With the thrilling discovery that one enjoys the submission side of BDSM, many an eager sub finds him/herself longing to be “trained” by a Dominant. Lucky for their Doms, manuals on submissive training abound on book-selling sites. Some of these manuals are good, and some are bad (and badly written). Yet, all are incomplete with their generic, one-way advice on what the Dom can do to mold the sub’s behavior. Power exchange is a two-person dynamic that requires care and effort on both sides. A long-term Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationship that fires on all cylinders is, above all, a collaboration between partners. That is why I often say that I “conspire” with my Dom to help him figure out how to wield more effective control over me. In other words, I have learned that while he is training me, I also need to be training him to become the best Dom for me.
Power exchange is a two-person dynamic that requires care and effort on both sides. A long-term D/s relationship that fires on all cylinders is, above all, a collaboration between partners.
This two-way concept of training in D/s is not obvious at first, and can even feel at odds with the fevered fantasies of both Dom and sub. The Dom likely gets off to thoughts of a pliant sub who automatically submits to his every whim, while the submissive fantasy is about the turn-on of passivity and surrendering choice. “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it,” subs love to say, and they mean it. And so, both sides of the D/s equation may assume that “training” consists of the Dom teaching the sub what actions or behaviors will please the Dom. Yet genuine training is not about handing over a list of rules and protocols for a sub to memorize. If the end goal is merely about performing actions in a prescribed way, then training is brief, unchallenging, and the result shallow. This might be fine for casual play partners who intend nothing more than top or bottom for each other for the length of an occasional scene. But in a long-term relationship grounded in true power exchange, no prescribed action is an end to itself, it is always the means to a larger end; namely, a new way of relating to one’s partner.
D/s is, above all, a psychological journey. A sub practices actions not to become more perfect in the action, but to become more perfect in submission. The purpose of training is not merely for the sub to learn how the Dom likes his drink served or his cock sucked, it is to form new habits of mind that make things like serving and sucking profoundly satisfying in a new way. When we train, we are trying to literally rewire our brains toward a new way of being for both sub and Dom.
Now, I can imagine an experienced Dom bristling (or laughing) at the notion of being “trained” by a sub, and one could argue that a Dominant with many years of experience is unlikely to need help from a new sub in winning control over him/her. Yet, while experience is invaluable, especially in regard to the Dom’s confidence in himself (nothing is more commanding, or more sexy, in a Dom than confidence), there is such a thing as overconfidence. Even skillful Doms have been known to stubbornly stick to what worked with others in the past, even if that’s not what’s most effective for the new sub. Every sub is unique in what puts them into a submissive mindset, as well as what pushes them out of it, and even the same sub can respond to different things at different times. In fact, the continual evolution of the dynamic is part of the magic of D/s, and a good Dom will be the first to say that even in long-established relationships, the training of each other into deeper habits of domination and submission never ends.
So, what does training look like when it comes to helping a Dom to better dominate his/her sub? The most important thing is scrupulous honesty in response to what the Dom chooses to do.
Here is one example from my own life: Many training manuals suggest having the sub kiss the Dom’s feet in order to cultivate the proper worshipful attitude. My Dom really liked that idea and wanted to give it a go. But I’ve always been repulsed by feet, and although I wanted to obey without complaint, I was honest that while I was willing, the thought grossed me out. Now, he could have forced the issue, knowing I would have obeyed if he’d insisted. But what good would it have done him to train me to kiss his feet if the action only made me feel turned off and not the least bit submissive? His goal is to gain genuine power over me, not just superficial compliance. He decided to forego feet-kissing and focus instead on having me perform actions that did make me feel more submissive. Lo and behold, after several months practicing intense rules and protocols that had nothing to do with feet and everything to do with conquering my mind, I surprised both of us one evening by spontaneously dropping to the ground to kiss his feet. What an even bigger surprise to feel it to be a privilege to worship him in that way. Submissives with minds molded toward obedience and devotion will eventually shed many of their limits and find themselves begging to please their Doms in the ways they know he/she wants.
Of course, few would argue that a sub’s transparency with a Dom is vital, and a wise Dom will actively elicit the sub’s thoughts. Yet, even if given an explicit rule to “reveal everything,” it can be surprisingly difficult for subs to speak up about how things are working. We can worry it’s not our place to question our Dom, or we can worry about sounding critical or upsetting the Dom, or we may feel clueless how to broach our issues if there is no established protocol that allows us to voice our thoughts. Most crippling is the fear that we might appear to be “topping from the bottom,” subtly trying to wield power and influence when we have agreed to give it up. These are legitimate worries, and it’s definitely tricky to navigate honest communication in power exchange. After all, speaking one’s truth is an act of power in itself. That is why it’s important for a sub to understand his/her transparency as a way of packaging power and then handing it over to the Dom. By speaking up, a sub gives herself/himself nowhere to hide, and gives the Dom the proper tools to dominate. To remain silent is, in essence, a violation of the D/s compact; it robs the Dom of power that rightfully belongs to him/her.
