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In BDSM, the term power exchange is associated with a submissive exchanging his or her authority to make decisions (whether just for a scene, or for his or her entire life), for the Dominant's agreement to take responsibility for his/her happiness and health.
On a psychological level, much BDSM "play" involves power and dominance, in particular power exchange, with one person willingly handing over personal autonomy. This can range from addressing another person as "master" or "mistress" for a ten-minute scene, to a witnessed, formal collaring with a lifelong agreement which micro-manages the submissive's life.
The latter is often referred to as total power exchange or TPE or 24/7 or 24/7/365.
In "safe, sane and consensual" BDSM, power exchange is always negotiated. Before play, the participants would discuss their physical and psychological limitations, establish safewords and work out what will happen.
A submissive is a person who submits or potentially submits to another. Within a BDSM-only context, submissive is sometimes synonymous with bottom. Submissives can vary in how serious they take their position, training, and situation. Reasons for this include relief from responsibility, being the object of attention and affection, gaining a sense of security, showing off endurance or working through issues of shame.
A dominant is a person who exercises the power to take control of a person or situation through usage of some means (such as physical, mental, financial, etc.) on a regular basis; the gender specific titles being dom for a man, domme or dominatrix for a woman. Reasons for this include demonstrating skill and power, having ownership of another person, being the object of affection and devotion.
In most power exchange as referred to in a BDSM scene, there are limitations on the power the dominant has over the submissive, include things such as safewords, time limits, or explicitly negotiated understandings of what is allowed.
"Topping from the bottom", or the attempt by a submissive to covertly control the top, is considered poor practice within lifestyle BDSM and power exchange.
- Power exchange on Wipipedia, the specialist BDSM wiki.
- Total Power Exchange on Wipipedia, the specialist BDSM wiki.