sorry about the screw up and not posting last month…
I’m in a kinky relationship. We’re not part of the bigger community, we just sort of switch in private. We were talking to a friend and caught some flack for using the terms "master" and "slave" when we aren’t locked into lifestyle roles or contracts. The person then said "Sir" and "boy" would be more appropriate. But that feels silly since we’re close to the same age.
Is there a set convention or rule? Sir, boy, top, bottom, dom, sub, master, slave… what’s the difference?
Dear Puzzled Switch,
What you choose to call yourselves in your bedroom is between you and your partner. That’s private space. If your guy has to ask you if he can take a piss – yeah you’re playing Master/slave games. If it’s just S&M then it’s a little different. Still it’s between you and your guy at that point.
When you take that relationship out into the world, the public space, then terms have generally understood meanings. And so to answer your question: yes there are conventions to what those words mean and how they’re used.
Definitions can vary depending on who’s doing the defining. These are the general “conventions” as I understand them from my personal experience, interactions with people in the scene and shit I read. Also remember, as a person I greatly respect once told me, “if there’s anyone who’s anti-rules…it’s leather folk.” I’d expand that to kink folk in general. The “conventions” serve more of a function of determining who’s a complete noob and who’s been around awhile.
Top and bottom, at the most basic, is who gets fucked and who does the fucking. You could be a complete top and have completely vanilla sex your whole life. It can also indicate who’s in charge of the sexual dynamic, a top can ‘top from the bottom.’ A Dom is someone who is dominant while the sub is the submissive partner in a kink relationship. Daddies, Sirs and Masters are all dominant in the relationship. Boys and slaves are submissive. A slave, however, may "top" (fuck) his Master if that’s what Master wants because Master is still in control of the situation. A submissive may or may not be a masochist. A Dom may or may not be a sadist. Switches, I think, have the best of both Dom and sub world since you’re comfortable in either roll. And with switching, you don’t generally switch Dom/submissive roles within the same relationship. I was submissive with Jake, but I’m dominant in my relationship with Brandon.
The difference between Master/slave, Sir/Boy and Daddy/boy has nothing to do with age. “Boys” can be the same age or older than their Sirs. It’s about time in the scene and natural proclivity not time on the planet. Sirs are stricter and expect a higher level of obedience than a Daddy might.
The basic difference is often defined by: slaves ask for permission while boys ask for forgiveness.
It’s a question of relative freedom. A full-time slave is expected to give their wages to their Master to use at his discretion. (I will interject my own opinion – echoed by other commentators in the scene – that it might be wise for a slave to have access to their own bank account and be allowed to put some money into it. This allows for an escape hatch in case the relationship goes downhill or if something happens to the Master – like death – then the slave is not destitute.)
And going back to your private life, a submissive can agree to be a Master’s slave for a night, weekend or years. It’s not about lifestyle roles or long term contracts. It’s about proclivity and how the submissive interacts with the Dominant.
Part-time slaves (as I define it for explanation: those who don’t live with their long term Master. Nobody would ever say they were a “part-time slave.”) are expected to be in regular contact with Master and consult them before major decisions. If I know someone is a slave, I would never speak directly to them. A slave in a contract might approach me…if they asked their own master permission first…maybe. But, this is a person who has willingly given up control to someone else. And they revel in it. There’s a great example of the Master/slave dynamic in the Secretary, the chick calls her boss/Dom before dinner with her family and he instructs her that she can eat no potatoes, only so many peas and all the desert she wants. And the chick digs it.
Boys, on the other hand, contribute to the general upkeep of the house if they live with Sir/Daddy, but generally have their own bank accounts and pay their own way through life. A slave would never go out socially without Master unless granted explicit permission. Boys may well move in their own social circles within the scene, have friends outside Sir’s or Daddy’s friends and basically, within limitations, lead their own lives. The Master’s life is assumed to be the slave’s life.
Boy’s, slaves and general sumbissives, want to please their Dominant. A slave does this by doing exactly what the Master tells him. If Master orders, “I want you to cook catfish for dinner, while naked and with five clothespins clipped to your balls,” the slave does exactly that. A boy might take that request from Sir and add a few more clothespins for effect. If boy is with a Daddy then he might decide to forgo the clothespins and go for alligator clips or since steak was on sale and Daddy loves steak, make that instead (and may get punished for it if he chose wrong). The slave pleases by being obedient while a boy pleases by being creative and loving. Both may have service elements in the relationship and in that case the submissive may be referred to as a boy-slave.
Puppies, by the way, have Masters – not Sirs or Daddies. Still their Masters are not the same type of Masters in a slave relationship. And that is because their relationship is based on a Human/non-human relationship. Puppies are playful, accepting, loving creatures. They embody unconditional love and absolute joy. Their masters are stern, but somewhat accepting. I mean: you don’t beat the shit outta the puppy for peeing on the rug. A Master doesn’t punish his puppy in the same way that a Master punishes his slave. It’s assumed that one is sentient and the other not…even though they are both humans playing a role.
Now comes the fun part: it all is far more fluid than all that.
Someone who is really respected in a particular scene may want people to call him Master X. And, even though he pretty much acts like a Daddy to his boys, the people who respect him call him Master X although it’d more “correct” to address him as Sir. With Brandon and I, he’s submissive and I’m dominant in our sexual relationship, but not in our day to day life. So if we were out in a play space I’d probably introduce him as a sub and not use either slave or boy. That lets people know our dynamic without me putting strings of ownership on him. He’s free to play with anyone he wants to. But since Brandon isn’t collared (literally I haven’t given him one to wear), I could tell people he’s my boy (even though he’s two years older than me) and a lot of people would get that no collar means he’s free to hook up without my input. With my ex…he wanted to train me to be a slave and I was looking for a Dom not a Master. A slave wouldn’t have walked out on him for fucking someone else…that’s Master’s right. Normally, it wouldn’t piss me off that much either, but it was kinda the last straw in his long litany of his being a bastard. If I put ad on a BDSM site saying, "I’m looking for my Daddy," I will get different people responding than an ad which says, "i want to serve SIR."
Basically that’s why we use generally recognized terms in public spaces, to be understood. We all do it in our work worlds too – so you know who’s “in” and who’s “out.” I can tell a fellow tech geek in three minutes of conversation. A lawyer friend claims he knows whether another lawyer practices in his specialty by the acronyms they use. And, right or wrong, that’s the way it is in life, people who don’t know you will judge your involvement or you knowledge by the words you use.
Hope that helps.
Stay safe and sane.
If you have any questions you’d like answered, email me at Nicky@James-Buchanan.com
Remember folks this is my opinion. Others may have differing views on the subject. I recommend doing a lot of research and talking to a lot of people before you start to play. I also recommend you read Safer Kinky Sex. http://actoronto.org/home.nsf/pages/bdsm/$file/BDSM%20Safer%20Kinky%20Sex.pdf