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Total Power Exchange (TPE)

Updated: SEPTEMBER 28, 2021
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.

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 recieve oral sex, or have penetrative sex, or touch themselves, or refrain from touching themselves, based 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.

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 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 they are permanent or lasting 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. In these arrangements, the dominant and submissive usually 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.

A total power exchange is more 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.

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.

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.

They may also have different rules 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 private. Relaxing the rules helps people in relationships with total power exchange mix with vanilla people more easily.

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.

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 put a safe word and safe action in place, which the submissive can use if they are not verbally able to communicate. A submissive can use their safe word 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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