Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What is a Total Power Exchange and is it achievable?

I thought I would talk about one of the more commonly misunderstood terms in BDSM- Total Power Exchange, or TPE for short.

The phrase "Total Power Exchange" was coined by Steven S. Davis in the newsgroup during his debates with Jon Jacobs in the mid 1990's. In 1997 Davis gave this definition, in bold, along with a lot of asides (in brackets):

A TPE (Total Power Exchange) relationship, sometimes described as an

absolute lifestyle D&s relationship (that such relationships can actually be neither "total" or "absolute" is agreed; these are ideal states to be worked towards but which will not be achieved, which is why TPE may be better seen as a process or goal than as a state), is a relationship in which no impediment to the exercise of the owner's power is accepted (some may, of course, exist, and what prudent owners do is to avoid direct collisions with these impediments, while working to overcome those that can be overcome, nor will a sensible owner try push a slave into things that are hard limits for her (but the owner might push a slave up against what the slave thinks are hard
limits but which she can in fact overcome)). Such things as safewords, contracts, negotiated limits, and anything else which recognizes/acknowledges/formalizes limits on the owner's power tend to be viewed as negative things in TPE

Let's take out all the italicized portions to get to the heart of the matter...

A TPE (Total Power Exchange) relationship, sometimes described as absolute lifestyle D&s, is a relationship in which no impediment to the exercise of the owner's power is accepted. Such things as safewords, contracts, negotiated limits, and anything else which recognizes/acknowledges/formalizes limits on the owner's power tend to be viewed as negative things in TPE.

Ah, that's better. Much easier to read and understand. Right?

But what does TPE actually mean? I think the term itself is somewhat misleading - all three words of it, in fact. First, as stated above, "total" is a pretty difficult thing to achieve.
Second, the dominant acquires authority, not just "power". The dominant's control of the submissive is acknowledged as being rightfully his. Finally, power or authority is not "exchanged". It is unilaterally taken by the dominant from the submissive.

At its most basic level, TPE means the dominant, whether a man or a woman, has complete control over the submissive's life, in as much as that's possible. The dominant may tell the submissive when to wake up, how to dress, where to go during the day, when to come home by, what to cook for dinner, and how to spend the evening. If the submissive, for example, doesn't like the outfit the dominant has picked out, too bad. If the submissive wants to watch American Idol but the dominant wants to see Justified, they watch Justified. The submissive completely surrenders to the wishes of the dominant.

Clear as mud now? What questions do you have? I'll do my best to answer them in the comments.


  1. I just can't help but wonder about the practicality of a TPE relationship. It must take a huge amount of effort, trust, and communication between the two parties for this to work. I would also think they would have to be in a long standing relationship in order for the foundation to support such an arrangement to be in place. I wonder how this would translate in a romance book? I'll have to ponder on that...

    1. It would certainly be interesting to explore, wouldn't it?

  2. Interesting topic, Cassandra. One thing though. To my understanding, initially the sub GIVES control to the Dom. Even in TPE.

    1. Yes, I agree, Bianca. But I wanted to stay true to the definition that the "creator" of the term used.

  3. This is a fantastic post! Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. Bianca, It is true that submissive give their submission to the Dominant. In TPE the submissive has given total control to the Dominant, most couple work up to this point. TPE is not for everyone. Though TPE is not for everyone I have watched submissives behave as if TPE is a goal, like training for a marathon. I notice that Dominants don't feel this way about TPE either they want it or they don't.
    So in TPE the submissive gives over complete control with the understanding that the Dominant knows what is best for the submissive and the Dominant has been gifted with their complete submission knowing that all his work for the submissive is rewarded with the submissive focused completely on the Dominants happiness and fulfillment. This is the ideal TPE relationship. It is not necessarily practical, but a balance can be found that works for both parties.
    TPE is not a Mercedes or the best house on the block to be envied. TPE is work and not for the faint of heart. It can be abusive in the wrong hands, both submissive and Dominant risk abuse. The Dominant must work hard for the submissive and vice versa. Like in marriage, TPE is not 50-50; it's 100-100, 24/7. If a person thinks TPE is for them they investigate it and make sure it is the correct move for them. I know people with beautiful TPE relationships, but I also know people that it didn’t work for.

    1. This comment really helps clarify. As I was reading through this posting I was feeling little tingles of things. I often am a mess if left to my own devices and get off task. I notice that hubs (Sir) in his 'Dom voice' will command me back on task. I have never been a leader, but I tend to be able to be told what to do very well in large groups. You can delegate to me and I get it done and quickly when told to.

      But this gives me a lot to think about in the way of (Who this be right for both Hubs and I) Thank you for posting this in comments

      - Bonnie

  5. Although the idea seems great for the dom,wouldn't this be difficult in the real world? Having to plan out the whole life of another person..when to get up, when to dress ,what to wear, where to go and when.You can't talk on te phone , play games,watch you soap...The list is endless.I would find the prosess exausting and a bother..

  6. It takes complete honesty, openness, and a whole lot of effort on both sides. My first ever real relationship was 24/7 TPE, no boundaries sacred. I couldn't function for months after it ended. Finding a Dominant who's willing to micromanage, train, and constantly be on the ball is incredibly rare. As strict as some Doms are, as much as S&M pushes physical limits, there's nothing quite like the complete mental and emotional of TPE. It's been 10 years now and I haven't encountered anything resembling TPE since.