Throughout this guide I’ve talked a lot about dominants and submissives. This is because, however you arrange your relationship, there’s usually one person in a position of power and one person in a position of being controlled. That doesn’t apply to all dynamics, of course, but it’s a good guide. Bear in mind that there are a huge number of different dynamics available to you in the world of BDSM. This section will take a look at a few of the more common ones, and explore what each one means, and how it might be enacted.
It’s good to have a read through this section not only to find a dynamic that might work for you, but also to make yourself aware of the dynamics that might be central to the various people you will likely meet on the scene.
Of course, as the scene is ever evolving the below is not a comprehensive list. Don’t be surprised to regularly encounter strange and wonderful dynamics you’ve never heard of. Similarly there are many whose central tenets overlap with the ones listed below – some particular dynamics go by so many different names that it would be impossible to list them all. For the purposes of this guide I’ve stuck to the most common name, and also adhered in terms of gendering to the most common gender balance for that dynamic.
A lot of people in the scene have play partners. This is a general, catch-all term to describe somebody with whom you do BDSM-related things. These things can range from a full sexual relationship to just a little spanking every now and then. If you play with them, then you are play partners. Calling your relationship this indicates that it is primarily a play-based connection.
Boyfriend / Girlfriend
Though it may seem a little ordinary, a lot of people in the scene are quite happy to simply identify as boyfriend and girlfriend (or husband and wife) to one another, and don’t feel the need to further define their dynamic. Although it may not seem too kinky, this designation is every bit as valid as any other.
Dom / Sub
This is by far the most common set of kinky titles. The dom or dominant is the one who takes control and decides what to do to the sub or submissive. These titles indicate that their relationship is based around a power balance of that kind, but that it may not be as all consuming as some of the other dynamics listed below.
Master / Slave
Master /slave dynamics have a lot in common with dom / sub ones. There is one partner who is in charge and one who submits to their control. Generally speaking though the adoptions of the titles master and slave represent a deeper and more all-consuming connection. Perhaps they play more outside of the bedroom, or have a written contract of some kind that lays down in pen and ink the commitment they have made. A slave may perform non sexual tasks for their master, such as cooking and cleaning – all as part of their dynamic.
This title can be appended to most of the other dynamics here, in order to indicate a couple that pursue their BDSM relationship around the clock. They are not just players in the bedroom, but keep their dynamic alive at all times – out in public, at home, etc. It can also refer to a particular kind of dom / sub relationship where in the dominant partner takes control of all aspects of the submissive partners life – perhaps setting them goals and drawing out daily timetables for them. Again, this dynamic goes beyond the purely sexual, to become a whole life thing.
Pet / Owner
Some players like to engage in the fantasy that they are a pet, owned and coddled by a human owner. They may dress up as appropriate, including ears and a tail, and may go for walks while collared. They may be stroked, fed from a bowl and so on. This dynamic can be both sexual and nonsexual, with the owner almost always being the dominant partner.
Daddy / Little
This is a dynamic that a lot of people struggle to understand. Some people like to engage in the fantasy that they are younger than they are. Their dominant partner then takes the role of a daddy or other parent and looks after them. This can range from some mild feeding and handholding to the ownership of a full on outsize cot. It is a fairly common fantasy, and might be referred to n other ways, such as “ageplay” or “adult baby”.
Bottom / Top
On the surface this dynamic resembles a basic dom and sub bond. However it is enacted with one crucial element removed. The bottom will be the one receiving pain or serving the top – who will give or direct pain or control. To do so, however, the bottom does not necessarily need to submit to the will of the top. Perhaps they just want to be spanked hard without having to give up any of their agency. Or perhaps the top is just looking for someone to tie up without having to dominate or subdue them.
Cuckold / Cuckqueen
This may seem like a strange dynamic to some, but it’s actually quite simple. Cuckolds are men who get off on being cheated on by their partners. They enjoy watching their partners disregard them in favour of other men – or women! Cuckolds tend to enjoy humiliation and submission, and also enjoy seeing their partner enjoy themselves.
Sadist / Masochist
This is another dynamic that resembles the classic dom / sub bond, but in this instance there is a particular focus on pain. A sadist enjoys giving pain and a masochist enjoys receiving it. When the two get together the combination can be explosive. There’s often a little bit of sadism and masochism in any BDSM relationship. Bear in mind that the pain can be emotional or psychological as well as physical.
Swingers enjoy sex, and like to have healthy variety of sexual partners. They tend to enjoy orgies and swapping partners. They celebrate the fact that they have a very sexually free and open lifestyle. Swingers may also be interested in BDSM, but the two interests tend to be kept separate. For no good reason, a lot of serious BDSM players tend to look down on swingers – but this is just petty tribalism. If swinging is your thing, go swing!
Brats are a particular kind of submissive. They do wish to submit, but aren’t likely to let go of their agency easily. They want to be forced into submitting, and want to be able to respond while doing so. They enjoy being cheeky, answering back, and acting spoiled… all so that their dominant partner will have to take greater control over them.
An explanation of feederism is in the name. Feeders enjoy fattening up their partners, by providing them with food, and sometimes by physically feeding it to them. They enjoy the look and feel of a bigger partner, and want to be a key part in making that fantasy a reality. They often take some enjoyment from food as well.
Furry players have a lot in common with pets. Both tend to wish that they were an animal, but the furry goes a little deeper. Many will insist that they actually are their animal persona, and will develop it accordingly. There aren’t always owners, and there is usually some sexual element to it. They might wish to have sex in costume, or it may be a purely nonsexual thing.
A switch is the term given to someone who is neither entirely submissive or entirely dominant all the time. They may be either one or the other depending on their mood or the time of day. They enjoy switching back and forth. Some like to switch in the middle of a scene, whereas others will go through phases. Either way, the key element is their interest in both sides of the coin. Again, some ignorant members of the BDSM community have a real problem with switches, thinking them ingenuine. This viewpoint is, needless to say, nonsense, and should be treated with the disdain it deserves.
Primals like to engage in primal, animalistic sex. The roles and titles of dom, sub or any other more formalised dynamic are not for them. Rather they much prefer to simply go at one another tooth and nail, scratching, clawing, biting, fucking. They enjoy the raw and visceral nature of rough play, and often verge into the slightly animal in their play personas.
Voyeur / Exhibitionist
Voyeurs enjoy watching people have sex or play – or even just watching them. Exhibitionists enjoy showing off. The two, needless to say, work together very well, though they don’t often end up paired together. Voyeuristic fantasies are fairly common, and a lot of people tend to have some kind of exhibitionist streak in them.
You may be surprised to find that some people in the BDSM world identify as vanilla. They may be present on the scene as they have friends there, or because they are curious and interested – but not keen on playing or actually doing anything. This is another dynamic that a lot of the more tetchy BDSM folk take a disliking to, but vanilla people are as entitled as anyone else to be part of the scene.