One of the biggest issues I see on Twitter and BDSMLR and other media where kinksters share their desires is a lack of appreciation for the nature of power and responsibility in kink. So I like to use the metaphor of ‘power coins’ to explain it.
A power coin is the currency of control in a relationship. On the obverse (heads) side is power: control, the right to make decisions about what’s going to happen, permission to be selfish and put your wishes ahead of the other person’s, and so on. The reverse (tails) side is responsibility: having to make the decisions and having to take the blame when something goes wrong. You find power coins all over the place in society: relationships, business, families, politics, and so on. The more power you have, the more you are responsible for whatever consequences your choices have. Trump’s big failing is that he thinks that he can have the power of the presidency without taking any responsibility.
When one dances, one must pay the piper. There’s no such thing as a free ride.
In a vanilla relationship, the two partners are equals, which is to say each of them has 50 power coins. Each partner has an equal say in what happens and both are responsible if something goes wrong. Sure, most couples divvy up the coins unequally on some issues; one partner may be more responsible for repairs around the house while the other might have more responsibility for getting the kids to bed. In the ’50s family model, the husband had all the power coins in terms of the family income while the wife had all the power coins in terms of domestic stuff (at least in theory).
In a power exchange relationship, however, the couple doesn’t each hold 50 power coins. They start as equals, but when they decide to make the relationship unequal, the submissive partner gives some or all of their power coins to the dominant partner. They decide which coins are to be handed over. Maybe the dom gets all the bedroom power coins but the sub keeps all their coins related to money and domestic life, so that outside the bedroom they’re still essentially equals. In a Daddy/boy relationship, the Daddy may get a larger voice in decision-making, but the boy still has a significant voice, expressing his desires and opinions. In a Master/slave relationship, the slave probably slowly gives more and more coins to the Master and they might hope one day for a total power exchange in which the Master has all 100 of the coins.
Legally and ethically, however, this exchange can’t ever be made obligatory. The sub always has the right to retake their 50 power coins because those coins belong to the sub and the dom holds them only by virtue of the sub’s consent. As Joseph Bean famously observed, “The number one job of the dominant is to continually seduce consent from the bottom.” In other words, the dom needs to keep making the sub feel that the sub is better off with the dom holding those power coins, because the sub still owns those coins. He can give away the use of those coins to the dom, but he can’t give the dom actual ownership of those coins.
And because it’s not possible to separate the obverse and reverse sides of the coin, there is never a situation in which the dom gets a power coin without also getting the responsibility coin. The more power the dom has over what they do, the more he is responsible for any consequences of that decision.
Here is a really obvious illustration of this principle. Bondage renders the sub less capable of protecting his body. A boy whose hands are bound behind his back cannot put his arms out to catch something that might fall on him, but if he’s standing up, he can still step out of the way, so he still has some responsibility for his own safety even if more if his safety is in his Dom’s hands; he still has a good share of responsibility coins. If his legs are also tied, he can’t move out of the way, but he can still tell the dom if he sees something about to fall on him; he’s got a few coins left. If he’s hogtied, gagged, and blindfolded, he’s pretty much completely incapable of keeping himself safe, which means the full responsibility for his safety falls into the lap of the dom; the dom has all the coins and he has none. If I totally immobilize a boy and something falls and hits him, it’s entirely my fault because the sub was literally incapable for protecting himself in any meaningful way. If he’s injured, I am liable.
This principle is true in all power exchange situations. If I’m doing bondage, I need to know how to recognize safe and unsafe bondage and I need to know the rules. For example, if I tie a boy’s hands behind his back and then want him to walk somewhere, I need to keep a steady grip on the boy because he can’t fully control his balance. If I am doing impact play, I need to know where not to hit the boy so that I don’t injure his joints or internal organs. If I’m doing humiliation play, I need to find out where he might be vulnerable to a misplaced dose of verbal abuse. If I’m doing findom, I need to make sure I’m not draining the boy’s ability to pay his rent. Because if the boy suffers real lasting harm from anything I do, I bear the blame because I have the responsibility coins.
Consent and risk awareness are key principles in kink. The sub should know going into a power exchange situation what the risks are. A bondage sub needs to understand that being tied up does produce risks and before he gives up his power coins to me, he should make sure I have a decent knowledge of bondage techniques. But the deeper a sub goes into his submission, the less capable he becomes of looking out for his safety, because subs, especially dog subs, feel a strong desire to pleasure their dom at the expense of their own comfort. A sub who is in subspace may not be able to sense when he’s in physical danger and a cashslave who wishes to please his cash master may not be able to think clearly about the status of his bank account. So it is always the Dom’s job to be thinking about safety issues. With power coins come responsibility coins. This is an unchangeable principle of power exchange.
Online, I see LOTS of kinksters who don’t want to acknowledge this. I see lots of people posting irresponsible kink porn on BDSMLR, porn in which the dom is obviously doing irresponsible things in terms of bondage and play. I see lots of Insta-Doms demanding money from finsubs without taking any responsibility for the consequences of that drain. These guys are all making the same mistake Trump is, thinking they can have the power and pleasure of dominance without the responsibility and burdens of it. That’s not being dominant. That’s just being an immature asshole. That’s just being a D-list Donald Trump.
4 thoughts on “Power Coins”
So true. Great analogy using the coins.
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Thanks! It’s very much how I think of the issue—if addresses both the degree of control and the inseparability of responsibility from control
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