There are as many ways to do D/S as there are people, so you really need to know what your partner wants, doesn’t want, is comfortable with, is afraid of, and so forth. A lot of submissives will have great trouble telling you what they want. For some of them, this is because they don’t really KNOW what they want.
Or, perhaps, they know how they want to feel, but they aren’t sure what it is that will make them feel that way. Other submissives do have at least some idea of what they want, but they’re too embarrassed to be able to tell you directly. And some submissives know what they want but feel as if it spoils things if they have to ask for it, they want the impetus for the scene to come from you, and if they ask for something, then it’s as if they’re controlling the scene, when what they want is for you to control it. And of course, more than one of these can occur at once. A person can know only what it is they want to feel AND be too embarrassed to talk about it AND feel as if it gives them too much control over things if they tell you.
There are a couple of ways around these problems, but they all take a bit of work on the Dom’s part. For the sub who isn’t all that sure what they want, you get them to describe how they wish to feel. You ask them what things in their past have gotten them to feel this way, even if it’s only a small and mild version of what they really want. And of course you also use your knowledge of your partner to guess at what you suspect would make them feel what they want. You get them to tell you what they fantasize about (bearing in mind that fantasies are often more intense than anything a person would like to do in real life).
And you experiment. A scene doesn’t have to last for hours. In the early stages, when you’re just figuring out what works for both of you, you can try something for five minutes. But just because the scene is short doesn’t mean that you take it less seriously. You have to make these mini-scenes as real as your usual ones, or they won’t work as a testing ground. Put your all into them, just keep ’em short. Say you suspect that your submissive would enjoy wearing a collar, then put one on her/him, do a few things with it, then take it off and ask them how they felt about it. If you both liked it, you can always do it again for longer. But these mini-scenes let you try out things in the knowledge for BOTH of you that if you hate it, it only lasts for a short time, this takes some of the pressure off. When an ex-lover and I seemed to be moving in the direction of no-safeword scenes, I bought an egg timer. The idea was that he would have no safeword for the length of time it tooks the sands to run down. Three minutes is not very long, objectively speaking. But it can be a very long time to someone who’s never played without a safeword before and who realizes that this time there’s no way out. I wasn’t going to do a full-length no-safeword scene until after I’d seen how she handled the egg-timer version.
For the sub who has at least some knowledge of what they want but who is too embarrassed to tell you what it is, there are a couple of routes to go. You can ask them to write it down and give it to you, since a lot of people can write things that they cannot say. You can also try dominating it out of them, try winding your hand in her hair, pulling their head into a position that lets you stare into their eyes, and demanding that they tell you what you want to know right now. Or you can threaten some sort of physical punishment unless they divulges the information (only with their permission, of course). The punishment isn’t really intended to be a motivator, it’s intended to be a way for the sub to save face with themselves. They can tell themselves that it’s not greedy or forward or too bold or whatever to tell you what you want to know because you’re making them tell you. Sometimes just letting them tell you in the dark, when you’re snuggled up with your arms around them will be enough.
The sub who doesn’t want to tell you anything because they think that means that they are controlling the scene or that they are forcing you into something you don’t really want tends to be a somewhat harder case, but there are a few things you can try. You can tell them that you aren’t promising to do any of the things that they ask for, you’re just asking because as the Dom, you have the right to ask any damn thing you please and to get an answer. “Since you are my property, the contents of your mind are also my property, and you will give them to me when I ask” is something I tell my submissive. You can tell them that you want the information for your own selfish pleasure, “Making you be submissive in a way that’s good for you is likely to be more fun for me than making you be submissive in a way that’s bad for you, because the second way makes me work harder for less return. So give me what I need to know to get what I want.”
Oh, yes, and a type I forgot to mention. Some submissives think that no one really wants to dominate them, that you’re just humoring them, and leaving you to your own devices is sort of a test. It’s as if they’re saying, “If you really want this, you’ll figure it out on your own.” My own submissive had a touch of this, so I just jumped in and started ordering her around, and once she was assured that I wanted it, too, her fantasies started pouring out.
Once you start getting information out of the person, there are a bunch of things you need to know.
You know they are interested in D/S, but what kind?
Do they want to do D/S for a short time in bed and be equal out of scene, or are they looking for a full-time D/S relationship?
Do they want this to be you and him/her, or do they want the two of you to assume some sort of fantasy roles, like teacher/student or parent/child or jailer/prisoner?
Do they want to be treated as a valuable submissive, or do they crave humiliation?
