Dominance and submission  

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Image:Jupiter and Thetis.jpg
Jupiter and Thetis (1811) by Ingres, Thetis is depicted in the painting by Ingres as pleading at the knees of Zeus: "She sank to the ground beside him, put her left arm round his knees, raised her right hand to touch his chin, and so made her petition to the Royal Son of Cronos" (Iliad, I).

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Dominance and submission (also known as D&s, Ds or D/s) is a set of behaviors, customs and rituals relating to the giving and accepting of dominance of one individual over another in an erotic or lifestyle context.

Physical contact is not a necessity, and it can even be conducted anonymously over telephone, email or instant messaging services. In other cases it can be intensely physical, sometimes traversing into sadomasochism. In D/s, one takes pleasure or erotic enjoyment out of either dominating or being dominated. Those who take the superior position are called dominants, Doms (male) or Dommes (female), while those who take the subordinate position are called submissives or subs (male or female). A switch is an individual who plays in either role. Two switches together may negotiate and exchange roles several times in a session. "Dominatrix" is a term usually reserved for a female professional dominant who dominates others for pay.


There are many writings from the ancient age through the modern that would clearly indicate a willingness to submit for purely romantic reasons.

Another medieval example is the literary convention of courtly love, an ideal which usually required a knight to serve his courtly lady (in "love service") with the same obedience and loyalty which he owed to his liege lord. This convention was submissive and sometimes fetishistic, with the knight performing acts of cross-dressing and self-flagellation. However, the relationship between the literary conventions and actual practices is unknown.

There are also accounts of prostitutes in most major cities that catered to male submissives, as well as masochists. In a male dominated world it was all too easy for a submissive woman to find a strict male dominant, but some women still found ways to leave husbands who were "too soft".

One of the most famous works in this area is Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus im Pelz (Venus in Furs, 1869), in which the protagonist Severin persuades a woman, Wanda, to take him on as her slave, serves her and allows her to degrade him. The book has elements of both social and physical submission, and is the genesis of the term masochism coined by the 19th century psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing.

The Rolling Stones song "Under my Thumb" (M. Jagger, 1966) is supposedly about a D/s relationship.


Common myths about D/s:

  • Dominants are naturally cruel people.
  • Submissives are naturally weak-willed "doormats."
  • Submissives are attempting to re-live childhood abuse.
  • Women who are into D/s are nymphomaniacs, or indiscriminate sex partners.
  • D/s is usually a case of "role-reversal" with people who have much power and responsibility in real life often preferring a submissive role.

There is little or no factual evidence to support any of these concepts; submissives and dominants come from a broad spectrum of society and most people into BDSM are very selective about who they play with. Considering the risks, this is not surprising. The idea that submissive women are sexually indiscriminate likely stems from pornographic fiction and the appeal of an insatiable partner who will do anything one commands. In real life this is rarely the case.

Dr. Michael J. Bader, author of Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, writes: "It is quite common that children who were abused grow up and develop sexual fantasies loosely based on their abuse. ... The adult indulging in a fantasy of sexual surrender or abasement is actually saying to her or himself: 'I'm recreating a terrifying or traumatic scene, but this time I'm in control because I'm scripting the scene ...'"

The "role-reversal" myth likely stems from studies done in the 1950s which found that most of the clients in houses of domination were wealthy, powerful men. This is probably more due to the high fees charged in such houses (often $200-$5,000 a session) than a dearth of impoverished submissives. There are many poor submissives and wealthy dominants.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dominance and submission" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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