advice, kink

Ask Mr. Sexsmith: I’m a sub, but my partner is not a dom. What do I do?

This question comes from Marie:

“My partner and I have come to a difficult place in our relationship. I have long since had the desire and urge to be dominated, to be somebody’s submissive, and to explore the world in its entirety. My partner, however, has no wishes. I’ve sat down with her and tried to explain what it meant, what it meant to me, and what it would mean to our relationship, but she says she can’t bear to hurt me (even if I enjoy it). I’ve been the dominate one, so to say, in our relationship, and I know for a fact that she would never consider me seeking a dom or have an open relationship. I love her, but I’m unhappy. How did you first address all of this? And is there anything else I can explain to her before I have to make a decision? I really want to explore this, and I want to with her, but she really has no budge room, and I don’t want to make her uncomfortable.  All in all, I’m really confused and at ends.”

….. I have one more thing to add that I didn’t say when I recorded the video yesterday, that is whispering to me now that I’m re-reading your question.

Marie, you wrote: “I really want to explore this, and I want to with her, but she really has no budge room, and I don’t want to make her uncomfortable.”

And here’s the thing. You want to explore this with her, but she doesn’t want to explore it. You want to push her a little, because you are very attached to doing this with her specifically and not opening your relationship to some sort of non-monogamy (which is totally understandable!), but you don’t want to make her “uncomfortable.”

But: let me remind you, sweet pea, for a moment, of your own discomfort. You are uncomfortable by not having the kind of D/s relationship dynamic that your secret heart-of-hearts craves. And there is no reason for her discomfort to be more important than yours. Yes, of course, her discomfort is important and consent is important—I’m not trying to say that she should do it anyway and you “win.” But what I’m trying to say is that you have a clashing of needs here, and you two are going to have to figure that out.

You want something. She doesn’t want it.

There’s so many ways to sugar-coat that, but that’s the simplest core of truth.

It’s totally okay to have different wants or needs in a partnership—that happens all the time. What is important is that you two come up with a way to talk about these different needs, be they around sex, or D/s, or monogamy, or what you make for dinner that night, or whether your parents come stay for a weekend, or where you go on vacation.

It’s extra scary to talk about, because it’s sex and extra dirty kinky stuff that you may still have some internal shame or guilt about. Do you have that? Ask yourself, for a brief quiet soft gentle moment: Do you think you should be able to have this deep want? Or are there things in place between you and that want that make it even harder to ask for, to advocate for yourself around?

I mean, if it was … a new car that you wanted, or a puppy, what would you do then? Would you think of those as “legitimate” wants, whereas this is a scary, shadow, selfish want? (I’m just guessing—maybe that’s not how it feels for you.)

I guess what I’m really trying to say is, YOU DESERVE TO HAVE THIS. And it sucks that she doesn’t want to do it with you. That really sucks. I’m sorry. There’s nothing wrong with you for wanting this, but you two might have come to an irreconcilable difference, if she a) won’t allow you to explore it with anyone else and b) won’t explore it with you.

So now comes a very difficult decision on your part, which is precisely why you’re asking me this question: Is your desire for this greater than your desire to be in this intimate, monogamous partnership with her?

Ask yourself that gently, with kindness, as if you are your best friend asking yourself this. It’s okay if the answer is no. It’s okay if the answer is yes. It’s okay if the answer is “I don’t know.”

I know for me, no partnership felt right until I had that D/s dynamic. It just didn’t. As much as I loved them, as much as I wanted it to work, it didn’t, until I had a power dynamic in place. I don’t really know why. For whatever reason, that’s my fetish, that’s how I’m wired. That’s what really makes me pleased and happy and satiated. Sometimes, for me, the love itself—though it was good love and beautiful love and important love and growing love—was not enough.

It sucks that sometimes love wasn’t enough. But it’s true. I needed more. Maybe you do, too.

Got a (different) question?

I’ve got a full inbox, but I love hearing your gender and identity and sexuality puzzles. What’s on your mind? Ask it here! And I’ll do my best to email you when I answer it.

Remember, Sinclair does one-on-one coaching!

I hope my thoughts give you some places to start. If you’re still stuck, remember, I do one-on-one coaching sessions, and I would be very happy to help you with resources, experiments, ideas, support, or just talking in depth through this process. Contact me for more information and pricing.

Comment Zen …

Readers, do you relate to Marie’s question?

If you do, would you share your own story about being in a relationship and not getting the kind of power dynamic that you wanted? What kind of resources helped you on your journey? Books? Anything to recommend for others who are going through this?

Leave your story anonymously if you like; your email address will not be published, and if you don’t want your usual “gravitar” picture of you to show up, just type “+sugarbutch” in your email address (like and I’ll know you want to be anonymous.

