In BDSM, a top or dominant is the partner in a BDSM relationship or in a BDSM scene who takes the active or controlling role over that of the bottom or submissive partner(s).

A person who submits control of a large percentage of his or her day-to-day life to a dominant partner, or who submits within a formal set of rules and rituals, is the slave, and the person who assumes power over the slave is the master or mistress.

Agreement on the exact meanings of the following terms is far from universal. For example, the function of tops and dominants is similar, and, in many cases, overlaps, but while the terms are used interchangeably in some discussions, there are differences between the two.


A Dom is a partner who takes the role of giver or controller in such acts as bondagedisciplinehumiliation, or servitude. Such acts are performed on a sub. Many Doms incorporate all aspects of being a Top but this is not universal.

While a Dom will take care of his sub, he will be giving orders or otherwise employ physical or psychological techniques of control. He might instruct the submissive to perform the act on him.

The relationship between a Dom and his sub may be very transitory or can be permanent. Some Doms are married to their sub. Long term relationships are known as D/s (Dominant/submissive) relationships.

A Dom might be a sadist but is unlikely to be a masochist.

Some partners switch roles from one encounter to the other, or even during a single encounter, depending on mood and preference. See Switch.


The top is the actor within the BDSM context who applies to the bottom partner(s) the techniques of a sexual, sensual, and psychological activity: flogging, bondage, servitude, or humiliation. The dominant controls the BDSM scene or relationship, exercising authority over the submissive partner(s). A dominant who exercises control over a large percentage of a submissive’s day-to-day life, or within a formal framework of rules and rituals, is a master or mistress.

The functions of top and dominant often intersect, where the top is the dominant, but this is not always the case. Someone who is “topping” may be doing so at the request, or even the direction, of a bottom partner; in this case, the bottom is the dominant partner. A top who acts within this kind of relationship dynamic is sometimes called a service top. A bottom who has dominance over the activities or the relationship is said to be topping from the bottom, even though he or she is really exercising dominance from the bottom. Another possibility is that the top and bottom are acting at the direction of a third, directing person.

Within communities of lifestyle BDSM devotees, there exists a widespread prejudice against both those who act as service tops and those who top from the bottom. Both are considered by many to be failing to achieve a proper BDSM relationship dynamic, especially, if the partners are purported to be trying to achieve a dominant-top/submissive-bottom relationship.

While it is possible that a dominant would not act as a top and thus have no expression of his or her control through kink- or fetish-based activities, it may be argued that such a relationship, lacking any erotic aspect to the exercise of control, would fall outside of the BDSM context.

Tops or dominants who also assume a bottom or submissive role are referred to as switches.

The only prevalence data on roles currently available is anecdotal and not statistically significant.

Master or Mistress

Master or “Mistress” is one of the honorifics some people use to describe the dominant partner or “owner” in a Master/slave relationship. Because it is an honorific of the dominant form it is usual for it to be written with a capital letter.

It might also be used by the submissive partner as an honorific term in a D/s relationship. This can cause confusion when trying to understand BDSM terminology as both “Master” or “Mistress” and “slave” might be used – as terms of endearment – even though neither considers himself to be owned nor owner.

Some people enjoy the connotations of servitude or submission in calling their partner “Master”, or being called “Master”. To others the ritual of such a formal mode of address may be appealing. It may also be useful in building roles in which one partner or the other may indulge in sadistic or masochistic desires, although people living as Master and slave are not necessarily sadomasochistic.

Usage of “Master” or “Mistress” in most BDSM environments does not imply any specific expertise, abilities, or formal training. To successfully maintain a Master or Mistress/slave relationship takes abilities and skills beyond or apart from normal relationship skills.

The term “Master” can be gender-independent but is mostly used only in reference to males. There is otherwise no male-specific equivalent. The female equivalent is “Mistress” or possibly dominatrix.

