You’ll have heard a “the submissive is in control” line before. They usually go something like this:
It is the Sub that sets the majority of any hard limits. The Sub that has the stop/go control of safe words. The sub that has more control over giving or withdrawing of consent.
Let’s assume, just for the sake of chatting about this, that submissive and bottom are the same thing, so this could apply in a relationship context or in a tussle for how BDSM play is going to proceed.
The “submissive is in control” view can encapsulate what you might see if you were an outside observer.
It’s not that the Dominant doesn’t have limits or can’t stop play (or withdraw consent), it’s just that this is all taken care of by the fact that they are in control of what is going on. If they don’t want to do something, they just don’t do it. Their consent is effectively baked into everything that happens, because the activities are their choice in the first place, and the activity stops if they want it to stop.
Most dominants absolutely do have hard limits as well. They generally have plenty of acts they have no interest in doing to their submissive. So they don’t. It’s that simple. And if they’re a good dominant, they probably communicate early on what they’re not interested in doing, so they can make sure they find a compatible partner.
I’ve made the choice to stop many scenes because they felt off, or because I saw things I thought were unsafe, or because I just wasn’t enjoying what was happening the way I expected to enjoy it. I’ve declined both individual acts and entire relationships because I did not want to do the things that particular submissive was looking for. That IS my consent, and those ARE my limits.
SO, WHO IS IN CONTROL?
I’m not sure “control” is always a good framework to talk about BDSM or that it gives a good picture of how power flows.
I think control is something you tend to see in the moment.
To oversimplify terribly, I think a good analogy is the boulder on top of a hill you learn about in basic physics. While the boulder is resting it has potential or stored energy and if it rolls down the hill that becomes kinetic energy.
While things are all going smoothly, dominants have a kind of kinetic control and submissive have a kind of potential control. The dominant is actively exercising theirs, while the submissive’s is stored.
But, if it’s required, it can rapidly swing the other way. A safeword is called, consent is withdrawn. The submissive’s control becomes kinetic and the dominant’s becomes potential.
Not a great analogy, but the point is that both people have control, it’s just in different forms and sometimes you don’t see it unless you know what you’re looking for.
feature image: Gordon Clark, Rebirth, 2013