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.
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.
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.
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.