The 6 Red Flags to Watch Out for in Dominant Partners

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The 6 Red Flags to Watch Out for in Dominant Partners

Exploring your submissive side can be hot. Maybe you’re into the suit-wearing Christian Grey type (leather crop included), or perhaps being called a “good girl” is what turns you on.

Slutty fantasies aside, playing the sub can also be empowering: It creates space for a person to embrace their desires and communicate their needs. Not to mention, submitting to a dominant partner has the potential for some really, really great sex.


But Carolanne Marcantonio, a kink- and poly-affirmative certified sex therapist, points out that as a submissive, or “s-type,” it’s easy to mistake misogynistic behaviors as dominant ones. “Some people struggle with how to know if someone is being dominant, or is just being a jerk,” she says.


To help you safely live out your kinkiest desires, Marcantonio outlines six red flags to watch out for in potential play partners.



Red Flag 1: They’re a control freak outside of the bedroom.

No two BDSM relationships look alike. Some kinksters engage in round-the-clock power play where, depending on the agreed terms, the dominant (D) can control day-to-day decisions for the sub (s), like whether they wear panties to work, or what time they go to bed. But if you’ve communicated a desire for D/s play exclusively in the bedroom, that’s where certain behaviors should stay, Marcantonio says. If a D-type feels the need to make all the decisions, even when you’re not explicitly engaged in play, it’s more likely they won’t give you space to ask for something when you are.


As a good test in the early stages of getting to know someone, Marcantonio recommends asking to change one small detail a day or two before a meetup: Maybe you suggest meeting 15 minutes later, or at a different bar on the same street. “Seeing how they respond to you asking for something gives you a sense of how reasonable they are,” she says.



Red Flag 2: They haven’t done their homework.

You don’t necessarily need to go requesting a CV and list of references from potential partners, but Marcantonio says that it’s a good idea to see if they’ve been to BDSM workshops, or whether they have a favorite book on the subject. Having some baseline knowledge, or at least a level of curiosity, means they’re more likely to be flexible in their approach to kink. “It doesn’t need to feel like an interview, but it’s good to make sure they’re oriented towards growth,” says Marcantonio.


Attending workshops or reading books together, she adds, is a great way to build trust in a D/s relationship. Most local sex toy shops host these types of events on a regular basis and also have a good selection of educational materials.


Here are the seminars we have available at The Art of Loving.



Red Flag 3: They make you pay the bill.

If there’s no awkward check dance the first time you meet and the D-type insists that you pay, they may be testing how much they can take from you. Unless you’re into financial domination, having a conversation about splitting the bill is a sign of good communication. If they offer to pay? Marcantonio says that’s fine, too, as long as you get a say in it.



Red Flag 4: They don’t ask about your limits, and don’t have any themselves.

There’s a misconception that dominance = getting to do whatever you want, and submission = not objecting to anything, but that couldn’t be further from reality. D/s play is all about creating a safe space and having an open line of communication, and Marcantonio says it’s helpful for both sides to come armed with knowledge about what turns them on, what they want to explore, and where their limits are (emphasis on this last one). If your Dom says they’re “up for anything,” it’s probably code for “I don’t prioritize boundaries.”


While 50 Shades of Grey got a lot of things wrong, Marcantonio adds that one thing it got right was the importance of a contract. Having a mutual agreement—be it verbal or written—clearly defines where those limits are, and makes it easier to recognize if someone crosses a line.



Red Flag 5: They claim to be dominant by default.

Marcantonio says that one of the best questions you can ask a potential partner is, “What does being dominant mean to you?” There’s no obvious right answer (except the one that feels good to you), but there are a few wrong ones. If they associate dominance with manliness, run. If they say dominance means getting to do whatever they want, run even faster.



Red Flag 6: They ignore aftercare.

Aftercare is BDSM 101. Any type of play that involves pain—spanking, flogging, bondage, biting—can trigger the release of endorphins, the chemicals that help the brain cope with stress. Making time for post-sex cuddles, massages, sweet snacks, or hot showers helps your body get back to its normal state. “It’s a way of honoring what the body goes through,” says Marcantonio, adding it’s something every D-type should be enthusiastic about offering.



Written by: Nicole Schmidt on Glamour