‘Dom or a sub’: Let’s unpack all power struggles shall we?

HOLAA, HOLAAfrica, ithongomusings

*Trigger warning: emotional abuse

Queer sexual relationships have seemingly been divided into two broad and equally parallel spectrums: dominance and submission. It’s not uncommon to hear, on first date, the question “are you a dom or a sub?” While there is nothing wrong with preferring either of the two or both (see: switch).

Although the question of being a ‘dom or a sub’ revolves around sexual activity power plays are present in all aspects of an engagement between two (or more) people who decide to enter some form of a  emotional/sexual/physical commitment. Our fascination with power and control in romantic/sexual settings is interesting.

Often times, we run into trouble when we wield power unconsciously, or actively use power to manipulate. An example is when in a relationship, one uses power defensively to create distance, induce guilt or confusion while denying they’re doing so. This can be seen abusive and a form of gaslighting and/or emotional mental abuse.

This used to happen a lot when I was dating. My ex knew I was into her and would go silent on me for days on end, making me worried sick. I, in turn, knew she hated being ignored and I would leave her on read for days so as to feel powerful in my own way. Sometimes, both of us would use other power tactics like withdrawal, denial and gaslighting to prevent disagreements of any kind as a way of ‘caretaking’  within the relationship. I mean, how many times did we tell each other that we had to break up so we don’t continue “hurting each other more.”

Whatever that meant.

Most people also don’t know that chronic conflict about particular topics, such as parenting, money, or who initiates sex and how, is often an unacknowledged struggle over power. Power struggles also erupt when two people who are involved sexually decide to enter into a commitment and their contrasting value systems or relationship goals start showing.

While it’s easy to deny that power is often the root of many problems in intimate unions, power  struggles are not hard to miss in the way they typically play out in our relationships e.g. when cheating, or giving monosyllabic clinical responses. From emotionally manipulating someone or even arguing about something as simple as doing household chores. Power also brings in the narrative of entitlement and victim hood which keeps two queers in a sexual relation of any kind stuck in a cycle. The one who holds more power is always seen as the villain while the latter the submissive one is seen as the victim even when the latter was abusive or hurtful.

If left unacknowledged, power dynamics, both in and out of bed, can interfere with these sexual relationships, often leading to low desire, abuse, mistrust and constant arguments.

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