering to perform a task themselves to assist their owner, and rely on the Dominants natural independent nature to come out.
When done well, such training can provide guidance as to how to improve the bond of the couple, reinforce role consistency, facilitate ongoing communication, manage problem resolution, and give us direction when we are not always at our best – Dominant and submissive alike.
In other segments we have explored the value of D/s Morals or Principles, and we have a good basis of D/s communication. Now we have established a foundation through some training. Next is delving into areas of deeper exploration: boundaries, limits, and their roots.
Personally speaking, I enjoy mapping out goals and areas of common enjoyment, areas for exploration, and areas of difference to help navigate a relationship. As mentioned before, I am Dominant and also Ownership oriented, and thus seek partnerships with longer-term bond and depth of connection intellectually, physically, spiritually, etc. I revel in the multi-faceted enjoyment and exploration, the engagement of the senses and mind, and the connection of body and spirit.
Part of the responsibility as a Dominant is to know where the submissive is in their development. If a sub is not able to readily identify their interests, then ask and discuss different kinds of things. Very simply, I ask based on scenarios such as “would you enjoy X”, where X might be any number of activities or elements I might like to incorporate in a relationship, while others are purely theoretical to explore something the submissive might have mentioned or said in the past or following a line of thought that comes up in conversation. Taking notes, I ensure to include soft and hard limits, and gently inquire as to the rationale behind such limits, relevant personal history, triggers which might exist, and get a sense of the degree of the submissives flexibility.
Then, carefully yet completely, we launch into an inner journey to discover things one step at a time.
This complete and rather rapid systematic determination of needs, desires and limits, however constructive it may seem, can make things a tad bit “intense” for many – but there’s no way to experience life than to just live it. This is Practical Existentialism – actually going through and testing what it means to be the “you” as you define yourself. Including facing the friends, monsters, and deeply hidden in the recesses of the psyche.
This is how I experience the depth of the other; bound with heart, mind, and soul; without barriers but always retaining a sense of responsibility, mindfulness and respect for the other. Facing your deepest desires AND fears can be quite a frightening and intimidating experience just too intense for many. As such, a careful and measured pace, with constant communication, is required. Even then, it doesn’t always go according to plan – which is when the “better self” needs to be compassionate and switch to providing the safety, security, and reassurance a submissive often needs when feeling vulnerable.
Even when held in check by cautious and responsible exploration, what keeps it moving forward is a patient tenacity and diligent attention to the response of the submissive as you explore. The lists of desires, the comfortable common areas, the barriers of fears or uncertainty, these all come together. Utilizing certain training protocols can help the “every day” activities reinforce the relationships development and address what is discovered in the deep dive. Again, the key to the exploration is Safety, Trust, Compassion, and Patient Tenacity.
Fostering Safety & Trust
Exploration cannot occur successfully without providing a sense of safety and trust. These can only be demonstrated, not paid lip service, through consistent actions – which speak louder than words. Does the Dominant put the responsibility of the submissive’s well-being first? Do you set aside time for a purposeful scenes? Do you show egoless adaptability and genuine care if something needs to change?
It comes down to how reliable and consistent your message is demonstrated to the submissive. That demonstration becomes their rock, their anchor, their safe harbor. This is the underlying theme of power exchange relationships – the comfort in the consistency and reliability which structure provides.
Developing consistency is truly a key, for there is comfort found in the familiar, the predictable and reliable. Yes, we find excitement in something new and different – but only now and then. Too much so and it becomes frenetic and stressful. Were it always so there would be naught but chaos and find ourselves constantly filled with anxiety, apprehension, and uncertainty. Those feelings are what underlies Vulnerability. Our goal, as responsible Dominants, is to speak to the vulnerability so that we may access the greater world of our submissives. Regularly planned activities, protocols, and rituals, helps to establish the norm and show a consistency that goes to facilitating comfort, reliability, and trust.
But these consistent elements need not be boring or routine…
Living the Dynamic
As a Dominant one of my favorite joys with my sub is often our weekly “Service Night”. Its like a date night for D/s which focuses on high protocols, dinner service, girl’s pampering of Master, etc. For others, perhaps there is a regular play party to express their dynamic and “way” of expressing their relationship. For others who are more kinky but less power exchange or public play oriented, certainly even the regular munch might be sufficient. The points is that the regular practice (barring the unforeseen of course) speaks to a commitment of time and effort to recognize those within the relationship dynamic.
Another activity might be monthly “Remembering” where those involved (say a triad in this case) stands face-to-face and holding hands in a ring. They then recount the positive and moving memories which strengthens mutual experience and love. Perhaps reliving a particular scene, or a romantic getaway, or even recounting shared fantasies or dreams described in such detail as to bring them to life in the mind’s eye. These are emotionally reinforcing, and serves to strengthen a bond by reliving experiences and enriching shared memories.
