I get a lot of questions about dominance and submission play in the bedroom. Mostly everyone wants to know if it’s okay, and if they’re the only one doing it. I have a couple of posts on bondage (here, here and here), and we’ve talked about submission in terms of marriage structure, but I don’t think I’ve tackled the idea of power exchange games in the bedroom before.
And last month, I got a question from our anonymous Have A Question page on the topic. Rather than tackle it with the other anonymous questions for the month (soon to be posted), I thought I’d write it’s own post for it, because this is another question that comes up a lot, and I think people want to know more about it.
Here’s the question:
This is pretty embarrassing to ask.. But I enjoy calling my husband “Sir” in bed, as we enjoy our submissive/dominant roles in marriage to be played out in sex as well. He felt weird about it at first, but now loves it. I read your post a while ago where you mentioned that humiliation isn’t good for your partner in the long term. Would you consider this to be humiliation? What about the trend to call men “daddy” in bed?
This question was pretty interesting to watch in our supporters forum. A few guys responded first saying they didn’t get the whole “daddy” thing. Then my wife jumped in and said playing with dominance can be pretty arousing, and then a bunch of other wives jumped in chiming in their agreement.
And I find this happens a fair bit. Everyone is silent until someone speaks up, and then a bunch of people jump in to say “oh, we do that too”. Often people don’t even have a name for what they’re doing. In fact, a known acronym in some circles is TTWD (That Thing We Do) which usually refers just to spanking and similar activities, but is sometimes abstrated to include any activities that fall within the BDSM umbrella. It regularly happens that people will email me saying “hey, we do this thing, are we the only ones?” and they’ll describe it, and I’ll tell them the name of it. It’s handy to have a name, because for one, it’s usually a lot shorter than “that thing we do” and less vague, and it helps them know they’re not alone.
In this case, the wife is describing a power exchange game, and even explains that, for her, this is an extension of their complementarian marriage, but the truth is that this is often a turnon for those in egalitarian marriages too.
If you’re complementarian, then you might find it arousing to extend, or go even more strongly into those roles in the bedroom. If you’re egalitarian, you might find it arousing to play with roles you typically don’t exercise. So, I don’t want this to turn into an egalitarian vs. complementarian argument, but I do lean towards a hierarchical structure, though I’d argue I don’t resemble what egalitarians call complementarian at all, so it’s hard to give a name to my stance. Personally, I’m starting to think both complementarians and egalitarians are each on opposite, but equally wrong, radical sides.
Instead, I hope we can talk about power exchange play, aka Dominance and submission play, aka D/s play. That is, you’re doing it for fun, for the purposes of arousal. But in order to do that, we might have to delve a bit into marriage dynamics. But, I hope the comments will focus on the play aspect.
What is Power Exchange play?
Playing with Dominance/submission is a type of power exchange play. That is, one person is giving up power and the other is taking it. Our lives are full of power exchange dynamics. Children and parents have a power exchange dynamic with the parent having control over the children. Employers and employees and a power exchange dynamic. So do government officials and the population, police and citizens, officers and enlisted. These are all voluntary, consensual exchanges of power that everyone is (more or less) okay with.
What sometimes upsets people is when you move that into marriage, and sometimes even more so into the bedroom.
Because even though it’s still a consensual voluntary exchange of power between two adults, it’s now about sex. That makes a lot of people nervous. While it’s good that our society is moving to be more cognizant about improper uses of power, we unfortunately sometimes swing too far and look at any type of power exchange as bad, even when it’s for our benefit, and when we enjoy it.
This also has the interesting effect of making power exchange a taboo thing. The whole equality/feminist movement has created this dynamic where you’re not allowed to want to be submissive as a woman. Housewives are now often looked down on for choosing to stay home. People who choose, whether due to belief or just personal preference, to live in a complementarian marriage are demonized and told they are being abusive, or being abused.
In fact, I’ve had to prune my follow lists on social media because the war between egalitarianism and complementarianism is so toxic from both sides that neither side is reflecting Christ. Especially the Christians.
