Erotic power exchange is any situation where partners, of their own free will and choice, actively and willfully incorporate the power element in their lovemaking (and usually for a great deal in their relationship). Erotic power exchange is best known as either BDSM, S&M, D/s or sadomasochism, but these terms are all too limited, incorrect and all too frequently confused with stereotypes and forms of mental illness, which is why we like to call it Erotic Power Exchange (EPE).
The Holistic Approach
Allow us to quickly explain our view and approach. Not in order to try and force you into any direction, but to explain where we are coming from, so you will have a better understanding about the way, this online educational facility has been set up.
Erotic power exchange is a situation that incorporates - or often even encloses - spirit, body and mind and as a result will have an effect on each of these three areas that, together, make up the human being. As a result, we try to approach each area of the art of erotic power exchange on each of these levels who - in order to create the wholeness of the human being - are equally important and all deserve their, individual, attention. Erotic power exchange can take any shape or form within a relationship. From little things like blindfolding her when making love to anything like 24 hours a day, 7 days a week servitude.
The shape and form it takes totally depends upon the fantasies, situation, preferences and boundaries of the partners involved. As long as it is informed consensual, safe, sane and voluntary it is called erotic power exchange. If any or all of these four elements are missing, it is called abuse.
Next, erotic power exchange requires a specific environment. Call it a biosphere, if you like. What it requires is a very sound, honest and sincere relationship, intense and open communication, trust, a lot of mutual understanding, an open mind, lots of love and care and a fair bit of creativity. Which does not mean the relationship necessarily has to be a long term one. Even within a one-night-stand or casual situation all these requirements must be there - albeit probably on a less intense level - to make things work.
People will often ask: what is wrong with straight sex? Why add things like power exchange. Well, there is nothing wrong with straight sex. But there are people - such as yourself - who want more out of their relationship. Maybe even more out of life. These are the people that will identify the power element, present in every relationship, and start to work with it, magnify it, play with it, explore and experiment. In every day life all of us have to deal with power. Your boss' power or political power for example, but not all of us become bosses or politicians or even take an interest in management or politics. The same is true for power within the sexual/relational context. Some do, some don't.
Giving away power to your partner can be an immense erotic sensation. Being tied up, relatively helpless and being launched by your partner into your own fantasies and dreams - some people call that sub space - can be thrilling, relaxing and revealing at the same time. Pain, tickling and all sorts of other impulses - when administered with care and skill - can pump up your endorphins, giving you the same sensation sports people will sometimes feel. On the other hand, the dominant partner will feel the adrenaline and serotonine flow freely through his or her body, giving them a very powerful feeling and very intense and caring emotion at the same time. No, the people that do it don't need the power element to be able to have an orgasm or an interesting and rewarding relationship, but yes, they do need the power element to be present and used in their relationship.
An umbrella for lots of different things
Erotic power exchange is a very individual, personal experience. That is why it is very hard to describe what it is exactly. The only element all these people - and that includes you - have in common is the fact that - for their own individual reasons - they are fascinated by the power element in a sexual/relational context. What they do, how they do it and why may be completely different things. Erotic power exchange is an umbrella argument. One couple may fill it in as tying her up in bed, another may be fascinated by the idea of a “strange” man walking into the bedroom capturing her and a third may have a relationship where he serves her in any aspect. Many others will look for the spiritual and personal growths, this may bring about. Others are in it for the kink. All of that is quite all right, as long as it feels good for you and it brings you what you are looking for.
Erotic power exchange is like golf: it is highly individual, you are the master of your own game and you are also your own referee. It is entirely about what you want to do. You do not have to copy others. You do not even have to agree with what others do. It is your game, your thoughts, your emotions and your fantasies. It is what you and your (future) partner share. It is being able to explore the borders of your mind and imagination in a very safe environment.
To many people erotic power exchange is not just about sex, but a lifestyle. Most people that do it will recognize it as something very personal, something very much belonging to themselves. To many it is a way to express themselves.
A definition of Erotic Power Exchange
Probably the most dangerous thing to do is to try and come up with definitions of erotic power exchange. Usually this will lead to furious discussions. However, the POWERotics Internet discussion group (one of the largest in its kind) managed to agree on a definition that seems a workable one as well as one that a large group of (Maledom/femsub oriented) people can agree upon. This is the definition, agreed upon by this group, plus the relevant notes about it.
