Monday, February 19, 2018

Who Holds the Power?

This has been a topic I've addressed in the past, and I'm sure I'm going to repeat a few of those points in this post, but it's been a handful of years now, and I feel like writing about it again. There is a prevalent philosophy within the PE (Power Exchange) scene that the sub holds the true power in the relationship. I have never subscribed to this, and I think its detrimental to those who do.

I understand why this is such a popular belief. Submission/surrender is a vulnerable place to be. When you're tied up or at the mercy of someone physically stronger than you, it can be a dangerous place to be. The potential for damage is high, so it makes the s-type feel safer to think that they are somehow running the show.

But I think this idea that the s-type holds all the power comes from a very narrow perspective of what power actually is. Power is more than a yes or a no. It's more than the ability to impose limits. It's more than the ability to walk away. If that is how we measure power, then both parties would possess equal power. A d-type can say yes or no. A d-type can impose limits. A d-type can walk away. These things are not rights exclusive to one side of the slash. Excluding M/s and O/p situations where these rights have been negotiated away, both parties possess these manifestations of power.

But a dominant can't dom without someone to submit to them!
And neither can a submissive submit into a vacuum. There's a reason why the word exchange is part of the terminology. We're trading in types of power. There is never just one. To think that the s-type possesses all the power is very dismissive of the d-type in the equation, and ignorant of the types of power one can hold.

For instance, physical power. You can say no. You can walk away from a relationship, but when you're bound, your power is illusory at best. You're relying on the assumption that the d-type in question will acknowledge your perceived power if you decide to use it. Because they are in a position where they don't actually have to. You are the one in the vulnerable position. In that moment, the power of choice is theirs.

Another example is financial power. I'm not referring to findoms. But say one is in a situation where one partner provides the sole income or the primary income of a household. This can be either the d-type or the s-type, depending on the living situation. In such situations, one partner is dependent on the other for their financial security. That is a form of power. Your options of leaving are rather reduced if you have nowhere to go and no money to do so.

Then we have sexual power, and I don't mean orgasm control or denial, or chastity. That's control. We're talking about power. There are people who elicit certain responses in you. That primal urge. I remember past relationships where I was almost constantly aroused by the mere proximity of my partner. He had that kind of subconscious power over my body, and I don't know that he even realized it. That intense attraction is a form of power. The ability to influence behavior without any real effort.

The most potent, I think, is emotional power. It has a lasting effect, a grip that doesn't let go easily even after a relationship ends. Any relationship can lead to emotional entanglements that rarely leave us. I know my partners all held a certain power over me for a long time after they left. Certainly within the relationship as well. I cannot speak to the power I had over them, but I know what they had over me. My need to please them. My abject fear of upsetting them or making them feel bad in anyway. I thought about them constantly. Longed to be in their presence when we were apart. If that's not power, I don't know what is.

Power is more than just consent. It's more than limits. It's more than the ability to leave. Power is such a complex concept with so many manifestations. I can't conceive of a relationship--a healthy one, at any rate--where one partner holds all of the power. Relationships, kinky or vanilla, aren't one-way streets. There's give and take to everything, and I think that's beautiful.


  1. I think over time my perspective on this has changed. I used to think it was s-types that had the power, but there's such a range in how one sets up their relationships, how deep they're into it, and yes, the other considerations: jobs, financial security, children etc that ties people together, prevents them from truly walking away.

    1. It's a common trope I hear at community events. I usually keep my mouth shut at the time to avoid conflict. But it's something I've never really agreed with. I know in none of my relationships have I felt like I possessed the majority share of the power. I'm way too emotionally attached.

  2. When I am 'in session' with my husband or someone he chooses to dominate me, the last thing I think about is that I have the power. I choose to submit and yes, I know that I can safeword out of any situation, but I never have and I never will. My husband has all kinds of power over me, because I want him to have it. It makes me feel secure, not trapped. In turn I believe that I have some kind of power over him too. I know he loves me and that he never wants to be without me, which means I have emotional power over him. It's good as it is between us and I believe there are many other couples that are good too, no matter who holds power over who.

    Thank you for this post. It really got me thinking :)

    Rebel xox

  3. Very much agree with you about emotional power - same with me after a relationship i often still felt that grip