Evolution of the Self

On the paradoxes of personality

Dominant or Submissive? The Paradox of Power in Sexual Relationships

This series of posts has uncovered many rarely recognized ironies and paradoxes about human sexual desire. But perhaps the most fascinating and beguiling among them are the apparent contradictions that exist in the realm of sexual roles: namely, dominant, submissive . . . or both. Read More

Related posting

See also here, for the relationship between IQ and an interest in BSDM: IQ and Kink? | JayMan's Blog

Emotional dominance?

"...Initially, she may have had to surrender to him, but now he’s the one who must capitulate. In fact, her passivity, reserve and submissiveness can be seen as revealing (however unconsciously) a certain sexual cunning. For how can these classically feminine qualities not be seen as ultimately giving her an advantage..."

Could this be a kind of use of emotional intellect to dominate men (who "classically" also fall short here)? I do think it's traditionally feminine to use "cunning" to dominate the male psyche and hence ultimately, guide the relationship. That's kind of a part of stereotypic gender roles, I think. It's also kind of been historically tied into sexual submissiveness for this reason. Although personally I've always defined submission as having to ask for something to get something for yourself in return; by that definition prostitution would be female-dominant, traditionally "chivalrous" behavior would be male-submissive, and performing oral sex is usually dominant (whether b/c it was requested--which means the power balance shifts away from the one requesting it, or because the dominant person would be the one who volunteered it.)

Also with emotional dominance there is a lot of that involved, because imagine communication b/w two people in a relationship--doesn't it usually result that one person is more in the position of asking something of the other person? And we often call them "needs"..it's kind of like whoever has fewer "needs" is the more dominant one. So as far as emotional dominance I think if you have the typical pairing of the alpha male/heroic type and the "heroine" who is more likely to use intellect to get to him ("sexual cunning"?), it's really hard to say who's more or less dominant in this situation. In a more truly egalitarian type of heterosexual relationship I think quite possibly men are expected to rely more on the emotional dominance piece of it, but then women are also possibly expected to be more like men sexually ("liberated" might be appropriate here? lol.)

"The bottom is really in control"

I don't know where you got your information from, possibly those 'Gorean' types, but that is completely false. While Gorean may technically count as a BDSM relationship, it hardly measures up to a true Dominant/submissive or Master/slave relationship. "Topping from the Bottom" is the fastest way to get any true Dominant to end a scene and question your submissiveness, providing it gets that far to begin with. In any true D/s relationship - the Dominant is unquestionably in complete control. Yes - limits, boundaries, what is liked and what is not liked is intensely and thoroughly covered beforehand, (and as a result many potential relationships never get off the ground). Not only are those limits and boundaries observed - they are also pushed, by the Dominant, with the permission of the submissive. This does NOT mean the sub is in control! This is respect, as well as safety and trust at work. Consensual acts are a standard in BDSM. However, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable is worked out beforehand - long before any bedroom play happens - and anything and everything within said boundaries can happen, and will happen, at any given time at the whim of the Dom. Any sub who thinks they will be in control - outside of a safeword or gesture during a scene - is deluding themselves. I might add - any sub who abuses said safeword may find themselves out of a Dom - after several intense 'WTF?' discussions. This is NOT a game - this is a lifestyle. Scenes are not rehearsed like in Gorean staging. It is real, fluid, and more often than not - at the hands of a skilled Dom - the sub will end up in subspace rather than attempting to direct. Which - said subspace is the goal for the sub, and likewise a similar version for the Dom - this can NOT happen with anyone but the Dominant being, well - Dominant, I.E. - in complete and total control, which is the goal after all - of BOTH parties.

A common counterargument

To me, this is a funny argument for two reasons:

One, it assumes that all BDSM relationships are supposed to play out the same way, which is ironic considering the unconventional nature of the lifestyle,

and Two, because it assumes that power and control are static elements in a relationship.

During an intense point in a scene, yes, the Dom is temporarily in total control. The submissive is in "subspace" while the Dom makes all the decisions. The sub cannot enforce their boundaries in this state. But that does not mean the same power imbalance remains AFTER the scene ends. During the scene, it's the Dom's job to push boundaries -- but in doing so, they have to consider, "Will my partner still want me afterwards? What happens after the climax? What happens if I go too far?"

As long as the Dom has these concerns in mind, he does not have total control of the relationship. Because after the scene ends, control goes to the submissive, who CHOOSES to stay with the Dominant or to end their relationship (depending on how they feel about their boundaries being pushed).

Control is a fluid element. In a true BDSM relationship, the control fluctuates between the Dom/Sub at different moments in time.

Dynamics of historical Master / Slave relations

How do you think the relationship of a true master/slave couple of 200 years ago would have been? Would the female enjoy the fact that she must submit to unwanted, forced sexual attention? Would a master who subjected their slave to sado practices be looked at as performing acts akin to animal cruelty?

BDSD play today is desperation of the woman to be desired, and desperation of the man for the woman to prove he is acceptable by remaining with him through discomfort.

Unqualified assumption that females are "naturally" submissive

The piece opens with "all of us, along with several other mammal species, appear to possess subcortical circuits for sexual dominance as well as submission. One example that we can probably relate to pertains to female dogs, who sometimes mount other females or (for that matter) legs of humans"

This takes it as a given that the act of mounting is inherently dominate, and that being mounted is inherently submissive.
I submit that this is a faulty assumption.

Take for example:

By virtue of mammal anatomy, almost all mammal species mate in a "doggy" position, with the male mounting the female, but in these examples the female in each case is very clearly and unambiguously the initiator of mating. She goes up to him, while he passively stands there, she turns and puts herself in position - and she decides when she's had enough and its over.

If you remove the assumption that anatomy itself implies dominant and submissive roles, than there is insufficient evidence for the claim that "a man, [has] “ desire software ... biologically and socially programmed to be dominant,”
On what basis can we claim that any of our cultural gender role is biological? Perhaps 100% of the dominance is coming from social programming, and none of it is nature.
That would do at least as good - if not better - a job of explaining why some men prefer to be submissive, some women are dominant, and some of each prefer to switch.

Perhaps the erotism of the assigned gender roles is too, entirely cultural. There is solid precedent for that - nothing about biology implies females should have longer hair than males, for example, or redder lips or paler skin. Its culture that decides that women should have skinny arms, with as little muscle definition as possible. Absolutely nothing in biology would explain why women wear skirts and dresses, men pants. Culture has always erotised enanced differentiation, in dress, in grooming, and in social roles.
I propose that it is entirely possible that the differentiation of submission and dominance in sexual relations may be nothing more than an extension of social gender roles.

Comments on "Dominant or Submissive? The Paradox of Power in Sexual Relationships" | Psychology Today

Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is excellent, let alone the content!

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Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., who holds doctorates in English and Psychology, is a clinical psychologist and author of Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy.


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