What Is A Master And Slave Relationship In BDSM?

Explaining this master-slave relationship that is practiced today

By Fred S.
What Is A Master And Slave Relationship In BDSM?

BDSM, which has long been considered a taboo phenomenon, has gained a lot of traction in the last decade. Most of the credit for this sudden spike in BDSM popularity could be attributable to its promotion through media, especially the super-hit movie and book series “Fifty Shades”. BDSM is an acronym for Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, and Masochism. It’s considered a great and innovative way to build a closer connection with your partner. 

The world we live in today is super sex-positive, which leads to more and more people finding interest in giving the kinky play a try at least once. Whether or not you’re particularly into kink or roleplay sexual activities, there are some things you should certainly know about BDSM. It never hurts to have an exploring attitude towards things, finding new things that are positive and healthy for you and your partner.  Any experienced BDSM enthusiast would give you good enough reasons as to why it’s one of the best things you can do for your relationship.  

Refresh on BDSM

Essentially, BDSM can be termed as an erotic type of role play mostly including two people, but it could be more in rare cases. It includes a wide range of activities such as discipline, bondage, fantasy or power play. It’s extremely important to note that everything about this has to be absolutely consensual for it to be classified as BDSM. People willingly explore specific desires, activities, imaginations, and activities. It can arouse some complex and unusual emotions in the participants, which has always made BDSM a titillating subject.  

Ordinary people all around the world get introduced to BDSM through its image that the media portrays. Films like Venus in Furs, the Fifty Shades franchise, and Secretary are a few worth mentioning here. However, the scenes included in these movies show some of the most common activities found in BDSM activities; there’s a ton of more variety than most of us normally know.  

BDSM’s Literal Definition

It may seem like all of such activities involve handcuffs, tight outfits made out of leather, ropes, and latex, but the truth is that in the real world, you can’t stereotype these practices as they vary greatly. Think of it as a menu of a restaurant; sure, handcuffs, leather outfits, and ropes are a part of it, but not everybody orders the same menu item. It varies from day to day, season to season, mood to mood, and depends on how adventurous you’re feeling like a couple.    

While we’ve mentioned the commonly used full-form of the ‘BDSM’ abbreviation above, it’s worth noting that this acronym is actually polysemic; some letters might have more than one meaning! To make it simpler to comprehend below is a simple guide to literally understand ‘BDSM’.  

Bondage & Discipline

Bondage: This is a consent-based activity that may include, restraining, tying, suspending, or even caging a person for the erotic satisfaction of the couple mutually.  

Discipline: A consensual form of erotic mutual play that incorporates training activities by way of punishment and reward between submissive and dominant partners.  

Dominance & Submission


The dominant member of the two participants exercises influence and/or power over their partner, and this is termed as dominance.  


The partner who essentially yields to the will or power of their significant other.  

There’s also a concept of ‘switching’ in DS activities, which basically means that a partner doesn’t have to stick to a specific one of the two roles every time. An individual could enjoy both the submissive and dominant roles, maybe turn by turn. Within these categories, there are many types of BDSM activities that could be experienced by couples. Feel free to read this article to explore those further

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Sadism & Masochism


Sadism: This describes the pleasure derived from particularly inflicting suffering, torture, pain, and humiliation on another person, but entirely consensual. You may be confused as to how a person would give a willing consent to be tortured or inflicted with pain, but the following description of ‘masochism’ answers this. 


Masochism: The sexual gratification or erotic pleasure derived purely from experiencing torture, suffering, pain, and humiliation inflicted by the other partner (the Sadist). In this way, a sadist satisfies a masochist and vice versa, forming a mutually consented BDSM activity.  

What is a Master and Slave Relationship?

A master-slave relationship is very commonly portrayed in every BDSM series, novel or movie. Especially, the Fifty Shades saga sheds a lot of light on master-slave relationships as the main characters embrace these roles and give us plenty of scenic examples. It made a ton of viewers curious about how this phenomenon works exactly, and what people look for in it.  

Knowing more about such a relationship requires a basic understanding of a few major concepts, such as the respective role of each partner, the use of safewords, and the existence and importance of boundaries. In many ways, ‘Fifty Shades’ isn’t a bad start for gaining this insight, however, it could be a lot more intense than they show in the movie for wide audiences to stomach. 

Basically, a master-slave relationship occurs when one partner in the relationship ‘serves’ the other. The ‘slave’ is meant to obey every instruction of the ‘master’, who ‘owns’ the slave. This may understandably shock a few people who are new to the exploration of BDSM concepts, but as with every BDSM activity, this one is also entirely based on consent and having respect for boundaries set by each party.  

From the movies

1. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan: The 'Fifty Shades' trilogy

It’s obviously gonna be included in this list. Dornan and Johnson star in this movie adaptation of the Fifty Shades book trilogy, and they have engaged in a variety of BDSM activities on the big screen. The franchise provides a pretty good representation of a typical master-slave relationship. 

2. Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader: 'Secretary'

Some critics still credit it as one of the best BDSM movies ever made. This 2002 hit film revolves around the relationship of a submissive ‘secretary’ and a dominant boss. Coincidentally, the boss is also named ‘Grey’ in this movie.  

3. Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender: 'A Dangerous Method'

The film is focused on the affair of Sabina Spielrein and Carl Jung. Sabina is initially shown to be Carl’s patient, and later becomes a physician herself. The pair are shown to explore their sexual fantasies and impulses, including spanking, bondage and other BDSM indulgences.  

4. Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas: 'Basic Instinct'

Although the famous ‘leg-crossing’ interrogation scene gets most of the praises and attention, the character of Catherine Tramell (played by Sharon Stone) is really into bondage sex.  

Real Life Cases

All of this information could easily create an image in your mind that says the dominant partners in a BDSM activity are just abusive, controlling freaks. In real life cases though, unlike the portrayal of Mr. Grey, a true dominant partner isn’t actually in charge of ‘everything’ at all. They’re the face of the underlying control in the relationship, but in reality, he has to respect a ton of boundaries. These boundaries are usually set by the submissive one, and in this way, you could say they’re actually the ones in control of what’s allowed and what’s not.

Playing a dominant role well requires hard work and some real self-control in the process. They definitely don’t get to beat the crap out of their submissive counterparts in the name of BDSM.  In this way, the submissive partner is never really an abuse victim in healthy real-life cases of BDSM activities. They’re not traumatized at all, and everything happens with their consent and well within the boundaries that they set. Having the option to stop whatever is happening at any point in time, just by the use of a single safe word, is incredibly empowering. In real-life cases, actually, experiencing BDSM activities with an actually respectable dominant partner could act as a healer for previously traumatized individuals. 

If we go by what BDSM actually stands for, without the pollution in its definition that some movies may include, it’s a practice that mentally sound and healthy people engage in. As long as it’s entirely consensual between the two partners who love each other and are looking to explore new ways to feel erotic pleasure mutually, not much could be classified as ‘wrong’ in such real-life cases.   

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 Is This What You Want to Do? This article attempts to summarize basically all you need to know to attain a basic understanding of what BDSM is actually all about. With the description of each particular activity and its representation in movies and real life, you should be able to create a rough image in your head as to what it’d feel like. If this is something you’d like to explore or try out with your partner, feel free to discuss it with them and see if they’re down with it. If you and your partner are willing to try it as absolute BDSM beginners, this article would help you immensely as it's written just for people like you! Communication is incredibly important for anything that falls under the category of BDSM, so talk it out with them in detail beforehand. All the best!