As part of writing non-consent and gender degradation erotica in a responsible manner, each month I present a Reality Check article, touching base with safe, respectful, equitable behaviour in kink, in relationships, and in the world generally.
Speaking as a dom, subs in the BDSM scene can have a tough time. You’re looking for a dom who will maybe hurt you, degrade you, objectify you, disrespect you, or some combination of the above – but you also want to go home safe and healthy at the end of your play.
It’s twice as hard if you’re a sub with zero or limited experience. What’s okay? What’s normal? What should you accept and what’s a red flag?
I’m not going to pretend to answer that exhaustively today, but I am going to talk about ten things that every sub can expect from every dom. The world’s a complicated place and there are always exceptions and special circumstances, but if you’re not getting these from your dom, you should consider it a red flag – possibly a very serious one – and if you’re missing out on a combination, that’s probably a relationship you should get out of.
(I’m often going to use “he” to describe doms here, because my fiction that’s brought you to this article is primarily male dominant / female submissive, but it applies equally to doms of other genders.)
1 ) Consent
Nothing should be happening in any relationship, ever, that you didn’t consent to. If you want to have all your choices taken away from you, that’s great – and that’s something you negotiate and consent to in advance, including under what circumstances that arrangement ends. If your dom wants to do something new with you, he needs to talk about that in advance, and if you don’t consent to it it shouldn’t happen. No ifs, no buts, no exceptions. If a dom tries to tell you something else, he’s not a dom, he’s an edgelord, and he’s not safe to play with. I’ve written a whole article about consent that you can read here (link).
2 ) Honesty
You’re entitled to honesty about everything relevant to your relationship with your dom, including but not limited to whether they have other partners, what birth control is being used, when they were last tested for STDs, and whether they’ve had experience doing any types of play they’re proposing in the past.
That entitlement to honesty comes as a result of the basic respect you’re entitled to as a human, but also because sex is an intimate, risky, messy thing, and if your partner isn’t being honest with you, you simply can’t be sure that you’re safe.
In addition, consent procured through lies isn’t consent, and in some places it can make a person criminally liable for sexual assault.
Your dom should do what he says he’s going to do. You can expect him to show up for the dates he planned, at the time he agreed. You can expect him to do the kinds of play he said he was going to, and not do ones he didn’t talk about. You can expect him to keep his promises, and abide by negotiated agreements.
We’re all human, and sometimes things change for reasons that are out of our hands. In a good relationship, that’s rare enough that it feels rare when it happens, and it’s not a problem. But constant cancellations and last-minute changes aren’t a sign of respect. If you matter to someone, they’ll find ways to meet their obligations.
Yes, maybe you want to be disrespected and objectified and treated like an animal. That’s hot, go for it. But if it’s not a 24/7 arrangement, then you need to be respected when the scene stops, and that means being treated like an equal, who has an equal right to have their needs met, an equal right to negotiate, and an equal right to set the terms.
If the terms you want to set are “abuse me, you monster”, then that’s 100% fine, but you should feel like if you asked for something else, you would be listened to seriously.
Even in 24/7 arrangements, you should be respected, even if your particular arrangement doesn’t involve the dom directly showing it. A sub who can handle a 24/7 arrangement is a rare and beautiful thing, and any dom getting to play with them should feel damn lucky, and put in the hard yards to make that sub want to keep sticking around.
5) Interest in your needs
Every human has needs, even in a D/s relationship, and your dom should be actively asking what they are and working to meet them. You shouldn’t have to be the one raising the subject all the time, and you definitely shouldn’t be feeling like your needs are unimportant.
The only thing that’s different in a D/s relationship is that some of your needs might be things like “being violated regularly in all my holes” or “being told I’m a nasty slut on a daily basis”. It’s up to you to decide what your needs are – but it’s your decision to make, and no one else’s, and once you know what your needs are, your dom needs to work to meet them.
If your dom tells you you can’t talk about him with other people, get out of that relationship.
Yes, not everyone is out of the closet about BDSM, and some discretion is sometimes warranted in who you talk to and about what. But you *must* have some people in your life that you can talk to about your kink relationships who aren’t primarily your partner’s friends or family. It’s the only way you can get a good perspective on the health of your relationship, and the only way to have a lifeline if things turn abusive.
Even if you’re in a great, loving relationship, if it’s 100% secret to the world, get out. Healthy relationships aren’t secret, and they can’t survive being secret without turning toxic. If your dom says you can’t be with him unless it’s secret, then do him a favour and don’t be with him.
If your dom wants to play with you when you’re hot, then he has to be prepared to stick around afterwards. Safe kink requires good aftercare. If he’s going to call you a slut when you’re horny, then he needs to be able to tell you you’re a princess after you cum. If you’re doing something involving pain or restriction, then he needs to be able to keep an eye on you for a while afterwards in case you have a bad reaction.
Of course, some subs don’t want aftercare from their dom, and may prefer to get it from someone else. That’s fine. But you should have a clear certainty that you *could* have it from your dom if you wanted it, otherwise you’re just being used, and not in a good way.
Doms need to look after themselves. At a physical level, you don’t want your dom having a stroke or putting their back out halfway through a scene while you’re still tied up in rope. At a mental level, safe play requires good mental healthcare.
No one’s 100% fit and mentally healthy, and being overweight or depressed shouldn’t be a barrier to having safe, fun kink. But you can expect your dom to be taking reasonable steps to manage their health, including regular GP checkups, and a sensible mental healthcare plan. See my article “Everyone Should See A Psych” (link).
Your dom should also be willing to provide you with contact details for someone they trust that you can contact if they have a physical or mental health emergency.
Self-care also means responsible use of drugs or alcohol. Your dom should *never* be intoxicated while actually playing with you, and if your dom is binge drinking or using illicit drugs, that’s a red flag.
(We can argue about whether there’s a safe level of illicit drug use. I personally wouldn’t play with someone using anything harder than pot, and even then not if their marijuana is a daily thing. You may have a different limit, but if they’re using more than once a week or before noon then they have a problem, no ifs or buts.)
9) Sexual health
You can expect that your dom takes reasonable care of their sexual health, and talks with you about it.
That means that they get tested regularly for STDs. Speaking of which – Guys! Get tested regularly for STDs! It’s not hard! Your GP can do it, or any sexual health clinic. It’s as simple as pissing in a cup and waiting for results. If you want to call yourself a master, then you shouldn’t be afraid of a regular test.
How often you should get tested varies by how many people you play with, under what circumstances. I get tested every six months, plus after my first time exchanging fluids with any new partner. I might also get tested if one of my regular partners starts with a new partner.
Taking care of your sexual health also means using protection (condoms), having discussions with partners about birth control and taking personal responsibility for it, and understanding common STDs, their symptoms, and treatments.
Being with your dom should be fun. Fun for YOU, not just him.
That’s what you’re here for. If you’re not having fun, what are you even doing? There’s no Best Sub trophy for being a martyr.
Sure, some parts of relationships are work, and that’s okay, because you’re working to protect the fun. But the fun should actually be there – in fact, it should be there most of the time.
Make sure you get your fun.
That’s it. This isn’t an exhaustive list of rights and responsibilities. It’s just some talking points, but hopefully it’s helpful to some of you readers.
As always, I’m happy to take questions or comments on BDSMLR, newTumbl, Reddit, or at firstname.lastname@example.org