Reaction/Control, Service/Obedience

Or, let’s talk about different styles of topping and dominating. Broadly speaking I think of reaction vs control as styles of topping  and service vs obedience as styles of dominating, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be obedience based play or reaction based dominance.

Personally, I’m a reaction top. When I’m playing with someone, what makes it satisfying for me is hearing them moan or curse or fight to keep quiet (as long as they’re not too good at it), watching them struggle against their bonds or brace themselves and take it. I want to know they’re right there with me. While there’s something uniquely satisfying about biting someone really hard, in general if my bottom has a lower pain tolerance all that means is I have to do less work to get the reactions I want. I’m also less interested in using any particular implement than I am in getting a reaction. If my bottom loves canes (or love to hate canes), I’ll use those. If sting just makes them angry I’ll use thuddy toys instead.

Other people, at least from what I’ve heard on sites like Fetlife, are more interested in having control. For them a scene (as I understand it, please correct me in the comments if I’m out to lunch here), is more about getting to do exactly what they want and feeling completely in control than about messing around until they get a reaction. I think bondage would be especially satisfying for a control top because of the power it gives them to limit or remove their bottom’s ability to move. I’m also suspicious control tops are just more organized than I am – I’ve heard of people planning scenes out in great detail where I show up with some toys and wing it.

As much as I may be making it sound like control and reaction are opposite ends on a spectrum, there’s no small amount of overlap between them. Part of the fun of getting a reaction is that it makes me feel powerful and in control. I imagine control tops also enjoy getting just the reaction they wanted, they might enjoy being able to play their bottom like an instrument.

With dominance I believe there is a similar spectrum from service to obedience. Service (particular the spooky mindreading sort of anticipatory service my boyfriend is so good at) makes me feel loved, for other people that kind of service is just irritating. Giving orders doesn’t feel natural to me at all and I avoid doing it if I possibly can. Other people love knowing that their sub will drop what they’re doing and obey as soon as they’re given an order.

There’s overlap there too, of course. Just because I don’t usually like giving orders doesn’t mean I never want my bottom/sub to just do what he’s told. Even the most obedience-oriented dom may want their sub to carry out standing orders without being told or to take initiative when the dom is particularly busy.

This may sound like a lot of philosophical noodling, but imagine how a scene would go with a sub who wants to feel controlled and a top who wants to try some stuff and see what gets a good reaction. Nobody’s going to have any fun and they’re probably end the scene thinking the other one has no idea what they’re doing and is probably a jerk to boot. If you’re looking for a d/s relationship, it can be even worse. So many of those ‘well if you were a real dom/sub you would have _____” conversations could be avoided if people had a better handle on just how many wildly different things “dominant” or “submissive” can mean. I’m not always fantastic at this myself, but I think it’s worth asking ourselves if someone just has a different style before writing them off as not actually a dom/sub.

Readers, where do you fall on the reaction/control and service/obedience spectrums? Did I miss your style of dominance?

19 thoughts on “Reaction/Control, Service/Obedience

  1. This is awesomeness. Makes me hope we’ll meet some day so you can psychoanalyse my kink.

    It is not possible to tell you what kind of dom I am, because I’m not. But I think I’m a reactive sub, if there’s such a thing. It is not sensation or control that I react to directly. It’s the dom’s pleasure and satisfaction. The smiles, the laughs, the appreciative comments – and also the derisive ones, and the totally unnecessary cruel embellishments. It doesn’t just make me happy, that’s where I get my zings too. So if the dom is poker-faced, then all I’ve got is my imagination and faith that surely he isn’t doing this just to humour me, and things are not as much fun.

    I have also noticed, weirdly, that I don’t seem to light up at praise the way I’m clearly expected to. I want approval, God I want it, but for some reason I don’t really believe “well done”. And “beautiful” is not all that much better. My happy trigger is a totally subjective compliment like “Aha, I want to see if I can get that sound from you again.” I think this has something to do with me not being service-oriented, but I don’t know enough to be sure. Curious what you think.

