The beginning of a relationship is a fragile time. One or both partners may still be on the fence as they learn each other’s quirks, preferences, triggers, world views, and all the rest. The first few intimate encounters usually involve some level of stress, regardless of how smoothly or erotically those sessions unfold. We want to think of falling in love as a magical process, but the truth is that any number of unknown factors could derail the connection while new partners are first wading into the pool.
If you’re out there dating with D/s in mind, the stakes can feel even higher due to the inherent level of risk dominance and submission entail. Power exchange hinges on trust, which takes time and experience to build with a person no matter how much you fancy your partner initially. The leap of faith required to get from A to B requires immense vulnerability from both parties. It’s enough to make anyone anxious, especially if you’ve been burned previously during your quest.
If you’ve met someone you like and they’ve got your imagination bursting with visions of a lifetime of kinky bliss, here are 10 tips for successfully surviving those first precarious few months.
1. Make sure you’re actually ready for a relationship.
It’s not fair to you or the people you date to put yourself out there unless you know what you want and are ready to do the work. It’s common for people to think they’re ready when they’re not, especially if they’re on the rebound, still hung up on their ex, going through a divorce, or processing heavy grief.
D/s relationships can get deep fast as partners open up and explore together. If you dive all the way in, bite off more than you can chew, and then have to tiptoe backward in damage-control mode, you’re likely to leave hurt feelings in your wake. This is one of many ways people end up with reputations of being fuckboys or players—the kind of hazard sincere kinksters warn each other about.
Be completely honest and upfront about what you’re both looking for and available to provide at THIS moment in time. If what you’re seeking right now is pleasure with no strings attached, say so, even if it means missing out on playing with someone you’re into. Don’t hop around flirting with every dom or sub that interests you while stating you’re currently seeking something serious unless that is truly the case.
2. Expect challenges sprinkled in with the fun.
Everyone in the dating scene is after their own personal holy grail. People fill out elaborate online profiles describing what they’re looking for like they’re ordering a foot-long at Subway. “Extra mustard and pickles with a side of 24/7 submission, please!”
The problem, quite clearly, is that a person is not a sandwich. We all have needs, fears, flaws, and imperfections. If you do finally meet someone potentially compatible, your brain will try to shove them into the tiny box you’ve created for your impossible dream partner—a box no human in existence will ever fit into comfortably. Eventually they’ll end up disappointing you and VOILA, the fantasy falls apart and you’re left questioning whether you and your new best bud are actually compatible at all.
Your new S.O. is not your dream partner, nor will they ever be regardless of how closely they align with your fantasy. Misunderstandings, differences in opinion, hurt feelings, and doubt are par for the course in committed relationships, and the partnership can only be successful if both parties are dedicated to working through these challenges. Anticipate that there will be things about your partner you won’t like and have a plan for how you’ll deal with them when they pop up. Expecting good times only will set you both up for disaster.
3. Read up on psychology.
If you’ve ever been to therapy, you’ll know that what we desire in our intimate relationships often stems from our formative experiences in early childhood. “Hey, I’m here to talk about my ex. Why are you asking about my parents?!”
Kinksters come from a variety of backgrounds and, like members of any community, bring different types of baggage to the table. Why do sadists enjoy inflicting pain? What attracts us to domination, submission, or both at different times? What makes someone want to call their partner ‘Mommy’ or ‘Daddy’ while they’re getting spanked? The answers are embedded in our psychological programming, and despite our similarities, we’re all wired uniquely.
Having a sense of why you and your partner like what you like will give you a better informed sense of what you’re signing up for and how to navigate the relationship. What core beliefs are present? What fears lie beneath your fantasies? Why do your fetishes inspire excitement or comfort? Kink is first and foremost a psychological affair, so it’s worth it to do your research if you want D/s to work for you.
4. Be respectful.
Nothing kills an amazing connection more quickly or thoroughly than disrespect. It’s natural to get angry, annoyed, or uncomfortable at times, but unkind words said in the heat of emotion can’t be taken back. At some point, your new S.O. will say or do something to upset you. By all means, speak your mind and state your boundaries, but do so with their feelings in mind unless you’re willing to lose them.
Many people enjoy disrespect, degradation, or harsh discipline in the context of their kink. However, the darkest aspects of our fetishes are hardly a good basis upon which to form healthy and sustainable relationships. Deep down, self-respecting BDSMers all want to feel valued and safe. Respect, empathy, and compassion are key.
At the beginning of a D/s relationship, one of your priorities should be to build a strong sense of trust. This will help ease any concerns about whether you’re a safe investment of your partner’s time and attention. You may be thinking, “I’m a great and TOTALLY trustworthy person!” and have a slew of friends, family, and colleagues who’d say the same. Doesn’t matter. Not one lick. Unless you and your partner already have a long history together, you are new to them. They have no way of knowing whether you’re the type of person who would violate consent, become abusive or manipulative behind closed doors, or tell lies that could result in severe consequences. Their initial experiences with you will go a long way to inform their opinion. Make sure those experiences are handled with care so you can get off on the right foot.
5. Negotiate with realistic expectations in mind.
Smart, ethical kinksters always negotiate before playing for the first time to discuss desires, expectations, limits, safewords, health issues, STI status, and more. They then continue to negotiate to improve the dynamic as the relationship unfolds. This helps us avoid mishaps and misunderstandings, giving us the best possible chance for long-term success.
