NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, March 11, 2022

Relationships: What is Power Play?

Power play refers to the BDSM practice of dominant/submissive roles (see my articles: Destigmatizing Sexual Fantasies of Power and Submission in Relationships and What Does Sex Positive Mean?).

What is Power Play?

What is Power Play?
When you engage in power play with a partner, you both agree beforehand specifically to what you want and don't want.  Some couples write up a power and submission agreement where they negotiate what they want so everything is clear and consensual (see my article: What is Sexual Consent?).

They also agree beforehand to a safe word, which is a code word that the submissive uses as a way to indicate that they want everything to stop.  If the agreed upon safe word is "red," it's understood that if the submissive says any other word, like, "Stop" or "No more," the dominant won't stop unless the submissive says "red." 

After an agreement has been reached about what they will do and what is off limits, the submissive submits to the dominant partner within the limits of what each of you have given consent to do.  This could include spanking, being tied up or whatever they have agreed to before they take on their roles.  You can be as creative and imaginative as you like as long as you're both in agreement.

Most couples only take on these roles during the power play scene they create, but there are also couples who continue in their roles throughout the relationship unless one of them wants to de-role for a particular reason or a period of time. It all depends on what you and your partner feel comfortable with in your relationship.

How to Keep Power Play Safe and Fun
  • Communicate With Your Partner: If this is the first time you're talking to your partner about wanting to engage in power play, you'll probably need to have more than one talk for both of you to be comfortable with it.  If your partner is hesitant, don't pressure them (see the next step below about taking a step back).  Along with communicating, it's very important that you're with someone you know well and trust.
  • Take a Step Back, If Necessary, and Talk About Your BDSM Fantasies: If your partner is reluctant, instead of pressuring them, you might want to talk about your sexual fantasies about BDSM without actually doing anything physical and see how your partner responds. For many couples, just talking about the fantasy of power play is enough to get them sexually aroused (see my article: Exploring and Normalizing Sexual Fantasies Without Guilt or Shame).
  • Ensure Both of You Are Comfortable and Consent to All the Activities in the Role Play: As previously mentioned, some couples make a written agreement to be specific about what is being agreed to and what is not.  Basically, these role play activities can be anything you want within the bounds of your agreement. Consent should be given without reservations. A half hearted consent where one person is going along with it to please the other partner should be considered a "no."  You can also renegotiate your agreement at any time (see my article: Sexual Wellness: What You Can Learn From Kink Culture About Consent).
  • Make Sure You're Both Safe: SSC stands for Safe, Sane and Consensual, and it means everyone involved is safe and has the mental capacity to consent to these activities. RACK, which stands for Risk Aware Consensual Kink, emphasizes individual responsibility for one's own safety. Both terms are used in the kink community to ensure that both people are safe throughout the entire power play. 
  • Check In With Each Other: Even if you have both enthusiastically consented to all the power play activities and you're set to go with whatever sex toys, vibrators, restraints and whatever else you both want to use, check in with yourself and your partner to make sure neither of you are having second thoughts.  What might have seemed like fun while you were both talking about it might not be as much fun for one or both of you in reality.  Be prepared to either scale back what you planned to do or to stop altogether.
  • Make It Fun: The roles of dominant/submissive can be intense. So, take safety and consent seriously, but also have fun with it.  Power play is meant to be pleasurable.
  • Practice After Care: After care means taking care of each other after you engage in power play. It means that after you and your partner come back from your role play, you're both back to reality.  Many couples find it helpful to practice grounding techniques to make sure you're fully in the present moment, calm and feeling safe.  It's a time for coming back to your everyday roles.  If you're not sure what your partner needs, ask them--it might be a hug or it might mean holding them or talking.  Similarly, ask your partner for what you need.  Also, remember that there can be spikes in endorphins and adrenaline during power play, which can cause a "drop" as you crash from a natural high. This drop might include (but is not limited to): 
    • irritability
    • guilt
    • sadness
    • shame
    • problems concentrating 
    • aches or pains
  • Communicate After Power Play and After Care Activities: Once you're both back to the present moment, choose a time that's good for both of you and talk about what worked and what might not have worked in your role play. This will help you to create a fun and safe time if you both decide to do role playing again.
Getting Help in Therapy
Power play can be fun and sexy, but it can also bring up unexpected feelings for some people.

A sex-positive licensed mental health professional, who is knowledgeable about power play and other kink activities, can help you to overcome difficulties that might arise either before or after role play, so don't hesitate to seek help if either of you have unanticipated emotions afterwards.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.