And there’s more …

If you want to explore your submissive identity even more, sign up for the Submissive Playground summer school! Registration closes June 30th.

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

6 thoughts on “Ask Mr. Sexsmith: I’m a sub, but my partner is not a dom. What do I do?”

  1. CS says:

    Hi friend,

    I want to second Sinclair’s suggestion to “ask yourself, for a brief quiet soft gentle moment: Do you think you should be able to have this deep want?” Because I have been in a similar place in a relationship (wanting to explore a lot of things that my partner was deeply hesitant about; I also really wanted to explore polyamory), and I wish that I had asked myself that. For me, the answer was no, and it made it very hard to have an honest conversation about everything I wanted, both in terms of asking for the thing (because I didn’t think it was a thing I was allowed to have/want) and also, and kind of more importantly, in terms of saying “Ok, well, what about this other way of getting this need met?” because as soon as I heard a hint of “no and why would you ever want that” I more or less shut down. You say that you “know for a fact that she would never consider me seeking a dom or have an open relationship” — I would like to ask, again very gently, what that means. Have you sat down and had a conversation about that as an option, specifically in relation to your desires around kink? Because while your partner may be very resistant to the idea of polyamory in general, it may *still* be worth having a conversation, not about polyamory in general, but about polyamory specifically in relation to/as a possible way of mitigating this specific incompatibility.

    I will be honest with you — if the non-overlap of needs runs deep enough, no amount of conversation will create a situation where you are both satisfied in the relationship. But I do believe that it’s worthwhile to have a conversation where you both work on the fact that one person’s needs are not being met. It sounds — forgive me if I’m assuming or projecting — as though you feel that you are in a situation where you have to find The Solution/make a Decision about all this, and I want to say that it could also be an option to ask the other person in the relationship to help you find a way to work this out that *doesn’t* involve you suppressing your own non-harmful desires.

  2. Kestrel says:

    You cite things like a new car or a puppy or even dinner as an example of how you come to an agreement or even just how to discuss things. Yet, your analogue falls apart when applied to this issue in that same way. Would you leave your partner, your spouse, because they wanted a Golden Retriever and you didn’t? If you had to have a Ferrari and your other half said no – would that be grounds for separation? If so then you have possibly the weakest commitment ever. There are some things in life that we want, even things we REALLY want, but just can’t seem to make them come true without a huge effort and enormous cost. Personally, I want an apartment in Portifuna, Italy. A lot. I’ve been wanting it for 20 years…will I get it? Well, maybe someday, possibly, outside chance, ok no. It’s not gonna happen. Do I leave my partner because he won’t sell our home and possessions so we can move?

    This spouse wants to be a sub. Ok, no biggie. But to say he wants to be a sub or he will “have to make decisions he doesn’t want to make” or some such shocking threats. Really? Years of devotion and love and sickness/health/richer/poorer and all that just gone to dust because he wants someone to make him feel like a kept servant? Sex is important but it isn’t everything. If she were to have NO sex then I’d understand completely but to just not want to have *that kind* of sex because she can’t bear to see her lover be hurt….that seems incredibly self-centered. You address that issue, too by stating that your wishes are made of Things That Cannot Be Denied. Oh, for chrisssake, really? Maybe there’s a really good reason for the partner to feel this way. I was abused as a child and told my husband straight up to never slap me, flog me, ask me to do it, etc. It takes me from sexytimes to whimpering 8 year old and that’s not sexy. Maybe that’s a cause? Does the guy know WHY she can’t bear to see him hurt?

    Why does every solution need to be so extreme? Why not propose self-flagellation or even attending a club or event dressed in his preferred outfit? (If you didn’t already say that in the video, I couldn’t hear it well at my construction site/house!) How about she demand that he rub her feet, brush her hair, address her as Her Ladyship whilst performing oral sex, go to the mall while wearing panties underneath his clothes? There are ways to be into BDSM that don’t involve divorce but there aren’t ways to be married if one person declared their want is actually a need and something MUST be done to satisfy it. It seems that we are into stopping slut-shaming, being pro-sex workers and exploring your thoughts and dreams with a spouse or a couple or strangers. That’s all fine but we don’t have to become anti-monogamy in the exchange.

  3. Jennie says:

    I think a car comparison sucks. I’d actually put it closer to something like vegetarianism. I was vegetarian for 13 years, and I am not now. I would date someone who is veggie and be perfectly comfortable returning to veggie-life if she wasn’t comfortable with a carnivore. I also have a friend who’s been veggie for 25 years who has a vegetarian household but is in a lifetime relationship with someone who does eat meat outside of the home. Vegetariansim within a relationship is not about a possession like a car. It’s a lifestyle choice, and it’s far more important for some people than it is for others. And some people are ok with their partner eating meat as long as they eat meat somewhere else. *laughs*

    Fifteen years ago I began exploring sexuality in relationship to power dynamics, bondage, and pain. I was enjoying it, and I was also scared of it (feminist me said, “Uhhhh, are you sure about this? It’s wrong?”). The person I was exploring it with was not someone I was romantically involved with, and I eventually ended the relationship because the level of commitment and trust was making me want more than was possible.

