What Is A Dom-Sub Relationship, And Can It Be Healthy For You And Your Partner?

Updated March 12, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

You may be madly in love with your spouse or partner, but maybe you feel like your sex life could do with a little more spice. The initial attraction and intimacy have maybe dulled a little bit with time. Or maybe you just are looking for something to keep things interesting. Perhaps you’re entering a new relationship and are exploring new ways to connect with a sexual partner. No matter what, if you’re curious to know what a dom and sub relationship is all about, you’ve come to the right place.

Some couples explore a dom-sub relationship as a way of spicing up a relationship or trying something new and adventurous sexually. After all, BDSM fantasies can be quite common for people of all genders. You may be one of those couples looking to spice things up, but for you to figure out if that’s the right step for you and your partner, you likely need to know a little bit more about the dom-sub lifestyle (which falls within the umbrella of BDSM) and what exactly it entails.

Introduction to BDSM

While there isn’t one general definition that can define BDSM, the term comprises three other acronyms. It can be used to describe or define various erotic and sexual activities, expressions, and role play.

The three acronyms which make up BDSM are as follows:

  • B&D: Bondage and Discipline – this involves restraint (e.g., using ties, ropes, etc.) and punishment (e.g., spanking).

  • D/S: Dominance and Submission – the d/s relationship typically revolves around role-playing, acting out, or living out scenarios where one partner dominates and controls the other (the submissive one or “sub”).

  • S&M: Sadism and Masochism – this is sometimes viewed as the most extreme form of BDSM and involves one or both partners getting sexual gratification and release through pain (physical and psychological). Pain can be inflicted in the form of spankings, whips, etc. Bondage and Discipline can be incorporated into this category.

An example of BDSM can be something as simple and gentle as using a blindfold or a pair of tights to tie up your partner during sex. Or it can be something more elaborate, intense, and painful, perhaps involving whips, chains, nipple clamps, etc. Hence, it can be of great importance to know BDSM safety if you want to engage in this form of relationship.

If the idea of inflicting or feeling pain doesn’t sound overly sensual, keep in mind that willingness and consent from both parties form the foundation of BDSM practices, and it’s essential that no one is coerced (or even feels coerced) into doing anything they don’t want to. For example, when someone is whipped during foreplay, it should be because they chose to be or wanted to be. Any activity that occurs without consent or is forced does not fall within BDSM and could be considered assault. 

What is a dom-sub relationship?

Want to learn more about a dom-sub relationship?

One of the reasons why dom-sub relationships are the more popular form of BDSM may be because many people may be attracted to the idea of giving up or taking control of another person. Oftentimes, we can feel bound and limited by our assigned roles in society. BDSM can grant people the chance to be and behave however they want to, and a dom-sub dynamic can make it possible to explore fantasies that may otherwise seem out of reach. A unique power dynamic (strong vs. weak) is often at the core of a dom-sub relationship and is usually more psychological than physical.

Overall, the psychology behind BDSM role-playing and why people might want to do it can be nuanced. To put it simply, many people like the feeling of being controlled or controlling someone else – it can make a person feel powerful, special, or cared for, all of which can make sexual activity a lot more interesting. 

It may also interest you to know that a dom-sub relationship isn’t always restricted or confined to sexual play. For instance, the submissive’s roles can include things like serving food to the dom, giving them massages, or doing other things with the intent of pleasing them. In contrast, the dom may make up a rule that the sub needs their permission or consent to go somewhere or wear a particular outfit, etc.

Safety in a dom-sub relationship

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One of the most important aspects of a dom-sub relationship is consent and setting boundaries. The requirement for consent from both parties makes a dom-sub or any other BDSM relationship one of the safer sexual practices to engage in. Still, the psychology behind the dom-sub concept can leave one partner emotionally vulnerable or open to abuse. *

To stay safe while practicing any kind of BDSM, it can be important to lay out rules and boundaries clearly and honestly for all people involved. This might include listing things that can and can’t be done consensually, developing methods for communicating when things are going too far, and establishing hard limits. 

Take some time to talk to your partner and learn more about how you can respect each other’s boundaries. A critical component of BDSM is the fact that it is meant to be consensual. Dom-sub dynamics are not an excuse to take advantage of another person.

*If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available for you. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat

What is the role of the dom?

What does being a dom involve? Not surprisingly, the role of the dom or dominating partner is usually to rule over the sub (the submissive partner).

A dom’s job is usually to… 

  • Lead; they set the rules and enforce them as agreed by both partners

  • Guide their sub throughout the experience and

  • Be the one in complete control 

  • Demand obedience from their sub, depending on the situation

What is the role of the sub?

The role of the sub is essentially the complete opposite of being a dom.

A sub usually:

  • Wants and accepts to be controlled and dominated

  • Places more emphasis and higher priority on the needs of the dominant over their own

  • Wants to do everything possible to please and fulfill the dominant

  • Takes pleasure and delight in giving in and “submitting” to their partner’s wishes and desires

The dom and sub can easily change their roles where the dom becomes the sub and vice versa (called “switching”). Overall, it’s all about the freedom of choice, the freedom to choose what role you want to play, how you want to be treated, and what you want to give back. In some ways, it can be very liberating.

Is a dom-sub relationship healthy, and is it for you?

Want to learn more about a dom-sub relationship?

A dom-sub relationship can be healthy when done with respect and consent. Ultimately, you and your partner must decide if any kind of BDSM dynamic is the right step for you or not. A therapist may be able to help you work through questions like these, so couples counseling can be a good idea to help you figure out where you stand and where you’re headed as a couple. Seeking therapy does not necessarily signify that you’re in trouble or that something is wrong. In fact, many people go to couples counseling to reconnect and deepen their relationship.

You can pursue online couples counseling to make it even easier to get some outside perspective and support. Online counseling can help you save time, money, and energy by allowing you to join sessions right from the comfort of your own home.

Plus, many couples may feel more comfortable discussing personal topics like BDSM and sex through the web. 

Should you choose to move forward with (or continue to partake in) a dom-sub relationship, here are some key things to keep in mind:

  • Communication And Honesty – this cannot be stressed enough. Communicate with your partner every step of the way and be very truthful about your desires, fears, and inhibitions.

  • Mental And Physical Health – make sure to take care of yourself. If, at any point, it starts to take a toll on you or your partner, put a pause on the dom-sub relationship and re-evaluate the situation.

  • Consent And Respect – while this is important in any relationship, it can be particularly important in a dom-sub setting. Don’t do anything without your partner’s consent, and make sure to respect them no matter what the power dynamic may be.


People unfamiliar with the concept of a dom-sub relationship may view these relationships as engaging in emotional or physical abuse. Why would someone voluntarily choose to be controlled and dominated? But when the people involved are consenting adults, there’s nothing inherently dangerous or wrong about choosing to be a part of a dom-sub dynamic. Establishing boundaries, practicing good safety habits, and ensuring you feel safe and respected can help you explore a dom-sub relationship in a healthy way.

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