BDSM Roles

Role Call: What are the Different Kinds of Dominants & Submissives?

This article was scientifically fact-checked by Social Psychologist Dr. Justin Lehmiller.

BDSM, for the uninitiated, tends to call to mind a Fifty Shades of Grey-type relationship, between an experienced authoritarian male Dom and a naive female submissive. However, there are a multitude of different power dynamics and relationship roles for kink that can be sexual, non-sexual, or a mix of both.

In fact, there are so many, we have only been able to focus on a few of the main types of submissives and Dominants below as an introduction to kinky BDSM relationships!

BDSM Roles


Dominants can sometimes get thrown into a general category of people who simply strive for control in sexual situations, however there are different types (and people can be different combinations of these types).

Some are sadists, enjoying the infliction of pain or humiliation of their partner (consensually) while others may enjoy the ritualistic aspect of certain acts. Some seek to be a teacher or a guide, nurturing kinky interest or acting as an authoritarian who wants to challenge their submissive to make changes and improve their life or change bad habits.


This is a rather wide category, as many people use these as titles for their Dominant. A Master or Mistress will expect varying degrees of compliance from their sub, and some may treat them as an object that is ignored unless needed, or want their sub ‘trained’ to anticipate their needs.


A Daddy or Mommy Dominant has nothing to do with incest fantasies or anyone underage; it is simply a classification of Dom that is nurturing and affectionate to their ‘Little’ who may act out childishly.


Always a woman, the FemDom can have a male or female submissive, but will assume traditionally ‘male’ gender roles, whether 24/7 or only during sexual play. This may involve humiliation of a male partner as they are “forced” into feminine roles.


What exactly makes someone submissive? The first thing to realize is that submission doesn’t look the same for every person, or every relationship; submission can take many forms (all of which require trust in the Dominant) however they can largely be categorized into service, sexual, pain, or some combination of the above.

Service submissives spend their time anticipating their Dom’s needs to make them more comfortable, like making them tea or drawing baths, while sexual submissives make themselves available any time for any act (within pre-arranged hard limits). Pain submissives are generally not interested in other aspects of submission like humiliation, but are simply masochistic. You don’t have to be in a relationship to consider yourself submissive.


A slave is a form of submission in which the submissive gives over their own will entirely to their Master. It’s a more encompassing, more entire form of submission, in which the sub doesn’t set their own limits, their boundaries are set for them by their master or mistress. They act as though ‘owned’ by their master and may or may not be masochists, but collars are quite common in this M/s play.


Pet play―commonly pony, puppy or kitty play― can involve costumes and accessories like tails, cages, collars or leashes, but also can vary in terms of what the sub “gets out” of it. Some may enjoy the aspect of dehumanization and exhibitionism, while others may enjoy letting ‘loose’ and relaxing while their ‘Owner’ strokes or pets them. It is not related to bestiality whatsoever.


A little is an adult who adopts a role somewhat similar to a pet in that they look to their Dom for protection and care, however rather than assuming a role related to an animal, it tends to revolve around human age play. This type of power dynamic can often be nonsexual, but can involve a lot of dressing up and ‘childish’ activities, as well as being spoiled and punished by their Mommy/Daddy.


Sissification, or feminization, is a broader category that involves a (consenting) male partner to be “forced” into a “female” role, often with costumes like school girls or maids, and perform tasks that can be sexual or non-sexual but fulfill the traditional (and often outdated) role of a woman. The goal can be to humiliate the partner by making them a parody of a woman, or involve making them as act out a role as a beautiful femme.


A brat is a submissive who purposefully misbehaves or acts out in ways against their Dominant’s wishes. This can be for attention, to test limits, or provoke punishment. This may be because they enjoy the humiliation aspect of being punished, or for purely masochistic reasons.


In truth, as no two people are exactly alike, no two D/s relationships will look exactly the same, nor should they. Relationships of all types ―kinky or otherwise― involve communication of needs and negotiations to make sure each partner is fulfilled. And, of course, it can be very fun exploring each role to see which fits you best!

Facts checked by:

Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He is an award-winning educator, having been honored three times with the Certificate of Teaching Excellence from Harvard University, where he taught for several years. Dr. Lehmiller has published more than 50 academic works, including a textbook titled The Psychology of Human Sexuality that is used in college classrooms around the world. He helps people maintain healthy intimate lives through science-based, sex-positive education via his Sex and Psychology blog, workshops, and frequent media appearances.

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