Dominance, in a sexual context, is a form of power exchange, and often goes hand-in-hand with kink play. The word “dominant” can describe someone’s persona or preferred role, which is opposite their partner’s role as a “submissive.” Being dominant can describe a person who enjoys taking control, whether they’re commanding their partner to rub their feet, to engage in impact play, asking their partner to wear a collar, etc. Note that dominance is not the same as sadism, or the enjoyment of inflicting pain on others. While some people who enjoy being sexually dominant also get off on inflicting pain, the two aren’t synonymous.
Here are some tips on how to be dominant
1. First, get consent and communicate needs and boundaries.
There’s a common misconception that being dominant means you can do whatever you like to your partner. This simply isn’t true. It’s vital to communicate expectations and boundaries.
Domination and power exchange, like any expression of sexuality between people, must always be based on enthusiastic consent. Talk to your partner beforehand and negotiate what’s going to happen during your play session. Perhaps agree on a safe word so you can pause or stop the action as needed. Even if you have verbal consent, consent can be withdrawn at any time, for any reason.
2. Practice empathy.
Mistress Amy, a professional dominant, sensual massage practitioner, and sex educator tells O.school that the most important quality needed to be a good dominant is empathy. You need to be able to stay connected and aware of what your submissive partner is experiencing, feeling and wanting.
Taking control of someone else is a big responsibility. Being able to put yourself in your partner’s position, taking the time to understand what they want and why, and maintaining an awareness of your own motivations is crucial to enjoying safe and sexy power exchange.
3. Step into the role.
Even for those who are super turned on by the idea of being dominant, it can feel awkward at first. To combat nerves and gain confidence, try role playing. Role playing can be a great way to get out of your head and into the moment.
Try inhabiting a character from a favorite book or movie, or pretend to be an authority figure (boss, doctor, cop, professor, or priest) disciplining a wayward subordinate. Dressing the part can help you to get in touch with your dominant side, whether it’s sexy lingerie that makes you feel powerful, classic fetish wear, or a professional uniform.
4. Set a timer.
Set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes, and practice giving your partner a series of orders until it goes off. Keep it simple (have them fetch your phone or pour you a glass of water), make it silly (make them communicate as if they were a cat or a dog), or keep it sexy (order them to perform a striptease). Getting comfortable giving orders, even if they’re non-sexual, can help you step into a dominant role and set the stage for deeper play.
5. Try some fun games.
Party classics like Truth or Dare or Simon Says can easily be adapted to power exchange scenarios. Using a game as a starting point can help you to proceed with confidence so you don’t have to focus on developing a “script” on the fly!
6. Give yourself and your partner a different name or title.
Similar to role play, adopting a title by which your partner must address you during play (“Master,” “Goddess,” “Sir,” and “Your Majesty” are just a few!) can help you own your power and get comfortable with taking control.
7. Switch up your roles.
To learn how to be dominant, it can help to get familiar with being submissive. “My perspective is that, to be fully aware and empathetic, you need to be familiar with the experience [of submitting to someone],” Mistress Amy tells O.school. If you want to try switching — a kinky term for trading off dominant and submissive roles, either in your sex life as a whole or in the context of a single session — you can ask your partner to give you orders for a set period of time, or try a role play scenario with them in the driver’s seat.
But why would someone want to be dominant?
For some, taking control sexually is extremely exciting. They like the idea of being in charge and are turned on by their partner’s submission. Others may not be naturally drawn to a dominant role but have a partner who wants to be dominated.
Some people enjoy the physical aspect of domination, and they like to include restraints, collars, or they like to try kinky sex toys as the focus of their play. Others are drawn to the psychological aspect and are turned on by the opportunity to play a specific role that may be very different from their everyday self.
Whatever the reason, inhabiting a dominant role can be a profound act of care, allowing a partner to relinquish control, enjoy a break from decision-making, and fully surrender to the sensations in their body. “Being dominant is like ‘leading the dance,’” Mistress Amy O.school. “Rather than simply ordering someone around, you are leading the encounter [and] facilitating an experience. We’ve negotiated [what’s going to happen] in advance; once I have consent, I’m planning the itinerary and I’m taking charge.”