Ask a Dominant Anything

A week ago, Sinclair Sexmith, a blogger, writer, educator, and all-round awesome person  asked me to co-moderate a live, one-hour webinar called “Ask a Dominant Anything”. It was a lot of fun, with around 50 folks logged in for the session. Sinclair had to leave early, so I tried to answer as many as I could before the end of the hour. I didn’t get to quite all of the questions submitted, and folks asked if I’d address some of those here. I think I actually answered MOST of the ones I’m qualified to answer (there was one specifically about identifying as genderqueer and butch, which applies to Sinclair, but not me). However, I think a few of them deserved a bit more thought. Some of these I actually did answer during the webinar, but I wanted to elaborate more and try to be more coherent in my answers.

I’m actually going to the first three questions together, because the core of my answer is the same.

Disclaimer – I am NOT a trained counselor. The advice here is my own and may or may not be appropriate for your situation. If you are truly struggling in your relationship, please seek a qualified counselor or therapist in your area. The best resource I know for finding a kink-aware professional is the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.

The first three questions asked:

1. I know as a submissive what I do to encourage/provoke dominance in my partner. What do you do specifically as a Dominant to encourage submission in your partner?

2. Tips for asking for more play without your longtime top taking it personally that there hasn’t been enough.

3. Suggestions for introducing protocol into a play dynamic that has mostly been laid back versus structured?


What struck me about all three of these questions, is that the folks asking them are not happy with some aspect of their current relationship. And as common as that is, I think it’s a bit sad. The ultimate truth is that D/s relationships benefit from the same advice couples counselors dish out to more traditional relationships:

  • Communicate your needs
  • Be open to your partner’s needs
  • Trust each other
  • Be honest
  • Make time for the relationship

I’m the first to admit those are not always easy to maintain in the face of life – kids, work, bills, chores, aging parents, illnesses and injuries, financial setbacks, etc…  However, they’re essential for a long-lasting, healthy relationship. A consensual, power-imbalanced relationship adds an additional level of challenge to communicating one’s needs for the submissive, however. (Note – I am using submissive as an umbrella term that also includes slave/pet/property/etc…) It can be really difficult to tell your dominant (again – umbrella term) that what they’re doing isn’t quite enough, or right. I’ve heard submissives say they were afraid of the reaction of their dominant. I’ve heard submissives say they don’t know how to bring something up without feeling like they are “topping from the bottom” or “challenging” the dominant’s instructions or protocols.

It can also, believe it or not, be really difficult to tell your submissive partner that what they’re doing isn’t enough or right (see question 1). Seriously. Some dominants feel that submission is a gift – and how do you politely tell someone you care about you aren’t that keen on what they gave you? Other folks don’t see submission as a gift, but they do try to accept their partner as they are – and it can be a challenge to say, “how you’re expressing who you are isn’t quite cutting it for me”.

Here’s the secret: It doesn’t have to be confrontational in nature. Really.

One way of thinking about it is to phrase your concern or request in a way that is deferential. This means respecting your partner and understanding that when any of us hear criticism, our first instinct is often to become defensive. So you can soften the blow, in a way. You can use “I statements”: “I get frustrated when there is no play for more than a week.” vs. “You never want to play anymore!”

Another fantastic tip I learned from an awesome (and adorable) Boston-area D/s couple is to focus on the THING that is the problem and not the PERSON. Ask each other – is this THING (kink, protocol, etc…) serving the relationship? By doing this, you shift the focus from one of blame (there’s usually plenty of that to go around anyway) to one of problem solving. It also immediately puts both (or all) partners on the same team with the same focus – the continued success of the relationship.

One way I try to address questions such as the ones above in my own relationships, is to create space in the relationship for them. By this I mean, I deliberately create a space, a time, a safe place to discuss the “State of the Relationship”. I call these conversations “Relationship Check-ins” and they allow each partner to verbalize what’s working and what needs adjusting. They tend to happen more frequently in the beginning of a relationship (say once a month) and taper off as issues get ironed out. I set up the rules for this early on – and make it clear that either partner is equally able to request a Relationship Check-in. Once one is requested, a mutually agreed upon time and place is determined. I try to have these in a neutral location (the living room, not the bedroom, for example) and at a neutral time (Sunday afternoon at 2:00, not 11:00 pm in bed). It’s important that both partners be calm and distraction-free so that you both can focus on the conversation. I find it helpful to hold hands and make eye contact – I really want to make sure we stay connected, even while discussing things that might be difficult. I never skip the “What’s working for you?” portion of the conversation, either – it’s important to acknowledge the good stuff. I also make sure (especially early on) to schedule Relationship Check-ins when everything is going swimmingly. This sets up the expectation that these are not threatening conversations, they are just good conversations that make the relationship stronger. That way (hopefully) no one dreads them when things may be more tense.