But the point is, this has created a culture where power exchange has the potential to be considered really taboo. It’s going against the grain, against what most of society (both Christian and secular, because it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference in these arguments) tells us is right. And a lot of people find that that really arousing.
Is Submission Humiliation?
Here’s where I think people get hung up. Because of the feminist movement, particularly the later stages, there is this growing push for women to be completely independent, not beholden, submitting or under anyone or anything.
And if that’s the case, then yeah, I can see why they would think submission would equal humiliation. I would imagine some of those in egalitarian marriages would feel the same way, particularly those who claim having dominance over something is abusing it.
But in a complementarian view, submission isn’t humiliating at all. It’s a willing submission for your own benefit. If anything, it’s really a position of power. It first requires that you understand that your will is yours to do with as you like, and you have the right to give control over it, if you desire.
I see this in our relationship with God. We don’t submit because we have no choice. At least, I don’t believe we do. I understand that some Christians believe otherwise, and I’m not looking for an argument about predestination vs freewill here. For the context of this post though, I believe that choice to submit, is a gift of freewill from God that allows for our submission to Him. In fact, it’s about the only thing we can do that can be seen as remotely good – respond to the call from God to submit. That choice, and that choice alone is what we claim to have done, it’s what makes us Christians. After that, it’s simply a choice to continue to submit. To do as our Master wishes. Why? Because it’s good for us.
Now, is that humiliating? It’s humbling, to be sure, but that’s not quite the same, though the words have the same root. Humiliation is about shame, being made to be seen as worthless, undervalued or not valued at all. But God holds us in high value. That’s why He wants our submission. If we were worthless, I’m not sure God would have a desire for us to submit.
And we know this because when we do submit, He doesn’t use us selfishly. Quite the opposite. The more we give up control, the more we submit and allow Him to work through us, the better our lives get. As we learn to trust and lean on Him, our earthly life tends to improve.
I’m not talking about prosperity gospel here, which I think has a drop of truth in an ocean of deception, but rather that allowing ourselves to be ruled, to be molded into being more Christ-like has some real benefits. We learn how to handle relationships as well as material things better. We learn better time management, and how to have healthy boundaries. And yes, these things might lead you to wealth and prosperity, but that’s not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that you will be led to a better life, which will look different for every person.
But no one who willingly submits to God and follows His guidance ever looks back and says “I wish I hadn’t done that.” A lot of people grow up into the faith, feel forced to submit to the rules and regret that forced obedience, but not if they’ve made that choice to make it their own.
Of course, God is perfect, all loving and all knowing, so our submission to Him yields nothing but goodness. Submitting to sinful, broken humans is more problematic. Yet, that doesn’t stop God from telling us to do it.
Numerous times in the Bible, we find verses telling us to submit to humans.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.Romans 13:1-2
Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:1 Peter 2:13-21
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,1 Peter 5:5-6
And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ;Ephesians 6:4-5
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise:Ephesians 6:1-2
Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.Colossians 3:22
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, by to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.Titus 3:1-2
So, God, knowing how broken and sinful we are, knowing that we are so bad that we need a Saviour because nothing else could redeem us, still choose to command us to submit to humans. Of course, it’s generally in situations where that person is supposed to care for us, be they a government official, parent, or fellow believer. Even more so when they’re your spouse.
How then can it be humiliating to willingly submit to them? Based on what I see in the Bible, choosing to submit to your husband for the purpose of sexual pleasure is in no way seen as humiliating or sinful.
But some will still feel humiliated. Some have dealt with abuses of power, or perhaps have an incorrect view of submission, one that’s focused on a more abusive model. Some may believe that humans can’t be trusted with that sort of power. And some may simply be so in love with the idea of absolute personal freedom that they may not be willing to submit to anyone or anything, be it God or human.
And I’m not saying they all need to learn to submit in the bedroom. I’m saying that we all need to learn to submit at some time or another. At the very least to God, but according to the Bible, as I read it, we need to be willing to give that submission to others as well, when appropriate, which may be all the time.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.Philippians 2:3
So, no, I don’t consider submission to be humiliation at all.
