Dominance and submission? Complete guide

So you saw Fifty Shades of Grey – and were totally shocked by the tingles that reverberated through your body during some of the spicier (but very flawed) scenes of total submission. Or maybe you’re a little bit more indie and versed in submissions meaning, and you got your first thrill from the classic Secretary. Wherever you first heard about it, you’re curious to learn more and want to catch a glimpse of the scintillating world of dominance and submission. It’s not an exclusive club, and the great thing about it is that in BDSM, everyone has a chance to be sexy.

What is it like?

Dominance and submission, meaning the act of exchanging power in the sack, is about the interplay of sexuality and control, highlighted by examples of surrender and trust. But it’s not as much about whips and chains as you may think – although that’s often involved, too. Instead, dominance and submission has more to do with mentality than what’s going on physically. There is arousal in this power play because both parties trust each other completely.

Identities in BDSM

If you’re into dominance and submission, something you may have noticed is that you lean towards one end of the aisle or the other. As you learn more about the scene, you'll deepen your understanding of your identity as a dom, sub, or switch.


Dom for short, the dominant person is the one who takes charge. They command control over the scene and ask for their sub to obey their desires. Usually, the dom is the one enforcing the rules set at the beginning of a scene.

Unfortunately, the media has a troubling concept of what it means to be a dom. Often, they’re reduced to controlling, manipulative, and sociopathic characters, a stigma that can make people ashamed to explore their dommy selves. Amy Boyajian, CEO of Wild Flower, has a better perspective. Boyajian says that a true dom is “loving” and “caring,” and that “Power play is about exploring safety within boundaries in a mutually beneficial dynamic. It is never about simply doing whatever you please with someone.”

Domming takes compassion and respect. Trusting their sub to let them know when they’ve reached their limits is vital.


Of course, without a sub, there can be no dom. Short for submissive, subs are the people who derive pleasure from receiving pain, humiliation, or direction. There is something in submission as an act that lets them see a glimpse of heaven. The noun 'submission' almost becomes a proper noun in moments of pure 'sub space' bliss. The appeal of the sub role is in its surrender and yielding. By giving themselves over to the dom, the sub sinks into a space that is without words, that couldn't be put into English or submitted to the dictionary. 

But despite the lies that Fifty Shades of Grey would have you believe, a submissive isn’t a helpless pawn in their dom’s game. Instead, it could be argued that a sub is the one who truly dictates the scene. And without a sub's add-on of their own boundaries' definitions, the dom wouldn't get to do a scene at all. Subs may submit, but it's not up for dispute that their willpower guides the whole scene.


Not everyone fits into tidy boxes. Just look at the last century of submissions to the dictionary to see the ways certain words have evolved as folks couldn't reach an agreement on what one thing means. The law of the land is that nothing is black and white, and a switch only higlights that human condition. Switches are people who inhabit both the role of the dom and the sub depending on the scene or the partner. They have certain situations where they identify as a dom, and others where they identify as a sub. For example, they might be a submissive person when it comes to wanting to please their partner with spankings, but a findom (financial dominatrix) by profession.

Establishing your safeword

To ensure safety, set up a safe word - and make sure you and your partner have it memorized. Submission isn't complete without these essential boundaries. A common way to show your boundaries is the stoplight system:

  • Green: full speed ahead
  • Yellow: slow down, I’m almost to my limits, but don’t stop
  • Red: stop immediately, end the scene

These three words are the sub’s superpower, and they help guide the dom to make sure no boundaries are crossed. These words are vital because sometimes, like in rape role play or any other kind of rough play, the sub may say “no” when they really mean “yes.”

Of course, you can use whatever safeword you want in submission. Definition of safeword after definition of safeword shows you that anything you'd never usually say in the bedroom (exotic fruits, synonyms for sewing, your partner's middle name, etc.), all are perfect examples of safewords to add to your play. The English language is a beautiful and messy thing, so have fun with it. The act of submitting thrives only when partners have honored one another by putting safety first. You may no see it in this summer's rom-com, but no sex act is complete without these crucial words.

Find your people

Don’t hesitate! The world of dominance and submission is a thrill – and it isn’t difficult to meet a community and start playing. Thanks to the dot com world we live in, finding community is simple. Add yourself to the kink crowd on FetLife, or look for a Meetup that'll please your palate tonight. 

We could tease apart the world of submission, and everything related to it, all day and night - but this intro taster gives you something to chew on as you deepen your relationship to it. Got something to add? Tell us about it in the comments - and be sure to scroll through all the other comments submitted below.