View From The Top: Tender-Hearted Dom

I trust my boy. We trust each other. But I still cringe anytime I correct his behavior, anytime I enforce a rule, anytime I ask him to do something and — just for a second — he flinches. As soon as I see a flush of shame on his face, my chest hurts and swells and I want to rush into caretaking mode: “Or not! I mean, whatever you want. Would that work for you? What do you need right now? Can I make you a sandwich? Let’s watch your favorite movie!”

When you are someone who wants your partner to be strong, dominant, demanding and strict, this is not a sexy reaction.

Of course, there’s a place for my caretaking. And my tender-hearted top tendencies are part of what makes me a good dominant, because real cruelty and indifference wouldn’t be safe to play with. I care deeply about his feelings and well-being, and that’s what makes it possible for us to play with humiliation, degradation, sadism, masochism, and ownership. Sometimes I hear folks say that they can’t be a dominant, or that their partner can’t be a dominant, because they’re just “too nice” — a quality that actually makes them perfect for it. It’s useful to have a squishy emotional touchy-feely inner core inside and a hard, domineering exterior — it makes real concern for boundaries, communications, negotiations, empathy, compassion and understanding possible, as well as the sadism and dirty stuff.

But that tender heart continues to get in my way — and rife’s too — when I make a move to be more strict, to be even more dominant, to take more control.

“What if I go too far?” I ask rife, over and over again.

“You have never gone too far with me,” he says. “It’d be so hard for you to go too far, when I want to give you so much.”

He has a point. He always does. Sometimes, I think he is better at this than I am. My doubts and anxieties and depressive ideation get in the way so often. But other times, he struggles, and I hold the line for him, hold the shape of our dynamic from the outside as he holds it from the inside, and I remind him of our agreements. When he slips out of a submissive headspace, I struggle not to take it personally, and not to take it as a choice that he doesn’t want to submit to me anymore. In actuality, it should be a sign that it’s my job to keep him in a submissive headspace, and I know the things I can do to get him there. Like push him to his knees, throw him down on the bed, push him against the wall, grab him and kiss him hard, give him orders in that growly dominant voice, make decisions for him — “random acts of dominance,” as he calls them.

If none of that works, some good old fashioned kinky playtime might be in order. After five years, we know pretty well what helps us each get into our D/s headspaces.

It’s easy for me to slip, to back off, when I suspect that he, too, is slipping, rather than getting harder, stronger, more controlling. I have to remember that backing off is not we have negotiated, and that by nurturing I’m not honoring our agreements. In some ways, I don’t have consent for it. I have trouble over-identifying with his (and other folks’) feelings, and knowing that in this particular relationship it isn’t my job to attune to all the inner feelings so much as to the bigger circle and the intentions and structure of our relationship outside of the current moment .

At the core of our relationship and our power dynamic, all of what we do is intended to help each other grow — as people, and together. As someone with depression and a mood disorder, my feelings are big and sudden and sometimes take me over, and holding the bigger picture of our intentions is extremely hard for me. It’s not something I feel good at, most of the time. But rife is not particularly good at confrontations with authority figures, either, and so through these consenting, intentional interactions with each other, we help each other to be better, to grow, to work through some of our tiny wounded places. We console each other. We lift each other up.


Editor’s note: Kinkshaming will not be tolerated in the comments. If your comment is deemed unproductive to the conversation, it will be deleted.

Sinclair Sexsmith is a feminist dominant, poet and strap-on expert who writes the award-winning sex blog Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 36 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. “I have to remember that backing off is not we have negotiated, and that by nurturing I’m not honoring our agreements. In some ways, I don’t have consent for it.” Oooh man, this x100. As a submissive, when I’m in a scene or playing with a dominant partner and they break out of their role when it’s not necessary (like neither of us have safeworded), it’s so incredibly frustrating. That nurturing isn’t what I’m there for, it’s not what I’ve agreed to or what I need in that moment. And sometimes it feels exactly like what you’ve described – that it’s something I haven’t consented to.

  2. “When he slips out of a submissive headspace, I struggle not to take it personally, and not to take it as a choice that he doesn’t want to submit to me anymore. In actuality, it should be a sign that it’s my job to keep him in a submissive headspace, and I know the things I can do to get him there. Like push him to his knees, throw him down on the bed, push him against the wall, grab him and kiss him hard, give him orders in that growly dominant voice, make decisions for him — “random acts of dominance,” as he calls them.”

    Exactly this! I still often worry that my Dom will take something personally when I lose focus. It’s that feeling he gets that he isn’t good enough. I generally encourage him to “double down” and instead of getting upset, reassert himself and help me get back to where we both want to be. After all, I haven’t given any indication in those times that I want anything to stop or end. He’s just such a sweet, tender person and walks that same difficult line of Dom v. caretaker.

  3. “As someone with depression and a mood disorder, my feelings are big and sudden and sometimes take me over, and holding the bigger picture of our intentions is extremely hard for me.”

    man oh man oh man oh MANNNNNN. i super resonated with this piece in particular.

