Master or Dom? / slave or sub?
Labels... we use them... we abuse them. Disclaimer: this is only one person's opinion. You may find it helpful... if not, you may ignore it... your choice.
Probably the most difficult thing to explain (and some would say impossible) is the difference between the labels we use to define us. The most common argument occurs with the labels Dominant, Master, slave and submissive. This page will include opinions... some mine, some borrowed from other sources. I will attempt to credit those sources where I am able. If you visit this webpage and see something that was originally yours, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will either credit you or remove it, as you wish.
"To be thrilled at the touch of leather, aroused by the sound of harsh words, or satisfied by the security of rigid bondage is the mark of a lover. To be thrilled at the opportunity to provide useful service, aroused by a pleased nod, and satisfied by the proverbial job well done is the mark of a slave."
The Marketplace, Chapter 7, by Laura Antoniou writing as Sara Adamson
Well, that's not very sensual or erotic, is it? But it is a good definition of the term "slave", and one that is used in our lifestyle quite often to describe a voluntary submission of one's will completely to another. In truth, very few "slaves" would apply this definition to themselves, if they are honest with themselves about what they require to be fulfilled in the role. Most of us (at least part of the time), want the thrill of leather, the arousal and satisfaction provided by the role, and would be less than satisfied with simply service. So, we modify the definition a bit.
Another common distinction between "slave" and "submissive" is that a slave submits only once, and that given her submission to her Master, she no longer negotiates anything with him. A "sub", by contrast, negotiates each scene, or changes in the limits of the relationship as time goes on.
A popular debate takes place over the difference between a submissive and a bottom (meaning the noun). I think this one is solved fairly easily. A submissive is a bottom who submits to the will of the Dominant in a scene, within the pre-negotiated limits they agree upon. She does not direct the scene in any way and it is his choice which of those negotiated items he will incorporate into any particular scene. By contrast, a bottom often negotiates precisely what will happen in a particular scene, down to how many strokes with a particular toy. She does not submit her will to that of the Dominant or Top, and there is no exchange of power... simply a planned scene. The verb form, to "bottom" can apply to either a bottom or a submissive, describing the activity of being the recipient of the Dominant's actions.
I often tell those I mentor that you can picture it on a scale of 1 to 5.. with the submissive being 1 ("whatever pleases you, Sir") and the bottom being 5 ("This is the way we are going to do the scene"). We fall all along the scale, rather than at one end or the other. This is what makes labeling impossible. There is no right or wrong way to bottom... everyone should find the place that gives them the most satisfaction.
A similar scale exists for "Dominants" and "Tops". The Top in a scene is the person giving the sensation or pain. Picture the scale with the "Service Top" at 1 ("My pleasure comes from giving the bottom exactly what she wants to be completely satisfied") and the Dominant at 5 ("Now that we have negotiated what is allowable, I will choose what pleases me"). Again, we fall all along the scale... there is no right or wrong way to top someone. I believe that most 5's on the scale are hard-core sadists who derive their primary pleasure from the infliction of pain, and playing with one of these sadists can be a heady experience... they *enjoy* it so much!
Now we come to the most difficult: Master and Dominant. Obviously all Masters are Dominants, but certainly all Doms are not Masters! At least not in the generally accepted use of the term, which is someone who owns a slave and controls her life completely. In some communities, the term "Master" is reserved for highly qualified Dominants who have proven themselves to be of excellent character and skill. The community itself reserves the right to bestow this title and does so sparingly. For others, it is simply a condition of the mind... the thought processes that a Dominant entertains as he tops... and some believe that the "Master" truly feels the ownership and responsibility of the slave under his control in ways the Dominant does not. I tend to believe in "slave" wiring and "Master" wiring myself, and don't consider them better, just very different.
The most important point I hope to make with all this is that we should avoid using labels to rate someone's skill or dedication to our lifestyle. Labels are beneficial in helping others understand us... but statements like "oh.. she's just a bottom" or "he's only a Service Top" do an injustice to us all. Whether someone likes a lot of pain or none at all; total surrender or neatly negotiated play; absolute control or a part time play experience... we all have a right to pursue our fantasies and desires, and deserve better than to be labeled by the very people who should understand the most clearly how diversified we all are.
Let's be kind to each other... we deserve it!
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