Who's really in control in a Master/Slave relationship?

Who’s really in control in a Master/Slave relationship?

Is it really the master? Or is it the slave, since the master’s control comes only from the free will of the slave?

Oops – I forgot I stumbled into the GQ forum! This should have been in Great Debates.


Off to Great Debates, where surely you will explain that you are asking about consensual S/M relationships or somesuch, since “free will” is not part of the more historical master/slave relationships.

Ya kinky bastid, ya!

Who’s in control depends on the severity of the D/s relationship. Some folks have rather mundane, ordinary relationships, involving every aspect of their lives, from taking care of their kids, to the kinky stuff they do in the bedroom. In that case, there is generally a consensus regarding WHEN and HOW to get into power exchange situations. Then of course, there’s an agreement as to how “deep” that power exchange goes. Sometimes the “slave” who in this case, is more likely referred to as a “submissive” has a great deal of control. Sometimes she has none. It depends on their arrangement and ordinarily recognizes that people (even submissives) get INTO relationships because of what they get OUT of them.

There are also very strict master/slave arrangements in which the slave has minimal power. S/he decides to get into the situation in the first place, but after that she considers herself owned and only has contact with the master/mistress for their pleasure and NOT the pleasure of the slave. There are people who are very hard core about this concept, insisting that the slave, once stripped of control, has ZERO choices.

Most BDSM relationships fall somewhere in between.

Also a kinky bastid…obviously. Can you use the word “bastid” for a female?

And I didn’t realize it until I POSTED it, which is really sad. I’ve GOT to get some food in me soon.

What I meant to say, simply, is that there are varying degrees of control. I understand the implication in your question that the “slave” as you put it is getting what they want, and therefore, has power and control. S/he also maintains limits regarding what can and cannot be part of the relationship (i.e., I will not fuck dogs for Master, etc.). So who’s REALLY in charge here?

And the answer is that it varies based on the particular relationship. Sometimes the Master truly IS in control. And sometimes the submissive has more control over what power s/he allows her dominant to take from him/her.

And I’m sorry if my starved brain used non-gender neutral language in these posts. I’m more used to looking at things from a female submissive point of view, but I do realize that’s not always the case.

Enslaved by Starvation

Resounding “it depends”. On what one means by “control”, mostly, and on whether the relationship is healthy or not, etc.

(I’ve always been fond of the term “bystyrd” for bastids of the XX persuasion.)

Ultimately, in a healthy D/s relationship, control should probably be in the hands of the s. They, after all, are the ones with a safeword (or safegesture/toy in the case of a gagged s), and therefore the power to say, “no, I’m not going to do that.” (Or, in the words of a subbie friend of mine: “Red means ‘knock it off you fuck, that hurts!’”)

This is not to say that a sensitive Dom(me) isn’t going to call a halt if something’s going wrong within a “scene,” either. Control, and a Safe, Sane and Consensual power exchange, is the responsibility of both partners, really.

I’m not explaining this very well, am I? Well, since most of my experience with the subject is theoretical…(though I’ve been told I’d make an excellent Domme) :shrug:

Okay, but lots of submissives don’t WANT to feel like they’re in control. And thus, they often make arrangements so that they literally are NOT.

Even if this is only physically. Let’s leave out the other aspects for now…BDSM certainly has issues well beyond the sexual/physical that move into feelings of “belonging” in various manners and so forth. But let’s set that aside and think of the purely physical control that could take place.

You’re tied to the bed. Gag in your mouth, blindfold over your eyes. You can’t move except to wiggle a little bit. You’ve got your “safe signal” but you have to rely on your honey to honor that. You have to, in no uncertain terms, trust him/her with your life. So while it may be true that s/he’s agreed to stop when s/he gets the signal, the dominant is still very MUCH in control. They can stop or not. Once you’re in that position, it doesn’t matter what you’ve agreed to, all bets are off if the person in charge decides to do something outside your limits. Which is an issue to consider before you get INTO this position with someone you don’t trust WITH YOUR LIFE. If you’re putting your life in their hands, no matter what negotiations have taken place, who’s in charge of said life?

So, the answer is still, “It depends.” And the addendum to the answer is, “Be careful out there. VERY careful.”

Whose experience is NOT purely theoretical. :slight_smile:

Even when both parties stick to the ideals of SSC, often the idea of control is less clear than it might otherwise seem. As SexyWriter mentioned, many subs (and Dom/mes) make specific arrangements so that, while the precepts of Safe, Sane and Consensual are being followed, the dom/me is as much in control as possible. For example, I’ve known scenes in which the sub’s safeword was an “all or nothing” affair. If the sub invokes the safeword, the scene ends. In such cases, the sub has the power to end the scene, but not to pick and choose which activities are acceptable and which are not. The dom/me decides and controls what happens, although the sub can decide to end the scene. For some people, the fact that the sub has the ability to end the scene means that the sub has the ultimate control. Others feel that, within the framework of SSC, the dom/me does indeed wield the ulltimate control over the scene and the sub.

It does depend, but it depends as much on which filters you use to view the situation as mucha s it does the situation itself.