    • Well let me know if you ever happen to travel to Victoria, BC 🙂

      It is not sensation or control that I react to directly. It’s the dom’s pleasure and satisfaction

      I was about to say “wait, isn’t that what all subs like?” and then I remembered the guys who get a humiliated thrill out of being completely ignored while they do things like perform oral on their mistresses.

      So if the dom is poker-faced, then all I’ve got is my imagination and faith that surely he isn’t doing this just to humour me, and things are not as much fun.

      I feel the same way. I want my partner to react, not to let me stand there wondering if he’s just humoring me and can’t wait for the scene to be over. If I can’t have that feeling of connection, I just don’t want to play.

      My happy trigger is a totally subjective compliment like “Aha, I want to see if I can get that sound from you again.” I think this has something to do with me not being service-oriented, but I don’t know enough to be sure. Curious what you think.

      Ooh, that’s really interesting. My guess is that there’s no reason to make an off the cuff comment like “I want to see if I can get that sound from you again” unless your top really did like that sound, so it’s easier to believe than something like “well done.” Maybe it would be easier to believe that “well done” if you later heard “do it just the way you did last time”?

      • Actually, all kinds of subjective praise (“I like that”) work better for me than objective praise (“You did well”). I don’t always react with physical arousal, but at least there is an emotional hit. At first I thought it was just about believability, as you suggest. But now I think it’s also because as a highly dependent control-oriented sub, I have very little interest in doing a good job. I almost don’t believe it can be done well in any objective sense, because I don’t feel like I am working, just reacting.

        I know it’s an illusion (we’ve talked about this), because I am actually straining every nerve to please the dom, and I’m sure that’s what I’m being praised for. But I do get the impression that service-oriented subs don’t have these illusions – they have a much more straightforward sense of responsibility about getting a task right. Objectively right.

        I’ve written more about my [cough] happy triggers in this comment thread.

        Victoria, BC will be in my future! 🙂

  2. “imagine how a scene would go with a sub who wants to feel controlled and a top who wants to try some stuff and see what gets a good reaction”

    I’ve done that scene! Couple it with one of us wanting a sexual scene and the other wanting to be hurt and controlled to fuel a wank later on and you have a very fine recipe for both people being turned on but also annoyed and exasperated and not sure why.

    “You don’t seem to want to control me!”

    “I want to control you but nothing seems to work!”

  3. Very intuitive! What you have explained is something that I see very often. Doms and subs critiquing each others dominance or “submissivness” without considering that perhaps that persons kinkiness is just a different type than you should be looking for. These four “personality types”, if you will, seem pretty basic to me, though. I am sure that there are a lot of different branches that can come off of these that would better specify the types.
    –Miss Ari ^_^

    • These four “personality types”, if you will, seem pretty basic to me, though. I am sure that there are a lot of different branches that can come off of these that would better specify the types.

      Oh absolutely. I just had my mind blown by the idea of control oriented submissives, so I wanted to start fairly simple. Now that you mention it, I could probably get a bunch more posts out of all those finer branches 🙂

  4. Loved this! I’m a bit surprised fewer people commented. Reactions are a big thing for me too, and they’re probably the main reason I like to top. But now idk if I feel a bit guilty because I realized that I’ll purposely say some things or act certain ways when I bottom for the reaction I get from my top. o.o”

    • For me, one of the most interesting things about blogging is seeing what people respond to. I’ve dashed off sort of throwaway posts because I needed to get something out before my self-imposed deadline that really resonated with people, and I’ve written posts that were deeply personally important that hardly anyone commented on. People can be so interesting!

      But now idk if I feel a bit guilty because I realized that I’ll purposely say some things or act certain ways when I bottom for the reaction I get from my top. o.o

      I’ve actually told play partners that I can be steered. If my play partner makes a really great noise when I do something, I’m damned well going to keep doing that 🙂 You raise a really interesting question though: where is the line between tempting someone in certain directions and manipulating them? I don’t particularly want to be manipulated, but I’m fine with someone steering me toward things we’ll both enjoy.

