The Real Difference - BASIC with no assumptions

A D/s relationship is one that consists of a Dominant partner (one who assumes control), and a submissive partner (one who submits control); it is a relationship which consists of some degree of power exchange.


A Master/slave relationship (M/s) is a specific type of D/s relationship, traditionally used to specify a commitment where the power exchange is non-negotiable once entered.

For those who practice, this relationship is taken very seriously, and the Master must assume a tremendous amount of responsibility (yes - insert your Spiderman reference here).   

Traditionally, there are lots of protocols, and this is where you will find people mentioning concepts like "slave contracts"

This is where ties to the community are especially important because  once a slave enters into a M/s relationship, she(or he) traditionally does not have the authority to back out. 


Important to note that within any D/s relationship, the Dominant partner can be referred to as "Master" and the submissive partner as "slave", but does not mean they are in a traditional M/s relationship.


Here's where it gets tricky:  it is common practice within BDSM, to use Dominant and submissive as nouns (Dom and sub for short).  This can get confusing, especially if it is only being compared to a specific M/s relationship.   So, while an M/s relationship - when taken in its traditional meaning - is a very well-defined specific type of D/s relationship, one cannot assume that every other type of D/s relationship falls into one category with a clear definition.


When defining a any type of D/s or power exchange relationship on an individual level, it comes down to how much, how often, and for how long the power is being exchanged:

  1. How much power is being exchanged (does one partner have all the power, control, and authority?  If not, what decisions does the submissive partner have the authority to make?)?
  2. How often is power being exchanged (is it 24/7? Is it just during pre-negotiated scenes?)?
  3. How long is the power being exchanged (is this a lifetime commitment, or are you 'dating', or do you come together every so often when it suits you)?

The varying degrees to which these three questions can be answered does not categorize a relationship as being M/s or any other non-specified D/s relationship.


Generally speaking, those who have identified themselves as a Master or slave, rather than a Dom or sub, they are often identifying with a specific type of relationship which has a very social aspect to it.  A Dom or sub may or may not be as heavily involved in "the scene", but it is quite possible they identify with "the lifestyle", and it is certainly possible that they are looking for a long-term commitment. 


A final note: how people identify themselves, and how they refer to their partner are mutually exclusive, so when you are trying to sort through the terminology, keep in mind that someone who refers to their Dominant partner as "Master" in a story, it is important not to assume they are in a M/s relationship. 

And please, please, do not think for one second that you need to be a slave to have a long-term committed relationship with a Dominant partner: if slave doesn't feel right to you, it is not for you, but you can still find a loving Dominant who will receive a lifetime of your submission.

ladyfound ladyfound
26-30, F
4 Responses Nov 26, 2012

Thank you....thank you...thank you for clarifying this for me xxx

I am in a Dominant & submissive relationship but I refer to my Dom as Master/Sir in my stories and face to face. I have had so much backlash for incorrectly using these titles..

I'm new to this scene so was never 100% sure of the terminology or definitions. I just naturally felt that Master/Sir was more respectful a title than

This is very well put. In all of this, there must be communication.

I am posting a new response because some of this was not up or was revised after my last response.

BDSM has a broad set of general rules. Very broad. Some are specific and some are pretty general. BDSM also comes with a lot of different titles or descriptors for who people are within the lifestyle. As a general rule someone can call themselves what ever they want in the lifestyle.. Master, Dom, Domme, Switch, sub, slave.. etc. Within stricter BDSM communities you can't call yourself a Master without a peer group accepting you as such. And that can't happen until you they find you worthy of that title. You may even have to sub or bottom at sometime during your training to be a Master. Yet there are some social sites where you can just call yourself Master if you want to regardless of training or how long you've been in the lifestyle.

None of that is bad. Its just how different people see things. The problem I see is someone using a title as an excuse for something. For instance.. "I'm a Dom/Master I can do what ever I like to you". In fact that is not the case. It still takes a consenting party for that Dom/Master to have any real power at all. The submissive party always has a choice. Even the most committed of slaves has a choice. Contract or not.

That is why learning about something before you jump into it is so important. A bad Dom is not going to have a sub long if he doesn't know how to keep them. That takes learning what motivates them and keeping them safe.

Thank you, very well put. And I completely agree about learning before jumping in. I can remember when I first started my journey - coming across all sorts of people: it was a while before I found Doms who were dominant enough without adhering to the "old school" set of rules. The old school stuff, or the stricter community as you are referring to it, didn't appeal to me, and I was stubborn enough to keep looking. It's tough to stick up for oneself while on a submissive journey, though, and I feel some deep responsibility to help those new to this whole thing know that they have options. If after hearing the options (or like you say, learning before jumping), someone finds herself attracted to a stricter lifestyle, then cool beans! I would like to agree that a bad Dom is not going to have a sub long if he doesn't know how to keep them, but I just have this morbid vision in my head of a sub who has been effectively brainwashed to think that she can't leave.

I'm not really "old school" but I do have some protocols I keep. I don't ever want to be called Master. To me that word gets tossed around to much by unknowing people. I don't want a slave either. Although my subs devotion borders on slave-like tendencies I don't treat her as such. She's my sub but shes also my partner. I respect her for who she is beyond what roll she fills in my life. Which is a lot. But I have seen so called Doms and Masters who, at least in my eyes, have a no respect attitude. Fortunately most out themselves before to long as being jerks.

I just don't like to see anyone caught up in a bad situation. As you say "brainwashed". So like you I like to educate as best I can to who ever is willing to listen. And most of the time I get a good response. :)

I'm sorry you had a harsh response to something you posted. BDSM first and foremost should be about acceptance. Your kink and my kink may not be the same thing and that should be ok. BDSM a friend once told me is about many flavors. Not everyone is going to select all of them. You can pick and choose what suits you best and go with it. Someone else picking out a different flavor shouldn't make any difference to you. In fact you should be happy that everyone gets what they want and need.

At least that is the way it should be. :)

Thank you :) It is all well and good to make clear how a specific type of relationship works, but to then categorize everything else as "temporary" - oooh!! it is just so arrogant.

Sometimes I think Doms/Masters have temporary relationships because they aren't motivated enough to keep any one person happy. They run out of tricks so they have to move onto someone new rather then learning something new about the partner they already have.