When you look at “Power Exchange” relationships – that is, relationships that are based on someone giving over control of some facet (or all aspects!) of their lives to another person – it seems obvious whose needs, wants and desires come first. The master over the slave, the dominant over the submissive, top over the bottom. Or is it? You look at someone who is obedient to another person, serves their whims and wishes, follows their commands. This seems straightforward: one takes, the other gives…pretty cut-and-dried.
But the fact is, there are responsibilities on both sides of the coin. The submissive or slave in a power exchange relationship doesn’t just sign their love, body, mind and soul away to some heartless emotional juggernaut bent on absolute domination!
Well, not for very long, if they do.
Language is important here. Look at the term I used to describe these M/S and D/S relationships. It is a power exchange. Not a power coup d’état. Not a power dump. There is ebb and flow, yin and yang to these relationships. We are, first and foremost, humans interacting with one another. And acknowledging that all of us humans have human needs, human wants, and human desires is vital to the development of a healthy power exchange relationship.
It seems like giving up power to another person is a surefire recipe for disaster. As Lord Acton once said:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
There needs to be a check-and-balance system in place: some way to calibrate the dynamic when things tip out of kilter. It would seem that there is a catch-22 here. How can one be in service, be subservient and obey while still standing up for and protecting one’s self?
Back when I first entered service, and stated exploring a formal M/S dynamic, I was given a bunch of guidelines, list of this and that. Pillars, Rules and Protocols to memorize. All of these have fallen away in the intervening fifteen years…save one. The core principle on which I base my slavery…my consensual servitude to another human being, is The Prime Directive.
Chill the fuck out, fellow Trekkers, I’m not saying that submissives are abjured against interfering in pre-warp cultures. Of course, I wouldn’t want to go up against a Starfleet court martial over it either.
The Prime Directive, amongst many in the kink, leather and BDSM communities is a guiding principal that rather elegantly creates a protocol designed to keep the slave / submissive safe and healthy, facilitates compassionate dominance, and supports a well-balanced power exchange (or PE, for brevity’s sake) relationship.
There are many iterations of it, but the one I have settled on in my practice is the following:
It is the primary responsibility of the slave to protect the master’s property at all times, up to and including protecting the property from their master.
Whatever your dynamic, however you exchange power, this system is a brilliant way to provide a fail-safe when things get rocky, or are in flux.
This bleeds out into the Default World, too. I have a friend who is a single mom and we were chatting online about the sacrifices she has to make for her children. I was reminded of my own mother, who raised us on her own for most of our lives. I recall her sacrifice, her sadness, and feeling that I, as a child, was responsible for her pain. I wished she had time to have fun, to find a partner after my parent’s divorce, to enjoy life. “But that’s what you have to do. The kids are my life. It’s not about me…,” my friend said. I understood her point but countered, “Dude. Prime Directive.”
I explained to her how we pervs managed the risk of emotional martyrdom by using this tool. She was dubious. “I have to sacrifice for them, regardless. They come first.” “Hey look. I’m not saying leave the kids at doggie daycare and go to Vegas for a week with the cabana boy,” I insisted. “ I’m saying make sure you take care of yourself. If you burn yourself out, who the hell is gonna take care of those kids then?”
Self-care matters: for everyone.
It might seem terribly romantic to sacrifice yourself, your time, your body, in service to another. It is very fulfilling, for many people, to push themselves in their service. Those who eroticize the exchange of power often thrive in a situation where they can sometimes experience privation and hardship. It can be a means to growth.
If your physical, emotional and spiritual health are not in order? You aren’t doing anyone any damned favors.
Some people are highly skilled and adept at making their feelings known. But most of us have times where, for whatever reason, it is just so difficult to share a problem. We would rather suck it up, buttercup, and suffer in silence rather than say “I’m having a problem. I need help.” For submissives, it can be even more challenging. Many people who identify as submissive or as a slave will prioritize their master or owner over themselves, without mindfulness, because they think that is what it takes to be a “good sub.” But sacrifice made from fear is an incubator for resentment.
How elegant it is when the person who owns you says, “You are mine. And as my property, and the most precious property I could possibly be pleased to own, your first job is to maintain my property. To be transparent with me, to tell me honestly how you are, to share with me when you are struggling: this is how you please me. And furthermore? NOT telling me if you are troubled or struggling is in direct conflict with my wishes.”
Pretty fucking brilliant, no?
Believe me, this is a practice, a meditation. Until I was charged with emotional transparency, I never realized how much I stuffed down when I was sad, or angry, or frustrated. I feared I would be rejected if I wasn’t “perfect.” This was reinforced when I became involved in the BDSM community; I read so many books, so much fantasy that supported the idea that simply enduring in graceful, grateful silence was the lot of a “real slave.”
But, with experience, I have seen how the seemingly oxymoronic PD actually means that masters and dominant types are able to fulfill their roles more effectively. A compassionate owner wants the best for their property. And they aren’t bloody mind-readers. I know, I know…some of them seem to be! It is critical that the owner know that the person in service is capable of managing fear, anger and resentment by shoveling and sharing their shit. And it is even more important that the slave/submissive-type person trust that this transparency, that honoring the relationship by honoring the PD, will be met with respect and compassion and good faith by their owner.
For the dominant types? Give your submissive-type property this tool. We s-types will go to the ends of the Earth for you. By empowering us to filter our service to you through being in service to ourselves, we can bloom, thrive, serve you with more power, with deeper joy and stronger trust. Fostering an environment in which a submissive hides their difficulties is a seed that will spring into a choking, twisting kudzu of resentment that will strangle the roots of your relationship.
Within power exchange relationships, these checks and balances can mean the difference between healthy, nurturing, loving relationships and stressful, emotionally troublesome interactions. Applying the Prime Directive can help guide you in your mission to explore strange new worlds of kink, and to boldly go where no pervert has gone before.