Do they go for lots of symbols, like kneeling at your feet, wearing a collar, and so forth?
Are there things that they like to be made to say?
Some subs like being made to say things like “I am yours, Master/Mistress” or “Please use me for your pleasure, Sir/Ma’am,” whereas others find this sort of thing too flowery and prefer sharper exchanges and still others get nonverbal when in scene and find speech annoying. I’m reminded of a woman who told me that she could never bring herself to call a man “Master,” because the word always made her think of Igor saying “Yesss, Massster,” and she would start laughing. It wasn’t that she was disrespectful, she had no trouble with “Sir” or “My Lord,” but “Master” made her crack up.
What sorts of things would they like you to say? Some submissives like being called names by their dominants, some like hearing that they are your sub/slave or that they are owned, others like being told about the various unspeakable things that are about to happen to them, others like hearing an explicit list of rules and expectations, others like hearing that their dominant enjoys what she/he is doing. There’s a really long list of different things that turn different people on, and I can’t cover it all.
For example, my submissive loves hearing the words “You’re my slave.” Very simple sentence, but it does something to her. She also loves hearing, when I hurt her, “I need this, and I want you to bear it as a gift to me.” To show you how different even very similar people can be, I would hate being told “You’re my slave” but I would love being told “I need this, and I want you to bear it as a gift to me.” To make it even more complicated, I have no trouble with “You’re mine;” it’s the word “slave” that I can’t stomach. Getting a feel for what sort of thing underlies your submissive’s submissive desires will help you get a feel for what sorts of things they like to hear.
The above point leads in to what is the subtlest sort of distinction to make but the one that will be the most useful. Once you’ve gotten the answers to the above sorts of questions, you might be able to abstract some sort of general theme that guides your submissive’s desires and fantasy life. Some submissives have the “I’m worthless, and I deserve to be punished” mindset, some have a “I don’t want to have to take any responsibility, so I want you to control everything” mindset, some have a “I want to be so desirable that you have to take complete control of me” mindset or the “I want us to blend into one person” mindset or the “I want to prove I love you by doing difficult things” mindset or any number of others. Once you’ve talked and played for a while, you might get an intuitive feel for this. It may be something that your submissive can tell you, but it may not be, they may not have thought about it or analyzed it to this extent. But if you can figure out what sort of mindset underlies your partner’s submission, it makes doing new things and guiding your future play a lot easier.
You’ll know what new things are likely to work and what won’t because you’ll understand the underlying motivations.
What sorts of things do they like besides D/S?
Is bondage okay? If so, how much and what kind?
Is pain okay? If so, how much and what kind?
Okay. So now you know what your submissive wants. You also have to figure out what YOU want. It’s easy, when you’re first starting out and trying to figure out how to be a Dom, to imagine some stereotypical stern, sneering dominant and try to emulate that image. But not all of us are cut out to fit that mold, and luckily for us, not all submissives like dominants who fit that mold. You need to find your personal style. The best style for you is not the one that’s the closest to the stereotype, it’s the one that makes your eyes light up and your energy rise and makes you feel that THIS is the most alive you’ve felt in a long time.
Personally, I’m a pretty gentle dominant as far as manner goes, but manner can be deceiving. One of the things I like to do is to force my submissive to do things that she wants to do but is too frightened to do, the “You are so much mine that I can make you do something that terrifies you” feeling is quite a rush for me, but I know I can let myself give in to that feeling because I’m making her do something that she secretly wants. I also like mental stripping — making my sub/slave be mentally and emotionally naked with me, she must tell me anything I want to know about her. Oh, and making her scream is fun, too. :-)
Of course, your style will be influenced by your submissive’s style. The sort of submissive who wants to be forced into submission will elicit a different response from you than the sort of submissive who wants to lay their submission at your feet like a present. And of course, some submissives can do one thing at one time and the other thing at another time. Just to keep you on your toes. :-)
Don’t worry if it feels sort of strange in the beginning. When I first started dominating my sub/slave, I would look at my face in the mirror and chuckle and say, “This is NOT the face of the sort of person who owns a sub/slave.” But that “WHO? Me?” feeling wore off after a while. That “I’m not cut out for this. I don’t know what I’m doing” feeling wore off after a while. If it’s TRULY not for you, don’t force yourself. But do give yourself a little while to try it on and get used to it before you decide whether or not it’s for you. I felt silly and nervous and out of place at first. But after a while, I came to feel that there were few things I’d ever done that were more satisfying.
This article for the Novice Dominant originally appeared at Sexuality.org