Follow the Leader: Authority-Based Relationships Uncovered

This is the latest installment of interviews with speakers from the 2nd Annual AltSex NYC Conference, which was held on Friday, April 28 in a midtown NYC theater. Eric Pride, together with his wife Lady Christie, heads a structured authority-based household in New York, which celebrates its 15 year anniversary in 2017.  Eric enjoys consensual S&M, blogs on different aspects of the lifestyle, and gives presentations on alternative lifestyle relationships, structured authority-based living, S&M, ritual, and spirituality. He is a founding member and an instructor at the Master/slave Development Center, an educational group for Masters and slaves. He is also the founder of NYC Kinky Living (NYCKL) and the producer of the hands-on immersive full-day events EdgePlay, KinkWorks, PlaySpace, ROPESCAPE, ROPESCAPE 2 and Unleashed. His presentation at AltSex NYC was entitled Peeking under the Hood of Authority-Based Relationships: Structure, Dynamics, and Lifestyle.

Source: Eric Pride, used with permission

Q: Your presentation was on authority-based relationships. How would you define a relationship that is authority-based? Can you provide some examples?

A: I define an authority-based relationship as one in which the “leader” has been consensually granted authority by the “follower” to exercise control and power over them. A few examples of common authority-based relationships include “master/slave,” “dominant/submissive,” “daddy/boy,” “goddess/worm,” and “trainer/puppy”.

Q:  What are some reasons that people may be drawn to such relationships? What do they get out of it?

A: There are many reasons people might be drawn to the authority-based relationship structure. In living life, most of us seek to be fulfilled, or “whole.” Many of us may spend significant time seeking emotions and experiences to this end. One way in which we do this is by clearly defining and understanding our identities to reduce cognitive dissonance. Authority-based relationships can aid in this endeavor. In authority-based relationships, there is often great clarity about our roles, relationship, and expected behaviors. Values, beliefs, rules, and behavioral expectations need to be clearly defined for both leader and follower. Many people in authority-based relationships often describe their experience as being able to be their “whole selves,” by integrating kink/sex/power (an important part of their identity, for them) into their daily lives.

Source: ‘over there’ by istolethetv, labeled for reuse, Flickr

Q: In your presentation, you referred to these relationships as “not just play” or “another form of BDSM.” What is the distinction you make between these authority-based dynamics and BDSM?

A: The term BDSM was first used in a Usenet posting in 1991, to mean a combination of the abbreviations B/D (bondage and discipline), D/s (dominance and submission), and S/M (Sadism and Masochism). BDSM  can be a component of an authority-based relationship, but an authority-based relationship is not required to have any or all of these components as a part of it. I like to refer to authority-based relationships as a subgroup of “designer relationships,” relationships that are directly and explicitly designed and created by everyone involved. So, rather than residing in one category (polyamory, monogamy, 24/7, part time, bondage, sexually intimate, service-based, etc.), authority-based relationships can and do encompass any or all of the above by design of the individuals in the relationship.

Q: What are some of the most common structural elements of authority-based relationships? How on earth does one go about creating this type of relationship structure in the first place?

A: Authority-based relationships are negotiated and consensual social constructs, just as any one of the more common forms of relationships with which we are more familiar. The most basic structural element of an authority-based relationship is that the “follower” has granted authority to the “leader.” There are agreed-upon rules for the leader and follower, and expectations are set for everyone involved. Authority-based relationships often encompass many or all aspects of our lives, rather than selecting certain times or places to “act out” these roles. Rituals and symbols are frequently a part of authority-based relationships, such as a collar to symbolize belonging and commitment, and authority-based relationships regularly contain service components.

While individual implementations of these relationships differ, most often healthy and functional authority-based relationships are based on transparent and honest communication. Building trust is an essential component in strengthening the bond between leader and follower and to make these relationships flourish.

Source: MaleSub Bondage 2, labeled for reuse, Wikimedia Commons

Q: There was a question in the audience related to authority-based relationships and current-day issues around patriarchy, feminism, and gender roles. Also, the term slave in master/slave dynamics has an inescapably troubling history. Can you comment on how you navigate authority-based relationship structures around these kinds of hot-button triggering issues?

A: The terms “master” and “slave” do indeed have a multilayered and troublesome history. I navigate what could be a cumbersome issue by explaining that the historical contexts are not as a whole or a part of what we do, either in name or in behavior. The relationships we live have virtually nothing in common with the historical use of the terms master and slave. In fact, I do not like using the term “master/slave relationship” for this reason. Rather, I use the term “authority-based relationship.” This circumvents the inevitable connection people might draw from this language.

In addition, “authority-based” points to these relationships as being consensual, and most importantly, derived from free will and choice. Authority, in the context of these relationships, is not attached to any one sex or gender, nor does it reside in a specific race, class, or culture. The leader can be anyone, as can the follower.

It is important for me to say that this does not mean that myself or members of the community ignore these current day issues – quite the opposite, the community actively works to seek awareness and to act in a responsible way concerning them – only that these issues are not inherently part of the definition of an authority-based relationship. A topic that has recently drawn a great deal of attention to the community internally and externally is the revision of diagnostic codes in the American Psychiatric Association’s manual, the DSM 5 (2013), for BDSM, fetishism, and transvestic fetishism (cross-dressing). In the DSM 5, consensual adults participating in BDSM is no longer considered pathology. This change was announced after years of consistent effort by the National Collation for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). The changes are significant to the community because it supports and sustains the process of destigmatization of consensual BDSM.

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