This article is based on CORE BDSM principles to help people improve the success of Power Exchange (PE) relationships by discussing what healthy PE relationships, despite their great variations, have in common.

This article covers:

Background of BDSM
Definitions of Roles
PE Relationships vs S&M and BD Activities
PE Relationship Principles
Ethical Use of PE
Background of BDSM

While many diverse kinks can be traced for hundreds if not thousands of years, the term BDSM was coined in 1991, on usenet, by cramming 3 distinct “kinks” categories together causing significant confusion for the last 30 years:

BD (Bondage & Discipline),
D/s (Dominance/submission), and S&M
S&M (Sadomasochism).

SPOILER ALERT: While D/s is a PE relationship dynamic, BD and S&M are Kink/BDSM activities, which may or may not be done within a PE Relationship.

Definitions of Roles:
While no role is better or worse than any other and people’s goal in using labels should be about clearer identification, often people mislabel themselves out of ignorance or for social advantage.

For example, a person that identifies as a Dominant or a submissive is either currently in that ROLE within a D/s relationship or has been in that role in the past and is looking to be in that role again.

D/s Roles: Title’s for Dominants, such as “Dom” or “Master”, as well as titles for submissives, such as “sub” or “slave”, are not aspirational labels, about someone’s personality, or references to sexual preference, but define a specific ROLE within a power exchange relationship.

Top/bottom Roles: Tops, on the other hand, role play as dominants by being granted power by bottoms to “control” specific S&M or BD activities within a limited time and framework, usually of a single negotiated “scene”, but which can be retracted at anytime. Tops and bottoms practice Power Exchange, but are not in a Power Exchange Relationship. Also, there is no such thing as a “sub only in the bedroom” because that’ would fall under the definition of a bottom.

D/s vs. M/s Roles: The difference between a “Dominant” and “Master”, or a “submissive” and “slave”, in a power exchange relationship is subjective, but is usually determined by the level of power exchanged in the relationship, amount of control, breadth of aspects of life controlled, and duration of control, which can often be full-time 24/7, and often the training and experience of the participants.

Power Exchange: When an individual willingly and voluntarily relinquishes and surrenders control over one or more aspects of their life to a person assuming a dominant role for either a specific situation or activity, for a specified period of time, or completely for the relationship.

NOTE: While human behaviors range on a scale from ultra-dominant to ultra-submissive, based on cultural and personal perspectives, few acts are inherently dominant or submissive in the absolutely because it’s dependent on whose in control, which is often difficult to determine just from external observation.
8 Ways PE Relationships Differ from S&M and BD Activities

In order to define commonalities in PE relationships, first we need to discuss the inherent differences between D/s relationships and S&M, BD, and other kinky activities. NOTE: The terms “D/s” and “PE relationships” are used interchangeably in this article.

ACTIVITY VS RELATIONSHIP: S&M and BD are physical, emotional, and mental activities people participate in from time to time, while D/s is a specific relationship dynamic. So S&M and BD are “kink” activities, while D/s is a “kink” relationship dynamic.

PARTICIPATION: People can participate in S&M or BD activities without being in a D/s, usually as Tops and bottoms, and people can be in a genuine D/s relationship and not participate in S&M or BD activities.

ROLE PLAY VS ROLES: S&M and BD activities require temporary role play during a pre-agreed scene, while D/s relationships often require permanent roles of Dominant and submissive, which extends beyond scene play and into the relationship.

POWER EXCHANGE & CONTROL: There is “power exchange” in nearly every human activity, including many sexual activities. The difference is that in Kink/BDSM, we encourage open and direct agreement to the power exchange.

In general, Tops and bottoms agree to a genuine power exchange for a limited time, such as a “scene”, in order for the Top to control the bottom during that time only. However, D/s relationships require the submissive to transfer power to Dominants for specific aspects beyond a limited time and for the entire relationship, often 24/7.

AGREEMENTS: People outside of a PE relationships usually need to negotiate oral or written agreements for each scene separately and roles can change wildly. However, PE contracts are often written and tend to specify many details for the duration of the entire contract or relationship, many of which are unchangeable, including the set roles.

CONSENT: Usually Tops and bottoms provide expressed, mutual consent for each specific S&M or BD activity, each and every time, and can retract consent at anytime, even during the scene, making it challenging to have genuine power exchange. However, in many genuine power exchange relationships consent is given once and a retraction of consent can mean the end of the relationship. NOTE: This is not an article about consent, in general, because there is a lot of confusion on the issue, which is best left to another discussion.

EXPERIENCE & TRAINING: Tops need experience and training to effectively conduct scenes and kink activities, while Dominants not only need that experience and training, but also need experience and training in managing PE relationships. That’s one reason genuine Dominants are rare.

SOCIAL ACCEPTABILITY: People get broad exposure to Kink/BDSM activity and most of standard society now accepts consenting adults role playing “safe” (AKA “lite”) S&M and BD activity, as long as power exchange is limited to a specific scene, so any “inequality” is temporary, and consent can be revoked at any time and for any reason, so the power isn’t genuinely exchanged. However, since there’s inherent inequality in PE Relationships, genuine power exchange relationships are absolutely unacceptable by standard society. In fact, the greater the differential in the power exchange, the more society rejects it because there’s a greater opportunity for abuse. However, that’s exactly why being in a genuine power exchange relationship is still a genuine kink and not just role play during kinky sex.

4 Fundamental Principles of PE Relationships

The ultimate goal of PE Relationships is to create inequality in the relationship, which maximizes each person’s contribution to the relationship in a way that is fair and equitable. However, there’s remarkable diversity in the ways that Power Exchange can be conducted that the “vanilla, but kinky” often try to limit, and therefore, they actively try and limit PE relationships, just like vanilla people do.

Many people mislabel themselves as a role in a PE relationship (eg. Dominant, Master, sub, slave, etc…) and their relationship as PE (eg. D/s, M/s, etc..) because they ignore the basic principles of PE Relationships:

INEQUALITY: PE roles are inherently unequal and hierarchical due to power exchange, but beneficial when they work and are reciprocal and fair, which is a basic requirement for all healthy relationships. However, a key to maintaining balance is that the power being granted to the Dominant/Master by the submissive/slave is an authority that must be balanced with an equivalent amount of responsibility over that which is being transferred.

For example, If the Dominant chooses clothing, it’s also the Dominants responsibility to make sure that clothing is adequate and if it’s not then they are responsible to fix it. NOTE: Forcing “equality”, which is done for most vanilla relationships, is the absolute antithesis to PE, will create unfairness or imbalanced, and many destroy most PE relationships.

DIVERSITY: People are not inherently equal, meaning “the same”, in all ways and diversity is good and should be cherished when it works. While everyone needs to be respected for what they bring to the table, forcing people to conform to be “the same” in all ways is inherently destructive. A good example, is how many mass market “feminists” make straight female submissives feel that they are doing something wrong and being mistreated just because they are in a PE.

GIVING: Power Exchange is natural and beneficial, when used effectively, because natural inequalities are opportunities for people to work together to maximize their strengths and minimize weaknesses. Additionally, while an over-emphasis in individualism and self-interest is inherently negative in most relationships, it is absolutely destructive to PE relationships. NOTE: The communal nature of PE relationships creates a significantly higher need for clear and open communications.

DEPTH: PE relationships are, in general, far deeper, more complex, and require more effort and commitment than vanilla relationships because of the inherent attributes of Power Exchange. NOTE: While some people are successful in “evolving” a vanilla relationship into a PE one, it’s often best to start out with the goal of a PER from the outset.