Sexual polarity

As we all experience sooner or later, the origin of sexual attraction amongst humans cannot be pinned down to any one factor. Each one of us is attracted to a multitude of traits, based on our gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic predisposition and personal history. There is, however, one characteristic that is universal to all sexual interactions and that in fact is a prerequisite for the sexual interaction to even take place: a power exchange.

David Deida described it brilliantly in his book on spiritual and sexual growth, “Way of the Superior Man“:

“Sexual attraction is based upon sexual polarity, which is the force of passion that arcs between the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ poles [N/A: regardless of the actual gender of the partners] thus creating the flow of sexual feeling. It is this force of attraction that is the dynamism that often disappears in the modern relationship. If you want real passion you need a ravisher and a ravishee, otherwise you just have two buddies who rub genitals in bed…..The love may still be strong, the friendship may still be strong, but the sexual polarity fades unless in moments of intimacy one partner is willing to play the ‘masculine’ pole and one partner is willing to play the ‘feminine’. You have to animate the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’ differences if you want to play in the field of sexual passion.”  

With the possible sole exception of asexual individuals, these polarity traits are presents in all of us, whether we are aware of it or not. Sexual attraction would simply not be possible without them.

Below, we explore some of the most common incarnations of the two sexual polarities and how they produce different power dynamics.

B&D Power Dynamic

Sexual polarity plays a dramatic role in Bondage and Dominance, where – through the use of physical force, language, psychology, devices/toys and techniques – consenting partners engage in a form of coercion over one another. This is typically a sophisticated exchange which happens at a slow pace, prolonged in time, and can involve precise fetish dress codes (latex, leather, suits, etc), props (whips, ropes, bed restraints, etc) and locations (dungeons, fetish clubs, etc).

Examples are impact play (spanking, flogging, caning, etc.), rope play (shibari, suspension, etc), collaring, wax play. Regardless of the specifics, the source of sexual arousal in the B&D dynamic is the exchange of a control flow amongst the different partners.

  • Submissive (“Sub”): a person who takes the role of taker or controlled in such acts as bondage, discipline or servitude; more broadly, it refers to a preference for surrender  during all (or most) sexual activities.
  • Dominant (“Dom”): a person who takes the role of giver or controller in such acts as bondage, discipline or servitude; more broadly, it refers to a preference for control during all (or most) sexual activities. A dom is not someone who “takes it out” on a sub; rather, he or she is an individual who seeks to establish a bond of trust and a strong psychological connection with the sub in order for the power exchange to take place.
  • Switch: a person who can alternate between dominant and submissive, depending on the activity or by swapping roles within the same activity.

The Master and Slave relationship is an extreme take on the B&D Power Dynamic; it can take the shape of a 24/7 Dom/Sub relationship but has many variations.


S&M Power Dynamic

The S&M polarities differ from the B&D polarities in that sexual arousal in the latter is produced by a flow of control, while in the former it is given by a flow of pain (physical or emotional). For example, a Dom derives sexual arousal through his/her control over a Sub, and not through inflicting pain on them. The two attributes, of course, can be present in the same person, we often have Sadistic Doms. There are also Masochistic Doms, individuals who enjoy exerting strict control over their partners but who derive pleasure for themselves by being hit, bitten or scratched as they do so. Analogous combinations of B&D and S&M polarities can be found in many individuals who regard themeselves as subs or switches. However, it is important to remember that those who gain sexual excitement through the S&M dynamic may be largely indifferent to the B&D dynamic.

  • Sadist: a person who derives sexual pleasure from inflicting pain, suffering or humiliation.
  • Masochist: a person who derives sexual pleasure from receiving pain, suffering or humiliation, or from inflicting those to oneself.


Primal Power Dynamic

The primal power exchange involves the release of an animalistic charge, usually leading to instinctive, pacey, rough intercourse often with a sensation of “switching the brain off”. This may or may not be accompanied by the act of chasing, pack behaviour, the use of teeth and musclar strength as well as growls and female copulatory vocalisation. The use of intelligible language is often completely absent.  This modus copulandi is distinct from the B&D Power Dynamic, which sees the use of props and devices, and in which a “Dom” carefully shapes, leads and controls the action.

