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An Open Letter to a Novice Domme

version 2.04

Dedicated to Rowan Ste. Julian

This is based on a brief correspondence I had with a novice Domme. It's been revised with the help of Tatiana Elorin Achiad and Rowan Ste. Julian

The attributes of a great lady may still be found in the rule of the four S's: Sincerity, Simplicity, Sympathy and Serenity.
- Emily Post

Dear Peaches (Queen of the Universe),


You're asking me to send all the information I can about domination? That's a lot. There's much more to dominance and submission than I can put in a simple email. There have already been several good books written on the subject. However, for the short term, I'd be happy to point you in the right direction so that you can do your own research and I'll share with you some of my advice and opinions.

Just to clarify, I'm presenting my own opinions here. Other people in the scene might disagree with me -- and they have. My experience and perspective our my own. But you wrote me for my help so your stuck with it.  ;-)

Also, you asked about dominance, not about play. They are two different things. I'm not going to explain about how to hold a flogger or how to use a violet wand. You can find that information elsewhere.

In addition I'm taking you at your word when you call him a sub and not a slave. (Since I'm doing the answering here, I'm choosing the narrowest interpretation of your question.) That said, here are 8 hints that I hope will help you:

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
 - John F. Kennedy

I. Learn as much as you can

You could begin with Internet resources. There are plenty of good web sites with which to start: Mine -- at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/ -- happens to be one of them. It contains some useful articles such as ...

These short articles should get you off to a good start. But don't stop there.

Read at least one good non-fiction book on the subject. You can find a list of recommended titles at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/book.cfm . As I recall, S&M 101 has a short chapter just for women who have been asked to dominate a gentleman friend. The Topping Book (written by two women) focuses on the top half of the top - bottom equation.

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
 - Dwight D Eisenhower

II. Communicate with your sub

First get to know him as a human being, outside of role play.

Then identify his expectations. Talking might not be enough. If he expects you to ask all the right questions or somehow read his mind and if he's not fully communicative and forthright, then you might have to interrogate him. <evil grin>

By interrogate, I mean ask him challenging questions like:

  • "Tell me about yourself." (It's a little vague but a good place to start.)
  • "What do you mean when you ask me to dominate you?"
  • "When you ask that I dominate you, what are you proposing?"
  • "What are you offering me? Service? What sort of service? Casual S&M play? A relationship?"
  • "What sort of relationship would you like this to be? Monogamous and sexual? Strictly play? Strictly service? 24/7?"
  • "How experienced are you?"
  • "What have your experiences been?"
  • "What has made your best scenes successful?"
  • "What hasn't worked for you as much?"
  • "Tell me one of your fantasies."
  • "Tell me another one." (repeat as necessary)
  • "Do you have any emotional issues I should know about? Is there any type of play that disturbs you or bothers you?"
  • "Assuming we play, do you have any medical conditions I should know about?"
  • "Assuming I choose to have sex with you and you agree, do you have any STDs that I should know about?"
  • "Have you been tested for STDs since your last sexual encounter? How long has that been?"
  • "If we play, how will you react? Will you laugh? Will you cry? Will you get quiet? Will you seem angry?"
  • "What are your limits?"

(HINT: Don't settle for "i have none" as an answer to the last question. Some Dommes avoid subs who claim to have "no limits". It can be interpreted as either ignorance or confusion between fantasy and reality -- or maybe just a complete break with reality.)

Don't settle for vague or uninformative answers. Probe. If he answers you by saying "i wish you to dominate me" or "i want whatever you want," reply with "that goes without saying but you still haven't told me what I need to hear." Remind him that you need his cooperation to live up to your own standards. You want a happy, healthy sub -- or at least not an unhappy, unmotivated one.

Observe him. How he answers your questions can be as important or more important than what he says.

Be sure to compare what he thinks dominance means with what you think dominance means and ask yourself "are these ideas compatible?" If you want a hard working sissy maid to clean your entire house and wash your laundry while he's only looking for a spanking and a blow job then maybe it isn't a good match.

For the more detailed scene negotiation, there are check lists and negotiation forms in my "Dating and Communications" section at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/date00.cfm and elsewhere on the Internet. They can help -- but they're no substitute for real conversations.

