Power exchange relationships have many similarities to vanilla relationships. Both require kindness, understanding, communication, and support by and for partners to success in the long term. In most cases, both vanilla and power exchange relationships involve sex between the partners. Both types or relationships require respect, but respect is a bigger deal in power exchange relationships than in vanilla relationships.
Power exchange relationships (i.e., Dominant/submissive, Master/slave) are hierarchical. The Dominant or Master takes on the roll of leader, head of household, and final decision maker. The submissive or slave agrees to relinquish power in areas of their lives and allow (even embrace and love) giving power over to their Dominant or Master. For this type of relationship to thrive and for a sub or slave to feel confident in their D-type’s decisions, there has to be respect. A sub or a slave needs to show respect for the relationship to thrive.
Respect vs. Love and Trust
Respect is different than trust or love. Respect is comprised of a confidence and admiration of someone’s abilities or qualities. It is a recognition that someone has both the skill or capacity to do something and they carry that out in a way that inspires admiration. For example, someone may have the capacity to manage a budget (that would be a skill). How they use their decision making power to care for the family determines if it is an admirable skill. If they care for the family in a way which provides for everyone and takes the needs of others into consideration, that is admirable and worthy of respect. If they balance the budget by denying health care to the one child they dislike, that would not be admirable and therefore not worthy of respect.
You may love someone you have little respect for. I know many parents who love their children but are horrified at how they live their lives and don’t support their decisions at all.
Trust isn’t the same as respect either. Someone may be consistent in their behavior and you are sure they will carry out an action, but you may dislike the action. For example, I worked with a woman I learned consistently lied about money to embezzle it form the group we were in. I could trust her to skim from every show. There was absolutely no respect for this and I left that group shortly after I learned how consistent she was with this behavior.
To respect someone, you must be able to trust them to do what they say, to admire their decisions and actions, and to be confident they will do the right thing.
Dominants and Respect
Being a Master or Dom(me) takes both a large number of skills and the capacity to use the skills to care for the people in their charge (including their subs and slaves). While we tend to focus a lot on the skill aspect of being a Dom(me) or Master, we don’t talk much about earning and keeping respect.
For me, we need to talk about respect and its role a lot more in the kink community. In the last decade the community has exploded in numbers. Through popular culture and the increased sexual tourism of dungeons, play spaces, and just general sexual exploration, this influx has changed the community and how many people understand D/s and M/s relationships. With that influx we have also seen the values of vanilla relationships and wider cultural norms becoming part of the BDSM world. This has diminished the talk about respect.
Respect in any field is earned. No one shows up the first day on the job in a new field and is granted the same respect as an established leader in the area. As a researcher, it took me years of publishing, presenting my findings, and working with others to earn respect for my skills and knowledge. Paying my dues and learning and doing the grunt work was important. At the time, a lot of it seemed like BS to me and I hate cleaning data. However, looking back after years of work, I understand what I learned at that time allowed me to grow as a researcher and helped earn the respect I have today.
The same is true with kink and power exchange. The reason so many of us OG folks are dismissive of the new “Master” who discovered kink and power exchange a year ago is that we understand what type of learning goes into developing the skills and understanding it takes to be a good Master. Learning goes beyond reading stuff on Fetlife and chatting online. Like most things in life it takes a lot of real life practice.
With the influx of new folks to kink it has been difficult to maintain some of the training and mentorship that was available 15, 20 or 30 years ago. As a community we have had to change to help new folks enter the kink world. Now, many play spaces offer orientation nights and “tastings” to help newer folks learn about different forms of play. Classes on all aspects of kink are flourishing (yay!). Blogs, books and podcasts about basic BDSM are flourishing (yay!).
Unlike your job or your place in your religious organization, however, many adults assume they are pretty awesome at all things sexual. Since many people enjoy BDSM and kinks as just a sexual thing (think roll playing as part of birthday sex) and not as set of skills which need to be learned and practiced, it is hard to convince folks that they need classes, mentoring and practice. The thing is, if you don’t take the time to learn and practice, you won’t ever have what it takes to earn deep respect.
Subs/Slave and Respect
It isn’t just the dominant (left side of the slash) folks who need to earn respect: submissives and slaves need to earn it too. Submission isn’t simply liking to get tied up or doing what you are told. A submissive or a slave in a relationship needs to be able to make decisions and do it respectfully.