I have written about polyamorous D/s relationships in the past. Recently, in a mentoring session with the head of the leather household, House of Trei, Choc Trei, polyamory in a full Master/slave or Owner/property authority transfer based relationship came up as part of a discussion of their House tour. The discussion raised new points and led to me re-examining the many types relationship style that people who are in an authority based relationship might adopt.
As a refresher, authority transfer based relationships are ones in which one person is definitely the leader and the other is the follower.
These are consensual relationships in which the person who is in the subordinate role, surrenders part or all of their autonomy by surrendering authority over part or all of themselves and their lives to the one who is in the dominant role so that the dominant is the one who makes the decisions or has the final say.
There are a number of different flavours of authority transfer based consensual relationships The most common are:
D/s (Dominant/submissive) In D/s relationships, the submissive gives the Dominant partner limited authority over themselves and over their lives. They negotiate the areas of service and of authority transfer.
M/s (Master/slave) In M/s relationships, the slave surrenders authority over themselves and their lives to the Master. This is a full transfer of authority as opposed to in D/s.
O/p (Owner/property) In O/p relationships, the Owner has full authority over the property just as in M/s.
However, as with most definitions, these tend to evolve so YMMV.
How does this intersect with non-monogamy?
Many people who practice non-monogamy, particularly those who identify as practicing polyamory dislike the idea of hierarchical relationships. They eschew the previous common polyamorous structure that had one relationship identified as a primary relationship and others as secondary, tertiary and so on. They feel that no relationship should be more important than another, no person taking precedence over another, all relationships be seen as and treated as equal.
In practice, equal is truly the wrong term.
While relationships may be treated equally in mind and heart – be equal in value, in day to day life, equal is very difficult if not impossible to achieve. Equal means to be the be the same in degree, size or quantity. Attempting to create equality of time alone can be a challenge.
When one of the relationships is a hierarchical one as all authority transfer based relationships are, equal becomes difficult at best and impossible at worst.
If the authority transfer based relationship is a D/s one, it is possible to create equal other polyamorous relationships as both parties retain at least some agency. However, if it is an M/s or O/p relationship, equal other relationships are not truly possible.
Why is this so? In surrendering authority, the submissive also surrenders agency. Some agency is usually returned except in the most restrictive and micro-managed M/s relationships where the Master controls every aspect of the slave’s live. But even though the subordinate regains some agency, the ultimate decision maker is person in charge. They can allow the subordinate to have other romantic and/or sexual relationships and they also have the authority to end these relationships.
Full polyamory requires full agency.
As the slave does not have the agency to create the relationship without permission, to define the parameters of the relationship, or to choose if the relationship is to continue or to end, then it is not polyamory as such.
Therefore what is it? It is consensual non-monogamy that is taking its form from the hierarchical authority transfer based relationship.
Choc Trei calls this ‘loaning’ as the Owner/Master/Mistress is the party with the agency to begin the second relationship, negotiate it’s parameters and to end it. In discussing this, she used the example of a car. Two people can purchase a car together, share the use of it, the maintenance of it and both names are on the title (registration document). This is polyamory – with two people each having a relationship with a separate third person. In the car analogy, both people have agency to use the vehicle as they see fit as they both own part of it. In the polyamory example, the separate relationships can take any form as all parties have agency over the relationship (which is the car).
However, when there is an M/s or O/p relationship, the car analogy becomes one person (the M/O) purchases the car, takes responsibility for maintenance of it, uses it and that person’s name is on the title (registration document). The owner of the car can choose to lend it to another person. The owner would define the terms of the loan. For example, don’t take the car over state lines, don’t use cheap petrol, wash the car every week. In addition, the owner could end the loan for any reason. For example, the person who borrows the car uses the wrong petrol or simply the owner has need of the car. More or less agency can be awarded when making a loan of property, but the final decision point is always the Owner.
The Owner sets the tone for all other relationships that their property has whether these relationships are sexual, romantic and sexual, friendships, business or family relationships. The Owner can award more or less agency to their property to create and maintain relationships but the owner has the final say.
People often believe that this relationship structure is overly complicated.