When in doubt, remember that Safety is easily considered by one simple thing – respecting the welfare of your submissive.
If they are distressed due to work or family obligations, do you honestly feel they will have the emotional reserves to take on yet another challenge? Perhaps, but only if you can help alleviate the stressors enough so the reserves have time to recharge sufficiently. What if the submissive is ill? How able will body and mind be to things like basic physical trauma of impact or mental trauma of edge-play?
A strong value I try to pass on to others is to “set up your submissive for success”. Give them every ounce of your will, effort, patience, communication, etc., which will allow them to succeed. Those who are very deeply submissive and pleasing/giving oriented take failures as a crushing blow, but nothing lifts them up as much as that one simple principle.
In general, treat their health and wellbeing like a hard limit. Sure it sometimes sucks to have to delay desire and put off opportunity, but better that then create a disaster which damages the relationship or injures the submissive or yourself. After all, a Dominant’s submissive is their Treasure, and it is a Dominants utmost responsibility to care for that treasure to the BEST of their ability.
When it comes to pushing certain limits, such as intense humiliation, rape scenes, or other forms of “edge play” – how do we address these responsibly? Are they inherently safe, or do they cross the line into abuse or disrespect (and therefore no longer truly consensual)? Is “consensual non-consent” even feasible??
It is my belief that the answer is a resounding “maybe” or “it depends”.
I think that the matter becomes really a two-fold concern, meaning (a) what is the basis of the desire or intent for these forms of extremes of edge-play on part of the submissive, and (b) what are the guiding principles, desired outcomes, and potential consequences of edge-play as managed by the Dominant? Not least of all, has this been throughly discussed and worked out between the all those involved – because while challenging limits may be one aspect of a D/s or M/s relationship, its certainly NOT everyone’s desire. In other words, is challenging limits consensual?
The role as a loving and responsible Dominant is to help foster the growth of a submissive under their care. Personally speaking, if the nature of edge-play is going to undermine a healthy measure of self-worth, then I would determine it to be one of my hard limits because I have seen deep wounds and hurts that crave reinforcement – and I will not foster such wounds further. If, however, the mode of edge-play is to gain access to deep seated desires, which require a sort of removed accountability and permission so they can be pursued, then it can be a very freeing means of play to release the submissive from inhibitions.
For example, it is fairly well documented that many (if not most) people have some sort of rape fantasies as either victim or inflictor (Sackeim & Gur). However, this would hardly be an accurate assumption for those who have been actual victims of rape or sexual abuse, and could very well create a triggering event for those with latent PTSD. Such an action, even though perhaps initially consensual, would be less than responsible if one is aware of that person’s past trauma. Yes, there is always risk, but is it Reasonable Risk?
I would venture to assert that it might be neither safe nor sane, at least certainly not at the outset.
As such, mindfulness in terms of where the request comes from, within the psyche of the submissive, is an absolute need. So too is such mindfulness required by the Dominant, in order to provide a strong measure of control and clarity. How else to ensure the consequences of such would not cause damage to the well being of the submissive. Intent is all good and well, but it is the consequences of which we must contend.
Answering to the consequence is how one might differentiate between a healthy power exchange, and that of abuse. Surely one might desire a full sense of ownership and “limitless” enslavement as sought in Total Power Exchange (TPE), but not at the cost of employing such harshness as to invoke Stockholm Syndrome or Battered-Person Syndrome. That would be quite the opposite of what a moral or principled Dominant would desire.
Challenging one’s limits has a mutually shared responsibility of probing and pushing the boundaries inherent in edge-play. As a result, there must be a mutually accepted responsibility where are all accountable for the consequences in exploration of desires, challenges, and limits. Being tested is a difficult educating experience, increasing the awareness of both Dominant and submissive, and where there is growth there is also discomfort if not fear. We must support one another to summon the bravery to chase dreams and overcome doubts, knowing the safety net is always there because Exploration and Growth requires it.
If the submissive surrenders, let it be with a healthy mind knowing and accepting of exactly what is being surrendered. Let it come from a place of knowledge and strength so that the gift of ownership or enslavement is very real.
To be responsible in our dominance and ownership of a submissive we need to know ourselves as well as we possibly can – and foster that same level of understanding in our submissives. Dominants need to strive for excellence in being our best selves – doing the best we can, with what we have, in the time we have it. Then practice that message and teach it to those in our care…
- Ask from where our urges and fantasies arise, and why these things evoke the emotions and responses that they do.
- Find the will to ask hard questions of ourselves, dare ourselves, and be honest about our limits no matter what role we play.
- Practice training with self discipline and build the appropriate opportunity and habits to support our practice.
- Build a foundation of safety, trust, and compassion which is reinforced through your daily life and relationship.
- Listen, really listen, so we can uphold our responsibility through genuine care, mindfulness, and attentiveness.
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