Exploring Healthy Dominant-Submissive Relationship Dynamics: How To Be More Dominant

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated June 28, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Recent decades have brought BDSM relationships into the spotlight repeatedly, but that has also brought misinformation and stigma. Read on to explore what a healthy relationship between a Dominant and submissive entails, how to be more dominant, and how couples therapy can support you as you explore your sexualities together. 

What is BDSM?

Do you want to bring healthy dominance into your relationship?

The sexual proclivities associated with BDSM relationships are closely tied to your fantasies, memories, past experiences, and desires. Consent and communication govern all aspects of BDSM. 

“Practicing BDSM can be understood as a process of increasing expansion, creation, and connection, in which desire is seen not as something that we lack or need, but as a process of striving and self-enhancement.”

Bondage and discipline (B&D)

Consensual sexual practices involving physical restraint (bondage) and the infliction of pain, punishment, or humiliation for sexual gratification

Dominance and submission (D/s)

Power exchange relationships where the submissive partner freely offers the Dominant partner power and control over them in exchange for structure, guidance, care, and support.

Sadism and masochism (SM)

Sadomasochism refers to the practice of deriving sexual gratification from giving or receiving physical pain or humiliation. Sadists take pleasure from causing pain, while masochists are sexually aroused by experiencing pain. 

BDSM, Becoming, and the Flows of Desire

Exploring dominance and submission

During a BDSM power exchange, the submissive gives power and control of themselves to the Dominant within the pre-negotiated and agreed-upon limitations. A male Dominant is often called a Dom, and a female Dominant is a Domme. Power exchange can occur between all combinations of gender, sexual identity, and orientation. 

Power exchange vs. power dynamic: What’s the difference?

Power exchange can occur between consenting adults in a wide variety of ways—all of which are discussed and negotiated between partners. Power exchange can occur without sexual contact. 

By contrast, a power exchange dynamic is a much deeper, committed relationship between partners. People engaged in a power dynamic are generally committed to the lifestyle. They may see it as an integral part of their personality and sexuality rather than a hobby, game, or passing amusement. Power dynamics can also take many forms.

Dominant personality traits may include: 

  • Self-control and self-discipline

  • Leads by example

  • Understands and uses the power of body language

  • Knows what they want

  • Patient but relentless

  • Enjoys responsibility

  • Protective and caring

  • Likes being in charge

Personality Traits of BDSM Practitioners

What does a dom/domme get from the power exchange?

Dominance allows you to assert yourself with your partner, taking on the role of guide and protector in exchange for the gift of power and submission you’ve been given. A Dom/Domme gains power and control of their submissive and the situation, providing care, attention, structure, expectations, and support.

How healthy D/s dynamics support equality

However the relationship may look to observers, BDSM promotes equality. Dominants and submissives are equals in the power exchange. At any time, the sub can revoke their consent to be dominated.

Exploring Healthy Ways To Be More Dominant

If you and your partner start experimenting with BDSM, try some of these techniques to explore your Dominant side and exert more dominance in your relationship. 

Know and respect your partner’s boundaries

Explore and discuss your partner’s boundaries so you are fully aware of what they are comfortable with and respect those limitations unconditionally. If your partner uses the safeword, immediately stop what you're doing and see to their needs. 

Build familiarity with your chosen toys and tools

Sexual stimulation can occur in many D/s relationships, though it is not required. If that facet is present with your dominance, familiarize yourself with the tools of the trade, and ensure that you know how to use various sexual aids properly. Try experimenting with D/s sexual activities such as hair pulling, roleplaying, blindfolds, light bondage with a scarf or tie, and light spanking to explore what you and your partner enjoy. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

Prepare for anything, with safety in mind

As a Dominant, your submissive trusts you to prioritize their safety. Some D/s scenes can be physically intense, and you should prepare for all eventualities before a scene or play so you can attend to any mishaps. 

Check in with your partner often to ensure they are okay and still consent

Discuss boundaries, desires, hard and soft limitations, curiosities, and what will happen in a scene so both of you can prepare for the experience. If you are enacting an intense scene, you may check in to ensure they are still okay and continue to consent. 

Provide robust aftercare

BDSM scenes and play can be physically and emotionally intense—for both of you. Aftercare, like talking, cuddling, or cleaning up together, can help your submissive feel cared for and calm as you process the session. Dominants often benefit from the care provided for their subs during aftercare.   

Respect the power they give you

A Dominant understands that submission isn't a mark of weakness. There are many reasons your partner may want to relinquish control to you. Your duty is to find their needs and use the power you're given to meet them. Remember that you only have the control your submissive gives you. That’s why it’s a power exchange. Healthy power exchanges don’t involve force. The Dominant creates an environment where the sub feels safe and protected, so they want to give their submission.

Revel in the care of your submissive

Many Dominants view caring for their submissive as their duty and enjoy it. They have given you the right to lead and guide them within the boundaries of your relationship or dynamic. Respect that and ensure they continue wanting to submit to you as you steer them on a journey to explore their innermost self. 

Recognizing abusive dominance

  • Disregarding consent

  • Ignoring boundaries or safeword

  • No compromise or discussion

  • Doesn’t engage in equal power exchange

  • One partner feels ignored, afraid, or disrespected

  • Does not provide aftercare

  • Only interested in their needs and not caring for the submissive partner

The importance of BDSM education

Safety is one of the most crucial aspects of the BDSM lifestyle. Couples who are exploring BDSM are encouraged to take a class together so they can learn how to push their sexual boundaries while ensuring they are safe and supported. Many organizations offer BDSM education to support healthy sexual exploration between consenting adults. 

Exploring Safely: SSC and RACK

SSC: Safe, sane, and consensual

This long-standing tenant of the BDSM lifestyle teaches that any behavior is acceptable between adult partners—provided both parties regard it as safe, sane, and consensual.  

RACK: Risk aware consensual kink

Growing in popularity in recent years, this foundational tenant urges participants to explore and discuss the possible outcomes and risks so informed consent can be given. 

Do you want to bring healthy dominance into your relationship?


The sexual nature of BDSM requires a constant and unwavering focus on consent. Safewords are pre-negotiated words the submissive can use to bring all activity to an immediate stop. If your sub uses the safeword, they no longer feel comfortable and withdraw their consent for the scene to continue. Some BDSM practitioners use the Green-Yellow-Red system to continually check in with their partners and gauge their level of comfort without breaking the immersion of the scene. 

How couples therapy can help you explore your sexuality together

If you and your partner want to introduce BDSM aspects into your relationship, consider speaking with a licensed couples therapist through a relationship-focused virtual therapy platform like Regain. Therapy may help you address any emotional issues that arise as you test your boundaries together. Your therapist may help you explore the underlying experiences or personality traits that may draw you to the BDSM lifestyle, develop healthy coping skills to manage your emotions and stress and build communication skills as a couple. 

According to recent research, there’s no noteworthy difference in online and in-person therapy outcomes. However, virtual treatment tends to be less expensive and has shorter wait times before you speak to someone. Online therapy platforms offer a much more varied selection of therapists, making it far more likely that you will find someone who works well with your needs and personality. 


While the stigma and misinformation about D/s relationships can make it difficult to put a name to your feelings and find healthy, reliable sources of information, a thriving, diverse community exists with many experienced lifestyle practitioners taking it upon themselves to educate the next generation. The information in this article may offer some insight into the psychology of BDSM relationships, how you can take on more of a dominant role with your partner, and how couples therapy can help support you both emotionally as you take this journey of sexual exploration together.

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