Position, Role, and Fetishism

I believe one of the most pervasive misunderstandings in kink is the difference between top and bottom, Dominant and submissive, and fetishism. In My experience, this confusion is not limited to people who are new to the culture, but people who have been involved in it for many years and don’t quite seem to know what they are and which apply to them. Because I think it is a fundamental aspect to concise negotiations and overall better experiences, allow Me to explain.

The first thing that is helpful to think about is that our experiences are multi-dimensional. Whether that experience is kinky or not, there is never just one thing going on at a time. Even if you’re just sitting there, breathing, your body is completing a multitude of tasks at once: your heart is beating, your body temperature is being regulated, and your immune system is on alert. Likewise, in kink, there is more than one thing going on. Three of those things are the focus of this article.

The three things are: topping and bottoming, or what I’ll call “position”; Dominance and submission, or what I’ll call “role”; and fetishism. While they all relate to one another, they have distinct differences which are helpful to understand, not only for self-awareness but when seeking out others for play. Understanding which concepts best describe you can help you hone in on who and what it is you’re looking for.

First, I’ll define position. When someone assumes the active position in play, we call that person the “top”. This is the person who provides the sensation, physically and/or emotionally. This means it’s the person who is spanking, tying, spitting, humiliating, or penetrating. The complement is the person who assumes the passive position, what is called the “bottom”. This person receives the sensation, physically and/or emotionally, that the top is providing. This means it’s the person being spanked, being tied, being spit upon, being humiliated, or being penetrated. Of course, one can do both, and when someone does they’re called a “switch” or “versatile”. Note that this doesn’t say anything more than who is giving and who is receiving.

Next, we have role. Consider that in life, there are people whose role is to lead or assume control and there are people whose role is to follow or to relinquish control. This dynamic applies to kinky play as well. The person who leads or controls play is called a “Dominant”. Dominants make the decisions about how and when the spanking, tying, spitting, humiliating, or penetrating will take place. The person who follows or is controlled in play is called a “submissive”. A submissive is not there to make the decisions about how and when the (negotiated) activities occur, their role is to submit to the decisions of the Dominant. In BDSM culture, we call this dynamic “D/s”, which is short for “Dominant/submissive” or “Dominance/submission”.  It’s what the middle two letters in BDSM stand for. (There is another dynamic which we call “M/s”, which is short for Mistress/slave or Master/slave, and is another form of power exchange which has different expectations, but I’m not going to go into that here.) Note that this doesn’t say anything about who is creating or receiving the sensation; only who is in control of it.

Lastly, there’s fetishism. When the term “fetish” was first introduced in the early 20th century, it was used to describe something that needed to be present in order for someone to feel sexual arousal. Since then, it’s grown beyond its clinical beginnings to more broadly encompass something that is not considered inherently sexual but causes sexual arousal, such as shoes, being put in a diaper, being tied to a chair, or being slapped in the face. And now, we also have a pop culture concept of “fetish” which can be anything someone is fixated on, including things we think of as sexual.

A fetish is a subjective experience. What is a fetish for one person may not be for another. Because it is subjective, it will therefore involve personal variables about what, when, and how the fetish manifests. Fetishes may be common between people, such as seeing a woman put on pantyhose, or be unique to that individual, such as that it must be Mistress Belinda putting on nude, Cuban-heel, thigh-high stockings with black contrast. Note that this says nothing about giving or receiving, or about power dynamics, just arousal.

Now, I’ll describe some of the confusion people seem to have with these layers.

Probably the most common misunderstanding I see is the conflation of position and role. While it is common for the person assuming the top position to also be the Dominant, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes a person can control the way in which they receive sensation. If Mistress Belinda says, “Lick My stockings!” how would we describe her position and role? Well, because Mistress Belinda is both dictating the action and receiving the licking, she is acting as a Dominant bottom. The party that is agreeing to follow Her command and provide the licking is acting as a submissive top. Another term you may hear used to describe a submissive top is “service top”. This person submits to requests/orders/control about how they will provide sensation to another.