Stigma & Truth
There are all sorts of knockdowns on the subject of erotic power exchange around, all of them often used by legislators as well as others who oppose erotic power exchange. All of these are based on assumed psychological or psychiatric “knowledge” or “facts”. The fact of the matter is that none of these are actually true or proven. We have collected the most common ones around and compared them with the real facts.
“Once you start, you will want more and more”
This is what pseudo-experts will introduce as the “stepping stone theory”.
In other words, once you have tasted the effects of, for example, pain, you will want more and more of it and it will end in excessive behavior and addiction. In fact there is no “stepping stone theory” (the term originates from research into the causes of drug-addiction in the late 1960's and by the way the theory didn't work in that area either) as far as erotic power exchange is concerned.
Fact number two is this. Like almost anything about erotic power exchange, there is hardly any serious and published scientific research on this subject. Next, nearly all research commonly referred to as being about EPE has been research done in individual cases or extremely small groups. Any conclusions, based on such research, are not valid for the entire group for simple statistical and mathematical reasons only, if nothing else. Research has predominantly been done by psychiatrists and psychologists - into cases that almost all relate to direct questions for help or significant health-related problems. And the objective of almost all of these articles is to promote the therapy of that particular therapist. General sociological research in the area of erotic power exchange is rare and, if available, has been done predominantly in the gay community or with such small - and country or area specific - research groups that it is impossible to draw any general conclusions in a responsible way.
Fact number three is that the reality of erotic power exchange shows an entirely different picture. People who are into erotic power exchange will usually start to experiment with it and in this experimental phase will usually want to explore all possibilities. As time progresses their emotions will settle down, pieces of the puzzle will fall into place and their wants and needs - once explored and identified - will settle down to the level that usually corresponds with the fantasies people originally had.
“The need to go into power exchange always hides a traumatic experience”
This knockdown is based on Freud who, as we all know, tried to explore the relationship between all sorts of human behavior - not only the sexual behavior - and (early) childhood experiences. His method is called psycho-analysis and in modern psychology is considered outdated and largely irrelevant. Although it is a fact that some people who are into erotic power exchange have a history of abuse or childhood trauma, a general connection has never been established. What may be true in individual cases most certainly is not true as a general argument. What research did establish is that there are no significant differences between the number of people with traumatic experiences in the erotic power exchange community than there are in any other group.
More recent research points to both genetic influences as well as to a creative and inquisitive mindset as factors that may be of influence to the development of erotic power exchange feelings and emotions. However, this research is far from finalized and in fact again is only limited to individual cases, like most of the scientific research done in this area.
Another - relatively new - area that may play a role is the influence of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones, natural opiates, produced by the body and commonly known as “emotion” amino acids. Different mixtures of different types of endorphins will create different emotions. Some of these mixtures are created as a result of fear, stress and pain. What role they play when it comes to the development of erotic power exchange emotions is yet unknown.
“The need for power exchange points to a stern upbringing”
Again a “semi-Freudian” misconception and based on one case of one man, researched and published about by Freud.
The fact of the matter is that most of the people who are into erotic power exchange have had a perfectly normal youth and upbringing and the majority come from families where sexuality was a subject that could be discussed freely and openly. Again there may be individual cases where people had a stern - or sometimes very religious - upbringing but whether or not there are any connections between upbringing and erotic power exchange emotions in general is yet to be determined and probably very unlikely as far as the development of the emotions as such is concerned.
“People into erotic power exchange can not find full sexual satisfaction in other ways”
This is an outright lie, based on research done in cases of excessive clinical sadism and masochism (i.e. the mental illnesses). It is true that the severe mental distortions usually described as sadism and masochism may (but not always do) show this type of behavior. Erotic power exchange, however, has nothing to do with mental distortions but with perfectly normal erotic/sexual behavior between perfectly normal, well-adjusted, responsible adults.
People into erotic power exchange will usually consider their feelings and emotions important and will identify erotic power exchange as a lifestyle, but that does not mean they have a compulsive need. The lack of compulsive behavior in fact is what separates erotic power exchange from clinical sadists and masochists.
In fact in many cases people will identify their erotic power exchange emotions as entirely different from sexual emotions or - for example - an orgasm.
