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From Biederer Studio (c. 1930).

In some forms of BDSM the role of master means one who dictates to and controls another person, who is known as a submissive or slave. A master is a dominant, but the term implies a more pervasive relationship than "dominant" does. A master is usually a master to a specific other person or persons. A Master/slave relationship suggests one that goes beyond sexual scenes, affecting the day-to-day life of the people involved.

However, different people have different conceptions of the role, and may use it in different ways. There is no single accepted and definitive list of traits that a "master" must possess, nor is there clear agreement on what distinguishes a "Master" from a "dominant".

In the BDSM lifestyle, the person who is the dominant person in a Master/slave relationship, and is usually male gender specific.

Other uses

The term "Master" may be used as a term of address, either alone ("I wish to speak with you, Master") or prefixed to a name ("Master Michael").

In non-BDSM contexts, a master may be a person who has achieved a high level of skill is some trade, craft, or profession (such as a "Master plumber", "Master carpenter" or "Master musician"). In this sense it evokes the guild organizations of the Middle Ages. Such a master is permitted to train apprentices.

In the 19th century, boys under 13 years old were addressed as Master; boys between 13 and the age of maturity were not accorded any courtesy title; and from the age of maturity on, they were called Mister. For example, in the spanking novel The Old Rectory, the 12-and-a-half-year-old Henry Perceval is addressed as "Master Perceval", even when he is being reproved and punished.

A teacher in a school, particularly one with a culture derived from the English public school tradition, may be called a master.

Also some what archaic English, Master is the male equivalent of Miss, reserving Mister for married men.

The feminine gender-specific of Master is Mistress.

Also see the Roles and Functions Page

Definitions of the word "Master"

mas·ter - Pronunciation Key (mstr) - n.;

  1. One that has control over another or others.
  2. The owner or keeper of an animal: The dog ran toward its master.
  3. The owner of a slave.
  4. One who has control over or ownership of something: the master of a large tea plantation.
  5. The captain of a merchant ship. Also called master mariner.
  6. An employer.
  7. The man who serves as the head of a household.
  8. One who defeats another; a victor.
  9. One whose teachings or doctrines are accepted by followers.
  10. A male teacher, schoolmaster, or tutor.
  11. An artist or performer of great and exemplary skill. "An old master".
  12. A worker qualified to teach apprentices and carry on the craft independently.
  13. An expert: a master of three languages.
  14. Used formerly as a title for a man holding a naval office ranking next below a lieutenant on a warship.
  15. Used as a title for a man who serves as the head or presiding officer of certain societies, clubs, orders, or institutions.
  16. Master Used as a title for any of various male officers having specified duties concerning the management of the British royal household.
  17. An original, such as an original document or audio recording, from which copies can be made.

Master is a term used to describe or address the dominant partner in a relationship or scene. Because it is an honorific of the dominant, it is common for "master" to be written with a capital letter.


The term "Master" can be used in a gender-independent way, but is mostly used only in reference to males. There is not otherwise a male equivalent. The female equivalent is Mistress or possibly Dominatrix.


Typically, Master is used to describe the dominant partner, or owner, in a Master/slave relationship. It is sometimes, less commonly, used as a title for the Dominant in a D/s relationship. Not all Masters have equivalent skills, abilities, or orientations. For instance, a Master might have little specific expertise, while another may have great experience, long-standing interest, and considerable learned skills, both physical (e.g., skill with whips) and psychological (ability to 'get into' a submissive's head). To successfully maintain a Master/slave relationship, from the Dominant perspective, takes abilities and skills beyond or apart from normal relationship skills.

The Master has usually been given the right to exercise authority over the slave (or submissive) in some substantial sense, within a relationship that may extend to a full time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or something less extensive (weekends as schedules permit, for instance). This is what is usually called power exchange in one variant or another. Although the Master will be understood to have a great deal of authority over the slave, this cannot extend to legal rights as such arrangements are not recognized in law anywhere in the developed world. Thus there must always be an implicit, if not explicit, element of consent involved, somewhat in imitation of legal contracts.

A Master might be a sadist but is unlikely to be a masochist, though sometimes a switch. The same is true, on the other side, of the slave/submissive, who may be a masochist but will not necessarily be; or the slave/submissive may be a switch.

Casual Usage

Some people in a relationship, or just within a scene, enjoy the psychological impact of calling their dominant partner Master or having their submissive partner call them Master. Such usage is not by itself an indication that they are a Master any more than calling a partner 'honey' indicates that they are made of honey.

Many matchmaking web sites will encourage the usage of the term 'Master' for someone who is currently single and looking for a partner. Strictly speaking, this is an indication that the person is wanting to be a Master or slave owner (or in acting such a role) and is not an indication that they currently actually master anyone, or ever have.

This usage of the word Master -- as an honorific when neither party in a relationship consider themselves to be owned nor owner - is a common source of confusion when trying to use or understand BDSM terminology, given that the most accepted usage requires no certification or formal training. Most especially, a Dom might be called Master by his sub in a D/s relationship.

Head of Household

Master may also be used in its everyday sense as the male head of a household in some styles of D/s and M/s, especially those groups of people identifying as a House.


Not often used within the meaning of BDSM, but sometimes found in this context to mean someone who knows a lot about some subject, such as ropework or or computers or whips (as in "he is a famous whip master.")

Historically, a master craftsman (sometimes called only Master) was a member of a guild. In the European guild system, only master craftsmen were allowed to actually be members of the guild. An aspiring master would have to pass through the career chain from apprentice to journeyman before he could be elected to become a master craftsman. He would often have to produce a sum of money and a masterpiece before he could actually join the guild. Becoming a Master was often very hard.

The usage of Master in S&M parallels this usage in some ways, as early practitioners used to go through an 'apprentice' stage, often having to act as a submissive or masochistic as part of the process. However, Master in historical SM and Leather derived from 'Master/slave' rather than apprentice / journeyman / Master.

"To be completely woman you need a master, and in him a compass for your life. You need a man you can look up to and respect. If you dethrone him it's no wonder that you are discontented, and discontented women are not loved for long."

Marlene Dietrich

See Also

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