Does this always work perfectly? Heck no. But it works pretty well most of the time. So what do you do if you don’t currently have a space in your relationship for such a conversation? Find a neutral time and place and ASK for one. Feel free to point your partner to this post if you think it might help.

Two more questions that were asked:

4. How do you transfer mindset from kids and work to play kink etc… with your partner?

5. I’m a submissive with disability (chronic pain and fatigue) and PTSD – my Dominant, indeed most of my chosen family, also deal with varied disability and MH issues. As a Dominant and part of a community that includes many people like us, do you or have you explored keeping D/s healthy when disability and MH are involved?

I think that my answer here could also apply to questions 1 and 3 above and both of these questions here can be answered in part by my answers above.

The simple answer is, PROTOCOLS and RITUALS. Of course, it’s not really that simple, is it?

As a single parent of an adolescent, I maintained a 3.5 year relationship with a lovely submissive. He didn’t live with us, and both our families saw us very normal “boyfriend and girlfriend”. (I’m still great friends with him today, nearly five years later.) Being a parent and maintaining a household while also trying to maintain a power-imbalanced relationship can be a real challenge. One thing I had to do was adjust my expectations. There was no way that relationship, for example, was going to be a fantasy, 24/7, naked-sub-attending-to-my-every-need sort of relationship. Play that occurred if my kid was asleep in the next room had to be on the quieter side – no screaming flogger scenes. Play didn’t happen as often as it would have if I didn’t have a child at home. For most parents, this is a temporary situation (even if temporary means more than 10 years). Eventually, your circumstances will change and you’ll be able to do more.

However, making the transition from “parent mode” or “employee mode” or even “boss mode” (especially if you’re a submissive) to “D/s mode” can be a challenge for anyone at any time.

If you’re dealing with a chronic condition (be it mental health or physical constraints), your situation may NOT change. The answer here is still “modify your expectations to be more in line with your present reality”. If the chronic condition is intermittent in nature, you can agree to “ride out” the worst periods and fully re-engage in D/s when things are a bit better.

This is where having protocols and rituals that signal that transition become essential for me. I’ll often allow a submissive to vent about his day at work for a bit and then tell him to go strip and bring me his collar. Him being naked, and me placing a collar around his neck signal to both of us that it’s now time for the dynamic to take a more central role.  Each couple (or polycule) needs to find the protocols and rituals that work for them (what a great topic for a Relationship Check-in!). Rituals and protocols help me be “more dominant” as question number 1 asks. It’s all too easy for me to allow my chronic pain and work stress to take over my mindset. Seeing a submissive naked, on his knees, presenting his collar to me is almost always enough to bring me back into the right mindset – to sharpen my focus on him and on “us” again.

One couple I know (he’s an author of Master/slave books and they are both educators in the kink community), have a ritual that is far more elaborate and in-depth than any I’ve heard of.  When she arrives home from work, they talk about their day while sorting through the mail, paying bills, catching up, etc… When it’s time for dinner, they both DRESS for dinner. In the way people did a century ago – formal dinner attire. This changing of clothes is a signifier to both of them that their relationship is a serious thing. He then serves her dinner and they follow their own protocols. At a certain time (if memory serves, it’s 7:00 p.m.), the television is turned off, and no other “outside” conversation is allowed. No cell phones. No computer. No talking about their day anymore. Their entire focus is on each other and their dynamic.

Now, as I mentioned – that’s a bit too much for me, but for them it works beautifully. They’ve been together for decades and are a wonderful couple to observe with each other.

The lesson I took from their approach is to set aside relationship time. It’s similar to what many “vanilla” couples do – schedule “date night” once a week. Your relationship time might only be one night a week, when the kids are at the grandparents. Or it may be dictated by the rhythms of MS or CFS. What’s important is to honor that time and by so doing, honor your dynamic.

The other thing I’ve seen work for some dynamics, is to keep some form of written communication going. Whether it’s little texts during the day that include titles and pet names, or an online blog that only the two of you see, or even a little notebook by the side of the bed that you both write to each other in, it can serve as a more frequent reminder of your dynamic, even when you aren’t able to fully act on it.

It all comes back to the “advice” I listed at the beginning of this post:

  • Communicate your needs
  • Be open to your partner’s needs
  • Trust each other
  • Be honest
  • Make time for the relationship

I’m curious how others would answer these questions. Please add your perspectives in the comments!

Do you have more questions you want to “ask a dominant”? Please ask!


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