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Power exchange (BDSM)

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On a psychological level, much BDSM play involves power and dominance, in particular power exchange, with one person willingly handing over personal autonomy. This can range from addressing another person as "Master" or "Mistress" for a ten-minute scene, to a witnessed, formal collaring with a lifelong agreement which micro-manages the submissive's life.

In safe, sane and consensual BDSM, power exchange is always negotiated. Before play, the participants discuss their physical and psychological limitations, establish safewords and work out what will happen.

A submissive person enjoys being controlled by a dominant. Reasons for this include relief from responsibility, being the object of attention and affection, gaining a sense of security, showing off endurance or working through issues of shame.

A dominant person enjoys being in control of a submissive person. Reasons for this include demonstrating skill and power, having ownership of another person, being the object of affection and devotion. This may be the fashion in which the dominant feels most comfortable expressing and/or receiving affection.

How dominant or submissive a person may be in their regular life does not determine their preferred role in BDSM play.

In most power exchange, there are limitations on the power the dominant has over the submissive, such as safewords, time limits and explicitly negotiated understandings of what is allowed. Total power exchange is power exchange without such limitations. A vocal minority of BDSM player argues that TPE is "real" BDSM.

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