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?