Switch BDSM, Explained – What Is a Switch in BDSM?

ICYMI: BDSM stands for bondage and discipline, domination and submission, and sadism and masochism. This is where the whole dominant (sometimes called a “top”) and submissive (a “bottom”) dynamic comes into play.

“A top is simply someone who leads/guides the scene and the bottom is there to receive the experience,” explains Mistress Rogue, professional dominatrix and headmistress of The Dom House. (The dominant and submissive terms can also be used when there’s a power dynamic as well.)

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And while you might be most familiar with what a dominant and submissive do, there’s another term you might not be as familiar with: a switch. Let’s dive deeper.

What is a BDSM switch?

A BDSM switch is someone who goes back and forth between dominating and being submissive, says Rogue. The dynamic change depends on the mood, circumstances, and the vibe between the partners, she adds.

And while the term is used commonly in the BDSM community, it’s important to note that switching—just like being dominant or submissive—isn’t always sexual. It’s merely about an exchange of power, which could be anything from doing chores to consensually ordering your partner around. What’s done in the bedroom is like an ~added~ bonus.

How do you know if you’re a switch?

If you’re wondering whether or not you’re a switch, the answer is actually pretty simple: Just think about what turns you on.

If sometimes you feel more eager to take control in the bedroom (e.g. riding your partner, tying them up, etc.), and other times the idea of your partner running the show (e.g. spanking you, tying you up, or just managing the positions) sounds better, there’s a good chance you’re a switch, says Rogue.

If you’re still unsure, chatting with your partner(s) can help you figure it out. “It’s about being honest with yourself and with your partners so that you both are receiving as much pleasure from the interaction as the other,” says Florida department of health sexual health educator, Jasmine Akins. “As long as you have partner communication and honesty, you should be able to self-identify.”

What are the perks of switching?

The most obvious perk of switching is having the opportunity to play in different ways with potentially different partners. Not only will it give you more chances for connection (and uh, orgasms), but it will also give you a more well-rounded perspective, which can make you an even better dominant or submissive.

“The best dominants often start as subs and then find their way up to being a top or a dom,” says Rogue. “In fact, this was how I became a dominatrix. I was introduced to BDSM by a dominant, and I learned and built skills knowing what I wanted as a bottom, so I could become a better dom.”

In addition to honing your skills, switching can also be majorly liberating in a mental sense. You can explore different head spaces and free yourself from playing the role you think you have to play during sex, says Akins. This can aid in communication, decrease boredom, and stimulate creativity.

Are there any downsides or risks?

The major concern with switching—other than becoming addicted to it, lol— is making sure everyone is continuously onboard and you’re practicing safely. “Being a switch means learning double safety information for BDSM practices. Keeping everything SSC (safe, sane and consensual) is vital,” she explains.

Any BDSM play can involve risks, which is why things like constant consent and safe words are integral. Partner communication is vital in any sexual situation, but especially if you’re adding some new kinks to the mix.

Finally, just like with any sort of sexual activity, reducing the risk of STI transmission is always essential. “You should be tested whenever you have a new partner, and if you’re in a monogamous relationship, I recommend testing at least once a year,” advises Akins. Utilizing barrier methods is a smart idea for some forms of BDSM play where penetration or fluid exchange is involved.

Now, here’s how to try switching for the first time

If you think you might like to switch up the power dynamics in the bedroom, don’t be afraid to explore those desires, even if they seem like a curveball in your relationship.

“The first step is being interested in it, so don’t feel like you have to be the BDSM king or queen the very first time,” says Akins. “Do your research and ask questions.”

Both experts agree: Educating yourself is key to a successful switch. And luckily, there are tons of resources out there to get you started—just don’t reach for Christan and Ana’s story as a guidebook.

And if your research leads you to believe switching might be for you, let your partner know. While it might seem hot to spring it on them mid-session, it’s actually important to talk things out ahead of time so you’re both on the same page.

Plus, you will need consent to test out a new dynamic. You never know what triggers someone might have, or what emotions might be stirred up within yourself, so communicating throughout (and checking in with yourself) is vital.

Then when it comes time to go at it, take things extra slow.

“If you’re a newbie, feel free to ease into it. You can start with a simple blindfold to heat things up. As you get more comfortable with the idea, you can expand your play options with yourself and with your partner,” suggests Akins.

“The [desire] may develop [or deteriorate] over time, and since this will probably be a pretty different experience for both of you, don’t expect to know right away whether you like the dynamic or not. “It’s okay to try new things, and it’s okay to absolutely adore them or hate them,” Akins says. “It’s your body, and you have the final say. Always.”

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