I commonly describe my dynamic as 24/7 TPE. This phrase is so commonly misunderstood though, I thought a definition was in order.
Defining 24/7 TPE
’24/7′ and ‘TPE’ are two separate (although naturally interlinked) concepts.
24/7 refers to a dynamic in which there is no ‘off switch’.
This means that the dynamic is not limited to the bedroom, but rather is woven throughout it. It doesn’t mean high protocol all the time – just that the power dynamic is continually present. Note that this just refers to the fact that there is no ‘off switch’, not the degree of control the dominant has.
TPE refers to ‘total power exchange’.
Total power exchange refers to continuous power exchange, which extends outside of the bedroom, across all areas of life. The dominant has the right to make decisions in regard to any and all aspects of their submissive’s life.
The difference between 24/7 and TPE
A lot of people seem to use these terms interchangeably, when they refer to two separate concepts – whether the dynamic is limited by time and whether the power exchange is limited to specific, pre-negotiated areas of life.
A dynamic can be 24/7, but not TPE. For example, a sub can be at a dominant’s whim sexually 24/7, but retain decision-making in regard to certain aspects, such as their finances, career etc.
These ‘partial power exchange’ (PPE) arrangements represent the vast majority of power exchange dynamics. Which is very understandable – a lot of dominants are naturally reticent to assume that degree of responsibility for another human. I think it’s important to remember that TPE is not something to aspire to – it really isn’t for everybody. But before I get into that, let’s just cover what 24/7 TPE actually looks like and some common misconceptions.
Common Misconceptions About 24/7 TPE
Let’s start with what it doesn’t look like. When I say ’24/7 TPE’, this tends to conjure images of 24/7 bondage and latex in people’s minds.
‘I couldn’t do 24/7 TPE,’ I often hear, usually with a mix of awe and concern for my sanity. Like I said, TPE isn’t for everyone, but I think this attitude is generally based on two popular misconceptions – conflating protocol with 24/7 dynamics, and conflating TPE with micromanagement.
Distinguishing ’24/7′ and ‘Protocol’
‘Protocol’ refers to standards of behaviour or procedures agreed within a D/s dynamic, commonly intended to formalise and give form to a power exchange dynamic. There are various levels, intended for different settings.
There is no such thing as universal protocol – protocol is entirely agreed between the parties in a dynamic, because it’s supposed to be designed to foster their individual connection. And of course, what makes someone feel dominant or submissive is very individual thing.
A ‘24/7 dynamic’ refers to a dynamic in which power exchange is continuous, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s not, for example, only limited to the bedroom or, say, every other Tuesday.
Now, what most people associate with 24/7 would generally be classified as high protocol behaviour – for example, the sub being highly restricted in how they behave, being forbidden from using furniture and kneeling at their dominant’s feet when not otherwise occupied.
High protocol does not mean 24/7. A submissive can behave in accordance with high protocol and not engage in power exchange at all. Or engage in power exchange for a limited, pre-agreed time. Equally, most 24/7 dynamics do not employ high protocol most of the time (if they use it at all).
If a dynamic is always a part of your life, you design your protocol to be life-proof. It’s why protocol is designed with levels – so there is a pragmatic, sustainable way of integrating a link to your power exchange dynamic across all of life.
So, to summarise – 24/7 dynamics are not high protocol and high protocol does not mean a 24/7 or TPE dynamic. Equally, low or no protocol does not mean that power exchange stops.
What TPE looks like IRL: it’s not about micromanagement
I think people often conflate TPE with micromanagement, in that they assume that:
a. TPE means the dominant must make every tiny decision; and
b. that having total authority means making all those tiny decisions.
One of the most common questions I get is ‘do you pick your sub’s clothes?!’ This is usually asked with a degree of caution, as if that relatively mundane decision is the epitome of control which can be conceptualised.
The answer is, yes, if I feel like it. But really, he’s a grown-up, he is fully capable of getting dressed by himself.
What total power exchange means is that I have a right to make that decision. If it meant having to decide on literally every little thing, I would have burned out long ago. It’s within the nature of authority to have discretion as to when to exercise it.
And more to the point, I would be asking why he’s not capable of a basic degree of initiative himself. Because the thing is, the significance of our TPE dynamic really goes far beyond him feeling ‘controlled’ because I picked out a T-shirt.
I have the right to make any decision about his life. Sure, I can pick the colour of his underwear. But equally, I have the right to walk into a room in the middle of a random Wednesday and demand he don a full ski ensemble, complete with hat and goggles. In which case, he would have the obligation to do just that. I could also arbitrarily demand he change careers, learn to macramé, or spend the next three weeks memorising the complete works of William Shakespeare – you get my point.
Total power exchange means control which is much more significant than micromanaging tiny daily decisions. It’s about a much more ‘big picture’ form of control. And I have that degree of control for very good reason – it’s how we both function optimally. It fulfils a mutual set of emotional and psychological needs.
We function optimally when I lead and he follows – I set the course in pursuit of a vision of life we both want. Which is not to say he follows blindly, but after years of *waves hand vaguely at years of complex and stressful life events* stuff, he trusts that I generally know what I’m doing. It’s a well-founded, enduring kind of trust that I will exercise the control I have responsibly, to both our benefit.
Which brings me to my next point….
TPE is about mutual fulfilment
This is the giant, soaring, concrete expanse of a foundation that people still somehow miss – TPE is a lifestyle choice, made by people who find themselves fulfilled through it. It’s not about one person imposing their will on another. Rather, it’s about two people finding mutual fulfilment through an equitable division of responsibilities and obligations.
TPE is NOT something to aspire to
Having cleared up what TPE actually means, I want to make it very, very clear. TPE is not something to aspire to. It is not ‘the most’ or ‘the hardest’ version of D/s. It’s a specific form of relationship work only for the fraction of people who are wired to be fulfilled by it.
What is more, it is based on a lot of trust and continual mutual effort, especially in regard to personal development, introspection, and communication. If you come across someone looking to jump into TPE right away, run.
If they’re a dominant, chances are they don’t really understand the weight of responsibility TPE comes with. Think – would you be willing to assume total responsibility for a complete stranger? Would a complete stranger have your best intentions at heart? And if they’re on the other side of the slash, ask yourself, why would someone be willing to hand over the reins to their entire life to a stranger? Is that someone you want to be responsible for?
So, to sum up… a snapshot of 24/7 TPE
I will just end this by leaving a link to some snapshots from my dynamic – a rainy Sunday afternoon and a latex shopping trip. They are both casual, low-protocol moments, which hopefully can serve to make all of this seem a bit more human.
I’m sure I’m ruining all manner of fantasies here. But, for all the wonderfully dark places a 24/7 TPE dynamic can go, I’m afraid the daily reality is grounded in a good deal of wholesome and fuzzy feelings.
Last updated: 26 July 2023