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... better living through power exchange

How to Doom a D/s Relationship

by Terra Bloom

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Upon our unexpected discovery of the joys of BDSM, my darling husband and I felt we were undertaking something so subversive, so against the grain of what we were conditioned to believe was “healthy” in a relationship, that we kept it a secret just between us. A delicious secret, to be sure, but a secret nonetheless. Yet, after four years of the private practice of power exchange (of the Level Two Egalitarian sort), our fascination with what was happening in our own psychology made us yearn to be in the company of like-minded individuals. And so, we decided to join our local BDSM community.

This decision was momentous, and we found a wonderful group of new friends, as well as encouragement to further experiment in our D/s journey. Our first move was to take our power exchange out of the bedroom and try for a 24/7 dynamic, with the hope of evolving into a more intense Level Three power dynamic. Oh, how I wanted to go all in with my Ravishing Dom!  As we worked through this exciting challenge, I joined a support group for submissives and found myself part of a conversation on the dilemma of power exchange discussed in the previous chapter: Who holds the true power, Dom or sub? After working so hard on going deeper into surrender to my Daddy Dom, I felt myself to be on the side of those who expressed a belief that a Dom should take his cues from the submissive side of the partnership. And, thanks to the BDSM world’s laser focus on communication and consent, that was certainly the more popular side of the debate.


I tell my story to emphasize why undertaking the effort to train your Dom in what works for you and your psyche is the best way to ensure you experience submission as a joyful path to finding yourself rather than a demoralizing descent into losing yourself.

Yet, I also found myself intrigued by the experience of a submissive friend who was proud that she’d never make her own preferences known to her Dom. She subscribed to a Level One power dynamic in which submission was not genuine unless one followed the dictates of one’s dominant without speaking a desire for something different. And so, she obeyed her Preeminent Dom’s edicts, no matter how petty the rule, or how mundane the task she was directed to do (such as mowing his lawn). She asked nothing for herself, accepting infrequent crumbs of his attention as her “reward.” Many in the community believed her to be in an abusive situation and felt pity for her. Still, she seemed content with her lot, and defended such a D/s arrangement as the only “true” path to submission.

Now, I didn’t really want a Preeminent Dom like my friend preferred (I am terrible at mowing lawns), but I still craved surrender to a Ravishing Dom. Which is not to say I wasn’t being thoroughly ravished at home by my passionate Daddy Dom. There were many stretches of time when I felt my husband and I were succeeding in our quest for a Level Three power dynamic, and I would find myself literally dropping to my knees in a trance of worshipful adoration. But greedy submissive me, I wanted to be able to stay in that ecstatic state, not feel it float away on the tides of domestic churn. I started to believe that submission to a spouse — someone with whom one has to navigate the many duties of life outside of BDSM — created inevitable obstacles to the long-lasting state of surrender I craved. No matter how much I didn’t want power, every time I had to carry out the role of wife it seemed to me that power flowed to me by default. I began to wonder what it would be like to submit to someone who didn’t have a vested interest in keeping me happy and content. Would it feel different?

Eventually, this burning question, along with an unexpected crisis in my marriage, led me to withdraw my submission to my Daddy Dom (oh so painful for both of us), and to offer it to a shiny-to-me Dominant couple in my community with years of experience. We’d been playing BDSM games together for a year already (as a foursome with my husband), and I believed them to be potentially perfect Ravishing Doms for me. I was ready to accept their philosophy that true power exchange required the submissive doing exactly what the Dom demanded, no questions asked (as in literally, my questions were often ignored). I took them at their word that their statements of “we know what’s best for you” came from a place of deep care for me. Oh yes, I was most eager to explore this different approach to letting go.

And so, unlike my experience with my husband, in which I openly shared all my wants and honest reactions to what he did to me, I did not present my new Doms with a list of my preferred kinks or sexual desires. They did ask for my “hard limits,” and I gave them exactly two: I do not like my feet touched, and I cannot withstand tickling. Other than that, it was anything goes as far as I was concerned. I found it thrilling to be shown a different way of doing things than I would have chosen for myself. I loved being introduced to kinks my husband had had little interest in exploring. Yes, a few of the BDSM activities this couple enjoyed were uncomfortable for me — needles! — but I felt it not only my duty to endure them but my privilege to endure them. I even came to appreciate the intimate nuances of many of them. I felt they contributed to a spiritual bond between me and my Doms.

Okay, there were times I’d tell my husband that my D/s relationship with the couple “wasn’t built for me,” as the power dynamic with him had been. This new relationship was clearly built for them, their needs, their wants. But that was what I had purposely signed up for. And, for the next year and a half, I felt myself so lucky to be in their hands that I ignored warning signals that they might not have my best interests at heart after all. For example, if I expressed profound discomfort at something they wanted me to do, they would insist I obey, and sometimes mock me for my hesitation (which they called affectionate “teasing.”) Compelling a sub to do what you know she doesn’t want to do is an effective psychological mechanism to break down resistance to your control, so I didn’t hold it against them; in fact, I considered it a necessary part of the process. But I was also ignoring signals from my own self that pushing myself beyond my comfort level in order to please them was not healthy for me. I started gulping vodka before our scenes, numbing myself with alcohol. Then I began experiencing anxiety attacks at something as simple as a text from them.

