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Doms and Subs Tell Us About the Tricky Ways They Express Love

Because sometimes saying “I love you” ruins the roleplay.
Submissive model
Photo courtesy Goddess Aviva / Instagram

We all have different ideas about what is romantic, whether that’s a box of chocolates, a rose presented by a handsome man, or a ball gag and some hogties.

I find the trope of red roses and chocolate exhausting and totally uninteresting, so I wanted to look into what Valentine’s Day romance can look like for less vanilla folk, who might prefer affection expressed through degradation and insults, or tied-up wrists and neglect.


Everyone does dom/sub roleplay differently, often varying from pairing to pairing and from session to session. So whilst romance and love are definitely present in a lot of D/s pairings, how might they affect the D/s dynamic?

How do you navigate that arrangement and celebrate love without risking the power play? What does kinky love language look like? And what about being flogged by bae in a gimp mask makes for perfect V-Day plans?

What does romance look like when you’re kinky af? I sought out some raging kinksters to find out.

Angelica, 26

VICE: Hi Angelica! As a submissive, is there anything you find super romantic that might seem backwards to vanilla types?
Angelica: My whole sexuality is based on things I "shouldn't" enjoy, but do! For example, I love being objectified, tied and then neglected. If a partner listens to these things and explores them with me, then I think that's romantic. If a partner only cares about himself and his fantasies, then it's the opposite.

What would be some specific ways you would show your dom love or romance?
Things that take the D/s relationship to that level, in my experience, are underlined by a need for "more" than the usual playing. For example, doing specific sex acts with only that person, shopping for toys together, finding threesome partners together. Total trust and submission is also very romantic, in my opinion. When I'm being tied up, I look at my dom adoringly.


And what would be some specific ways you would receive love or romance from your dom?
Kissing, cuddling, thoughtful and thorough aftercare. An emphasis on my pleasure and my needs. Being complimented and worshipped, right before I get choked or face-fucked. One dom asks me to pick out toys and then I get to keep them. He asked me to pick a belt and write my name in it. I think that's cute, kind of like when you write your crush’s name on your desk at school.

Cute! Would traditional displays of love or affection have a place in a dom/sub scene?
Definitely! Especially during an intense scene. Kissing and stroking can act as encouragement, or simply be a way of "checking in" to ensure all partners are still enjoying themselves.

Do you have any kinky Valentine’s Day plans?
Yes! I'm going to Sleek Magazine's kinky party with my pussy pack.


Chris, 34, and Jen, 36
London, UK

VICE: Hello you two, so tell me a little bit about your dynamic.
Jen: We have been together seven years and also play in a dom/sub pair.

And who is who?
Chris: Jen is the submissive, which makes me the “dom.”
Jen: Why are you doing air quotes, that's what you are.
Chris: Sorry, I suddenly felt shy.

No need to be shy! So tell me, as it’s nearly Valentine’s Day, how might a dom/sub dynamic express love or romance differently to a more vanilla pairing?
Jen: Well out of a scene Chris might buy be chocolates or flowers like any normal boyfriend, and in a scene he might lead me around on a leash and pet me like a dog. For me both of those things show me love and romance.
Chris: Yes, I would say we can be romantic like any other couple, and we also have an element of romance that is definitely not as normal.


So what is something you do, Chris, that you think is romantic?
Chris: Maybe Jen should answer. Am I romantic?
Jen: Well in a scene you’re never romantic in a gushy “I love you” kind of way, but the way you treat me and praise me I find very romantic, because it’s something you know I like. So for me it’s just as sweet when you buy me chocolates than when you—
Chris: Flog you with a paddle?
Jen: [Laughs] Exactly!

And Jen, how do you show Chris love or romance?
Jen: Well as a sub I commit to him fully in a scene, I think that element of worshipping is ultimate love; it’s adoration, it’s appreciation.

Is there anything you find romantic or loving that might seem counterintuitive?
Jen: Getting spat on? Getting degraded in general, I guess. I know it absolutely sounds counterintuitive but the feeling of knowing I want to allow Chris to do all those degrading things to me makes me feel really in love.
Chris: I think in that respect it’s about pushing the boundaries together, so something might seem counterintuitive or even degrading like that, but it’s about knowing you have utmost trust in one another and full knowledge of what the other wants. For us, that trust is love I think.

So aside from being spat on, would any traditional displays of love or romance have a place in a dom/sub scene?
Chris: I think so, essentially our kink plays on all the elements of love; trust, passion, appreciation—but we just do it in a more extreme way.
Jen: Yes I think the trust and appreciation I show him in a scene is just an exaggeration of the devotion and love we feel to each other as partners.


How lovely, and what are your big plans for Valentine’s Day?
Chris: Oh I can’t say it’s a big surprise.

Will it be kinky?
Jen: [Laughs] It better be.

Goddess Aviva
New York

VICE: Hello Aviva, so you’re a professional dom is that right?
Goddess Aviva: Yes I’m lifestyle and professional Domme. On the professional side the submissives are my clients and there is some kind of financial transaction for the time we spend together. The lifestyle side means that I have submissives that serve me personally, without a clear financial transaction. He goes to get my groceries, he comes to clean my apartment, he buys me gifts, he runs errands.

