In the kink scene (particularly online) it’s not unusual to hear that so-and-so isn’t dominant, they’re just domineering. But what does that really mean?
According to dictionary.reference.com, domineering means:
inclined to rule arbitrarily or despotically; overbearing; tyrannical: domineering parents.
and dominant means:
ruling, governing, or controlling; having or exerting authority or influence: dominant in the chain
While dictionary.com isn’t talking about dominance in the kinky sense, there is still something there to work with. Domineering and dominant both involve ruling, but being domineering also involves a lack of interest in the well being of whoever you might be in charge of. Or to put it another way, you might be domineering if it has never occurred to you that submissive people submit because it turns them on, not because it turns you on, as an awesome commentor on xojane put it.
Dominance in the kinky sense is supposed to be a symbiotic exchange. It may not always be obvious what everyone is getting out of it, and it may not always be pretty or comfortable, but everyone involved should be getting their needs met. It makes me sad that I have to spell that out, but I’ve seen far too many questions in groups like Novices & Newbies to assume that everyone understands that the dominant is supposed to care about their submissive, and that you should feel good after a scene. If your dom acts like you aren’t supposed to have any needs of your own, that asking for your needs to be met is completely unreasonable of you, then you’ve probably found someone who is just domineering, not dominant.
While some people are blatantly domineering jerks who shouldn’t be in charge of a goldfish, there’s enough grey area between dominant and domineering for the distinction to be pretty confusing. I’ve certainly seen plenty of personal ads from men who insist that they really do want a woman to use them however she likes without worrying about what they get out of it. Even though I’m pretty sure most of these men are lying to themselves or are unclear on the difference between fantasy and reality, there could well be a few of them who just want someone who will let them serve without getting uncomfortable with it and insisting on doing things for them. The perfect dom for one of them might be someone else’s lazy jerk. If someone’s style of dominance isn’t right for you, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad dom.
The most important judge of whether someone is dominant or just domineering is the submissive who’s dealing with them, whether that’s an email flirtation or an established in-person relationship. If you feel used, does it really matter if I think your dom isn’t so bad? If you’re happy, does it really matter if I can’t fucking stand your dom?
And for the doms out there, while it’s not the end of the world if one person calls you domineering, I think it’s a good idea to keep this saying in mind:
The first time someone calls you a horse you punch him on the nose, the second time someone calls you a horse you call him a jerk but the third time someone calls you a horse, well then perhaps it’s time to go shopping for a saddle.