In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice;
In practice, there is

**- Chuck Reid **

The ultimate control is always in the hands of the slave in a modern BDSM relationship. A master does not exist without a slave. The moment a ‘slave’ chooses not to submit, the ‘master’ loses their title and power.

Some self-identified slaves either dispute this or claim that they gave up choice. In the context of a modern BDSM relationship, as one person cannot own another in the United States, the slave is always free to leave, and thus can always take the power with them.

The master of course. The slave is subject to beatings or possible death if he doesn’t do what the master wants. I hardly call decisions made under coercion to be free will.


Do you know anything about BDSM?

Only in rare cases, with people who are mentally ill, does SM exist with coercion and without free will.

Something I wrote on BDSM which may enlighten you:
I find it constantly interesting the things I learn as I meet people. I always had the idea that other gay men were as open minded as I. I have found that isn’t always so, many are as close minded and judgmental as any heterosexual… Case in point - reactions to what is referred to as ‘marginal’ or fetishes.
A business associate, whom I also have a friendship with, has a brief idea of the type of men I like - that being dominant men whom I practice S&M with. In mixed company he referred to my sex life as being something out of the Exorcist. I was shocked.
He has no concept of what S&M is, and was very ill informed on the concept of what I am really like. I polled some of my non-S&M friends and close acquaintances, and found them as lacking in understanding. Therefore, here is my brief primer into S&M.

                  The Brief S&M Primer

 S&M, otherwise referred to as sadomasochism, is generally between two partners of permanent or temporary duration who like to either have pain inflicted or like to inflict pain in the context of lovemaking/sex play.
 A person who likes to receive the pain may be referred to as a submissive, a slave, or a masochist, to name a few appropriate terms. These people, much like me, enjoy things such as a flogging, spankings, nipple torture, and CBT(cock and ball torture). Pain and pleasure being a synonymous thing in the mind of the masochist/slave/submissive, it is enjoyed and appreciated from chosen partners.
 The person who likes to inflict pain can be referred to as a top, a dominant/Dom, or a sadist. He receives pleasure from torturing a submissive/slave/masochist, and likes to provide the pain they want, as well as getting service from their temporary/permanent possession.
 S&M isn't simply pain, it can and often does encompass such things as domination, bondage, as well as a few fetishes such as water sports, piercing, fisting, and role playing. Though pain is often the thought of the totality of S&M, it is only a part.

                   Issues Within S&M

 In S&M the key words are safe, sane, and consent. Without consensual partners, it is not S&M. Non consensual sex is rape.
 Before playing with a new partner, both the submissive and the dominant have a discussion about boundaries.
 I've had some discussions with Doms that have gone on for hours as the limits and expectations are delineated. It is important for both to have a complete understanding of what is possible as well as what is not accepted. Each person has a different laundry list, and some things are so specific that they need some time to be discussed, so each party can be fully appraised of what the other is up for.
 When the limits are expressed and understood a code word is set for the submissive so they may stop a scene if it is getting too intense. This code word is respected and responded to instantly, and play does not recommence until the issue that caused the halting is resolved.
 All play within S&M is safe to the limits of the partners involved. Things such as blood sports, water sports, scat, rimming, et al, are often not explored with anyone other than a regular partner who is safe and maintains a monogamous relationship.
 As consent can be given and the submission between slave and master can be complete, either can remove their consent at anytime and refuse to continue playing or ever consent to play again. No offer of consent is ever permanent.

              The BRIEF Psychology of S&M

 Why do people choose to do S&M? For most that I have talked to, it is a desire for a more intense connection to their partner. The emotional bond that evolves through S&M play is often stronger and more profound than is normally experienced within the context of a 'normal' relationship.
 Submissives that I know have agreed that in giving up control to their chosen Masters, they are more free. I, as well as they, find it liberating to give up control to another. In giving up that control, one makes a choice, and does not mean that the submissive is a passive partner. Rarely is the submissive passive.
 The Dominants that I know, have experienced, and have befriended all have a similar nature. They are often very sweet, pleasant, and often are very approachable, but generally will not approach their 'quarry.'  They get satisfaction from the submission, service, and responses from their partner. While some of the things they do are for their own pleasure, they are concerned about the safety and pleasure of their partner.
 Both the Submissive and the Dominant through the play and scene work often are transported to a place psychologically that removes them from their 'normal,' daily objective reality. In an intense scene, the barriers completely drop, and one can experience an emotional flood that in my personal case is very freeing and liberating.
 It is a sense of complete freedom within the contexts of safety and submission. All of this is dependant on trust, of course.
 It is these emotions which are tapped, often evoked during intense play, that creates the intense bonding between Submissive and Dominant, enriching the relationship and creating a deeper understanding into the interior life of the other.
 The Submissive/Dominant relationship is reciprocal, and one does not exist without the other. It is a healthy symbiosis, and can be an enriching and extremely satisfying expression of love and sex within the context of play or relationships.