Although the Master is understood to have authority over the slave in some sense, this never extends to one’s legal rights and thus there must always be an implicit element of consent involved.

Power and Safewords

The control of the dominant over a partner is seldom absolute and often operates within a set of defined limits.

One such limit is a safeword, a signal that a submissive uses to communicate with his or her dominant about the scene while it’s in progress. Safewords can communicate that a limit is being neared (i.e. “yellow”) or that a limit has been reached (i.e. “red”). Safewords are often negotiated before the scene (although saying “safeword” is usually recognized as a safeword). In some cases, safewords are used to completely stop the scene. Accepting more risk, a submissive may agree to forgo a safeword, consenting to edgeplay, an extreme form of submission.


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2 responses to “Dominant”

  1. Carolyn St. John

    I have begun a long distance D/s and I am curious on tips on how to become a better Dominant to my submissive. She does not reply much to my texts, and phones me when she finds it convenient; which is frustrating. She is in British Columbia, Canada and I am in Seattle, WA; so we will have to commute back and forth. She is in the process of getting her birth certificate changed to her transgendered name so she can obtain a passport. She is playing with others, and at times I feel she is the Dominant, due to her maturity, intellect and many groups she leads. I have a special needs, teenage son, and I am a single mom, so this puts a bit of an obstacle in my way on freedom to visit her without him. She has a daughter that is grown and independent, so she does not have this type of responsibility. I feel anxiety as I have a one-bedroom apt, and I need to find a 2 bdr for when she comes to visit me. I know this will take about 6 months for us to visit; and I need my mom to watch my son for a weekend, or find a caregiver for him. With all this, I need more Dominant skills to make her feel like a sub more, and I could use some tips. She has expressed to me that she wants more protocol in a stricter sense, and I tend to be a softer Dominant. Any suggestions? Thanks-

  2. Morgan

    Hi Carolyn~

    Great questions! Congratulations on the new relationship, first of all. Long Distance isn’t easy to do and, as with any relationship, there are challenges beyond that for the two of you.

    Am I right in guessing that she’s more experienced than you when it comes to D/s? That can be a bit tricky, but not impossible. In fact, I think it’s a benefit when at least one partner is experienced. The tricky part is having your experienced submissive communicate with you in a way that is helpful, without being critical or Dominant. For me, it helps when my submissive expressed their desires and suggestions in ways that are framed as requests, as opposed to instructions. “May I may a request Ma’am?” and proceeding only when given permission by you, in a way that’s respectful.

    In terms of ways to be stricter with protocol, this is a tough question to answer without knowing either of you. What types of protocol are the two of you interested in? You could establish rules for how she addresses you, how she dresses, definitely related to how often you’re in contact. You can instruct her to always respond to your texts as soon as conveniently possible, to call you a certain number of times per week, to email you every night with a check in. You can play with orgasm permission- instruct her to give you reports when she has them or ask her to earn them. You can play with distance D/s and S/m by giving her instructions to follow during the day. These could range from sexual things (“pinch your nipple and say ‘for my ma’am’ every time you go to the bathroom”, for example, or have her send a photo of a body part from time to time) to basic dedications like, before every meal a moment of silence in which she invoked your presence, says to herself or aloud that she loves you and serves only you. Things like that. There are really a lot of ways to go with this, depending on what you both like.

    I would ask yourself what seems hot to you, what it is that lights you up about being Dominant, and see what you can imagine having her do that fits that. I would also suggest mining her kinky mind for ideas on what she’s interested in. Then the two of you negotiate from there. Make it playful, have fun, get sexy with it, feel powerful. Change things when you need to or it’s clear something’s not working.

    If you make agreements and she doesn’t comply, then the problem is deeper than you not “being Dominant enough”. It may lie in your communication or something on her end that she’s not sharing with you.

    Please write me if you want to discuss this further. In fact, I do private coaching one on one on an ongoing basis if you think that would be helpful.

    Best wishes!


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