When I started my kink journey, I remember encountering the idea that the sub has all the power. In fact, I might even have run into this idea before I recognized myself as kinky. It’s certainly a very common idea (I’ve heard it expressed even by non-kinky friends). But I want to challenge it, because I think it misses something very important about submission.
The essence of ‘the Sub has All the Power’ is that although on the surface (what I call the Outer Layer) the sub appears to be powerless, in actuality, the sub is really in control of the scene because they can always invoke their safe word or otherwise indicate that they aren’t enjoying themselves and thus ask the dom to stop or redirect the course of the scene in some way. Thus while the dom seems to be in charge, it’s really the sub who decides who’s holding the reins.
This idea can be very important to novice subs (and doms), because it reassures a nervous sub that they aren’t really as vulnerable as it looks from the outside. This idea can be especially significant to subs who have a history of sexual trauma or other abuse, because it means that if the scene gets into emotionally dangerous territory for them, they can indicate their discomfort and have it respected. Given that abuse victims were generally powerless to stop their abuse, the idea they can stop their ‘fun abuse’ if it stops being fun can be very healing because it allows them to recover their lost power.
I absolutely don’t want to challenge that facet of TSHATP. If this way of thinking about kink helps you in your kink journey, by all means use it. But I’d like to suggest that the idea is actually rather misleading and isn’t as helpful as it seems, apart from its value for total novices and trauma victims.
TSHATP is about protecting the sub, but in doing so, it can easily get the sub moving in the wrong direction conceptually. In discussing this idea with boys, I’ve heard many say some version of “but I don’t want to have all the power!” And that’s the problem. While subs vary in the degree of power they want to surrender, none of them want all the power and the more extreme subs don’t want any power. The desire to give up power is literally what makes a sub a sub, so TSHATP frames submission in a way that badly misses the mark for many. Being safe is not the same thing as having all the power.
Additionally, TSHATP also misframes things for the dom. Because unlike my subs, I do want all the power. TSHATP essentially says that under all their leather and muscles and boots, doms are actually just service tops, performing a role under the deep direction of the sub. While I’m not adverse to being a service top occasionally, especially for a boy who needs a chance to explore what kink can be for him, I don’t want to be a service top generally. I want to have the power. All of it. Like a tyrant, when I’m in that mood. If you really embrace TSHATP, as I did at first, it makes the dominant desire for very sharp power exchange and inequality a problem, because the dom wants something he’s not supposed to have.
My journey has involved gradually accepting that I really want a LOT of power and that I need boys who want to give me that power in a real serious way and that there was nothing wrong with wanting that kind of dynamic. TSHATP held me back from realizing that if I want that much power, I have to take charge that much, because there’s no power without responsibility.
So instead of using TSHATP as a frame, let me suggest another way to think about it. In a scene, the sub doesn’t have all the power, or even most of it. They have as little as they want to have, and often that means none at all. Instead of having power, the sub has the veto. Nothing happens that the sub isn’t willing to experience because they can also veto something during negotiation, and they can always invoke their safe word. Framing it as a veto rather than power is, I think, very helpful for subs who truly want a very high degree of power exchange and inequality but may still occasionally need to use their safe word or at least have it as an option during play.
2 thoughts on ““The Sub Has All The Power””
Hallelujah. i love Your writing, Sir. This is really important otherwise power exchange play is just dress ups and no fun. You have taught me so much. Thank You.
You’re welcome, boy. I’m glad you learned something.