In our own D/s journey, my Dom — after noting my habit of leaving kitchen cupboards open in my wake — made a rule that I had to immediately close all cupboards or suffer consequences. Despite my willingness, I was daily being dragged to the couch and told to bend over for punishment for leaving cupboards open. I would obediently take my spanking and tell my Dom, “Thank you for correcting me.” Alas, I still couldn’t get myself to notice the open cupboards, let alone shut them. It was only when I finally admitted to my Dom that I enjoyed the spankings that he realized he had to change my “funishment” to real punishment. He started giving me fast and fierce spankings that were much too hard to enjoy. Suddenly, my mind began noticing the open cupboards and hurried to shut them. That discovery led us experiment with punishments that don’t push me out of a submissive mindset and yet I will do anything to avoid. (The winner of my all-time most effective punishment? Being forced to crawl on the ground with a fox-tail plug in my ass.) By speaking up, I “train” my Dom in how to better train me to do what he wants.
Sometimes we need our Doms to know we need firmer discipline, other times we may need to let him/her know when it would be more effective to lighten up. Many training manuals recommend bodily “inspections” of submissives, and my Dom decided he would inspect my body each day after my shower, following the oft-repeated suggestion that a sub should be naked throughout. However, standing for many minutes in full-on nakedness in broad daylight felt difficult and embarrassing to me (as it does for many women in our perfect body-glorifying culture). Most training manuals insist that being naked is essential to proper sub mindset and recommend the Dom be firm with such rules. (See an interesting discussion here about the difference between “breaking” subs and nurturing subs to get the best from them.)
Of course, there are situations in which I crave to be pushed beyond my comfort zone, and certainly, there is nothing wrong with a little humiliation for a sub; being embarrassed often works to put me in a submissive mindset in other contexts (such as the fox-tail punishment that turns me into submissive mush). But this naked inspection ritual gave me no submissive fuel whatsoever; rather, my distress was so acute that it pulled me out of submission and made me want to flee in rebellion. I shared my feeling with my Dom and asked him if he’d consider doing away with the ritual. But he liked it, so he chose instead to modify it. He still performs inspections, but now allows me to keep my unbelted robe on, giving me a modicum of cover that he can lift or push aside as he pleases. I no longer want to run away during inspections; instead, I sink into a lovely submissive feeling as he demonstrates his ownership of me in a way that doesn’t shut me down. My clever Dom used the information I gave him to solidify his power over me, and help my brain continue rewiring itself to his wishes. I’m guessing I’ll eventually surprise myself by the impulse to discard the robe and stand naked before him in contented surrender.
In training a Dominant, the submissive’s method of expressing his/her thoughts is important. A sub should introduce concerns in a respectful way that does not challenge the Dom’s authority. Many D/s partners come up with protocols for that, such as a scheduled meeting time to hash out problems. Myself, I have a hard time waiting for a scheduled time, I’m more likely to blurt out how I feel in the moment, and I’ve earned a few stinging face slaps for not being careful with my language. I continually work to change my way of speaking so that it does not sound to his ears (or mine) as if I am pushing, nagging, or issuing commands in the way an equal partner might. I’ve learned that phrasing something in a question works wonders to get me out of wife mind and into sub mind. For example, we have both agreed that consistency in our rituals and protocols is important, and like most subs, I am acutely aware (and can feel wounded) if he forgets a ritual. In our early days, I would complain and nag about the lapse in a very un-subby fashion that undermined our dynamic. We solved the problem by him shifting the responsibility for remembering to me. I am now required to go to him at the proper time and ask, “Did you want to do that ritual today?” He can then decide to do it or not, his choice. Or if I forget, and he remembers, he can choose to punish me for my lapse, and our dynamic is reinforced.
In most instances, however, I avoid the risk of appearing to confront my Dom by writing down my concerns in a journal in which I talk about him in the third person (a more deferential distance to me). I then email it to him to read when he is ready. This allows me the immediate relief of getting out what I feel, while allowing him to deal with me in his own time. Of course, I write for a living, so writing my thoughts is probably easier for me than most. We all need to find the way of communicating that works best for us.
My submission journal is not just for writing down problems, though. Part of training my Dom is to also make it clear what works beautifully for me, as well as what appeals to my sexual mind. That is why I will describe our latest BDSM encounter and how it impacted me, and how delicious I found certain pleasures, especially if he tried something new. I focus heavily on triggers that make me feel more submissive, and often analyze the how and why so he has better knowledge of how my mind works. I also write down all my fantasies and secret longings so he can use what appeals to him to cast a sexual spell over me that compels my urgent desire to submit. He will sometimes ask me to come up with images that capture my longings, and I have spent many an hour combing through BDSM porn clips and sending him links to show him what excites me. I am also our designated reader of books on BDSM, and on long car trips, I will read him snippets I have bookmarked as intriguing or relevant to us. This always leads satisfyingly deep conversations about D/s, our goals for our unfolding dynamic, and how we can imagine ourselves getting there.
Again, I am careful to make sure I undertake these “helpful” actions in a way that does not undermine my Dom’s authority. I am imperfect at this, and sometimes need to be put in my place, but that’s all part of this wonderful transformational journey. Training for both sides of the D/s equation is admittedly a delicate balancing act, whether it’s the sub trying to find the best way to offer constructive guidance to the Dom, or the Dom finding the line between coddling a sub and working with his/her particular mind and body to get the best results. But the effort to walk that line is more than worth it. After six years of my Dom’s patient and steady hand guiding me ever deeper into submission — and my collaboration in that effort — I am more obedient, more devoted, and more fulfilled by our D/s life than I ever dreamed possible. My dearest hope is to be on creaky knees, begging to kiss my Dom’s feet, well into old age.
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).