Exploring Sexual Power

How changing roles can change your sex life

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When it comes to spicing up your sex life, books abound showing new sex positions, techniques and toys. However, the power dynamic in sex is often overlooked. All too many couples establish what is pleasurable sex for them early on in a relationship, and follow the same script for the rsst of their relationship.

If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, opting for things that you know 'work' means you're less likely to risk 'getting it wrong'. However, it can also limit your scope for growth. While there's a degree of truth in, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' if one person is always the 'passive' partner and the other is always the sexual initiator, it can lead to feelings of ennui.

When I was researching my book Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Female Sexual Fantasies, the majority of women had multiple fantasies – often diametrically opposed. For example, many women who fantasised about being submissive also often fantasised about being dominant – also known as being 'switch'.

Sexual fantasy – and reality – can be used to process complex emotions. A woman who feels insecure may get ego-gratification from imagining herself as a stripper attracting baying crowds of admirers. Someone with a demanding job may take pleasure in assuming a submissive role where no thought is required and they simply lie back and 'take' it.

As our emotions vary throughout our lives, so it follows that different fantasies may satisfy different needs. Exploring the power dynamic between you can help open up different ways to interact, and may help you learn more about your partner.

Don't think you have to go the full 50 Shades. Exploring different power dynamics can be as simple as initiating sex, if you are usually the one who's seduced; or waiting for your partner to make the first move if you're usually the one in control.

Should you choose to take things further and dip a toe into BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism) it's essential to establish a 'safe word'. This is a word that you use in place of 'no' to stop any activity that's going on. Many people opt for the traffic light system, with red meaning 'stop', amber meaning 'tone it down' and green meaning 'go ahead'. Some people enjoy incorporating mock resistance into their power play and the traffic light system means you can do so safely.

It's also worth reading up on power play if you're new to it (my book Friendly Fetish explores most common kinks, giving safety tips and guidelines). Be aware of your safety – for example, by making sure you have two sets of keys for handcuffs in case of one going missing; avoiding tying anything around the neck; and checking bound limbs regularly to ensure they aren't going cold, or getting pins and needles.

An increasing amount of heterosexual couples are exploring strap on sex too. It's estimated that around a third of strap on toys are sold to heterosexual couples. Being the penetrator rather than the penetrated can help you explore new approaches to sex – and help you show your lover what you enjoy when you're penetrated.

Sex offers us the chance to learn and grow with a partner. By changing the power dynamic in sex, you may well see new sides to your lover – and yourself.

Emily Dubberley

Writer, sex researcher and founder of, -

Emily Dubberley is author of 28 internationally published books on sex and relationships, most recently Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Female Sexual Fantasies and erotic romance, Blue Mondays. She founded sex website, has launched and edited magazines including Scarlet and the Lovers' Guide magazine and co-wrote the last five Lovers' Guide films. She is a keen member of and helps curate Brighton Science Festival, including last year's Science of Sex weekend.