“Dominant men are just male chauvinists”
The fact of the matter is that the majority of dominant men are very caring, loving and open minded people - as are most dominant women by the way. The position of the dominant in erotic power exchange by definition requires a lot of understanding, caring, trust and most of all a great interest in the wants and needs and emotions of the submissive partner. What to the outsider may seem a very strict, direct, powerful and maybe sometimes somewhat aggressive looking macho man in fact is only role play, using symbols and role behavior but underneath is almost always a very caring person. The average submissive partner, when asked, will usually describe the dom as understanding - generally knowing more about his submissive partner than (s)he does (or did) him or herself - supportive, careful, loving and protective.
“Submissive women betray the movement for women's rights”
Being submissive and allowing these emotions to come out is a very self-confident statement and decision as well as a difficult and scary process. Submissive women are usually very self aware and are making very conscious decisions about their submissiveness. They are anything but “doormats” and have - generally speaking - gone through a long process of identifying and accepting themselves as well as their submissive feelings and emotions.
Just as dominant erotic behavior is not an indication of general dominance, neither is submissiveness an indication that the (wo)men will display submissiveness in every day life. Usually they will be anything but submissive, although it is a fact that as long as submissive emotions have not settled down, submissive women especially sometimes may have trouble separating some of their submissive feelings from other things. The argument itself originates from hard line feminist activists who - predominantly out of fear for unwanted influence - try to separate women from other opinions than the ones such activists have.
“People who are dominant in every day life are submissive in bed and vice versa”
Sexual/erotic behavior is usually not an indication for any other form of social behavior, neither are there any proven links between the two. Dominants can have both dominant as well as non-dominant positions in every day life and the same goes for submissive's. A female executive can be submissive in the bedroom, a male nurse can be dominant. The above statement is a classic example of stereotyping, mainly based on pornography and stories from prostitutes who - through indicating they have “socially important or significant customers” - in fact try to market their profession and often use arguments like these in a rather naive effort to gain more social acceptance and respect for their trade.
“Erotic power exchange is dangerous”
There are all sorts of stories around about accidents, that happened during erotic power exchange sessions. The most “famous” one around is the story about the man who - after cuffing his wife to the bed - climbed the nearest cupboard in an effort to jump on her, broke both his legs, fell into the locked closet and the couple had to wait for two days before help arrived. This story - like many others - is around in almost all countries and - like nearly all others - is a tall story. Of course, anything one does without sufficient knowledge can be risky or even dangerous. The truth of the matter is that safe, sane, voluntary and informed consensual erotic power exchange is perfectly safe, provided people know what they are doing.
The vast majority (over 50 percent) of the people actively nurturing erotic power exchange emotions recollect fantasies about power role play at an early age, prior to their 18th birthday. Just about half of this group (in other words 25 percent of all BDSM-people) recollects having such fantasies before the age of twelve - quite frequently as early as six or seven.
Research by the POWERotics Foundation shows women usually recollect erotic power exchange fantasies and emotions earlier than men on average. Recollections of fantasies and emotions before the age of 12 for example are more frequent (24%) in the female group (men 16%). Very recent recollections, after their 18th birthday, are more frequent in the male group: 22% as opposed to only 5% in the female group.
There are no real differences when it comes to the importance of personal fantasies. Between 40 and 45 percent of both groups indicate that it have been these fantasies that triggered their erotic power exchange emotions. The same goes for the influence of books and general media on the development of such emotions. Around 20 percent of both groups indicate this as a trigger. There are, however, big differences when it comes to the influence of the Internet. Almost twice as many young women (15% opposed to 8%) name the Internet as a trigger of their emotions, whereas almost twice as many young men (11% versus 6%) say they have been influenced by pornography. It is important to notice however that the influence of both the Internet and pornography are only of minor influence, when compared to other triggers such as private fantasies and general media.
Young women in general consider erotic power exchange of a greater importance in their lives than young men. 53% of the young women consider it to be either a very important or the most important thing in their lives, whereas 44% of the men consider it important but have other priorities as well. Slightly more young men (12%) than women (10%) see erotic power exchange as just a kick.
©2007 Hans Meijer
Hans Meijer is 54, a Dutch former journalist and government spokesmen, webmaster and filmmaker, active in the sexual and erotic information realm.He the chairman for the www.powerotics.com Foundation. This organization is dedicated to provide quality information about alternative lifestyles. His 5 e-book series “Shibari Fumo Ryu” about the Japanese erotic Shibari technique and art is considered groundbreaking. Reproduced with permission.