Three Differences Between a Dominant & Someone Who Just Uses it as an Excuse to Be Controlling
1. Consent Is an Important Part of Dominance.
The bottom line is very simple: It boils down to consent.
A healthy D/s relationship happens between two people who are willing participants.
Dominance requires consent. Control doesn’t.
In spite of what popular depictions like the Fifty Shades franchise would have you think, submissives don’t usually need their arms twisted.
Submissives don’t drift around like indecisive ghosts howling about how their partner has this sick perversion that they want to cure them of — in a minute… after they relent… but just a bit.
They don’t give their Doms a tiny taste of submission to slake their kinky appetite while trying to convert their Dom to vanilla-hood (with a trap baby produced by oops, missing their birth control! literal plot line of the third Fifty Shades book).
No, there isn’t typically some passive-aggressive struggle in which the submissive begrudgingly surrenders only to later “”cure” their Dominant.
In reality, lots of submissives want to submit and find it fun. There are plenty of people who are naturally submissive and fantasize about being sexually dominated. Who actually go out looking for a Dominant.
And Dominants generally want to have submissives who are excited to submit. Not ones who are reluctant or need to be coerced (beyond play coercion… maybe, YKIOK, etc.).
2. Negotiation Matters. Limits and Boundaries Are Respected.
Healthy BDSM isn’t just one person barking orders to another out of the blue. It involves negotiation of limits, both hard and soft. As I wrote in an earlier piece:
In BDSM, practitioners often discuss boundaries explicitly. Often these are framed in terms of hard limits or soft limits. Hard limits, generally speaking, are things that you do not want done under any circumstances.
A soft limit is something that a person may be hesitant to do or only willing to do within certain, predefined circumstances but that they will sometimes consent to. Maybe only with certain partners or at certain times.
Limits, in another sense, are boundaries that are set with kinky play partners. Clearly communicating your own boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others is crucial in BDSM. Really, that’s true for all instances when you’re interacting with other people, but it’s especially important any time you are operating outside of societal “norms” with regards to what is right and wrong. Permissible versus forbidden.
A Dominant understands this, and while they might enjoy challenging their submissive to reach beyond where they’re comfortable, they do it in a way that respects the limits that they’ve negotiated.
3. Dominants Don’t Just Take Power and Control. They Also Take Responsibility.
D/s relationships are also sometimes known as power exchange relationships. And power isn’t the only thing that is affected by them: In most long-term D/s relationships, the Dominant is not only in charge, they are also responsible to some degree for their submissive and their submissive’s well-being.
So there’s a shift not only in the balance of power but by the balance of responsibility. Being in charge doesn’t just mean that a Dominant has control of a submissive — it also means being accountable to them.
Not All Who Claim to Be Dominant Have the Above Qualities.
Now all that said, you may very well meet control freaks that purport to be Dominants. The proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Especially with the popularity of the Fifty Shades franchise (widely considered a very unhealthy and weirdly vanilla depiction of BDSM by most kinksters), there are a plethora of assholes out there masquerading as experienced Dominants whose only experience is watching bad porn and chatting with one hand.
So keep an eye out, and if they lack any of the above qualities, then they’re probably not the real deal.
Finding a Real Life Kink Community Can Be Really Helpful in Getting a Better Picture
I also found connecting with my local kink scene to be an invaluable resource as well for sorting trash from treasure. I was able to meet real life people who essentially served as references (positive, neutral,and negative). I made friends who were able to help me accurately suss out the real life reputations and experience levels of Dominants in my area: Who was safe, who was all talk, who had attended classes and picked up valuable practical and emotional skills, who was reliable and competent, who really wasn’t.
I was introduced to the kink scene by friends of friends, but many people are able to discover something local to them via Fetlife or Meetup.com.