Perhaps the second most common misunderstanding is the difference between wanting to assume a role and wanting to assume a position. It is common that people who say they want to Dominate or submit don’t actually want to do those things at all. Someone may say they’re submissive, but what they really want is to bottom. That is, they want someone to take the active role in creating sensations for them, not submit to someone else’s control about how those sensations happen. Likewise, some who consider themselves “Dominant” are really tops, in that they enjoy creating sensation for others, but they want someone to tell them what they want them to do, and then they’ll do it.

Maybe the third most common misunderstanding is the confusion between what it means to actually exchange power and to fetishize it. There are many people who say they want a Dominant or submissive, whether it be for play or a relationship, but what is really going on is that they actually just have a fetish for it. What does that mean, exactly?

Submissive and slave, like Dominant and Mistress/Master, are words we use to describe the way power is exchanged. Fetishism is not about power, it’s about arousal. Because a fetish is about arousal, to fetishize something is to be aroused by one’s own subjective perceptions about a person or object. It’s a form of appropriation, or assigning a value to something based on one’s own feelings or beliefs about it rather than what it actually is. For example, being aroused by someone with glasses because they’re assumed to be more intelligent or by a person with blonde hair because they’re assumed to be less; certain ethnicities because they are “exotic”; or Dominant women because they are believed to exist to be a service top to men’s sexual fantasies.

Since a person’s ideas and fantasies may in no way reflect the reality of the person or object, it is said the person or object is being fetishized. While fetishizing something is normal, it can be problematic. People may not welcome someone’s fetishization of them. This is not only because it’s appropriation, but because it’s a form of objectification. Nonconsensual objectification to serve another’s erotic and sexual desires is dehumanizing. This is why I believe it is especially important for fetishists to understand their motivations and responsibly negotiate them. Without this awareness, you are treading in very touchy terrain.

An example that encapsulates the three areas of this article is a man who identifies as a “submissive” and wants a “Dominant” woman that dresses, acts, feels, and speaks in the way that he desires. In actuality, this man is fetishizing a woman who he would like to control into being what he wants her to be. So, this man who thinks he’s a “sub” is actually a Dominant fetishist. If he wants her to do things to him, such as “tease and denial”, he’s also a bottom. If he wants to do things to her, such as body worship, he’s also a top. This relates to what we call “topping from the bottom“, a misnomer that really refers to “Dominating from the submissive role”. I can tell you that as lifestyle and professional Dominant with over a decade of experience playing with a lot of men, this is a very common situation.

So, what is happening here?

Many men seem to find the idea of being controlled by a woman to be sexually arousing, but the actuality of it is not what they are really looking for. There is a disparity between their fantasy of what She is like and the reality. This fantasy is often the result of the influence of media, such as pornography, on one’s ideas and perceptions.

Let me talk a little bit more about how porn can help create this situation.

Porn is a business, and its business is to arouse. Those who create porn must think of what arouses their audience. If their audience is men, they need to understand their fantasies. Since a person’s fantasies put them at the center, they do not necessarily reflect reality, where they aren’t the sole participant but part of an equation and set of circumstances with one or more people. (This isn’t a male or erotic phenomenon, by the way, but a natural byproduct of fantasy itself.)

In a FemDom clip, for example, the idea isn’t so much about depicting a woman actually being in control, as it is about her embodying what they think their (male) audience  wants her to be like. This is why it is common for Female Dominants to encounter men who expect Us to simply act out their fantasies without little to no regard about our part of the equation. (And, yes, Dominants can also be confused by the fantasy of what they believe they are supposed to be.)

The mixture of not understanding these concepts and the blurring between what is fantasy and what is reality can add to the confusion of who you are and what you are trying to accomplish. If you recognize what it means to be Dominated versus being be topped, or if what you are really feeling is a fetish, you will be able to find a more comfortable space in which to explore your kinks and further refine your experiences.

If you would like help figuring out your own kinky identity, I offer high-quality, personalized coaching.

slave m says goodbye

With great sadness, slave m has told Me that he no longer is able to continue serving Me. Here is his last entry.

After every one of O/our sessions i have taken the time to write a summary of my experiences during that particular session.  This time i have decided to take a different approach and instead take this opportunity to thank You for allowing me to serve You as i did for the past year and a half and for being an absolutely  amazing Dominatrix who far exceeded anything i could have expected and/or anticipated over that period of time.   As always, You may do whatever You wish with my writings, although i am not sure that this one will read well in Your BDSMlog.  But, it is important to me that i share my thoughts with You.  First, i would like to thank You on numerous levels.