Calling your husband “Sir” in bed
Some people like to mark this power exchange by using titles, and, for me, here’s where you can get into a grey area, depending on the reason. Because titles get used in two ways:
- As a sign of respect
- As a method of humiliation / dehumanization / disassociation
The way I see if, if you want to mark that power exchange by using titles as a sign of respect, endearment, or simply to make it clear that this is a power exchange play time, and it separates it from “normal” time, I don’t think I can see a reason not to.
But, if you’re using it to make yourself an object, less human in some way, or it’s a mechanism for humiliation or disassociation (distancing the relational aspect of your interaction), then I think you need to be careful.
As well, I think it depends on people’s associations with the words. For some, using titles like “Sir”, “Lord”, “Master”, “My King” etc. as sexy and arousing. For others, they might seem blasphemous and a turnoff. Some Christians grow up believing some titles should only be used by God. Personally, I think the title “God” should only be used when referring to God, but titles like Lord aren’t exclusively linked to God. There are many times in the Bible when the title Lord is used to refer to someone else. For example, Sarai uses the title “Lord” to refer to Abram, her husband, in Genesis 18:12. It’s merely a title of respect, but because it’s archaic and not often used, it can feel special or taboo.
Lord – someone or something having power, authority, or influence; a master or ruler.Oxford Dictionary
So, I think that’s one of those “if it bothers you, don’t do it”. I mean, the idea is that this is supposed to be fun, to be a part of play. If it’s not fun, well, then it’s defeated the purpose.
What about calling your husband “daddy” in bed?
You’ll get people again answering based on how they associate that word. For some, calling your husband “daddy” is more about the position, or feeling cared for, taken care of, provided for, etc.. In that same way, we call God “Father”. He’s not our biological father. In a sense He’s our adopted father, but really, we call Him Father because of His goodness and how He cares for us.
Others can’t get over the association that “daddy” = daddy. To them, the idea that calling their husband “daddy” is disgusting and incestuous. Some hate to call God “Father” because of the association that brings due to their earthly father. There’s a book written about a man having this experience called Finding the Father and his journey to understand what sort of Father God is after growing up with a broken view of what a father should be.
I have 5 children who have called me daddy. Using the term in a sexual context I just don’t think I could make the mental shift needed.
Others have the same feeling about the term of endearment “babe”. Christina called me “babe” once just to try it out, because it’s what my brother and his wife call each other in public. They can have it. It’s not for us. I am not her baby, and I never want to be associated in that way. For both of us, it’s a complete turn off. But, I completely understand that for others, that association isn’t the same.
So, I think it’s up to you and how you process that word, what it means for you.
What if the genders are reversed?
Someone is probably going to ask this in the comments, so I guess I should get ahead of it. I honestly don’t know. I get really confused about that question, which I’m not really used to feeling.
My only real concern if the genders are reversed is that, from my experience, what happens in the bedroom tends to spill out into the rest of the marriage. Marriages are holistic, nothing is self-contained. I believe husbands should lead the marriage, and if they’re usually taking a submissive position in the bedroom, I worry about how that will affect the rest of the marriage.
But, that might just be my own personal bias based on my marriage dynamic and some couples where dynamics like that have negatively impacted their relationship. That doesn’t mean it will happen as a rule.
And there’s definitely something enticing about a woman who knows what she wants and is assertive enough to state that desire.
One of our members in our supporters forum said that instead, maybe we shouldn’t look at it as “Dominance and submission” but more “truster” and “trusted”. That it doesn’t matter which gender is doing which role because one is simply the one that is being trusted to take responsibility for truster. For some, that might not make a difference, and for others, that might be a huge perspective shift.
So, I guess the best answer I have is to make your own decisions based on your dynamic and convictions.
As for dominance and submission games in the bedroom in general – I can’t see a biblical or psychological reason not to, other than for the reasons stated above – past abuse and associations.
If you’re interested in trying it, talk to your spouse. If you’re not, then don’t worry about it. Or check Our Sexploration List to help you have a much broader conversation about what you and your spouse like and don’t like in the bedroom.