A primal predator does not wish to control his or her prey rationally. Rather, he or she seeks to mate with them “like an animal would”, that is, through the immediateness and fundamental crudeness of the sexual act. Often, a primal predator will not have to subdue his or her “prey”: intercourse then takes the shape of a mating ritual where the hunted spontaneously submits to the hunter and becomes a complete object of pleasure.

Primal individuals often have a preference for group sex, which is seen as a pack ritual involving multiple mating.

  • Primal Predator: the hunter/tamer.
  • Primal Prey: the hunted/tamed partner.



Regardless of the polar specifics, at any given time during a sexual act there will be someone leading the action (“a giver” or “a driver”) and someone receiving the action (“a taker”). This is commonly referred to “being a top” or “being a bottom”:

  • Top: an active person in a sexual action (the giver or the driver).
  • Bottom: a passive person in a sexual action (the taker).

Top and Bottom are often incorrectly used as synonyms for Dom and Sub. In reality, they have nothing to do with the type of exchange, but only with its directionality. For example, a dominant individual who had a partner conduct sensation play on him would be, in the context of that specific exchange, a bottom.


7 thoughts on “Sexual polarity

  1. “Primal Power Dynamic
    The primal power exchange involves the release of an animalistic charge, usually leading to instinctive, pacey, rough intercourse often with a sensation of “switching the brain off”. This may or may not be accompanied by the act of chasing, pack behaviour, the use of teeth and musclar strength as well as growls and female copulatory vocalisation. … ”

    I’m wondering how literally to take that. Is there a danger of one partner in a primal sex scene seriously injuring the other? If it were just a matter of rough sex, you’d still expect the more aggressive, dominant partner to exercise a necessary minimum of restrain. There might be minor scratches and bruises by the end, but no serious damage would occur. But if a primal couple really succeed in “switching off” the brain and the prey is bitten or slapped or punched very hard, the damage could be significant. A bite from a human – a real bite, that is, not just a playful nip – can rip out lumps of bloody flesh. And a blow delivered hard with a clenched fist – especially to the face – is likely to do far more damage than the controlled and focussed violence of an S&M spanking or caning. Do people ever come out of primal sessions bleeding and sporting black eyes?

    Since this a new concept for me, I have no way of judging how extreme primal sex can really be. I’ve read elsewhere that primals often “howl” – this article mentions “growls” – which sounds a bit like role play to me.

    I take the writer’s point that primal sex can take different forms, which sometimes exclude actual violence: “Often, a primal predator will not have to subdue his or her “prey”: intercourse then takes the shape of a mating ritual where the hunted spontaneously submits to the hunter and becomes a complete object of pleasure.”

    But, if I’m reading the article correctly, the possibility of significant violence still seems to exist at times, when the predator has to go all out to dominate and subdue his/her prey. To me, that sounds more like cage fighting than conventional S&M. Are most primal sessions – at kink clubs, for example – closer to role play than actual fighting, or am I completely off-track?

    I *can* empathise with this statement: ‘… he or she seeks to mate … “like an animal would”, that is, through the immediateness and fundamental crudeness of the sexual act.’ I’ve often felt like that when I’ve been buggering a woman, which is the reason anal sex can feel so excitingly crude for both parties. But buggery – even when done forcefully – is usually relatively controlled (though the buggered partner may have a pleasantly aching bottom for a few days afterwards).

    I’d be interested to hear from anybody who’s experienced the more extreme forms of primal sex, either as the predator or as prey.