Remember, gentlemen, an order that can be misunderstood, will be misunderstood.
 - Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke, the Elder

III. Work

Give him assignments and duties that will make your life easier, more productive, and more pleasant. This is something that those of us who have been raised with values of independence, self sufficiency, and egalitarianism find difficult. You will need to be specific with your assignments without micro-managing him. (If you find it's easier in the long term to do the assignments yourself than to assign them to your sub, then something is wrong.)

When you trust his competency, go out with him without your purse. (If the Queen of the British Commonwealth doesn't need to carry her own purse then why should you?) If you must have your belongs with you, have him carry them.

Have him drive, open doors for you, pay for you both, make cell phone calls, take messages, fetch food and drinks, and generally serve. Let him make you feel like royalty or a head of state.

If you have the opportunity to spend lots of time together in active situations (shopping, running errands, going to parties, etc.,) one of the best uses of dom-sub resources is to have your sub observe you and to actively learn to anticipate your needs. He should note when you get chilly and need a wrap, when you're thirsty and need a drink, when your feet are tired and you need them rubbed, when you're bored talking to someone and you need an excuse to leave, etc., This assignment is engrossing for your sub and liberating for you.

If that is not enough, you might put him on a regime of self improvement -- after a careful evaluation of his needs, capabilities, and other commitments. (And since he's a sub and not a slave, you need to consider his willingness to do every task you assign him.) Some possibile assignments are:

  • keeping a daily "slave journal" of his realizations, thoughts, and feelings. (You may choose to read the journal or not -- depending on whether he'll be more conscientious knowing that you might read it.)
  • keeping a "dream journal" of his nightly dreams. (I suggest this for the purposes of developing creativity and self-awareness -- but NOT amateur psychoanalysis.)
  • a diet. (The diet needs to be safe and practical. It's unhealthy to expect him to lose 100 pounds in two weeks. Unless it's something as simple as skipping snacks between meals, you need to have him talk to his doctor.)
  • an exercise program.
  • practicing Yoga
  • meditation
  • enrolling in continuing education classes
  • learning some skill that would benefit you
If you decide to assign him any of the above, be sure to follow up on him at intervals. It very human to "slack off" when one doesn't think an assignment is important to the person who assigned it.

He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.
 - Niccolo Machaivelli

IV. Rules

Draw up a few appropriate rules. The fewer rules you establish and the more reasonable they are, the easier they will be to enforce. Too many rules can be a burden for the top to enforce and for the sub to observe. (Believe me!) As a result, your team's morale can suffer.

Choose rules that are reasonable and possible for your sub to follow. Don't set him up for failure.

Also, be willing to compromise. It's not a sign of weakness. Rather it is a sign of true strength. As Ani DiFranco sings in "Buildings and Bridges":

Buildings and bridges
are made to bend in the wind
to withstand the world,
that's what it takes
All that steel and stone
is no match for the air, my friend
what doesn't bend breaks
what doesn't bend breaks

Whatever rules you decide on:

  1. Give the rules to your sub as early as possible
  2. Be clear in what they mean -- discuss them and their ramifications -- and when they start: Ask your sub if he has any questions
  3. Ask your sub if there are any obstacles to the execution of these rules. (Would you like your sub to spend every night with you but he travels for his job and is in the army reserves?) If there are obstacles, make the appropriate changes
  4. Note any exceptions when the rules may be bypassed
  5. Write them down or have your sub write them down. Both of you should review the rules.

V. The Issue of Punishment

Be consistent and resolute, firm but even-tempered. Your sub may test your limits and resolve -- intentionally or -- more likely -- unintentionally. So if you establish rules, be prepared to enforce them. Which brings up the questions: How do you enforce your rules? Do you punish your submissive? I have four perspectives for you to consider:

