BDSM Basics: What is Power Exchange?

Welcome to my series BDSM Basics where I discuss the building blocks of BDSM. This series strives to define the language used on this blog and give folks new to BDSM a quick reference. In this post, we’ll be exploring the basics of power exchange and the different ways it can look like.

Power Exchange

So what is power exchange anyways? It’s the DS part of BDSM – Dominance/submission. The phrase power exchange gets used as an overarching phrase to cover many different kinds of D/s since not all D/s is called D/s.

Let’s look at some quick definitions.

Power has several definitions including the “ability to do or effect” and “possession, control, or influence over others”.

Exchange also has a few different definitions including “the act of giving or taking one thing in return for another” and “something offered, given, or received in an exchange”.

So we can surmise that power exchange is the offering of something in exchange for control or influence. In this case, submission is being given in exchange for dominance. This is a very basic overview of PE but is the concept that influences all kinds of PE.

There are many kinds of power exchange. Dominance/submission, as mentioned above, is one. Master/slave, Owner/property, Caretaker/little, Trainer/pet, etc, are just some of the words used to describe specific kinds of power exchange.

Other language for power exchange that’s useful to know:

Dynamic – the relationship itself – i.e. Daddy and I are in a Master/slave dynamic

Obedience – the act of obeying, sometimes this is a dynamic’s focus over submission. The dynamic centers on the submissive’s ability to obey orders and commands, not the submissive’s

Service – some submissives specialize in certain kinds of service – companion service, leather care service, butler service. These are specific sets of skills they are trained and knowledgable in.

Protocols – rules that dictate how things are done within a power exchange dynamic. For example, I must walk on Daddy’s right side and slightly behind.

Rituals – a set of actions to create a specific atmosphere (putting on a play collar) or to reinforce the dynamic (a shared mantra before bed)

What Does Power Exchange Look Like?

Power exchange looks like a lot of different things. For as many kinds of kinks there are, there are ways to do power exchange. Negotiated power exchange can last for an hour, a weekend, three months, or longer. They can be long-distance, online, live-in, part-time, or full-time. They can be bedroom or play-centric or part of your whole life. Power exchange can cover areas such as sex, finances, diet, schooling, religion, and day-to-day events.

It’s flexible and customizable. Power exchange is all about the intent and doing things on purpose. It’s shaping a silent expectation (you do the laundry) into rules (you do the laundry on Mondays to please your Master). It’s giving control over – orgasm control is a popular and simple thing to start with. Asking permission to cum, permission to masturbate, or to have sex.

Creating a Power Exchange Relationship

In order to create a power exchange relationship, it’s important to know what you want that to look like. What is realistic for your life? What kinds of things interest you and what kinds of things are off-limits? And if you have a partner already, what do they want out of a dynamic? Where do the two of you overlap and mesh?

Knowing your limits is just as important for a dynamic as it is for a play scene. Early on, I had hard limits around my finances, schooling, and my hair. Your limits and boundaries should be clearly defined for both you and your potential partner. This goes both ways! There are some areas that Daddy has no interest in controlling or creating rules or protocols for. We don’t have rules around how or when I eat (other than I need to try to eat 3 times a day). I don’t ask permission to use the bathroom or what to wear. Daddy doesn’t care to control these things and prefers that I handle them. Dominants have the right to not control things just as much as submissives have the right to not have things controlled.

Another important thing to discuss is how long the power exchange will happen. A common method is to write a 3-month contract, then 6 months, then a year, and so on. This gives the dynamic time to grow with pausing points to visit what is and isn’t working. Daddy and I didn’t utilize this strictly although our first contract does have a time limit on it. At this point, we do check-ins and talk about what is and isn’t working as needed. That’s also perfectly acceptable to do!

The Nitty Gritty of Power Exchange

Think about what kinds of rules and protocols interest you. I will advise you to start lightly with just a few things at first. It can be hard remembering and applying new things to your life, especially if you’ve never done any kind of power exchange before. You can always add or remove things as needed and don’t feel obligated to stick to the first version of a rule. If it isn’t working for you, change it! Remember, power exchange is flexible and defined by you. Don’t get caught up in “how it should be”. Only you can decide that.

Goals can be important in guiding a dynamic also. Do you want to move to a 24/7 dynamic with a live-in partner? Are there certain kinds of services you want you or your partner to learn? Maybe you want to incorporate play more frequently or plan high-protocol dinners. Again, don’t overcomplicate goals and it’s okay if you don’t have a bunch in the beginning. These evolve over time with you.

Recommended Reading

  • Master/slave Mastery: Updated by Robert J. Rubel and M. Jen Fairfield
  • Conquer Me by Kacie Cunningham 
  • Manual Creation by Machele Kindle
  • Living M/s by Dan and dawn Williams
  • The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy 
  • The New Topping Book by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy

You can view my BDSM Book List in its entirety here.

What do you consider power exchange to be? Do you see it differently than this post? Drop a note in the comments, I always love to learn how others view the wide world of power exchange.

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