Thank You for always being so thorough and professional while allowing me to serve You.

Thank You for the tremendous care that You took in making sure that every session was conducted in a safe and sane way.

Thank You for clearly communicating Your expectations of me, so that i could serve You in ways that were extremely enjoyable for me and (hopefully) enjoyable for You.

Thank You for helping me to never feel rushed during a session and for always taking the time to make sure that i was physically and emotionally ready to efficiently serve You on that day.

Thank You for being so creative and resourceful during O/our sessions.  i visited You on numerous occasions over the past year plus and i can honestly say that no two sessions were ever alike.  Your creativity was amazing and Your imagination during O/our sessions was limitless.

Thank You for being so thorough in all aspects of BDSM.  You are a true professional in every way possible.

Thank You for being so open and honest with me.  i have learned to trust You in every way reasonably possible which made serving You that much more gratifying.  i know that i am very biased towards You (sorry i can’t help it), but i truly believe that You have mastered Your chosen profession*.

mistresstissa_mistressslave

A few more final thoughts:

It is quite obvious to anyone who sees you in pictures or in person that You are incredibly beautiful, and i am sure You are told that quite often.  During O/our sessions i can honestly say that You often took my breathe away, both literally and figuratively.  But, from my perspective, You are equally beautiful on the inside.  I mean that.  It is obvious to me that You truly care about others and that comes across in both words and more importantly in actions.  On top of that, i have always felt respected and valued as a slave/submissive to You.

i know that during our last session You made a noticeable attempt to incorporate activities that i enjoyed the most.  Please do not get me wrong because i enjoyed that session very much, but honestly speaking, the most enjoyment for me came from serving You exactly the way You wanted to be served.  i hope You know that!  i guess one way for me to explain it to You is to tell You that i loved every single activity that W/we did during O/our sessions, but maybe i loved some more than others.

You have asked me if i read a particular piece that You may have written in Your BDSMlog.  Honestly i have read every piece that You have written, some numerous times.  i enjoy connecting with You in every way possible.   Actually i have a favorite piece that You wrote and here it is, “while nearly everyone who calls themselves slave is only fetishizing it, slave m exemplifies it.  he NEVER makes any requests for O/our sessions, but gratefully accepts whatever I decide W/we will be doing that day; he regularly sends or brings me wonderful gifts; and he is exceedingly well-mannered and humble.  I am a VERY lucky Mistress to have slave m!”  i guess You know why that is my favorite piece.  But, with all due respect Mistress Tissa, You are wrong, i am the LUCKY one for having served a most amazing Dominatrix!  Serving You was beyond anything i could have possibly imagined.

mistresstissa_finalbow

*I have not, but an adoring slave is going to believe his Mistress has done so!

THANK YOU for your kind, thoughtful, selfless, and generous service, slave m. I will miss you greatly!

slave david returns…

…to offer his service to Me again.

After having a discussion about the levels of service one can offer, I instructed him to prepare the table. I was going to have him show Me whether he was a submissive or slave.

I applied layers of bondage to his body. No requests or complaints. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I prepared his nipples for My amusement.

MistressTissa_beggingnips

Look at how they reach up, aching to be touched tortured.

Could he handle the fierce grip of forceps?

MistressTissa_NT

Am a pleased to say that, yes, he passed that test. No requests of complaints.

Then, I led him to My bench, where I administered many stokes to his ass with various implements: My hands, various paddles, and canes. Again, no requests or complaints — even when I tested him by offering him a choice between a silicone paddle and The Punisher. When I made a suggestion, he only said, “Yes, Mistress.” No requests or complaints.

So, on this evening, david showed Me that he indeed was My slave. By making no requests, he showed Me he was here to serve, not to be served. By making no complaints, he showed Me he was the slave to My Mastery.

His reward was that he was allowed to give Me an offering, right beneath My feet.

MistressTissa_offering

Oh, and he also brought Me this:

MistressTissa_sd-caymus

…accompanied by a thoughtful thank you card!