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Power exchange levels is a term for the system that links the emotional involvement and depth of feeling experienced by a BDSM couple with the degree of power exchanged between them.
There are five recognized power exchange levels: conditional compliance, restricted ongoing acquiescence, provisional submission, the covenant of dominance and submission, and absolute ownership.
Both dominant and submissive partners must negotiate each consecutive power exchange level for mutual satisfaction and comfort.
The first level, conditional compliance, is the most limited power exchange level. This level might occur during a single scene or brief period of BDSM play, such as an overnight or a weekend session. The only activities that occur during this level are the ones negotiated between the individuals involved.
The second level, restricted ongoing acquiescence, denotes casual BDSM play without serious emotional attachment over an extended time period. However, as this level is carried out over more than one occurrence, the relationship between the submissive and dominant is deeper and the submissive is more vulnerable than they are at level one.
In the third power exchange level, provisional submission, the submissive gives up greater control to their dominant partner. The activities practiced in BDSM scenes during this level may become increasingly kinky.
The fourth and fifth power exchange levels involve a more serious emotional commitment. The fourth level is the covenant of dominance and submission. This is a deeply committed relationship where the dominant and submissive work symbiotically to achieve collective sexual and emotional pleasure. This is the power exchange level that long-term, committed BDSM couples operate at. The fifth level, absolute ownership, occurs when an emotionally-connected master takes complete control of a similarly emotionally-invested submissive. Absolute ownership is not believed to be a realistic or feasible power exchange level for many BDSM couples.
Of course, power exchange levels are not set in stone. For example, a couple may find their level one relationship has some elements of power exchange level two. Furthermore, BDSM relationships always involve a consensual exchange of power. Even though a submissive will typically gradually surrender more and more control as the relationship progresses, this control must always be surrendered willingly. An understanding of the successive BDSM power exchange levels helps both dominant and submissive individuals negotiate their relationship more effectively.