It’s easy to see how being submissive entails risks. Subs make themselves physically vulnerable to doms, allowing them to tie them up, torture them, and sometimes do quite extreme forms of play, such as breath control, with them. It’s not hard to find stories of submissives who have been badly injured or even killed by doms. I’m a big proponent of kink safety, and at some point I’ll write a post about some of the horror stories I’ve heard from subs, because it’s important to acknowledge that the risks can be very real.
But there are also risks to being dominant, and we hear about them much more rarely. Subs are often surprised when I mention that idea. So I feel a need to discuss some of those risks.
Many dominant sex acts border on the illegal. Obviously this will vary from region to region depending on the law. But broadly speaking, pain play is a prosecutable crime for the simple reason that legally one cannot consent to being assaulted. In most jurisdictions, law enforcement and district attorneys are not actively seeking to prosecute cases of BDSM (although conservative ADAs might decide to make an example out of someone), but if something goes wrong in scene and the sub decides to complain to the police, a dom can be extremely vulnerable. It often becomes a he said/she said sort of situation, and the sympathies of the court system will generally side with the submissive, who is more easily seen as a victim of evil aggression than the dominant is. It’s a hard sell to persuade a jury that the guy doing the tying up and beating might be the victim.
This is why negotiating before a scene and, in cases of extreme scenes, having a written record of the negotiations is a good idea. If you want to see how badly things can go for a dom, the classic case is Oliver Jovanovich. In 1996, a scene that he did with a fully-consenting sub went bad after she complained to the police after the scene was over. Despite having evidence that she had consented to what he did to her, Jovanovich was convicted of kidnapping, sexual abuse, and assault in a New York court and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served 20 months before the verdict was overturned (with help from the sub’s family, who testified that she had a record of lying) after the court ruled that the presiding judge had unreasonably excluded evidence of her consent and the negotiation. While an unusual and extreme case, it illustrates a risk that doms run whenever they play with a new sub.
I myself had a sub whom I left apparently happy after a fairly mild scene suddenly start sending me emails and making phone calls accusing me of being evil and threatening to expose me to my employer. And that illustrates another risk we doms take. Even if we don’t wind up in court, it’s not too hard for subs to make trouble by contacting a Dom’s employer, family, landlord, and so on. Because there is still a perception that doms do immoral things and might be serial killers in the making, it’s not hard for an unhappy sub to turn people against a dom.
Another risk is less tangible but quite real. Being dominant involves the dom making himself vulnerable to the sub. This is counter-intuitive, but most serious doms I know have admitted this to me in some fashion. To be dominant is to expose one’s internal shadow, the darkness inside that society expects us to hide away. Exposing the various cruel, selfish, egotistical desires that we doms explore is to risk the sub pulling back in horror, like Christine when she pulls the mask off the Phantom of the Opera. While that sort of rejection is rare, the risk is always there that the sub will say that the dom’s desires are too much, too dark, too twisted. When that happens, our fears that our dominant desires are symptoms of a hidden monster waiting to come out are confirmed.
Finally, there is the risk that the sub will reject our dominance as inadequate. Being dominant involves enjoying the heady feeling of being powerful, sexually desirable, totally in control, a god made manifest in the flesh. Occasionally, though, when we are in that place, flying high like Icarus, a sub can suddenly declare that they aren’t feeling it, that we’re not taking them to their submissive place, that we’re not dominant enough for them. And then, like Icarus, we fall, feeling our power and desirability and divinity stripped away from us in an instant. When that happens, the drop is terrible, because we move unexpectedly from utterly empowered to badly wounded in one stroke, and there’s nothing to be done except hope that the fall won’t kill us.