  5. Dropping by from Perverse Cowgirl’s blog to re-iterate how glad I am that someone’s laying out some things I’ve been pondering lately. I’m definitely a reaction top. I have no interest in doing [thing] unless it’s going to make my bottom good-miserable. Though I wouldn’t say I’m implement agnostic. There are definitely implements I prefer using. And I definitely plan scenes out in my head–I just imagine the reactions I hope to get and let that guide my plan. (Granted, if things don’t work out that way in reality, I’m fine with changing my script.)

    And I think I’m a control-based dominant and a control-based submissive. As a sub, I’m more interested in feeling the “weight” of control pushing down on me than I am in obeying, necessarily. I mean, I want to obey, of course, because I’m not an ass and if I love and respect the person giving me orders, I don’t want to metaphorically spit in their face. But it’s still a weird paradox, because if I obey all the time, the control doesn’t feel as omnipresent and strong. But, on the other hand, if I never obey, well, the weight loses its power, so to speak. I’m still not sure how to explain this.

    At any rate, especially on Fetlife, it seems like a LOT of female dommes are more interested in service-based dynamics and, yeah, a lot of them are sort of one-true-way about it. (Unfortunately for these dommes–and I do feel for them–it also seems like most male subs are more interested in control-based dynamics. I wonder if there are any statistics about this…) To be honest, though, being serviced while I’m on top is sort of boring for me. When I’m on top, I want to be an instrument that plays with my bottom’s body. Then I’ll get mine when *I’m* on the bottom.

    • But it’s still a weird paradox, because if I obey all the time, the control doesn’t feel as omnipresent and strong.

      I think I’m following you – is it sort of like struggling against your restraints so you can feel how securely you’re tied down?

      Unfortunately for these dommes–and I do feel for them–it also seems like most male subs are more interested in control-based dynamics. I wonder if there are any statistics about this…

      Huh. You know, that theory does a great job of explaining why female doms seem so pissed of at male subs all the time I try not to be a complete dick about it, but I have to admit I’m one of those people who thinks there are service subs and subs who aren’t good for much 🙂 The funny thing is I don’t even need a service sub – my boyfriend has the whole service thing covered. I just want someone who gives a shit about what I want.

      To be honest, though, being serviced while I’m on top is sort of boring for me. When I’m on top, I want to be an instrument that plays with my bottom’s body. Then I’ll get mine when *I’m* on the bottom.

      I like being serviced at least occasionally, but I think I know what you mean. Lying there while someone does things for me is nice for a little while, but if that was all I did I’d be bored to tears. Making someone react is a lot more interesting, and giving someone a good beating satisfies me in a way no foot rub can replicate.

  6. For me it’s about control, but I love to get reactions to. Reactions are an extension of control, in that I am making the sub react. With I sub I know well, I can choose whether to elicit a moan, or gasp, or pleading, and each one reinforces that everything they feel, experience, want, is under my control.

    • With I sub I know well, I can choose whether to elicit a moan, or gasp, or pleading, and each one reinforces that everything they feel, experience, want, is under my control.

      Everything about that sounds like fun 🙂

  7. they might enjoy being able to play their bottom like an instrument.

    This would be Jalan. She’s a sadist, but usually prefers happy masochists for that play. I am not a masochist, but she does use pain as part of her repertoire to get the reactions she wants from me. It’s a different set of reactions than with a masochist.

    It’s the control.

    And obedience more than service, but at heart it’s still the control.

    • I’m glad I’m not totally out to lunch with my guesses about what control oriented tops would enjoy 🙂 It’s always interesting to hear how sadists and non-masochists play together – I could enjoy playing with a non-masochist who on some level enjoyed suffering to amuse me, but I’d have to really trust that he was getting something out of it.

  8. This is extremely interesting, but I’m going to have to figure out exactly where I fall on the spectrum, both as a domme and a bottom/sub. I have absolutely seen that conflict between different expectations, and this is a really useful way to parse that out. Hmm!

    • Glad I could help 🙂 The more I think about the reaction/control axis, the less sure I am exactly where I fall on it. I mean, I love the sounds people make when I hurt them, but I don’t know how much of it is “I love it when you make that sound” and how much of it is “I love that I can make you make that sound.”

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