I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now, I find it super helpful. I have a question…you and Justin have a power exchange relationship, right? How does the fact that he owns you affect your other relationships? I’m in a similar situation and am curious how others handle it.
This is a great question! I’ve sort of danced around it in other posts, but I’m glad to answer it in a straightforward way here.
In Power Circuits: Polyamory in a Power Dynamic, Raven Kaldera talks about D/s relationships existing on a continuum. Some are more intense, and others not so much. Kaldera outlines the following 5 points as examples of levels on that continuum:
- Only In Scene. The couple is generally egalitarian, and only occasionally play at a power dynamic during kinky sex. They negotiate as equals outside a scene about sexual contact with others.
- Part Of My Time Is Owned. The s-type is part-time, and the dominant only has authority over limited and specific parts of their life, and monogamy/polyamory is not one of them. They must negotiate as equals in this area.
- All The Time, But Not Everything. The s-type is full-time, but the dominant still only has authority over limited and specific parts of their life, and monogamy/polyamory is not one of them. They must negotiate as equals in this area.
- My Sex Life Is Owned. The s-type has given over authority in almost all areas of their life, including polyamory, but the dominant has promised them specific sexual expectations (such as monogamy, or that they will have certain rights should polyamory occur; for instance remaining the primary partner or helping to select new partners) and it is agreed that the s-type has the right to walk out should the dominant break their word.
- Everything Is Owned: No Recourse. The slave is owned property, and willingly gave up their right to decide on such issues or enforce such limits. They must depend on the dominant’s honor and the promises that they have made, and if those promises are changed they have no recourse.
All The Time, But Not Everything
Looking over this list, Justin and I are a clear case of All The Time, But Not Everything. It’s true that Justin is a large presence in my life and has given me rather large and serious orders that affect me personally.
But when it comes to polyamory, we negotiate as equals. When we formed our own polyamorous relationship agreement, we based the terms on consensus between the two of us. Justin did not write it himself or decide its terms unilaterally. And Justin does not issue orders to me as a Dominant that apply to my other relationships.
Our D/s dynamic applies to our relationship and our relationship alone. I’m free to pursue what sort of relationships I want with other people at my own discretion and so is he. Indeed, Justin and I have what we’ve taken to calling a care-based carte blanche. What this means in practice is that while Justin and I are both empowered to make our own decisions regarding how we navigate the sexual and romantic world, we really do give some thought to how the other might feel about it. And while we aren’t required to check in about things, we typically do. It works pretty well in practice — folks who have dated one or both of us have commented that we do any consultation well. And rather than feeling like an outsider when Justin and I consult about the trickier issues, our other partners have reported that it’s reassuring to see that we touch base with one another, because they know that someday that could be them and that they, too, would find it helpful to have certain things to be run by them.
It’s the best of both worlds: Much of the autonomy of relationship anarchy or solo poly — but you know, I have a wonderful person in my life who is around quite a bit, and we help each other be our best selves.
And this consideration works in both directions. Justin has been known to check in with me as well and take my perspective into account, in essence seeking my buy-in. Even though neither of us needs the other’s permission.
Differentiating Between Internal and External Orders
What’s essentially worked for us is making sure to clearly differentiate between internal and external orders when we’re considering social relationships.
Internal orders are ones that affect our relationship and our relationship alone. This would cover any routine, protocol, or provisions of a D/s contract between the two of us that does not directly address our relationships with others.
External orders would be rules that govern our conduct with people outside of the relationship. So this would certainly apply to the realm of social relationships, covering anything that would involve Justin exerting power or control over my social relationships with others. This could be non-romantic:
- “I order you to stop being friends with [Person].”
- “You need to cut [Relative] out of your life.”
- “You are not allowed to socialize with [Co-worker] outside of the office.”
Or, because we are polyamorous people, such external orders could also pertain to romantic matters:
- “I forbid you to date [Person].”
- “You cannot date other Dominants.”
- “You must break up with [Person].”
My Dominant exerts no social control over me in either a romantic or non-romantic context. Which is good because I would really not like it. Generally speaking, social isolation is something I avoid at all costs as a self-protective measure. I also have a hard limit that I will not be ordered to have sex with or date someone who is not of my own choosing. I must consent freely and not be compelled by an order.
Now, this is not to say that Justin doesn’t issue orders at all in our relationship that affect things outside of it. Indeed, he has; however, these are usually ones focusing on tasks and self-improvement. For example, he ordered me to finish my college degree, which in turn did affect who I was spending time with, how others perceived me and related with me, etc.
But Justin does refrain from issuing external orders that directly pertain to social relationships.
And he does not leverage his relationship as a Dominant in order to divert resources away from my other relationships (i.e., pulling rank or using his power exchange relationship to effectively “win ties”).
Other Power Exchange Agreements Approach Polyamory Quite Differently
However, it’s important to note that some Dominants have different agreements with their submissives than we do.
It all depends on the desires of the people involved and what they negotiate and consent to in their D/s contract.
(It’s worth noting that all submissives legally have refusal power at the end of the day. They have walking rights. Under law, they have the right to leave a relationship if they’re dissatisfied with its terms.)
Considering Kaldera’s continuum, there are submissives whose sex lives are owned. Some Dominants do issue extensive orders regarding their submissive’s other relationships in a polyamorous contexts. Some Dominants have authored relationship agreements unilaterally, with no submissive input, and reserve the right to veto new relationships.
There are even D/s relationships in which the Dominant can order the submissive to have sex with or date people of the Dominant’s choosing. In these sorts of dynamics, submissives can effectively be given away or lent to someone else via order.
I’ve also encountered submissives who prefer remaining monogamous while their Dominant is polyamorous. To them, this sacrifice is part of their submission — either sexually or emotionally gratifying (sometimes both).
And on the other end of the spectrum, there are D/s relationships where the power dynamic only exists in scene or part time and has little impact on how polyamorous relationships are negotiated or conducted.
I hope that sheds some more light on how power exchange and polyamory interface in my own life as well as the range of options available in balancing the two.
When it comes to negotiating as equals, I believe it does help that Justin and I philosophically view dominance and submission as equal, complementary roles and not as better and worse.