Power vs. Control

August 18th, 2011

A friend on FetLife asked: in the context of BDSM and/or TPE relationships, what do you think is the difference between the concepts of “power” and “control”? I find this a very interesting question, and I’m going to try and wrap my brain, and my typing fingers around it today.

Let’s start with the basics of the question: power and control. Dictionary.com has this to say about power: “1. ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something. 3. great or marked ability to do or act; strength; might; force. 4. the possession of control or command over others; authority; ascendancy: power over men’s minds.” (Numbers 2 and 5 were political in nature.) And this to say about control: “6. the act or power of controlling; regulation; domination or command: Who’s in control here? 7. the situation of being under the regulation, domination, or command of another: The car is out of control. 8. check or restraint: Her anger is under control.“ To start, it lists power as the ability(normal or great) to do something. Then goes on to suggest you must have power to have control. Control, by direct definition here, seems to be more about an act than an ability, something you do, rather than something you have. The dictionary listed noun first for power, and verb first for control, though I have copied in the noun definitions for both.

How does this compare to BDSM, and in particular, my experiences with these concepts?

My first instinct is to say that power and control are the same thing. If you give someone power over you, you are giving them control over you. If you are in a power exchange, then you are giving up/receiving control. But I think this is using narrow, singular definitions of these terms.

Another way to look at control, is self-control, inner control. I would not give power to someone who is not in control. In this case, control is required to have a power exchange. I require a person to have control before they have power over me.

If we look at the first two definitions of power, we find another interesting discussion. The ability to do or accomplish something. Having the power or ability to do something would be necessary if I’m going to ask it of that person. So, from this side of things, the person would have to have the power in order for me to offer them control.

But are both things necessary and always in the same amounts? Does an offering of power always mean an offering of control or visa versa?

There are always degrees. I don’t give the same amounts or types of power and control to everyone I play with. In fact, they all get different amounts of both. The other generally got physical control, but only on rare occasions did he achieve mental control. He, on the other hand, has mental control, and physical control simply follows. Power is trickier, and I go back to my original posit that they are the same in this context, but it just doesn’t fit quite as nicely as all that. My partners have different powers, different abilities. And different powers over me, sometimes intermixed with control, and sometimes a quality of our relationship or history.

So, I agree with the dictionary. Power is something you have, whereas control is something you do. Power is your ability, learned or intrinsic, and your strength of mind and body. Control, however, for me, is actively given and received, and actively exercised.


One Response to “Power vs. Control”

  1. […] to me however, that I’m not sure I’ve clearly expressed before. I just reread my Power vs. Control post, and I see that I didn’t really touch on the thought I had today. I talked a lot about […]