When I found myself bursting into miserable tears after one of our afternoons together, I suffered intense confusion. In my mind, they were still the same shiny wonderful people I first fell for. I adored them, valued them, and believed their claims that they equally valued me. I couldn’t imagine my life without them. They knew I was struggling; hard not to notice your sub has made herself blackout drunk before playing together, and prevented the play from happening at all. It was easy for me to blame other things, conflicts with my husband, my punishing work and travel schedule … But the real problem was that I was not being honest about my difficulties with submitting the way they wanted me to submit. I thought perhaps I could re-negotiate the relationship, set a few boundaries. Yet, at my first mention of a boundary, they abruptly ended the relationship. In a brief text. No real explanation, no conversation. My request to sit down together to talk was denied.

Now, they had every right to end the relationship. I'm sure that a married sub with numerous obligations to work and family (and who may or may not suddenly be developing an alcohol issue) did not an ideal sub make. I knew them to be good people and did not doubt they had good reasons to send me on my way, reasons I'm sure I would have understood and empathized with if I’d been allowed to know what they were. But, consistent with their pattern of withholding, no communication was allowed and, as a result, I felt invisible, inconsequential. I was stunned by the lack of basic human decency. Not only because it was so at odds with the values we’d claimed to share, values like truly seeing each other and offering each other grace. It was also at odds with the most important tenet of BDSM: thou shalt communicate. We’d sat together in a BDSM 101 class in which the necessity of open communication between partners at every step was stressed again and again. Psychologically, I had surrendered deeply to them, so of course being dumped was going to hurt. But being erased was traumatic. In my mind, for Dominants to end a power exchange relationship of several years without any communication as to why, or even a simple “thank you for your service,” is tantamount to BDSM malpractice.

I wish I was not telling a one-sided version of events, I’d rather the three of us had been able to talk honestly and come up with some mutual understanding of what happened before going our separate ways. I would much rather have been able to move on, as I occasionally manage to do, with gratitude in my heart for my experience with them, instead of the tangle of confused pain I too often find myself picking at. But I’m telling my one-sided story anyway because it is the best way I know to drive home the submissive imperative to help design a D/s relationship that is built for the sub as well as the Dom. I tell my story to point out that even a good person can make for a bad Dom if that Dom doesn’t understand that D/s works only as a symbiotic relationship. I tell my story to emphasize why undertaking the effort to train your Dom in what works for you and your psyche is the best way to ensure you experience submission as a joyful path to finding yourself rather than a demoralizing descent into losing yourself.

Yes, there are subs who find total self-negation to a Preeminent It’s-All-About-Me Dom rewarding, yet despite my curiosity and openness to exploring that path, I am obviously not one of those subs. If you suspect you could be, then okay, you probably don’t need to train your Dom after all, and you can go ahead and just do as your told. No, wait, I take that back. Even if you don’t think your own needs and desires matter, they do matter to any Dom worth their salt, because your needs and desires are the raw materials they have to work with in gaining control of you.

In the end, I think I failed my Doms as much as they failed me. Because I failed to count my needs and desires as important, I failed to negotiate for them. Basically, I surrendered myself to the shiny couple without giving them complete knowledge of me and how they might best use and keep me. And when I struggled, I failed to be honest about why. In essence, I committed BDSM malpractice, too, and doomed the relationship with my own lack of communication when it most counted.

But the hardest part for me was that I lost more than just that relationship. For many months, I lost my desire to submit at all, and felt near hysterical at the idea of giving up power to anyone anywhere, including to my own husband, who had been such a beautiful and loving Dominant to me in the past. That was disorienting enough — being submissive had become tightly woven into my identity — but even more disorienting was that I lost trust in BDSM as something good for me at all. I had spent years practicing it, studying it, writing about it, advocating for it, celebrating it, and now I wanted nothing to do with it? I felt bereft, grief-stricken.

Fortunately, as the trauma of the breakup eases, I am slooooowly getting my BDSM groove back with my husband, and only him. Still, even as we have been experimenting with different configurations of power exchange (more on that later), I have yet to feel the pull toward all-in submission that once was the most intense desire of my life. Should it return, and I decide to submit to a Dominant again, you’d better believe I will be excessively and ridiculously open about my wants and desires, about what works for me and what doesn’t. I will negotiate my head off to create a relationship built for me as well as for my Dom. And one of the things I will insist upon? An agreement that if and when the relationship ends, there will be kindness, there will be respect, there will be a conversation. And maybe there will even be a sweet hug goodbye.

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Terra Bloom is a happy submissive and a former journalist turned screenwriter who is now focused on positive sexuality through bdsm advocacy. (And yes, Terra Bloom is a pseudonym).

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