Navigating Authority-Based Relationships

Authority-based relationships can provide us a space to explore and fulfill sexual fantasies, connect deeply with a partner, and explore our shadow selves within a safe and consensual environment. But what is an authority-based relationship?  And what is important to know about this type of relationship before entering one?

What are authority-based relationships?

Authority based relationships are built on power exchange. They exist within the realm of BDSM and are commonly known as dominant/submissive or D/s relationships. Kinky people often identify as either a dominant or a submissive. Not everyone feels they fit into either of those roles all of the time, so the role of a switch–someone who enjoys both the dominant and submissive roles–can be just as common.

In authority based relationships, it’s crucial to understand that the dynamics of the relationships rely on power exchange, not on one partner having power over the other. Even if the dominant partner is the one giving the  orders in bed, putting a collar on a submissive, or spanking their partner, that does not mean that the submissive partner is left powerless. Boundaries set up before play help in maintaining the submissive partner’s power & control, and safe words give either partner the ability to stop the play for whatever reason.  Above all else, authority-based relationships are dependent on communication and trust.

How do you build the communication and trust necessary within an authority based relationship? Here are three questions to keep in mind & discuss with your partner:

What do you want?

If you’re experienced in D/S, you may already have a clear image of what an ideal relationship or arrangement looks like for you. However, if you’re new to the scene, clear your mind of any preconceived notions, especially if they came from 50 Shades of Grey.

For some partners, entering an authority-based relationship may just mean that you want to add more kink & play to your current relationship. Ask yourself and your partner: what are your fantasies? Bondage? Impact play? Orgasm denial? There are as many ways to explore dominance and submission as there are people. If you’re unsure where to start, browse the groups on FetLife for some inspiration & see what sparks your interest!

Some partners engage in 24/7 D/s relationships, which is based on total power exchange. Beyond the bedroom (or dungeon), the submissive hands over the keys (sometimes literally, in the case of chastity belts) to their dominant. Keep in mind that if you’re new to BDSM, we recommend not jumping directly into such a set-up, even if it turns you on. Start small, think about what turns you & your partner on, and try a few scenes first. If you want to work up to 24/7 play, go for it! But taking small steps to get there can help you & your partner build trust, communication, and figure out boundaries.

How can I communicate what I want?

Does the idea of keeping  your penis locked in a chastity belt all day, until your domme lets you take it off, turn you on? Do you want an uber-masculine daddy to pay for everything and spank you like you’re his little girl? Before you can communicate to your partner what you want, you have to know what that is. Do some exploring, and think about what sorts of play turn you on.

After you’ve done your kinky soul searching, express your desires to your partner.. Talk to them about the fantasies you’re interested in exploring, ask them if they have any they’d like to try. Keeping the space open for all partners to share their fantasies will help in building your trust, and will help you feel more comfortable when you & your partner(s) actually get around to trying some of what you talk about!

What negotiations need to take place?

Within authority-based relationships, there are subjects that need to be tackled beyond what you want to try during sexual play. While it’s important to be open about what you want to try, it is equally important to communicate what things are off the table. All partners should make lists of their hard and soft limits and discuss  safe words to use in play. While this may not seem like as much fun as talking about the new ideas you do want to try, it’s a crucial part of exploring a new type of play! Write down what excites you, what you want to try, and what your limits are. Once your boundaries are communicated, play will feel safer, more comfortable, and much more exciting.

It can also be important to address broader relationship questions. Are you monogamous? Is this a sexual set-up, or are you interested in something romantic as well? Do you want to play with one another on a short-term basis, or is this a long term arrangement? Are you going to openly discuss your lifestyle around vanilla friends, or only within the kink community? If you haven’t already connected with your local kink scene, how might meeting and connecting with others improve your relationship, teach you about kink, and open your mind to fun events and possibilities?

Keep in mind that communication shouldn’t stop after boundary negotiations! During & after play, all partners should feel comfortable expressing what works for them, what doesn’t, what they want to try again, etc. Make sure you & your partner(s) are feeling good during play & take time to reassess limits and boundaries as the need comes up.  

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.