Power Dynamics, Contextualized

I’ve talked before about power dynamics and one’s “role”. I thought I would elaborate a little bit, and include them both inside and outside of BDSM.

Dominant: A person who likes to take charge and be in control. They prefer to dictate activity and/or assume a position of leadership. Usage of the word does not necessarily indicate a person is kinky as it is used in “vanilla” contexts. It is a personality type irrespective of any erotic proclivities (meaning someone can be dominant and not kinky) and can be used to describe those with “Alpha” traits. Though the quality of being dominant is typically considered an expression of “masculinity” and thus associated with and expected of men, it is a gender neutral term and can apply to anyone. It also can be situational, e.g. a person may be dominant in their “vanilla” life but submissive sexually.

Domme or Dom: A person who identifies as or assumes the role of a Dominant within the BDSM culture. “Domme’ is usually capitalized to visually establish one’s Dominance and as a part of psychological play. Capitalization can also be extended to any references made to the Dominant(s), e.g. She, Her, Them. “Domme” is usually the femme spelling and “Dom” the butch spelling. The term itself does not indicate what kind of Domme/Dom someone is (e.g. sensual, sadistic, Mistress/Master, etc.). It also does not imply that one’s identification and role as a Dominant within the BDSM culture is also their profession. People who are Dommes/Doms but not in a professional sense are often referred to as a “Lifestyle Domme” or “Lifestyle Dominant”.

Dominatrix: A title usually reserved for professional Dommes. Like a lawyer offers professional legal counsel and representation services, a Dominatrix offers professional Domination services. Also known as a “Pro Domme” or “Pro Dom”. Some non-professional Dommes also use this term if they identify as such. Other Dommes prefer “Domina”, “Mistress”, “Goddess”, or some other variation(s) or combination or terms that they feel are more reflective of the kind of Domme they are.


Submissive: A person who likes others to take charge and be in control. They prefer to receive instruction and/or assume the position of follower. Again, this word is used outside of kink culture and relates to “Beta” personality traits. “Submissiveness” is usually assigned to ideas of “femininity” and thus assigned to and expected of women, but, like dominant, is gender neutral and can be applied to anyone.

sub: A person who identifies as or assumes the role of a submissive within BDSM culture. “sub” is usually not capitalized to visually establish one’s submission and as a part of psychological play. The word has no femme or butch variations and is gender neutral, which also enforces the notion of submission by further removing one’s sense of personhood. Like Domme and Dom don’t indicate the personality or style of the Dominant, submissive is similar in that regard; their styles may be complementary to Dommes/Doms (i.e. sensual, masochistic, slave).

Anyone who is a professional submissive usually refers to themselves as a “professional submissive” or “pro sub”. There is no complementary title to Dominatrix.


People who can both Domme/Dom or sub are usually referred to as a “switch”. There is a lot of variability here, too. Like the Kinsey scale, some people are only “sub curious” or “incidentally Dominant”; where others may be very nearly 50/50. Again, this is a gender neutral term.

Professionally, one may be a “pro switch” (offering both professional Dominance and submission).

Outside of kink? These people are usually just seen as flexible, adaptable, “team players”, and other such terms. Of course this doesn’t mean that dominant and submissive people aren’t these things, but the more you lean toward either end of the spectrum, the more difficult you may have with adaptability. Speaking as a strongly dominant person, I’m not the best team player. I do better in positions of leadership; I make a terrible follower!