The popular culture of a dominant, especially a female dominant, is a latex or leather-covered Mistress with a whip, maybe with a slave or two kneeling in front of her. The slave is almost always male, almost always has a penis (which may or may not be in chastity or in CBT play), and is generally restricted in some way, whether through positioning or bondage. If the slave is clothed at all, there may be latex or restrictive masks involved. The image often conjures up associations of emasculation and humiliation. The Mistress is a powerful figure, to be sure, and the male slave is there to please the Mistress – nothing more.

Anyone involved in BDSM can say that while certain aspects of this may be true, for particular Dominant/submissive scenes and players, it is not true that a slave is “only” there to please a Mistress. In fact, it seems like this fantasy of what female domination is is merely a gender-flipped fantasy of what male dominance looks like: humiliation and turning the partner into a receptacle. Neither is absolute.

Every Dominant Has Their Own Style

In reality, each Dominant has their own style. Humiliation might not even be involved – such as in the loose grouping of “gentle dominance” – particularly gentle female dominance – which strives to avoid even the optics of abuse and humiliation. Instead, Dominants take on a more nurturing role, like an advisor or mentor figure. It might even be associated with maternal or older-sister type caring. The general goal of the Dominant, like Dominants that play more roughly, is to help their submissive partner tread a path of self-discovery and of success in life. In gentle dominance, however, encouragement tends to be more overtly positive.

In our own experiences, we first heard of gentle female dominance through a guide for Dominants in general: Raven Kaldera’s book "Mastering Mind: Dominants with Mental Illness and Neurological Dysfunction". As a switch with mental illnesses and chronic conditions, I (Lily) personally own this and its companion book. While this book is advice on being the best Dominant you can be despite issues ranging from PTSD to autism spectrum to other such conditions, the book is realistic. While the image of a Dominant is often male and sometimes even borderline abusive, any kind of person can be a Dominant. Because domination and submission are ranges, not absolutes, a person can shift to be what is needed: a submissive to their partner, but if their Dominant partner needs someone to help advocate and support them in a doctor's office, then a submissive can be empowered to be more active. This book details paths of particular Dominants and their submissive partners and the journeys within their dynamics.

My partner and I are switches. I tend to be gentle in my dominance. Considering our respective issues, it is the best way for my partner to experience dominance. Lex is still skittish and shy as a submissive, not used to being in that role. Being overly strict with her when she does not express a need for it would do neither of us any good. However, nurturing her, saying that she is lovely and treasured, and that I want to help her feel beautiful, is what she responds to well.

If I am strict at her request, it is upon mutual agreement: sometimes you just need to struggle against something or to have that high bar of difficulty to feel a great sense of accomplishment when you succeed. We both understand that. It is clear that our dynamic is not one-sided. I am not dismissing her needs to impose my own without her consent, nor is she demanding more than I can give in her submissive role. For partners that may have experiences with being steamrolled, with being taught that their voice does not matter, a nurturing Dominant approach may be what they need to learn to not only speak up, but also to do so with confidence in what they want.

Gentle Dominance Isn't an Oxymoron

Gentle dominance is not an oxymoron. Yes, dominance involves self-control and boundaries. Yet, it also means being responsive not only to your own needs, but also to the needs of your partner. If those needs include being gentle and encouraging, do not think of that as being any less dominant. Hyper-vigilance in relationships is exhausting to both partners and can lead to toxic situations. It is important for both partners to feel safe, respected and nurtured; nurturing can be a dominant trait just as easily as being demanding often is. The dominant is still the authority, the final word. The dominant is still the one who enforces protocols, unless negotiated otherwise. However, like any good mentor, you want your student to learn which path they need – inside the bedroom and outside as well.

For more on gentle female dominance, look up related terms on Tumblr, Reddit, and even Pornhub, where gentleness is rising as part of being sexy.