In my experience, it depends wholly on the tone set by the dominant partner. Some Owners love to micro manage and sometimes that means that any other relationships can become complicated as permissions and negotiations happen on a regular basis. Other Owners give significant agency and freedom to their property which tends to mean that other relationships are less complicated.
Jarrod and Seth are in an authority transfer based relationship. Jarrod sees himself as a benevolent Owner. Seth has always been able to have casual sexual liaisons with minimal interference. Jarrod requires Seth to ask first and to make clever choices. ‘Clever choices’ means to choose people who won’t bring any drama into their relationship. Jarrod does not ask to meet most of the people Seth becomes involved with as he feels no need.
When Seth meets Angelo, the connection is extremely intense. Seth asks Jarrod for permission to have sex with Angelo and Jarrod grants this. Seth realises that he wants an actual relationship with Angelo and brings this to Jarrod. Jarrod sits down with Seth to discuss what kind of relationship he would like to have with Angelo and after this discussion, asks to meet Angelo so they can negotiate the terms of the relationship and discuss the rules.
Jarrod likes Angelo immediately upon meeting him. He explains to Angelo that he is happy for him to start a relationship with Seth, his property, with certain rules in place. Rule number 1 is Angelo is always to be available to him (Jarrod) when needed. Jarrod tells Angelo that he will do his best to respect their time together, but reiterates that if he needs Seth, his need will come before Angelo’s needs or desires. Jarrod goes on to say that if he becomes concerned about the relationship between Seth and Angelo and his concerns cannot be resolved, he (Jarrod) will end the relationship between them. The rest of the rules include safe sex only, no group scenes, no cuts or skin breaks of any kind and no permanent marks. Angelo agrees to these rules and pursues his relationship with Seth.
After 6 months, the relationship between Angelo and Seth is still going strong. Angelo tells Seth that he has fallen in love with him. He becomes uncomfortable with Jarrod having the final say over their relationship. He wants to their relationship to be completely autonomous and resents that Jarrod has some say over their relationship even though Jarrod doesn’t interfere and never has interfered. At first, Angelo urges Seth to address this with Jarrod. Seth refuses and says that Angelo must have this conversation. Seth tells Angelo that he does not want to change his relationship with Jarrod. Angelo is upset by this but decides to talk with Jarrod about changing the rules anyway. The conversation doesn’t go well and the relationship between Seth and Angelo ends.
In that example, the intensity of the relationship between the property and the outside person changed and this lead the relationship ending as the other person would no longer respect the rules set by the Owner. I see this type of situation in my consulting room regularly either because Owner and property come in to make sense of the drama that has entered their relationship or because the outside person comes because they are not happy having a relationship that is not completely autonomous. This type of situation can often be avoided if all parties are clear at the outset as to what the relationship possibilities are and what kind of parameters will be put into place.
I often see people who are in an M/s or O/p relationship and want to have other M/s or D/s relationships. In these relationships, the negotiation can be easier as all parties understand authority based relationships. It can also be more complicated while people try to figure out who is ultimately in charge of whom. Short term encounters are mostly easily managed. It is the longer term relationships that require the most care and attention to negotiate.
For people whose primary sexual orientation is dominance or submission, it is not unusual for most of their romantic relationships and sexual encounters to have at least an element of dominance/submission.
Though many of my romantic relationships are not D/s, almost all of my sexual relationships involve submission as this is my primary orientation. My husband and I are in an M/s relationship and so he has the last word on any other relationships that I become involved in. He gives me lots of agency to form relationships and does not micromanage any of these relationships. He has only a few rules and is laid back as long as these rules are adhered to. Everyone I become involved with is well aware of the hierarchy before they get involved with me. People who only want egalitarian polyamorous relationships don’t usually get involved with me because I am in a hierarchical relationship.
The trend to denigrate all hierarchical non-monogamous relationships works to exclude many people who choose authority transfer based relationships as part of their relationship structure.
By their nature, authority based relationships are hierarchical and this does impact upon non-hierarchical relationships that a person has as well. It doesn’t always mean that the authority based relationship is creating and controlling the hierarchy but often this is the case.
Are you in an authority based relationship and non-monogamous? If you would like help creating a structure that works well or managing the issues that arise out of the relationship structure, sign up for a 30 minute free discovery session with me on my contact page. If you want to learn more about authority based relationships, check out my online course here.