What does your sub get out of buying you groceries?
Someone who wants to become a submissive finds a lot of pleasure in service. My sub is the kind of person who really wants to make other people happy. He’s very empathetic. He gets a lot of joy from bringing me joy. In our particular dynamic we have interactions where I'm being elevated and he’s being degraded but it all feels good for him.

Is it ever reciprocal?
Yes there are things that I can do for him that help him feel taken care of and appreciated too. From my end it’s things like giving him assignments and then praising him when he’s completed those tasks. Sometimes when he has come and cleaned for me I will let him massage my feet. He has a foot fetish so he really loves to be at my feet, so that’s like a reward or an expression of caring from my end. When he comes to serve me I always make sure he’s hydrated. I always pour him water in his dog bowl, and then I like to add a little of my spit to it. He loves that, it’s a sign of me giving part of myself to him. That’s also a sign of caring and love.


So the arrangement can be loving?
Yes. From his end I think there are more typical expressions of love and care. When he comes to serve me he always brings me fresh flowers, because he knows I’ll really appreciate that. I have a wishlist and he’ll get me gifts from it, which is quite a typical love language.

What would be some specific ways you would show your sub love or romance?
The most important way a dom can show love to their submissive is in the aftercare. After you have a scene or session one of the most romantic things you can do is take care of that person. You show them you do respect them and you do care for them. That can be very romantic and very intimate.

Would traditional displays of love or affection have a place in a dom/sub scene?
Verbal affirmation, acts of service and gifts are all love languages. So some of it can look very typical and can be pulled from a vanilla relationships where as some of it will be more on the kinky side. He sends me messages like “Good morning goddess, I’m going off to work for you. I hope you have a wonderful goddess day.” The language might be slightly different from a vanilla relationship but it’s still a verbal affirmation.

What are some specific things you find romantic that you have your sub do?
I find cuckolding really romantic. When my submissive is in support of me being with other men and dating other men, I find that to be extremely connecting. For me a very romantic time would be to have the submissive be my bath butler and help me get ready for a date with someone else. I could have a sensual bath, and I could have my submissive there to scrub my feet and oil my body and help me pick out lingerie to go on a date with someone else.


Has it made you think about love or romance differently?
Yes, I have so many interactions with men who are adoring and romantic and sweet, so now I have very high standards for what other relationships are bringing to the table in the ways that I expect to be treated and adored.

That’s great! A what are your Valentine’s Day plans?
I have a client that day, he’s very lucky! Maybe we can do some more romantic play. He’s very into worshipping feet, so if he pleases me maybe I’ll let him massage my feet.


VICE: Hi Laura, so you’re a sub, what would be some specific ways you would romance your dom?
Laura:In normal day to day life—just like with any other partner. Cuddling, kissing, caring for them. I haven't lived 24/7 in a dom/sub relationship. I think that would be different. Just sometimes distracting with naughty pictures or sexting [laughs]. Or fulfilling tasks he gives me. During scenes/sessions—being obedient, pleasing him and also somewhat watching out if he is enjoying himself. Stretching my boundaries for him.

And what would be some specific ways you would receive love or romance from your dom?
For me the acts of love and romance just feel more heightened. So especially during or after a session—coming back to eye-to-eye level—acts like kissing on the forehead or cuddling also serve a different purpose and because they are so different to the scene before, they feel even more intimate, romantic and real.


Is there anything you find romantic/loving that might seem counterintuitive?
Him wiping away the tears he created or him looking into my eyes very intensely before inflicting pain.

Do traditional displays of love or affection have a place in a dom/sub scene?
For sure. Just not constantly for me because that wouldn't fit the dynamic during a scene the way I like it. They then even seem more special because of the dynamic beforehand.

What would you personally find the most romantic in a scene?
Kissing on the forehead. Somehow it always comes back to this.

Trey, 27, and Louis, 39

VICE: Hi boys, so tell me a little bit about your dynamic.
Louis: I would say we have quite an intense D/s dynamic, but in regular life we’re a pretty normal couple.
Trey: Yeah we’re not complete sexual freaks. We go for dinner and stuff.

And Louis you’re the dom in the arrangement?
Louis: Yes I am. I have a few different subs, but Trey and I are obviously in a romantic relationship also.

Would the romance of your relationship ever have a place in your sessions?
Trey: No [laughs]. We do pretty extreme sessions, they mostly revolve around pain play, degradation and general sexual deviance.
Louis: We save the romance for once the play is done, we reward each other with loving aftercare. That’s where we make up for it. We’re in an extremely loving relationship.
Trey: Which I think is why I can play with Louis the way that we do.

So you wouldn't show love in a scene at all?
Trey: That's not how we like it. I guess love is subjective. What Louis does to me during a session could be seen as “loving” because he knows I enjoy it, but our play normally takes place in a space without anything you would consider “loving.”
Louis: There is trust and consent obviously, but there wouldn't be traditional displays of love
Trey: But, once we’re done, absolutely! We cook and cuddle and do all the normal things couples do!

So what will your Valentine’s Day look like?
Louis: Probably ordering Doordash and watching the Ted Bundy documentary on Netflix. [laughs]
Trey: Yep, then after he’ll put me in hogties and get to work!

Follow Laura on Twitter.