Powerplay in Dom sub relationships (what you need to know)

Power play for beginners in BDSM

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Powerplay in Dom/sub relationships is a fundamental aspect of BDSM dynamics. It involves the exchange of power and control between a dominant (Dom) and a submissive (sub). This power exchange can take various forms and is consensually agreed upon by both parties involved.

For a general overview of dominance and submission read Dominance and submission: A Brief Guide to Get You Started.

If you want to engage in powerplay in your relationship, then here’s a few things to consider when getting started.

What exactly is powerplay?

Cynthia Slater, an early leader in the San Francisco Bay Area BDSM community, described a Dom-sub relationship as “a consensual, eroticized exchange of power”, and that’s a definition I advocate on this website.

The key words in this definition are consensual and erotic.

There’s a certain sexual charge to the powerplay that makes BDSM powerplay different to other types of powerplay – such as your boss ordering you to stay late to finish that report on a Friday night at 5pm right before a holiday weekend (there’s nothing erotic about that, and they might just be doing it to prove they have control of you!).

And of course, everything you do must be consensual. You must have consented. Your parter must have consented. The throngs of onlookers must have consented… (that’s right – no playing in public because people around you haven’t given their explicitly consent, unless you’re at a swingers reports – check out the time we went to one in this podcast episode: E27: Spring swinging shenanigans at the Venus Star Resort in Maspalomas, Gran Canaria).

What are the roles involved in powerplay?

A Dom/sub powerplay dynamic typically involves two (but there can be more, of course) people, one who is the Dominant (who has the power), and one who is the submission (who gives up the power).

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Notice how the Dominant has a capital ‘D’ whilst the submissive has a lowercase ‘s’ to denote the powerplay.

You should also be aware that they are many subcategories of Dom and sub. Check out a few different types of submissive in my article What is a sub? And what types of sub exist?.

The Dominant’s role

dominant man and submissive woman
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The Dominant is the one in charge (sometimes referred to as being the ‘Top’). They typically:

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A Dominant can be male or female. Gender does not dictate what role you take. You should adopt the role you feel most suits you. And don’t forget that some people like to switch – sometimes they are the Dominant, and sometimes the submissive.

The submissive’s role

submissive woman

The submissive (sometimes referred to as the ‘Bottom’) typically:

The website has plenty of resources on all of the topics above for you to check out.

No powerplay without consent and negotiation

Two women in bed. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto: https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-women-in-bed-4126785/
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto: https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-women-in-bed-4126785/

During powerplay, there is an exchange of power. Power is wielded by the Dominant and directed towards the submissive (hence ‘exchanged’).

How much power is exchanged in the dynamic should be agreed upon before you get started with your partner.

Consider completing a sex menu together (read Sex Menu: A Beginner’s Guide for Doms and Subs) to ensure you are both on the same page about what BDSM activities you are interested in doing together, and have discussed everything in detail.

Powerplay and power exchange requires a high level of trust and respect between partners. This isn’t something you do with someone you’ve just met, or if your communication skills are below standard.

As you learn more about powerplay in BDSM you’ll quickly see that communication underpins everything (read Better Sex With Expert Communication). Without direct, clear, and honest communication, it’s likely that the relationship will fall apart quickly, and one or both partners will get hurt physically or emotionally.

Before you and your partner engage in powerplay, ensure you:

  • Understand and agree on open communication
  • Establish your boundaries and limits
  • Set safewords and signals in case you get into trouble
  • Have a way to perform ongoing consent and check-ins
  • Provide aftercare
  • Spend time debriefing after the session to understand how each other feel

Types of powerplay

Man dominating submissive woman

Powerplay comes in all shapes and sizes.

My preferred realm of powerplay is psychologically – that’s why I wrote an entire book about taking BDSM scenes to the next level using psychology – but physical powerplay is where beginners tend to start.

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Physical powerplay

Physical powerplay is generally what you see if you go to kinky events, sex parties, or see BDSM depicted in films (although it’s normally not done very well).

It can involve:

  • Bondage and restraint
  • Impact play (spanking, flogging, etc.)
  • Sensory deprivation
  • Forced orgasms
  • Physical control and manipulation

Psychological powerplay

Psychological powerplay takes the power exchange to the next level. Often it is mixed in with physical and sexual powerplay to enhance the experience for the submissive.

Whereas most people start with physical BDSM in the bedroom, after some months or years you might start wanting to engage in BDSM and powerplay outside the bedroom. This is where the psychological aspect of it really comes into it’s own.

  • Mind games and psychological manipulation
  • Humiliation and degradation
  • Role-playing and fantasy exploration
  • Verbal commands and degradation
  • Mind control and conditioning

Sexual Powerplay

As mentioned at the beginning of this guide to powerplay, D/s generally has an erotic component to it, so in a way, everything is sexual. But we’ve got this category reserved for specifically sexual acts.

  • Sexual dominance and submission
  • Orgasm control and denial
  • Sexual objectification
  • Sexual service and worship
  • Sexual role-playing and fantasies

Examples of a powerplay scene

One of my favourite things to do is tease a submissive with words, getting them all hot and bothered. Then to engage in some play using a vibrator (my favourite is a wand vibrator due to its power), getting them closer and closer to orgasm before backing off.

I’ll typically combine this with some form of restraint and/or blindfold. It’s a very simple scene, but what can I say – it works.

It mixes sexual powerplay (orgasm denial, forced orgasms, etc), physical powerplay (restraints, being held down, sensory deprivation), AND psychological powerplay (the submissive knowing they can’t get away, elements of humiliation or degradation with dirty talk, free use, and commanding them to get into certain positions).


Powerplay in Dom/sub relationships is a complex and multifaceted aspect of BDSM. It involves the consensual exchange of power and control between a Dominant and a submissive. 

Understanding the different roles, types of power exchange, and the importance of negotiation and consent is crucial for a healthy powerplay. 

Make sure you educate yourself on the topic before you engage in it with a partner.

If you’re a submissive, you can learn all about keeping yourself safe in our digital course The Art of Submission, a complete guide for becoming a confident submissive for any Dom.

The Art of Submission. A course for beginner submissives
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The example scene at the end is the first scene described that I would like to participate in. Up to now, I’ve really only heard of impact play scenes or ropes. The info presented on this site is so relatable to me as a brand new s-type. Thank you!