  2. Most animal species (bar some insects, as far as I am aware!) do not harm their partner during intercourse. The topic is covered extensively in “The Myth of Monogamy” by David Barash. From the point of view of humans, although attitudes and preferences vary from individual to individual, the practice of primal sex is distinct from that of BDSM as it does not generally involve props/ accessories and deliberate temporary injuries (e.g. bruising from caning, burns from wax, etc). Primal sex may involve involuntary/semi-voluntary temporary injuries along the lines of biting, scratching, pressure, etc. It may be enacted as roleplay by some, but I don’t think that practice reaches the psychological and emotional depth of what we are describing as ‘primal sex’ here. Finally, no form of consensual sex should involve the prospect of serious/long-term bodily harm – I cannot imagine why people involved in primal intercourse would ever end up punching each other (male or female competition for a partner in the animal-world sense, where individuals of the same sex fight each other, is not contemplated by primal sex, unless in a “deliberately playful” or symbolic way).

    1. @argonaute: Thanks for that clarification. I take your point that most animals, particularly mammals, don’t actually harm each other during sex. Since being ‘animalistic’ is a feeling (as well as a behaviour, of course) I suppose it’s difficult to describe precisely, in abstract terms, when sex goes beyond being simply ‘rough’ and becomes genuinely ‘primal’. It’s presumably something one has to experience to really understand. (As I said above, I think I have at least an inkling of the feeling.)

      When it comes to the ‘role play vs. real’ dichotomy, I think I got hung up on the idea of biting because it sounds so dramatic. When is a bite just play and when is it real? But again, experience probably answers that question much better than verbal description can. Thanks again.

      1. Interesting comments! I find primal play fascinating as it really taps into a deep level of subconscious for me and is one of the few types of play where I regularly experience “sub drop”. I think it takes partners who are very connected emotionally as well as intellectually and physically to be able to play with that level of psychological abandon. And also a lot of trust and respect.

        1. @anita: ‘sub drop? I’m familiar with the idea of sub=space – though I’ve never experienced it myself. (I have too little capacity for trust probably.) But ‘sub-drop’ is new to me. Is it possible to explain?

  3. ADDITIONAL I’ve just done a search for ‘sub drop’ and found this:

    Subspace/Sub-drop versus Depression

    Subspace: a mental space for those who identify as submissive in BDSM play and sexual situation/scenes. It can be spiritually and viscerally deep for many. The endorphins released for a sub during a scene make it very similar to the high many drugs offer.
    Sub-drop: the sharp change in mental status that can happen to a submissive after the endorphins disperse. It can happen at any point from right after the scene ends to hours, or even a day later. It is called “drop” because it is a empty sort of feeling; akin to depression.


    I’m not much wiser, though. The definition makes ‘sub drop’ sound like a negative feeling but you seem to see it as positive. The closest personal connection I can guess at it is coming down from a drug high – e.g. one of the more powerful hallucinogens. (Which is something I haven’t experienced for many years, by the way – and anyway, Officer, I’m lying.)

  4. ‘Submissive’ vs. ‘Slave’

    I’m curious about the difference in meaning between the words ‘submissive’ and ‘slave’. The Glossary says:

    “Submissive (“Sub”): a person who takes the role of taker or controlled in such acts as bondage, discipline or servitude; more broadly, it refers to a preference for surrender during all (or most) sexual activities.”

    “The Master and Slave relationship is an extreme take on the B&D Power Dynamic; it can take the shape of a 24/7 Dom/Sub relationship but has many variations.”

    So, at a minimum, a slave is a more extreme version of a submissive. However, I wonder what that means in practice, either over the course of a relationship or during a specific ‘scene’.

    I accept that definitions may vary depending on the attitudes and relationship of the people involved. However, given that preparatory negotiation, consent and trust are assumed in both cases, what sort of behaviour distinguishes a slave from a submissive?

    To make that a bit more concrete, my current guess is that a submissive is free to set limits both before and during a particular scene; e.g. “I’ll do X, Y, and Z and you can do A, B, and C to me, but I won’t do P and Q and you mustn’t do R.” So is a slave less free to set limits in some sense? I can’t imagine anybody entering an entirely limit-free relationship, but does a slave who trusts his/her partner give up all rights to veto D/s activities, even if s/he doesn’t enjoy what’s happening at a particular time?

    (Apologies if the question seems naïve. I realize it may be.)

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