05/05/2016 05:33 pm ET Updated May 06, 2017

Power Dynamics in Sexual Relationships

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One part of our sex life is power roles. If you take a closer look at your relationship to sex, you will likely recognize that you tend to play a certain role in the power structure of sex. At the very basic level there is the dominant role and the submissive role. To be clear, I am not referring to Kink lifestyles here. In basic vanilla relationships, you can see a basic power dynamic of some partners who tend to be more submissive and some who tend to be more dominant. You can also find people who are comfortable in both roles.

People who prefer the dominant role tend to call more of the shots during the sexual interactions. These people tend to initiate sex more and generally lead the show while sex occurs. This person will suggest different positions, guide their partner through the kissing and touching, and be more assertive about what steps they will take to move through the sexual act. A person who is dominant in the bedroom does not necessarily have to be dominant life.

People who take more of a submissive role will usually not initiate sex as much as a dominant partner would. They will respond to their partner's advances for sex, but they generally don't prefer to take the lead. They take a "go with the flow" approach to sex. They are generally open to their partner's suggestions and like to be guided along. Just as in the case with the dominants, a person who is submissive in the bedroom does not necessarily have to be submissive in life.

Also, in each case, a person can move out of either a submissive or dominant role at times. For example, a submissive may initiate sex with their partner and even suggest a few ideas here and there. The same is true for a dominant. They may go along for the ride with their partner at times. To be titled the submissive or the dominant simply means that as a sexual person, you tend to prefer one or the other more. There are also plenty of people who might identify as right in the middle-equally enjoying both the dominant and submissive roles.

Typically, if you have one dominant and one submissive, things tend to run smoothly as long as each partner is happy with the frequency and quality of their sex life. The same is true for 2 submissives or 2 dominants--so long as they can be flexible and practice regularly stepping out of their typical role.

How do these roles negatively affect a person's sex life? Consider two submissives in a relationship. If both people prefer the other person to initiate more and take the lead, a variety of things can happen. In one common example, couples stop having sex altogether. They both keep waiting for the other person to try, nothing happens, and they feel rejected.

In another example, one submissive may take on more of the dominant role, but feel very bitter about it. They feel bitter because it's not easy for them to take on the dominant role and they feel like they are the only one putting effort into the sexual relationship. The other submissive will usually go along with the sex they have, but will not understand why their partner gets so angry about initiating all the time.

In yet another example, sometimes a person has mainly been in relationships with dominants and their current partner is a submissive. I have talked to many couples in this situation. Often they describe their partner as weird or "not normal." The reality is that both roles are very normal and both roles are not gender specific. While males may typically play the dominant role, there are plenty of men who prefer the submissive role. While females may typically play the submissive role, plenty of women enjoy taking a more dominant role as well.

There can sometimes be problems with two dominants in a relationship, but this depends on each of their flexibility as people. For example, if they are both willing to flexibly move in and out of dominant and submissive roles, they'll find ways to take turns and probably still get along. However, if they are stubborn, then it may feel uncomfortable to not be in control. They may struggle to let the other person take the lead.

In any case, knowing your typical sexual power role can be helpful in determining whether you are sexually compatible with your partner. In cases where couples can't seem to put their finger on the problem, when I discuss power dynamics, there is often mismatched power roles at play. Which power role do you feel most comfortable in?