In my first BDSM relationship, I was the submissive partner, and I was dating a dominant cis man who wanted to tie me up. He was also aroused by the idea of leaving me in a cage all day and only letting me out for sex. This turned me on, too. For the majority of our relationship, I was content in the submissive role. Then, one day, after watching S&M porn on Kink.com, I realized that I was also turned on by the idea of playing the dominant role. So, I asked him if we could try it out. A true dominant, he just wasn't into me doling out punishments like name-calling and spanking.
When it comes to BDSM kinks, some people, like my former partner, fit snuggly into a specific role: a dominant (one who takes a controlling role) or a submissive (one who submits to the dominant partner). However, while I'm primarily submissive, I realized that I am what's known in BDSM as a "switch." This just means that I am "someone who enjoys switching roles, from dominant to submissive, or bottom to top," says Moushumi Ghose, a Los Angeles-based, kink-friendly sex therapist. "This is often done in the same setting with the same partner, or in different settings with different partners," she says.
In my case, I've only played both the submissive and dominant roles with specific partners who were also into switching. When I was with the last woman I dated, at first, I felt extremely dominant in the relationship. Then, we attended a BDSM workshop, and each couple was asked to take turns slapping the other. I found myself completely repelled by the idea of slapping her, but totally turned on when it was her turn to slap me. With other partners, I've felt submissive throughout the duration of the relationship. And just like the standard dom/sub dynamic, finding pleasure as a switch comes down to the consensual transfer of power. "Power play depends on who you are with, and you can have a different dynamic with different people," says Goddess Aviva, a lifestyle and professional dominatrix.
Of course, you don't need to date dominant partners with cage fantasies or attend BDSM workshops like I did to take pleasure in switching between being dominant and submissive. Anyone who has enjoyed both being spanked and getting on top during sex to take control can relate to being a switch. In fact, going between more dominant and submissive roles in bed, depending on mood and/or partner, is a natural and totally normal way to express your sexuality, says Shara Sand, clinical psychologist.
It's also fairly common to be a switch, Aviva says. There's no clinical research on exactly how prevalent switches are, but to give you an idea: The group for switches on FetLife, the kinky social network, has 20,116 members, while the group for submissives looking for dominant partners has 47,815 members (although it's worth noting that this group also contains dominant members hoping to meet subs). Not to mention, many people begin identifying as a submissive or a dominant, and then realize they want to explore the flip side. It's also normal to primarily feel more submissive or dominant, and want to experiment with role reversal. "BDSM is about exploration and expression," Aviva says. "And human sexuality is not fixed; it evolves as we experience new things."
Despite the fancy-sounding BDSM term, being a switch just means that you enjoy experimenting and playing various roles in the bedroom. And take it from me: Freeing yourself from the role you think you should be playing during sex, and allowing yourself to experiment depending on your partner or mood, can result in some mind-blowing orgasms.