by Meghan Miller
You come across a lot of things when you're reading romance novels: dominant alpha-male personalities, beautiful submissives, a bit of kinky handcuff play, BDSM clubs, full-time D/s relationships, relationships that fulfill that dynamic in the bedroom only... One of the things that you don't see a lot of, though, is femdom, or a D/s relationship in which the dominant partner is a woman.
On the surface, it seems like femdom should be appealing to romance readers—there's a certain glamour, after all, to being in charge, to having that sort of power. It seems like it would be the height of female empowerment, making a man bow sexually to you.
Possibly you caught the "should" and "seems like" in the previous paragraph. In practice, fewer woman than one might expect enjoy the femdom dynamic, at least in fiction.
To be a Domme is to hold a lot of power. In a femdom relationship, or any sort of D/s relationship, the Domme (or Dom) is by necessity the responsible partner — responsible for the safety of what they're doing, for ensuring that the sub finds their activities pleasurable (or not, if that's the point), responsible for their own pleasure. To really dominate someone, one must be constantly aware not only of the sub's headspace, but also of their own, and of how both headspaces will shift as the scene progresses. On the surface, it doesn't seem like there should be anything off-putting about that, and maybe in real life there's not.
In fiction, though, it's another thing entirely. As a rule, readers of fiction are seeking out some sort of fantasy. When you've spent the last twelve hours wrangling children, arguing with co-workers, trying to find something to eat for supper, calling the phone company to try to figure out why last month's long-distance bill cost two hundred dollars, and having to be on top of things and in control all the time, most people don't want to fantasize about having to care for someone else. They want to fantasize about having someone else care for them.
For many people — not just women — submitting to someone can be a very powerful experience. A good Dom will nurture and care for his sub, doing everything he can to ensure the sub’s comfort and happiness. Additionally, the combination of pain and pleasure that is present in a D/s scene triggers the sympathetic nervous system, evoking a high with both physical and mental effects. Pain tolerance increases, and the sub feels dreamily detached, not unlike the way one feels when taking narcotics. When the scene ends, it is likely that the sub will be exhausted, which is why aftercare is sometimes necessary.
In a D/s relationship, the sub is ultimately the one with the power. Not only is the Dom trying to please them, but all it takes is one word, their safeword, and the scene ends. No one goes into any sort of D/s situation in hopes that they’ll be miserable — they do it because of the pleasure and power to be found in submitting. It's understandable that a woman who has to be responsible and "in charge" for most of her day — the femdom in dealing with life — could fantasize about not having to take the dominant role in the bedroom.