  1. You can enforce the rules without punishment. When your sub does something wrong or omits performing a duty, acknowledge it swiftly. For example:
    • "I thought we agreed that you would always open doors for me."
    • "I notice you didn't stand when I came to the table."
    • "Why didn't you pull out my chair for me?"
    • "Did you forget something?"
    It's a matter of taste and style but I handle a sub's errors this way:
    1. I mention the omission
    2. We discus it briefly
      • Why did she fail?
      • Is it excusable?
      • Should the rule be changed?
      • Is there something different that we can do to make sure it doesn't happen again?
      • When appropriate she apologizes and tells me she won't do it again
    3. I resolve the issue and declare it closed
    4. We move on

    It's been my experience that just noting these lapses is more than adequate punishment for a sincere submissive. There's no reason to be overly disappointed, confrontational, or punitive when mentioning these lapses. Don't embarrass your sub in public. He should feel bad enough about it. (Besides, it makes you look small and vindictive. Or more accurately, it is small and vindictive.) On the other hand, you sub will be disappointed if you ignore these lapses. He'll feel you're not invested enough to pay attention.

    If it's not your intention to prolong your submissive's discomfort -- and if it's an honest mistake, why should it be? -- make it clear that you think the matter is closed and there will be no further discipline necessary. Ideally my submissive has a sincere desire to serve me well -- in which case punishing her for an honest mistake is unwarranted. If the submissive is not sincere then we're not a good match for anything -- outside of casual play.

  2. Punishment as discipline Some people think punishment is essential to a D/s relationship. Personally I don't care for punishment -- outside of "erotic torture," role playing, or scene play. I think BDSM is for mutual enjoyment and a sub -- masochistic or otherwise -- will not enjoy true punishment. (If the sub does enjoy the punishment then it's really not punishment, is it?)
  3. Punishment or ritual for closure: being cruel to be kind. In her workshop on ritual, Mistress Constance points out that punishment can be for the benefit of the sub's well being. When your sub is distraught over his failure and it's not enough for him that you think the matter is closed, it would be in his interest to absolve his failure though a ritual or act of discipline. If the ritual absolution is not enough, decide upon an unpleasant consequence: either restrict him from something he does enjoy such as body worship or sentence him to a duty or an activity he dislikes such as flogging him with the nasty rubber flogger he hates.
  4. Punishment as play.

    Punishment can be a game where the infraction is inconsequential and you use it as an excuse for an activity that you both enjoy. "You naughty little boy!" you might say. "I caught you peeking and now you'll have to massage my feet." It's important that you both recognize this for what it is and you both enjoy this type of play.

    The problem arises when the domme is serious about being obeyed and her sub is not. He might be a brat or S.A.M. -- a "smart assed masochist." S.A.M.s are not truly submissive but they pretend to be because they think that's all that's expected of them. The S.A.M. will find a domme, "submit" to her for a while, and then disobey and show her disrespect in order to get punished. That's fine as long as that game is acceptable to you both and you're not concerned how your relationship appears to others in the scene. Personally I prefer the direct approach. If someone wants me to flog them into subspace, they should just ask. I call that play. I find S.A.M. behavior disrespectful. But if you're a sadist and enjoy playing the firm disciplinarian, you might want a S.A.M.

    BTW, bratty behavior is often unacceptable in the BDSM scene but in the spanking scene -- where it's always about play and never about D/s -- bratty activity is quite common and indulged. Don't get offended if someone "brats" you at a spanking party. He's being playful in the accepted standards of that arena. Taking offence would be poor behavior on your part.

Note: If you want to read more about the punishment question, I'd recommend the following two articles:

  1. Guy Baldwin has an insightful article about it entitled "Punishment: Proceed With Caution!" You can find it in his book The Ties That Bind.
  2. Jack Rinella covers the same topic in an article named "Spare The Rod, Spoil The Slave?" in The Master's Manual.