If you go into negotiation saying things like, “I want my sub to follow every order I give and please me at all times without question or complaint,” or “I want my dom to manage every detail of my life and put up with every shred of bratty behavior I can dish out,” you’re asking for trouble. Anyone with a modicum of real-life experience and self-respect will rightfully respond by backing away. People who have realistic goals for the dynamic and leave room for imperfection are far more likely to find success in the long run than those with a “my way or the highway” attitude. Relationships are, by definition, a collaborative endeavor.
Be sure, as well, to come to the table with realistic expectations for yourself. If you rock up stating, “I don’t have limits, do whatever you want to me,” or “I’m the dom of your dreams and will fulfill all your needs,” you’ll be signaling a level of naivety that’s usually considered a red flag by experienced kinksters. Your new partner, if they’re truly into you, will be listening intently to the things you tell them. Making promises you can’t keep because you think that’s what they want to hear will do neither of you any favors.
6. Learn about your partner’s trauma and triggers.
Not everyone experiences trauma on their way to adulthood, but many people do. When our trauma is triggered and we feel angry, scared, or sad, those close to us are usually the ones who endure the brunt of our emotions. As your relationship deepens, you will become aware of any trauma your partner carries and they will become aware of yours.
Triggers tend to pop up a lot in BDSM. The more intensely we explore, the more vulnerable we make ourselves. Our defense mechanisms are likely to bubble up to the surface at some point. Expect that this will happen and that you’ll both need one another’s reassurance to get through it. Be proactive by asking your partner about their baggage and triggers and share your own in return. You are not responsible for healing one another’s trauma, but ignoring one another’s vulnerabilities will make it impossible to keep your connection intimate.
7. Match the intensity of your kinky sessions with the depth of your relationship.
You’ve gotten your ducks in order and are ready to play. Time to dive right into the deep end of the pool, right? Uhhhhh, I say nay! Regardless of how well things have gone so far, your discussions with your partner about kink up to this point have been theoretical. You’re still on shaky ground.
Go slowly with new partners, no matter how hardcore or experienced each of you considers yourself to be. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you do the most intimate thing imaginable with someone you’re still not all that close with. Save the edgeplay for when the relationship feels solid. You can always move forward, but you can rarely go back once Pandora’s box is thrown open.
Imagine, for example, you’re a dom playing with a new sub for the first time. You tie her up, spank her ass black and blue, fuck her roughly, and tell her “Daddy’s using this pussy for his pleasure.” Pretty intimate, no? The thing is, your partner probably took a huge leap of faith by trusting you enough to allow those things to happen. If you take the depth of your dynamic to that level immediately, she may be expecting the same level of depth in other areas of the relationship, like daily messages, exclusivity, or a host of other wants and needs. Are you ready to provide the full package if that’s what your partner ultimately desires? If not, stick to the shallow end of the pool until you are.
8. Boost your aftercare skills.
Asking someone you were intimate with to leave right after sex is generally frowned upon as a dick move. The same is true for BDSM. Aftercare gives both partners a means of transitioning out of a realm of immense intimacy in a way that leaves everyone feeling valued, respected, and safe. Skipping this step sends the message that you are using your partner to get your jollies and once you have, their usefulness to you ends, along with your desire to treat them with consideration. It’s a bad look no matter how you slice it. People who skip aftercare make enemies in the BDSM community, and fast.
Do not let aftercare be an afterthought. The time you take to hug, kiss, cuddle, caress, praise, and reassure your partner can make or break your relationship. Ask about their desires and needs when it comes to aftercare and communicate your own, just like you would any other aspect of kink. When you’re making plans to play, put aside as much aftercare time as you’ll both need to feel good about what you did together. That could be 10 minutes, two hours, the remainder of the night, or the rest of your weekend. Generally, the more intense a session gets, the more aftercare both partners will require. Talk about it and don’t be ashamed to be honest about your needs. There’s nothing weak about wanting affection and reassurance after play.
People who behave as if they are ‘above aftercare’ lack the emotional maturity for BDSM, full stop. If our partners are worthy of our sadism, discipline, voyeurism, etc., they are also deserving of our compassion, reassurance, and affection. The only exception would be if your partner specifically told you they didn’t want aftercare. In that case, ask for their reasoning. You don’t want a long-term partner who uses kink as a means of self-destruction.
9. Be consistent.
It’s impossible to feel secure with a partner who habitually behaves in unpredictable ways or changes their mind about significant decisions. As trust is paramount in D/s relationships, consistency is key. You must walk the walk and prove you mean what you say through your behavior if you want your words to have any weight. Talk is cheap, after all.
When it comes to rules within the dynamic, for example, inconsistency will render them moot. There’s no point in creating rules for a sub who is wishy-washy about following them, or following rules from a dom who doesn’t pay attention or enforce consequences for breaking them. It may feel like a pain in the ass to have to stick to your guns all the time, but it’s one of the best ways to nurture the energy of the connection in order to keep the kinky magic alive.
10. Keep checking in as your connection evolves.
Some people in the community refer to BDSM as a ‘practice’ to highlight the fact that our kinky relationships and experiences are ongoing. No matter how much you negotiate or what you get up to during play, you’ll never reach a point where you get to say, “I’ve done all the work I need to do forever!” There will always be more work to do, more tweaks to make, and more to communicate with your partner about as the relationship develops and changes.
The grass is greenest where you water it. If you want this great sexy connection you’ve created to endure the test of time, keep checking in, hashing out details, and re-negotiating as a team. What do you both want more or less of? If you have rules, are they serving their purpose? Is the dynamic working for both of you? Change what’s not working so you can evolve together in a sustainable way.