Sexual Surrender: Handing Over Power During Sex

Sexual Surrender

Joan’s life is rich and rewarding. She has a strong social support system of friends and family she feels close with, she enjoys the challenges of her career as dean at a highly regarded university, and she has a strong relationship with her husband Albert and their two teenage daughters. A self-described “feminist” and “go getter,” Joan’s competitive nature and creative/intellectual aptitudes have served her well in her career.

As she continued talking about her life, it became clear that she wouldn’t change much if she had to do it all over again. It was only when she began talking about her sex life with Albert that her confident presentation gave way to hesitancy and obvious distress.

Sexual Desire and the Yearning to Sexually Surrender to Another

As I encouraged Joan to share whatever was troubling her, she stopped to collect herself and then stated, “You don’t understand, I’m in a position of power at my job. Every day I fight for equality for students and in all aspects of my life. So I shouldn’t be feeling what I’m feeling. It violates everything I believe and have worked to achieve!” Joan’s emotional pain was now palpable, but what was still unclear were the feelings she was having that she experienced as troubling. She was clearly at odds with herself—an internal battle was raging between what she felt should be and what she was actually experiencing.

Over time and as Joan became more comfortable talking about her sex life, she began to share her sexual fantasies that involved sexual surrender and mild BDSM (Bondage Discipline/Sadomasochism). She fantasied about her husband becoming more sexually dominant and a scenario involving being spanked and tied up while having sex. While many people fantasize about and responsibly live out sexual dynamics involving the relinquishing of control to a more powerful, dominant sexual partner, Joan feared that these sexual longings were in direct violation to her values of mutual empowerment and respect that guided the rest of her life.

Joan isn’t the first person to feel conflict about her deepest sexual longings. And while she feared that her sexual desires were an indication that something must be inherently wrong with her, the truth is that it is a big sexual turn-on for many people to hand over power in the bedroom and give in to the sexual control of an alpha other. While the particulars of how this sexual dynamic can play itself out varies widely, the underlying power-control issues are similar across BDSM experiences.

The Erotic Charge of Power, Control and Surrender

One of the remarkable things about human sexuality is that just about anything can become an aphrodisiac—a particular person (real or imagined); a body part; an object or article of clothing; or a particular act or behavior (for instance, erotic talk, spanking or someone exuding confidence). Turn-ons and turn-offs are as varied as the people who experience them.

When it comes to sex, issues of control often take center stage (though too many couples fail to look at this important issue directly). Control and power dynamics involve the negotiation of what is sexually acceptable and what is off-limits; establishing conditions of emotional security and safety; inviting open communication about each other’s evolving sexual needs and desires; as well as the willingness to take risks sexually and explore the edges of each other’s boundaries.

This negotiation may also involve claiming and owning power/control or surrendering it. The idea of not having power and control is what lit up Joan sexually. And part of the appeal for Joan in handing over control was not feeling weighed down by the many responsibilities that came along with her life.

The experience of surrendering your power/control sexually involves letting go emotionally and physically, a stepping out of yourself in order to become subsumed by the will of another (to some degree). The subtext in this dynamic is, “I am here in this moment to be taken over, to become an extension of you and your desires… To let go of who I am and lose myself.” In the BDSM dynamic, the giving over of oneself sexually to the will of the other (with the other being imbued with the status of being a more powerful-dominant force) is highly arousing. It’s only when we feel truly safe with another that we can let go of our self in the way that Joan (and many others) yearn for.

The Judgment and Strangulation of Sexual Desire

Joan’s harsh criticism of her desire to be sexually controlled and dominated prevented her from celebrating her sexuality and experiencing the rich and varied tapestry of her sexual-self. This was a significant loss for Joan, as well as for her husband, who it turns out found his wife’s fantasy very exciting when she finally disclosed it to him. The more we deny the ways in which our sexual desire and yearnings seek expression, the more estranged we remain from ourselves.

This divided self comes with a significant cost to both oneself and one’s relationship. The locking away of our desires because of shame-based judgments siphons our vitality and keeps us locked in an internal dance of self-criticism and loathing (two psychic events that drain energy and prevent self-growth and expansion).

  • Do you and your partner openly discuss issues of control and power regarding sex?
  • Are you fully attuned to your sexual fantasies, whether these include sexual surrender, BDSM, or some form of kink?
  • What conditions of safety are needed to communicate your fantasies with your spouse/partner?

To read more about the role of surrender in sex, check out my article:  Self-Surrender: Letting Go for Better Sex.

(Featured [top] image Submissive Man” by Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)