 Hopefully this very brief primer gives some idea into the dynamics of Sadomasochism. Sex is a wonderful thing that people need to both experience more often and discuss as well. I've found that the most liberation comes from open and free discussion and expression of the self. At least in my mind, it doesn't get any better than this.
 But even if one does not choose to go into this realm of experience, I would hope that people could become broad minded enough to attempt to understand the qualities that make it so worthwhile. For some people, this is not an appropriate expression of love or sex. For others, it is the thing they live for. This is for all of them.
 Play well, and love well. As Madonna quoted in the video Justify  My Love, "Poor is the man who's pleasures depend on the permission ofanother.'

sigh Well, that lost all formatting.


Well I guess I should have read some of the replies before I posted my own. Maybe I’m strange but when I hear slave/master relationship I don’t automatically think of sex I think of institutional slavery. Reading the OP I don’t see how I could have guessed he meant a sexual relationships because he didn’t mention S&M. Of course I could have read a few replies and figured it out, but I didn’t.


I’m not really all that interested in what consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own bedrooms. That said I’m not a big fan of S&M relationships and I wonder if they’re really all that healthy. It is one thing to play around and have a little fun but its a little strange to wear the rubber suit and flog someone. But if that’s what it takes to get your rocks off then have at it.


*Originally posted by Hastur *

Your entire exposé is a GROSS overgeneralization. Case in point, I refuse to use a “safeword.” If I don’t trust the person in control to be perceptive enough and aware enough to know when I’ve had enough, then I don’t believe I should be turning over control to that person in the first place. I think you’ll find this quite common.

I agree with much of what you said, particularly involving the fact that non-consensual sexual activity is sexual assault, not BDSM. However, that does not negate the notion that in many cases, once control IS turned over by consent, one person can be VERY much in control. Not only physically as I tried to describe above, but emotionally. Certainly you’ve been in a situation in which the desire to please a dominant partner overwhelmed your urge to be freed or have the activity stop. Now THAT’S control.


This is all rather slippery, I find. Particularly since I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the Why and the dynamics of my forays into BDSM. Personally, I’ve been in the situation SexyWriter describes above, but I don’t know if I felt that I was without control. What I mean is that I made the choice to take what was being given to me; I chose to extend my limits beyond what I thought they were. Since I was making those decisions, I don’t know that it gave my partner greater physical control; however, it did give him greater emotional/psychological control…which in turn gives the Dom/me greater physical control…ah, hell. I can’t figure it out. :wink:

*Originally posted by moi *

You’d better hope it’s slippery, or it’s going to hurt even worse. :slight_smile:

Seriously, it’s true that you cant’ really say someone with emotional control over you has ALL THE POWER. I mean, in that case, you can justify a LOT of stupid behavior by saying you weren’t in control. I didn’t mean to suggest that really.

It’s only that the question as I see it was, “Is the submissive really in control because she’s getting what she wants and has limits on the activities.” And my answer is still that who’s in control runs along a continuum. Sometimes the “slave” really DOES have the majority of the control. In other arrangements between couples, the power exchange is more complete. I also suggest again that everyone needs to keep in mind that no matter what kind of arrangements you’ve made, once you’re bound to the light fixture, the person in charge really IS the person in charge. If only physically.

I also suggest that there are “healthy” relationships all along that continuum.


Damn, I got to this question way too late! [waving hands wildly] I know a lot about BDSM! I really do [/waving hands]

Almost everything’s been said, but I would like to comment on this:

you’re not at all interested in SM, but you’re interested enough to concur that it’s strange and unhealthy. I realize that you disclaimer yourself by saying we’re all free to do what we want in our bedrooms, and that’s good, but I’d like to say that (to me, as a straight woman) that BDSM is one of the last stereotype/tabooos I continually encounter. And perhaps the public perception of BDSM is what has colored your opinion of it.

It isn’t all rubber suits and floggings, what I like to call “glam” sm, and many D/s relationships would probably be confused for your standard boyfriend/girlfriend husband/wife relationships if you saw them on the street.

I think hollywood, the literary industry, television and general society (the dreadful movie 8mm comes to mind) have no qualms at portraying bondage enthusiasts, or D/s as nothing less than freaky, frightening and emotionally empty.

Many D/s relationships are completely monogamous and safe. They happen in households where the couple has children whom they love and care for, they pay bills, go grocery shopping and go to work.

It’s just that after that, some of us like to be our master’s little slut :wink:


Sorry for the confusion, MGibson. One might start with the assumption that I don’t ask stupid questions, but that would be equally flawed half the time. :wink:

(one could argue that people always have free will, and that real life institutions which rely on coercion can only survive when people lack solidarity, but that is another thread)

Well, try and suck the marrow out of life – that is my motto. This is making for an enlightening thread.


I’m not all that interested in the space program either but I can tell you when we landed on the moon and what country made it into space first. I don’t think any intimate relationship where the balance of power is tipped so much in one persons favor is healthy. Even if that “slave” is fully consenting. That’s one of the reasons I think Promise Keepers makes for an unhealthy relationship.


If you’re encountering prejudice over BDSM then perhaps you’re talking about it in the wrong places. And perhaps in this case the public perception of BDSM isn’t so wrong.


Well I’m sure it isn’t all rubber suits and flogging. It really doesn’t change my perspective on it though.


Hey, I didn’t say you guys were the spawn of Satan or that you weren’t productive citizens.