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The dominant controls the BDSM scene or relationship, exercising authority over the submissive partner(s)

The dominant controls the BDSM scene or relationship, exercising authority over the submissive partner(s)

In BDSM, a top or dominant is the partner in a BDSM relationship or in a BDSM scene who takes the active or controlling role over that of the bottom or submissive partner(s).

A person who submits control of a large percentage of his or her day-to-day life to a dominant partner, or who submits within a formal set of rules and rituals, is the slave, and the person who assumes power over the slave is the master or mistress.

Terminology

Agreement on the exact meanings of the following terms is far from universal. For example, the function of tops and dominants is similar, and, in many cases, overlaps, but while the terms are used interchangeably in some discussions, there are differences between the two.

The top is the actor within the BDSM context who applies to the bottom partner(s) the techniques of a sexual, sensual, and psychological activity: flogging, bondage, servitude, or humiliation. A dominant who exercises control over a large percentage of a submissive’s day-to-day life, or within a formal framework of rules and rituals, is a master or mistress.

The functions of top and dominant often intersect, where the top is the dominant, but this is not always the case. Someone who is “topping” may be doing so at the request, or even the direction, of a bottom partner; in this case, the bottom is the dominant partner. A top who acts within this kind of relationship dynamic is sometimes called a service top. A bottom who has dominance over the activities or the relationship is said to be topping from the bottom, even though he or she is really exercising dominance from the bottom. Another possibility is that the top and bottom are acting at the direction of a third, directing person.

Within communities of lifestyle BDSM devotees, there exists a widespread prejudice against both those who act as service tops and those who top from the bottom. Both are considered by many to be failing to achieve a proper BDSM relationship dynamic, especially, if the partners are purported to be trying to achieve a dominant-top/submissive-bottom relationship.

While it is possible that a dominant would not act as a top and thus have no expression of his or her control through kink- or fetish-based activities, it may be argued that such a relationship, lacking any erotic aspect to the exercise of control, would fall outside of the BDSM context.

Master

Master or “Mistress” is one of the honorifics some people use to describe the dominant partner or “owner” in a Master/slave relationship. Because it is an honorific of the dominant form it is usual for it to be written with a capital letter.

It might also be used by the submissive partner as an honorific term in a D/s relationship. This can cause confusion when trying to understand BDSM terminology as both “Master” or “Mistress” and “slave” might be used – as terms of endearment – even though neither considers himself to be owned nor owner.

Some people enjoy the connotations of servitude or submission in calling their partner “Master”, or being called “Master”. To others the ritual of such a formal mode of address may be appealing. It may also be useful in building roles in which one partner or the other may indulge in sadistic or masochistic desires, although people living as Master and slave are not necessarily sadomasochistic.

Usage of “Master” or “Mistress” in most BDSM environments does not imply any specific expertise, abilities, or formal training. To successfully maintain a Master or Mistress/slave relationship takes abilities and skills beyond or apart from normal relationship skills.

The term “Master” can be gender-independent but is mostly used only in reference to males. There is otherwise no male-specific equivalent. The female equivalent is “Mistress” or possibly dominatrix.

Although the Master is understood to have authority over the slave in some sense, this never extends to one’s legal rights and thus there must always be an implicit element of consent involved.

Power limits

The control of the dominant over a partner is seldom absolute and often operates within a set of hot Azerbaijani women defined limits.

A safeword is a signal that a submissive uses to signal that his or her limit is being neared or has been crossed. Accepting more risk, he or she may agree to forgo this option if he or she consents to an extreme form of submission or the practice of edgeplay.

See also

  • Top and bottom
  • Bottom
  • Switch
  • Female dominance
  • Male dominance
  • Dominance and submission
  • Sadomasochism

References and further reading

  • Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy. The New Topping Book. Greenery Press, 2003. ISBN 1-890159-36-0.
  • Jay Wiseman: SM 101: A Realistic Introduction. Greenery Press (CA) 1998, ISBN 0-9639763-8-9

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