    A month later I met someone and began a very deep, long monogamous relationship with a man (I’m bi, and no, it’s never been an experimental phase). We were together for thirteen years, and from day one I was told that there will be no power dynamics and definitely no rough sex. He strongly believed that sex and love belong together, that love is based on equality and trust, and that kink is not only outside of his range of interest but something that he couldn’t possibly do. We weren’t “allowed” to have sex – it was lovemaking, it was always face to face, it was always gentle. Even when it was fast and demanding, it was soft and gentle – something I hadn’t known was possible.

    We made a lifetime commitment to each other, and I recognized that I was choosing to give up the part of me that wanted and craved kink, D/s, even just basic roughness. It wasn’t easy. I was also giving up women (which turned out to be harder). We discussed poly, but even then, he made it clear that my coming home with marks would not be ok because he couldn’t handle even the idea of me being hurt.

    Our relationship continued, and I accepted it and moved on in much a way that I assume many people in monogamous relationships do – there were other people and things I wanted, but I wanted THIS person the most. So when I saw another person or was attracted to someone else, I noted it but let it go. This wasn’t always easy. But it was what I needed to do to maintain my relationship with this person I loved (the first and only person I’ve loved, and I think he won my heart at the beginning by being the only person who’s ever given me flowers… even now that we’re divorced nobody has treated me like that).

    The relationship ended (he found his soulmate in his student, and I found myself suddenly facing an entirely different life). Once I opened back up and re-located my self-confidence and my sexuality, I jumped into the kink community and “back” into bisexuality in a way that I hadn’t before. Nothing like a delightful butchy woman sub for getting back on the horse, so to speak, but I think it was what they call rebound because I couldn’t sustain a long-term relationship, yet ;-) That being said, I’m a switch and am STILL fighting with trying to figure out how things work, whether or not I can handle poly so that I can stop fighting all my wants and needs.

    Anyway, the reason I’m telling this story at all is because I needed to make a decision in that relationship, just as I needed to make a decision when the relationship ended, and I continue to need to make decisions. I chose to ignore that side of me, and I was ok with that decision, but near the end it was chafing and hurting me. I honestly needed a woman and was having a difficult time coming to terms with it. I’m sure that also participated in the end of the relationship as well as his jumping into the arms of a 21 year old girl who said he was sweet and perfect and didn’t have to deal with serious issues like credit card bills and mortgage payments.

    That decision really is personal, and the original poster will have to make a choice. If it’s a long-term monogamous relationship, that choice is going to be extremely difficult, and loving someone makes it even more difficult. I’m not saying that my personal decisions were the way to go, and honestly, the way I’ve jumped off the deep end, so to speak, wasn’t the way to go. By the time my relationship ended, I was so damned desperate that I let the first guy who offered tie me up and beat the crap out of me (it was a delightful evening even though I am not looking for a male dominant… the local munch communities are very hetero-oriented).

    Holding back and choosing not to have something is an option. It worked for me for years, but when the relationship ended, I realized that for the last couple of years I’d begun to hold a grudge at not having access to some parts of me that were straining more and more to be out. It wasn’t the final end of my relationship, but it was definitely a factor because I discussed it with my partner, and he began to worry that I was going to leave him for a woman, for a person who would do those other things with me, etc. And I began to resent him both for assuming that I was going to leave him when I’d made that decision and meant it and also because I did resent that I’d had to make that decision.

    Ok, so I guess what I’m saying is that making a decision is not enough – decide to stay in your current relationship or decide to leave, but recognize that you personally made the decision alone. Nobody is forcing you into it, and if you decide that you’ll stay, don’t resent your partner for “not allowing” you to experience and learn and grow into a sub within your relationship. If you choose to stay, do it because you are ok with not exploring that side of yourself. Resentment is a nasty thing in a relationship, and it can tear it apart.

