On BDSM-Dominance, -submission and Physics

Friday, February 14, 2014

“BDSM-D/s and Physics” is part of the series on BDSM and philosophy

Recently a sub wrote me that there are as many styles of dominance as there are dominants. On face value this seems to make sense, but is it also true? Where should the borders between individual style and structural difference amongst dominants be seen and who is capable to determine a broad validity of the findings?

Yet, what we perceive as dominance, is as any BDSM term necessarily a concept that by its very nature is limited to its practitioners, beholders and opponents who are all set in their individual socio-cultural context including their own convictions about what is ethical behaviour and what is not. In this blog entry on D/s and Physics we will try to figure out what actually influences dominance and submission.

The limits of definitions
While visiting your local or online kinky scene, you will meet different persons, each of them with their individual kink and – what is even more important – their view on kink and that what it is that constitute to ‘real’ BDSM.

As a self-acclaimed BDSM-theorist – because that is what I do when I write essays and BDSM-Blogs like this – I reflect on BDSM from a particular point of view. Yet, I do of course not mean to argue that my theoretical approach is the only valid one, of necessarily a better one, but – and that is what in my opinion separates a mere belief from knowledge – by focusing on the structural side of BDSM instead upon the mainly individual experience of it, I hope to trace, find, understand and explain a few of the sides of BDSM that many of its practitioners – if not all – have in common.

When we take BDSM as it comes to us, we see diversity, but we also see a few specific ways on how BDSM does and does not function. In phantasy and real life, when we engage in BDSM we use the views we have and value that what is happening accordingly. As such, we all understand BDSM and a very practical definition of BDSM would accordingly be (1) BDSM is what feels like BDSM. It will be oblivious that this might be an approach that works for each of us individually, as it is per definition, a very individual feeling by which we relate to BDSM.

But in an attempt to raise BDSM above the personal arbitrariness I will try to come up with a view on Dominance that does not limit this to an individual view. Theoretical reflection on BDSM is not explaining how BDSM or D/s should be or should feel in your experience, but it is rather an attempt to explain what precisely it is that constitutes a BDSM experience in general; which is a much broader interpersonal view. In order to say something sensible in this regard, we shall first look at those properties that seem to qualify BDSM as seen showing up in the conversations between insiders and outsiders; this would be following topics: power exchange, consent, paraphilia’s and sexual preference.

How does power exchange work?
For an answer we would normally start by looking at how the dominant takes away the power from the submissive, stress the consent, etc.; thus arriving at a more or less functional description of power exchange. But I think there is more to say to it.

First of all, what is power? And secondly, why exchange it? In my view these two answers are connected by the very physical notion of strong interaction, which is one of the four forces of nature that lets us perceive the temporal reality of things and occurrences. In nuclear physics we say that two (fundamental) particles exchange energy in the form of another – real or virtual – particle.

To see power as energy, as a flow, as a current or a force is very rewarding in order to understand what is going on in a dungeon. The reason behind this is because the exchange in power is not only involving a structure of command and obedience, but also the notions of sexual tension, feeling energized or drained, flowing into alternate mind states and not to forget the warmth caused by physical actions, like beating, changed body chemistry or fucking.

From the latter we will probably getting an idea why we agree to an exchange of power, but also here there is more to add. Power basically is a force that causes change. As such the exchange is done in order to change;

  • a change in position (of more or less power)
  • a change in energy level (because  power exchange is a sexy and turns us on)
  • a change in perception (as we use roles that differ from our normal situation)

This means that the above mentioned distinction can help us to shed light on why dominance in a BDSM context can be regarded from so many different angles.

When does BDSM qualify as paraphilia?
Generally speaking we can regard kink as sick when we lose control over our urges and get other people involved without their consent. So we can distinguish between healthy and unhealthy BDSM depending on the presence of mutual consent. Not consenting BDSM is dangerous and can lead to the kind of situations that are used by non-kinks to label that what we do as sick.

A free exchange does itself demand consent, but even when consent is given, this does not mean that everything that we wish to do is also healthy or normal. For this reason our community developed safe guards like, safe, sane and sound (SSS) or risk aware consensual kink (RACK).

Much of what is being done in the kinky community can be a topic of discussion when it comes to being ‘sound’ or ‘sane’. From the side of the dominant or top, this evaluation requires a profound knowledge of what is going on, what to do and what not. Beside experience, good skills and a caring attitude, also good negotiations before playing is advisable. Particularly, as the use of power and force can result in seduction, manipulation and scheming. By the management of power a dominant can be defined.

Sexual road maps
Our sexual preferences constitute to our BDSM praxis. As always, differences in sexuality - in its orientation, in its expression and in its intensity – show that sexual characteristics are rather individual and person related. We would therefore be ill-advised if we would go on regarding a particular role or sexual urge as intrinsically worse or better; even regardless from the fact that BDSM needs both roles in order to play effectively.

Our urges are fuelled by what we seek to achieve, by what we dream and phantasize about and by our own mental constitution. A mentally disordered person with paraphilia will have different views of what is desirable as a sounder couple.

But also unexperienced players may have many visions in the safe and consenting frame of their private minds, yet BDSM reality may differ profoundly. As with any activity, we need to check ourselves if we are up to it. Driving a car while having been drinking heavily is a dangerous option. So when it comes to sanity in our play, we need to be honest and attempt to objectively evaluate our current condition. Are we ready? Have we a clear idea of how we will play out the scene? Do we have enough time and proper conditions? What about our safety?

Particularly here, I see the many styles of dominance relating to being a responsible adult or not. Tops that do not distinguish between the history of O from the fifties of the last age and the sex-positive feminist views that go along with many ethical stances by BDSM practitioners, do not qualify for playing with submissives. Unfortunately many still do, using the argument that a submissive or a slave needs to obey, needs to give in and needs to show respect. Basically this is true, provided we know what we are doing, how to do it and how to enjoy what we do by having a good time.

Our mind is leading us; it follows the energy and our instincts. Using our mind in BDSM is just as essential as in any other part of our life. Unrealistic phantasy, not planned scenes, unchecked assumptions and delusional self-image can and will do harm to otherwise sensible BDSM play.

In a later article I will go into more detail into what kind of dominance we theoretically can distinguish. For now this should do as food for our thoughts.

As always, I wish you good luck on your journeys, in- and outside of the dungeon.

Enjoy – Sir Cameron