      • Mmmm very good point Joanna, sometimes I feel like the anxiety/depression + kink = some very unique combination of whoaaaa, but actually it’s anxiety/depression + intimacy. I mean, perhaps the kink knocks it all to a different kind of intimacy in a way, a more risky or deeper version? Arguable. But it’s good to remember that it isn’t actually adding kink that is the hard part, it’s more that anything intimate is a challenge when dealing with neurodiversity and anxiety/depression and mood disorders.

        Sometimes I feel like all the different kinds of kink are just metaphors for other things. “Pain” is a metaphor for sensation and release, “risk” is a metaphor for trust. Similarly, “kink” itself is kind of a metaphor for intimacy … combined with all the rest in whatever particular flavor the kinky people want.

        • I think that’s an excellent expansion, Sinclair! I recognized fairly early on that my issues didn’t have anything to do with the kink itself, but were a mirror of my “vanilla intimacy” and had a raw, deeper basis.

          I’ve never really wanted to bring it up, but now that you have specifically… neurodiversity is another part of it. I’m divergent(which is part of my struggle with focus and getting my partners not to take it personally), as well as someone with complex PTSD and anxiety. The issue has never been adding kink, but facing and addressing everything else.

          Kink, if anything, has been extremely therapeutic and helped me recognize and start working on many things.

    • Here’s hoping! I’m curious to see what, if anything, it’ll change. My observation has been that when someone has been around and questioning the articles, there is a lot more engagement in general, and lots more discussion … the other articles without the questioning just get a few (~10) comments, often supportive and thoughtful, but much less conversation.

      Sometimes I think that the kinkshaming has sparked more discussion than not. But otoh, it’s been pretty annoying to have to watch kinksters defend ourselves so vehemently.

      Anyway I’m curious what’ll happen!

      • I can attest to this, as I always read your articles and deeply appreciate them to the point where I just don’t have much to say except “mmm-hmm”. But when there’s kink-shaming happening, or the personal attacks that have nothing to do with the content of the article? It makes my blood boil and the words come easily.

        That being said, I’m appreciating this particular article for getting me thinking about my partner, who is so tender-hearted it took me a long time to believe that she really did have sadistic feelings. I worried that maybe her giving personality was behind our early kink experiences together. And I realized that we absolutely still struggle with that, the times I get resentful thinking ‘I don’t want you to stroke my hair as we relax on the sofa together right now, I want you to grip it and remind me who I belong to.” The resentment is low-level and now I feel like I have a good starting point for a conversation about it — thanks!

      • I agree that engagement in general has been larger on the posts with the trolling, but I wonder what the precnetage of meaningful engagement to hate-spewing and self-defense has been? If that makes sense. A quality vs quantity argument. And someone a few comments down mentioned that with a safety measure in place, it might be possible to grow meaningful engagement of the mod note works and people start coming to the comments feeling safe and open now. I too hope that this is what happens.

        But I would also argue that the posts with the highest engagement have also been more controversial, such as last week’s meditation on the place of safe words and when they are necessary and what they can look like beyond the prototypical idea. This post is more personal, albeit with wide reach, and does not question the norms of the kink community. Does that make sense? I feel like I’m not really saying anything, lol. My point is that, even without the hate in the comments, more controversial posts will probably have more engagement.

        In any case, I am glad that something has been done about the comments. I thank the AS team for listening and acting.

        I will do my part to keep engagement up in this series. 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for writing this! I’ve been reading the whole series and a lot of the View from the Top has resonated with me, but this one especially.

    I’m an oddball when it comes to kink – a tender hearted sadistic switch. I have some isues with staying “on top” so to speak, in a scene in which I am, even in the very tiniest bit, unsure of my partner’s pain limits because of my instinct to caretake.

    I am glad to know that I’m not the only one for whom this comes up. I will remember this article the next time that comes up for me.

  5. I totally get this. I am a mom (even though she’s 20 and supporting herself in grad school 800 miles away). I was a k-8 teacher for 15 years. Before that, I ran group homes for adults who needed round-the-clock supervision and help with life skills.

    I’m finally in a place in my life where my time (and my home) is 100% mine (OK, except for what my job demands); I can finally fully explore a D/s relationship that might…hopefully…someday…blossom into a 24/7 kind of thing….

    …and what do I do? Revert back to caretaker mode. It’s my default. Despite being dominant to my core and being in a consensual D/s partnership (two, to be precise…), I find it hard sometimes to tell instead of ask, to insist things be done to my specifications.

    I find myself over-analyzing reactions – looking for signs he is beginning to resent my assertiveness and cloaking my commands in words of softness and request.

    Like your rife, the more my partner tells me the power-imbalance is what he wants and craves, the more I can relax into my role – the role I know we both want me to enact. The real me at my core.

    But first, it seems, I have to undo more than 40 years of conditioning…

    I don’t want to lose my kindness, my soft side, my nurturing tendencies. But I also don’t want them to overshadow the dominant within.

    We’re all a work in progress, no?

    Thanks for writing this – I may need to turn my response here into a post of my own.

  6. I keep reading these articles and I am more and more fascinated each time. More, more, more. Sinclair, write until your fingers snap off. Have rife glue them back on, and write some more. Please!

  7. This column has really been helping me understand my Dom/Daddy, especially the writing about struggles, mental health, motivation vs desire, etc. I’m not one to comment but I wanted to say thank you for helping me understand them and think of creative ways we can nurture D/s together.

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