  4. kay dharma says:

    There is something else i’ve been thinking of in this discussion, and i don’t think it’s been expressed or addressed so far.
    Yes, it’s important, as far as possible, to be open and communicate about your needs and desires to your non-kinky partner. (this is entirely situation -dependent – recognize that in some situations, it really can be almost impossible)
    But i think there can be something dreadfully wrong with the approach of telling them, essentially, “You Must dominate me, or i will leave you.”. It seems to me that approach is just as harmful, if not more, than staying in a relationship where your sexual needs are not being met. i think if someone clearly has no interest in kink, or in permitting a partner to explore kink outside of the relationship, Forcing them into attempting to act the role of dominant, to be something they are not, is just as horrible a thing as to live life in denial of who you really are, living life pretending to be the vanilla you are not.
    And, honestly, if the vanilla partner is forced to being the Dominant she is not, the kink just isn’t gonna work. There is nothing even remotely hot about being “dominated” by someone whose heart is not in it, and is just doing it to please the kinky partner in an attempt to keep them from leaving. Additionally, in terms of consent, this approach is / can be loaded with coercion.
    Personally, i think if it’s clear they have no interest in kink whatsoever, your sucky options are:
    1. Leave the relationship, owning that you are just not a good match, with no attempt at coersively getting your needs met.
    2. Stay, in what may ultimately be a hugely unfulfilling relationship
    3. Cheat.

  5. zen says:

    This is EXACTLY where I am in my relationship. I have no idea what to do.
    My partner and I met 8 years ago, when we first met I made it clear ” well I thought I did” that kink was what I wanted to explore and if she too had any interest in it. I was told that she was interested and also exploring together. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!! She was perfect!

    We never got kinky but I would suggest going to lesbian kink clubs that were run once or twice a year, my partner showed an interest but when they dates came around no effort or commitment was made to attend. I let it go for a few years, sex was loving but infrequent. When I would try to address the issue gently I was blamed for applying pressure or expectations upon her ” from her perspective” so I respected her feelings and let it dried up! I suggested seeing a couples sex therapist. She didn’t like the counsellor so we didn’t go again.

    She made no effort to address the lack of sex period so I would gently flit from mentioning it to sucking it up and bitting my tongue. 4 years pass and my cravings are getting stronger, my need to be dominated by a butch worespectful is growing stronger but meanwhile I am feeling torn.

    Fast forward 7 years still together, loving, respectful, supportive, nurturing and equal. The most healthy relationship I have ever had but….no sex for the past 2.5yrs! Its killing me because I have even cried myself to sleep because I am no it having my sexual needs met but how do I end a fantastic soulmate match just because of sex!?! I feel so shallow because I know I don’t want a 24/7 D/s relationship but I do need it 5% of the time.

    My partner is no it dominant naturally we tried, its not authentic for her or I, I suggested an open relationship and encouraged her to explore any needs she may have with others too, with boundaries and a copy of The Ethical slut to share, I even found HER a playmate whom she enjoyed MANY nights with over a period of months whilst I struggled to find a suitable Domme so sat at home alone but i understood it was part of the process as its not like I had a person(s) lined up for play. As long as she was enjoying it I was OK to carry-on until my luck came in.

    It never did, our agreement was always if either of us felt it was not what we wanted or felt unhappy with the arrangement for ANY reason we call it a day and get back to monogamy. I kept my promise, after months of forging fetlife friendships and earning the kinky lesbian/trans community’s trust she mentioned that she was only doing it for me/to save our relationship but that she felt I didn’t value her. Even though she was out wining and dinning, romantic breaks and even attending a sex clubs with her companion whilst I was watching xfactor at home on a Saturday night, I called it quits to prove that she meant more to me than kink, reiterating that I was 95% happy with our relationship but just needed that 5% satisfied now and then exclusively within a D/s dynamic!

    She reluctantly ended her relationship all the while blaming me for making her go off with someone else. I accepted the blame and the guilt hurt . she has finally acknowledged that I didn’t hold a gun to her head when we initially discussed it and that she really enjoyed aspects of the open relationship but doesn’t need kink and doesn’t want me to look outside our relationship either…so here I am! No sex at all but full of love. I want to spend my life with her but sacrificing a need like bdsm is making me miserable and maybe I am a bit resentful. But I don’t feel desired, sexy or any of the feelings being with a butch/boyish Domme dies for me. She says she wants me and tries feebly to initiate ( by acting like an immature teenageboy) but I just can’t do vanilla right now. I don’t want to, it bores me to tears the chemistry isn’t there but I do think she is attractive.

    If I could have a Domme and my Equal vanilla relationship I would, I bet I’d even have vanilla sex more by proxy……I am torn. I don’t want to cheat but find myself not going out in case I meet someone with sexual chemistry, I no longer have contact with my fetlife buddies and I find myself sneaking onto fetlife just to see what I am missing and to live vicariously through others. Never engaging just reading. We also have a child together! I am not staying for the child I am staying because other than lack of sex, any sex she ius my dream mate. I respect, love and admire her but inside I am crying…..And not getting any younger!

  6. zen says:

    Apologies for typos, I tried to proof read but my tablet prematurely pressed send. Hope it is still recieved well.

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