Stages of EPE Development

how we discover and explore our desires...

This document tries to describe the different stages that a person, generally speaking, goes through when developing feelings and emotions related to erotic power exchange (usually referred to as BDSM or S&M). This stages-theory is based on some of the scientific research done on the subjects of BDSM and/or sadomasochism, interviews with BDSM people and discussions by members of the Internet-based Maledom-discussion group.

Stage 1: The initial (discovery) stage where one finds out about one's own feelings

Feelings and emotions, related to erotic power exchange are often discovered in a very early (sometimes pre-puberal) stage, although they may either emerge or develop at a later stage as well. Often people discover these feelings within themselves after having gone through a rough period in their life, like a divorce. This is probably caused by the fact that such events cause people to evaluate their own person as well as their environment. Since the context is erotic power exchange, these feelings almost always have sexual connotations and may coincide with the general development of the person's sexuality.

It is essential in this stage is that these feelings are usually neither explicitly dominant nor submissive, but rather general power exchange related. Dominant and submissive feelings may - and probably will - exist next to each other within the same person and will eventually - except for those who will nurture both aspects of their character (switches) - find their direction.

Strictly speaking, no person is 100% dominant or 100% submissive. What evolves is a tendency to grow to towards one end of the scale, either dominant or submissive. The size, these dominant or submissive feelings may eventually take differs from person to person. It is unclear what exactly causes the differences in the development, although aspects like education, freedom of thought, creativity, home-background and religion are influantial. Unfortunately a history of abuse is also a factor sometimes. Stage one is quite often marked by uncertainty.

Stage 2: The fear-stage

The uncertainty plus social factors will usually lead to fear about one's feelings and emotions and may lead to shorter or longer periods of seclusion. Again upbringing, religion and education are the influencing factors here, combined with the social taboo, the general lack of information on the subject, unnecessary limitative legislation, social prejudice, stereotyping and a substantial shortfall in the general sexual education.

Both dominants and submissives in this stage will have the idea they are the only one with feelings like this and in almost all cases they will not (yet) talk about them. Some will actively seek information, others will just hide and at the same time, secretly nurture their feelings. To the person involved, the feelings are not identified as "wrong," but as positive and special and most of all "their own." However, there is a direct conflict with general social and legal aspects and politically correct behaviour.

A woman in modern society is not supposed to be submissive or weak and those who nurture fantasies of rape, kidnapping, etcetera will often be seen by other women as a danger to their gender. In fact, it is questionable if people would see them that way, but the person herself thinks she is seen like that - in most cases. A man, on the other hand, is not to beat up his spouse or friend and will often be afraid of being marked as a monster or a sadist.

Stage 3: The "first steps stage" where one will start to experiment (with oneself), read, and search for information

Even as they keep their fantasies and dreams to themselves, people will start to experiment, quite often on themselves, often actively incorporating both the dominant and submissive roles in themselves. People will start to look for more information. Most often this "information" is strongly related to their fantasies (i.e. searching for books and stories about these, as well as pictures).

This usually is the stage where a person finds out there are others like him or her. If they cannot contact them directly, the general line of thought is "there must be more, otherwise they wouldn't write these books, magazines, stories and make these pictures, drawings and videos." Finding out about others sharing the same feelings is a relief to most people in this stage, but sometimes frightening at the same time. For this reason it usually takes a while before anyone will actually start to look for others to talk to or a partner.

Stage 4: Where one tries to find others

Actually, Stage 3 usually triggers Stage 4, where one starts an active search for others that share the same feelings or are willing to. If this happens within an existing relationship the major problem to the person involved is that there is a large risk to be taken here, since this may (and very often does) break up the relationship. It is known for a fact that because of the risks involved some people tend to stop their development here and go back to nurturing their feelings in secret. In this stage people may have a problem prioritizing erotic power exchange as a part of their entire life. Three different priority problems may occur:

¥ The person involved will either over-prioritize these feelings, putting it in front of all other aspects of a relationship and over-idealizing it at the same time;

¥ People will have problems for a long time with the balance between their everyday life, trying to be one person at one time and another person at another time. Submissive women are especially known to have problems with their different roles as either mother, career person and submissive;

¥ Another problem, specifically for submissive women, is prioritizing ideals. On the one hand they want to be self-confident and strong. On the other hand there are submissive emotions, that seem to conflict directly with that. This is sometimes called "the back-stabber theory."

These priority problems, especially overprioritizing, will sometimes lead to disappointments and disillusionment, for example not being able to find a partner or overdoing it towards an existing partner or spouse. Submissive women in this stage are sometimes very vulnerable to an abusive relationship, due to overemphasizing their power exchange tendencies.

Stage 5: The reconciliation stage, where one comes to grips with one's fantasies and starts to understand them

At this stage a lot of information has been gathered, things have been tried out and in some way a partner, or others to share with, has been found. The person involved will now start to understand what is happening inside his or her mind.

A major factor here is that only now (and the process described in the different stages up to now may have taken years) the person will be recognized by the BDSM-community, if he or she decides to enter this community. They will immediately be identified as "novice," when, in fact, the person way is quite experienced with power exchange emotions and merely lacks "public" experience.

The disillusionments from Stage 4 will now be a part of the learning curve. We use plural here, because the majority of BDSM people go through more then one relationship (sometimes very short ones) and other BDSM experiences before finding the right partner and environment.

Stage 6: The partner-search stage (within an existing relationship or finding a new one - most people tend to mix this up with the third stage)

There may very well be a partner available at this moment, however, it is time for the partners to grow towards the same level of information and understanding and both partners now have to identify their "common ground." For singles it is now time to lick their wounds from previous stages and restart the search for a partner, only better equipped this time.

Stage 7: The revolving stage, where one grows, learns, experiments, grows again, etc.

This is the endless stage where the relationship will really start to flourish by experimenting and learning together and the start of stage 6 marks the start of a true relationship with embedded erotic power exchange.

Some general remarks

Both dominant and submissive people will go through these stages, although individual experiences may be different from the general picture, described here. People may either skip stages, they may be combined or mixed up.

The stages usually have no marked begining or end. A person will usually flow from one stage to another. Also, there is no specific age, where people develop erotic power exchange feelings. This may start as early as five years old, but also as late as 55 or 60. Adolescents will usually go through a period of sexual experiments. Erotic power exchange may be a part of that, but this is in no way an indication the person involved may develop further BDSM feelings in the course of his or her life.

There is no specific timeframe for the stages. The entire process may sometimes take many years and some people - due to personal circumstances and abilities - will go through certain stages quicker than others. The amount of access to information, and the ability of a person to find such information, is vital to the speed of the development. Early disallusionments and abuse may bring extra conflicts and will call for more time in certain stages.

Not all people go through all the stages. Some cease to pursue their BDSM - feelings/interests, and turn away from further development. Sometimes this the end of BDSM for them, and sometimes it may mark only an interruption, with them picking up the pursuit of their BDSM feelings/interests from months or years or decades later. Fear, or (temporarily) not being able to overcome the social taboo and general coming-out problems are very often at the bottom of this.

Based on materials from the POWERotics Foundation
© 2000; republished here with their permission;
see the Contributors page for contact links.