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Switch

Updated: SEPTEMBER 28, 2021
Reviewed by Dr. Laura McGuire
on September 14, 2021

Editor's note: This definition explores "switch" in the context of BDSM - the term is also used in the LGBTQ+ community for a person who both tops and bottoms.

A switch is a person involved in BDSM play who may play either a Dominant or submissive, rather than committing to a single role. A switch can lead a submissive partner through a BDSM scene or take a more submissive role and receive pleasure, pain or both from a Dominant partner.

If playing with another switch, they may take on both these roles at different points within a scene. A switch may like being Dominant or submissive equally or have some preference for one of these roles. However, they should always feel comfortable being Dominant and submissive.

A switch differs from a traditional Dominant or submissive, who maintains their role through different scenes or as a lifestyle choice. Switches may switch roles because they feel more Dominant or more submissive at various times. They may simply want to experience a wider range of sensations and activities. Their sexual partner may also influence the role they take. A switch’s versatile nature makes sure they can always meet their partner’s needs, no matter what their partner’s BDSM orientation is. Switches can have sexual interactions or relationships with dominants, submissives and other switches. Switches can also adapt their approach to make a scene successful.

While switches can satisfy all kinds of sexual partners, they are also turned on by both BDSM roles. Switches enjoy taking control sexually, perhaps by tying their partner up or assuming a more dominant sexual position. However, they may also love feeling vulnerable and having a partner taking the lead, spanking them, tying them up or ordering them around.

As with all BDSM activity, what a switch does during scenes is just one part of their identity. Switches may also switch roles in other parts of their life. For example, they may enjoy being Dominant and consensually bossing a submissive around, but be just as willing to receive orders.

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More About Switch

Being a switch can be incredibly fulfilling. Switches insist that changing roles ensures they rarely get bored with sex. Playing Dominant and submissive roles also lets them experience a broader range of sensations with their partners. [Comparisons can be drawn between this and the LGBTQ+ definition, where a person doesn't limit themself to one role or position in a relationship.]

Switches can also be very empathetic lovers. Their experiences as both dominant and submissive can teach them what works and what doesn’t in these roles. They can apply this knowledge to the next time they switch so both they and their partners have more fulfilling sex.

Being a switch can also be incredibly liberating because switches play the role they want to play in sex, not the one they think they should play. They can be more instinctual and creative lovers because they are not restricted to one role.

Despite all the perks, switches can face criticism from some people in the BDSM community who accuse them of being unable to make up their minds. On the contrary, most switches have been on the BDSM scene for a long time. The experience they have playing both roles helps them understand how fulfilling being a switch can be.

Communication is important for switches, both when they’re trying to identify themselves and when they’re navigating new relationships. Talking openly with a partner about sexual preferences can help one determine whether they’re a switch, dominant or submissive. Ongoing conversations can then help get the most from sexual interactions, no matter what role is taken. A switch may find their partner prefers the switch take only one role in the relationship or that they are open to changing the power dynamic at times.

As with all BDSM activity, consent for switches is key. Switches should discuss their sexual preferences with each new partner. They should check whether their partners want them to take a particular role or are open to shifting the power dynamics. Switches must also make sure that when they’re taking the Dominant role, they operate within their partner’s limits, heed any safe word or actions, and provide proper aftercare. They should also obtain consent whenever they change the power dynamic to make sure their partner agrees to the change.

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