Dear Katherine,

I like to be bossed around in bed. How should I show my partner that I like that without flat-out requesting something from them that might not be their bag?

Not the boss

Dearest Not the Boss,

Power and control offer endless pleasure, theorization and frustration when it comes to matters of the heart, mind and bod. Asking for what you want in bed is never easy. And if you are at all a politically minded or aware person, asking to be controlled or to control another person can be very loaded.

It may be helpful to start with the assertion that when you are in bed with another person you’re you but you’re also not you. You might say, you’re not not you. The same could be true of a lot of other scenarios as well. When you’re at the office, for example. Or when you’re with your family. Or when you’re with one group of friends as opposed to another group of friends. Asking to be bossed around in bed doesn’t mean that you want to be bossed around anywhere else. When you’re in bed you have permission to say some things that you would never say in any other context.

Remember how 50 Shades of Grey, a movie that was supposed to be all about hot sex was actually about paperwork and contracts? Well, you do enter into a different kind of contract in the bedroom. In order to help you delve into your desire to be bossed around I turned to real life BDSM expert, Justine Cross. Cross runs two dungeons (places where people go to practice BDSM) in Los Angeles where she’s been a practicing dominatrix for eight years. If anybody knows about bossing people around, it’s her.

As Cross says, “There’s no such thing as surprise BDSM.” Whether you’re interested in just a little “verbal humiliation” or something more extreme, Cross advises that you “have a discussion at a very neutral, non-sexy time.” She goes on to say that she always starts her sessions by going into safe words, likes dislike and medical conditions. “Some people don’t know what they want,” she said, “and for them I say, ‘We’re going to a do a little omakase BDSM.’” You and your partner must start with a convo and then move onto the tasting menu.

While it might not feel like “wanting to be bossed around” is the same thing as a Rihanna-level fantasy of whips and chains, “there is some level of BDSM,” says Cross. I agree with her. With power and control play comes boundaries. Cross encourages you to ask, “‘What names are hot for you? What names do you not want to be called? Is the kind of bossing around you want verbal – somebody telling you what to do. Or physical, being shoved around?’” Negotiate the fine print with your partner and with yourself. It’s just as important to know what you DON’T want as what you do.

“I always want to know what a major no-no is,” says Cross. “If all of a sudden I pull out a ball gag and they’re not into it, I want to know that.” Whenever you’re negotiating sex (whether it’s kinky or “vanilla”) with somebody else, it helps to have a vocabulary to discuss your desires and boundaries. Cross recommends a “red, yellow, green” system with your partner. “Red means stop, green means go and yellow means slow down and check in,” she said. This kind of system keeps things “safe, sane and consensual.”

BDSM practitioners refer to themselves as “players,” and the sexual activity they engage in as a “scene.” You may want to adopt this vocab in regards to your own power play. “A scene is different from sex,” says Cross. “There is definitely a beginning and an end and not always an orgasm.” Explaining to your partner that this is a scenario you want to explore as a “player” rather than the be-all-end-all of who you are and how you want to be treated may help frame your conversation when you introduce the idea.

If you and your partner agree that you want to engage in a scene, ask yourself what you want to happen after you’ve been bossed around. “Aftercare” is what happens after a BDSM scene and can be anything from a hot shower, a hug or time to relax and hang out. Letting your partner know that they will have space to be taken care of or allowing yourself space to be taken care of after a scene can make it that much more enjoyable.

I can completely understand your trepidation about your sexual request being rejected and your desire not to ask “flat-out.” Most people suffer from this fear to a certain extent. All relationships, whether sexual, romantic or both involve compromise, but as Cross puts it, “For some people BDSM is not that important in the relationship and for some people they need it and it’s a deal breaker.” If you articulate your desire, and it’s just “not their bag,“ decide for yourself how essential it is for you to be bossed around in bed. Then proceed accordingly.

The main thing I’d like you to walk away with, my dear, is that there’s nothing shameful about your desire. At different cultures in different moments different kinds of sexual practices are acceptable and taboo. Articulating your wants and needs as an adult who respects people is never a bad call. As Cross says, nobody ever concludes, “I wish you had been less clear.” Say what you want, flat-out. And in that sense you will very much be your own boss.

Just the Tips is’s weekly advice column, with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at

Follow Justine Cross on Twitter and visit her website at