Actors who have tried to play Churchill and MacArthur have failed abysmally because each of those men was a great actor playing himself.
 - William Manchester

VI. Role Models on Film

You can find some great role models on videos and DVDs. Some great femme fatales include:

  • Bridgette Helm as the Robot in the "Whore of Babylon" scene in Metropolis
  • Louise Brooks as Lulu in Pandora's Box
  • Ludmilla Tchérina as Giulietta walking down the stairs in the Venice scene of Michael Powell's The Tales of Hoffman
  • Julia Migenes-Johnson dancing, singing, and acting as Carmen in Carmen
  • Alice Krieg as Alma Mobley in Ghost Story.   (Her beautiful eyes are like dark pools in which something hides.)
  • Glen Close as the Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons
  • Alice Krieg as the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact
  • Michelle Pfeiffer as the Catwoman in Batman Returns
  • Eihi Shiina as Yamazaki Asami in Audition. (Shiina proves that one can be soft spoken and dominant at the same time.)
Each of these femme fatales display the assertiveness, confidence, wit, gentleness, sadism, overt sensuality, subtle sexuality, and control that are the outward traits of a great domme.

Incorporate what appeals to you but remain true to yourself. Don't just imitate the outward trappings of those performances. Mimicking Michlle Pfeiffer's vampish delivery as the Catwoman will appear artificial and insincere -- a sad attempt at being someone you're not. Instead aspire to incorporate the strength, confidence, control, and intelligence displayed in these performances. Don't practice coy smiles in the mirror, get into the mindset of a Marquise de Merteuil. Rather than indicating that you are a domme, be a dome: Resist an inclination to "act the part"

(Michelle Pfeiffer is a marvellous actress and she can get away with a stylized performance. The rest of us would do best by being sincere.)

"When a woman behaves like a man why doesn't she behave like a nice man?"
  ~~ Dame Edith Evans

(BTW, male doms and daddies also have role models they can emulate:

  • Paul Muni in Scarface
  • Marlon Brando as Johnny in The Wild One
  • Sean Connery as James Bond in many of the 007 films including Dr. No
  • Gert Frobe as Auric Goldfinger in Goldfinger
  • Christopher Lee as Count Dracula in the first three Hammer Dracula films including Dracula, Prince of Darkness
  • Marlon Brando as Don Corleone in The Godfather
  • Al Paccino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and The Godfather Part III
  • Jimmy Cagney in Ragtime
  • Robert Deniro as Louis Cypher in Angel Heart
  • John Malkovich as the Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons
Several of these characters are violent men but that's not what I find worthy for emulation. Violence implies a loss of control and it's the control they display over their situations and themselves that I find fascinating. James Bond is unflappable even when facing certain death. Count Dracula doesn't need to open doors -- they open for him. Don Corleone doesn't raise his voice. When he has something to say, people listen.)

The greatest weakness of all is the great fear of appearing weak.
 - Jacques Benigne Bossuet

"The swordmaster is as unself-conscious as the beginner. The nonchalance which he forfeited at the beginning of his instruction he wins back again at the end as an indestructible characteristic. But unlike the beginner, he holds himself in reserve, is quiet and unassuming, without the least desire to show off."
~ Eugen Herrigel
Zen in the Art of Archery

VII. Don't try too hard

By that I mean:
  • Don't accept more responsibility than you're willing to take on
  • Never let anyone put you in a position where you feel you have something to prove
  • Don't feel the need to cut someone down to be dominant. As Saint Ambrose wrote "No one heals himself by wounding another."
  • Be dominant without being over bearing, be assertive but not necessarily aggressive, and be confident and self assured
  • Admit to having limits and not knowing everything
(To be a domme you must feel strong, confident, intelligent, and in control. That can't be faked.)

And finally,

Be trustworthy and honorable

You must be a lady first and a domme second.

  • Give everyone the same degree of respect which you can (reasonably) expect for yourself.
  • Accept "No" for an answer.
  • Apologize when appropriate.
  • Respect your submissive as a human being -- in the unique way we show that respect in the BDSM scene.
  • Honor your submissive's safe words and limits.
  • Don't scare the vanillas.
Remember that you have accepted control over -- and responsibility for -- the health and well being of another human being. Larry Townsend writes that "A Master does have the obligation to look after his slave." Similarly, Stan Lee observes, "With great power comes great responsibility." Take care with the power you have over someone else's health and happiness.

Good luck. Please let me know if my advice helps.

Yours in Leather,
Ambrosio of San Antonio

PS. For more advice on this subject, please read "You've Realized You're a Dominant Woman. What Now?" by Rowan Ste. Julian at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/what_now.cfm .

"Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power."
  ~~ Lao-Tzu

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