Facts & Info

BDSM and Total Power Exchange Relationships

Dominatrix in Black Latex

It’s no surprise that power exchange is the key to many kinks and fetishes and most of the BDSM spectrum.

Sex is about power, after all, at least in part.

Power exchange is not just at the heart of BDSM relationships: Dom and sub, master and servant, Daddy Dom and Little Girl, top and bottom. It’s something inherent in all sexual relationships (and many others, like family, citizen-government, and doctor-patient.)

Male and female sex is filled with power exchanges, from its most basic and vanilla to total power exchange relationships. But same-sex lovers, fetish relationships, polyamorous relationships, and even celibacy, involve power exchanges.

But power exchange isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface. The Master and Slave relationship in BDSM is something completely different from state slavery, for example. Consent is at the heart of BDSM relationships, so the power exchange that takes place with willing, consensual submission is erotic and thrilling, rather than something against a person’s will.

Consider a traditional male and female relationship. Some of course were violent or arranged against the female will, resulting in women’s longstanding subjugation. But in a thriving, loving relationship, even though the male may have been the breadwinner—the head of the house—the woman often wielded incredible sexual power and nurtured power over her children and household, even the spending. Power exchanges are seldom simplistic and one-sided.

Read: 4 Types of Female-Led Relationships

BDSM Power Exchange

The power exchange in BDSM relationships might be described as a consensual, negotiated surrender of sexual and other power to the dominant lover by the submissive.

In BDSM, most kinky people identify as either dominant or submissive, and the satisfaction of their sexual desires is dependent on fulfilling this nature through fetish play and sex. Some people can switch and enjoy both sides.

The power exchange is implied or negotiated. Playful or light BDSM may rely more on body language, or communication through talking or carrying on with the activity. More involved BDSM often involves power exchange contracts.

One of the core beliefs of kink is that kink is ethical, and informed consent is key every step of the way. So the power exchange in a BDSM relationship involves not only who wants what role, but what that role looks like to each partner, what their needs and expectations are, what their boundaries and limits are, and what various roles, acts, symbols, or kink or fetish plays mean to them.

Read: Boundaries to Discuss in BDSM Relationships

Couples communicate and negotiate about what they want and need, and what they won’t do or don’t want. The submissive decides what they are willing or want to submit to. Any power or control accepted by the Dom in the power exchange also mean the Dom assumes the responsibility of that power.

In a famous BDSM book from 1995 called Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns, written by Philip Miller and Molly Devon, they broke down the power exchange into several possibilities that included conditional compliance, restricted ongoing acquiescence, provisional submission, covenant of dominant and submissive, and absolute ownership.

BDSM and kink has become quite diverse and branched into a variety of paths in the nearly 30 years since then, but this framework still provides a good, classic understanding of some of the ways we understand and negotiate power exchanges. Today, for example, we would call “absolute ownership” the “total power exchange.”

Total Power Exchange

Total Power Exchange, or TPE, is a power exchange in a Dom-sub relationship that is, as the name suggests, total.

Where many power exchanges in kink and BDSM take place in a sexual context, the total power exchange is about power and submission in all aspects of a relationship or life.

Sometimes the TPE or total power exchange is referred to as the “24/7.”

Total Power Exchange Contracts

Total Power Exchanges usually involve a total power exchange contract.

Power exchange contracts are basically the communicated, negotiated terms as above but written down, similar to a BDSM contract. They cover consent, responsibility, partner roles, boundaries, tasks, punishments, discipline, and how to leave contractual obligations.

Read: BDSM Contracts and Why You Might Want One

Examples of Power Exchange Relationships

There are as many kinds of power exchange relationships as there are kinds of people and kinds of relationships. Not every power exchange relationship fits into a specific model and many power exchanges are constructed on terms unique to the lovers involved.

However, there are classic kinds of BDSM traditions and kinds of power exchange relationships with a long history in kink. These are a few.

Dominant and Submissive

This classic power exchange relationship example is more of an umbrella term and has many manifestations of its own. However, it is widely used as a preferred terminology as a basic, and for a broad range of BDSM power exchange relationships.

Master and Slave Relationships

In BDSM power exchanges, Master/Slave or M/S may be used instead of dominant and submissive or D/S. Some Master/Slave practitioners prefer to use the term sexual slavery. Many BDSM lovers don’t use master-slave or sexual slavery at all, even if they are in this type of sexual power exchange, because of the non-consensual connotations and political baggage of the word.

M/S power exchange may be more intense than D/S or it may be exactly the same with different terminology. Sometimes the variation is simply the premise—some kinky people see the dominant-submissive relationship as a power exchange rooted in love or something like it, whereas they view M/S relationships as being about sexual service and obedience.

Read: How to Find a BDSM Slave or Master

24/7 D/S Relationships

The 24/7 is a total power exchange relationship, and extends from BDSM play and sex play into the whole life and whole relationship. The Dom’s power in a 24/7 BDSM relationship would include all of the decision making and permission necessary for daily life, such as spending, other friendships, attire, food, and more.

DDLG Relationships

The Daddy Dom Little Girl or DDLG is a kind of power exchange that blends love and nurture with Daddy’s authoritarian control and discipline. It also involves the “little” aspect where a female sub can role play, or live out the role, of little girl.

Such power exchange relationships involve play time, kid’s foods, cartoons, crafts, snuggly pajamas or cutesy clothing, cuddling, comforting, and Daddy’s guidance.

Owner and Pet

Owner and pet play may involve puppy play, pony play, and other cosplay fetishes, but those fetishes don’t always involve power exchanges. The owner and pet relationship involves training, grooming, discipline and affection, exactly what you see between a pet owner and his dog.

Read: How to Find a BDSM Partner

Are you in a BDSM relationship? How would you describe the power exchange in your relationship?

Tell us what you think!

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