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Total Power Exchange (TPE)

Updated: MAY 10, 2023
Reviewed by Dr. Laura McGuire
on September 14, 2021

Total power exchange (TPE) is a BDSM relationship dynamic where the partners have agreed that the dominant has total power over the submissive. Total power exchange usually applies in sexual situations, but generally also refers to the dominant having power over all other elements of the submissive’s life in a way they have discussed and decided on together. TPE can occur in relationships between any gender. In cases where the dominant identifies as a woman, TPE can be a form of femdom.

How does Total Power Exchange work in BDSM relationships?

In a total power exchange, the dominant makes all the decisions on the submissive’s behalf. The submissive agrees to do what they are told, without arguments or discussions. If they do challenge the dominant, the dominant may punish the submissive in accordance with their agreement.

Interactions during total power exchange may be sexual. For example, the submissive might perform or receive oral sex, have penetrative sex, touch themselves, or refrain from touching themselves depending on the dominant’s instructions. However, the interactions may also be non-sexual. For example, a submissive may make the dominant dinner, clean the house or wear an outfit that the dominant likes.

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Total power exchange is a turn-on for a lot of people because of the level of trust involved. The submissive puts all trust in the dominant, which can be both scary and liberating. This is also a huge responsibility for the dominant and should not be taken lightly. However, total power exchange generally strengthens the power dynamic that exists in BDSM relationships. The submissive enjoys giving up control while the dominant loves having control over their submissive.

Some people use the term total power exchange to refer to any arrangements where power totally shifts, whether the dynamic is permanent or lasts just a few hours or days at a time. For these people, the total trust and faith a submissive puts in their dominant during these times matters more than the amount of time they commit to TPE. However, others reserve the term for arrangements that are permanent lifestyle choices. This is called 24/7 total power exchange. In these arrangements, the dominant and submissive tend to live together, usually as a couple, although this isn’t always the case. An online relationship may also involve TPE if the dominant and submissive are committed and have the right mindset.

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More About Total Power Exchange (TPE)

Total power exchange is generally not about micromanaging a person’s life. Instead, the couple is more likely to create guidelines for the submissive to follow that the dominant enforces. This is a consensual arrangement that is revisited regularly to ensure it is still working for both partners.

What are some of the activities included in TPE?

During TPE, the submissive gives complete trust to the dominant partner and believes they will keep their best interests and pleasure in mind. Good dominants must always take care not to exploit the trust that their submissive has placed in them. In turn, submissives always look for dominants that they can trust to take care of them. Some of the activities/interests you might see in a total power exchange relationship include:

However, this doesn’t mean that every BDSM relationship features total power exchange. Sometimes dominants and submissives play with one another while holding elements of themselves back. This may occur when people are just getting to know one another and deciding whether they can be trusted. There is a power exchange here, but it is partial rather than total.

Some people may also have different rules, or protocols, for interacting in private and in public. For example, a submissive may wait until they’re told when to eat in private, but simply wait for the dominant to start eating when they are in public. Relaxing the rules helps people in relationships with total power exchange mix with vanilla people more easily.

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How can I ensure I'm playing safely?

A total power exchange is more about the performance of total control not the actual denial of the submissive's human rights or personal agency. It is important to remember this and know that if anyone says they want control without consent or ongoing affirmation this is a sign of abuse, not kink.

To some people, a relationship with total power exchange may look abusive, as the dominant has so much power over their submissive. It can be so hard for people outside the BDSM community to understand that during TPE, the submissive still retains control. That’s because in sane, respectful D/s relationships, the submissive can stop the play at any time. This arrangement is all about the submissive being able to give up power and the dominant being able to exert power in a safe, consensual way.

A total power exchange (TPE) contract is similar to a BDSM or kink contract. It is a written document developed by the dominant and submissive that reviews their consensual agreement to participate in specific power exchanges. This contract will enforce their respective boundaries. This could include times in which the submissive can refuse a demand given by the dominant, and when either the dom or sub is allowed to leave the TPE relationship altogether. Each contract can look different according to the needs of those in the relationship. It is important to come to a consensus about the assumed responsibilities prior to engaging in Total Power Exchange play.

It is important to differentiate between TPE and intimate partner violence, which can look like unwanted manipulative or controlling behavior from a partner or domestic violence in the form of unwanted physical, emotional, or sexual mistreatment. Unfortunately, this type of violence is common and the BDSM community is not immune.

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Before commencing a TPE agreement, the dominant and submissive should talk about their interests and hard or soft boundaries. Dominants must respect their submissive’s hard boundaries and take care with soft boundaries. They should also come up with a safeword as well as develop a safe action, which the submissive can use if they are not verbally able to communicate. A submissive can use their safeword or safe action if they want the play to stop, slow down or change the situation.

This arrangement ensures the total power exchange remains consensual at all times. The dominant should also monitor their submissive and use their own judgment about whether play needs to stop or slow down, as submissives may be reluctant to do anything but follow their dominant’s instructions.

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