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Power Dynamics Kink

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"She treats him like dirt, but I think he likes it."
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Since romantic relationships frequently have a playful or thrill-seeking edge, aspects that have to do with power, subjugation, punishments, etc. have often been sexualized. The most extreme manifestations of this formed a subculture on its own, known as BDSM, but milder elements have found their way into mainstream culture.

The most common way to introduce this is an Unequal Pairing, for example, between an Emperor and a commoner, between a teacher and a student, between a mistress and her servant boy, or between a mortal and a powerful sorceress. For the trope to come into play, the inequality has to be lampshaded: for instance, the sorceress may jokingly tell her lover something like "If you upset me, I will put a curse on you". Formally equal pairings may also be subject to the trope, if, for example, a girl gives a Prank Punishment to her boyfriend or vice versa.

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The trope only comes into play when non-sexual power dynamics are being sexualized; for kinky erotic games in bed, see Casual Kink and Safe, Sane, and Consensual. Besides, it only applies when both parties enjoy this sort of relationship, and it harms neither of them; otherwise, it's Romanticized Abuse. Compare Friendly Tickle Torture and Kinky Spanking. For the most extreme version of this, when one party is literally a slave to the other, see Property of Love.

If someone's fetish is powerful people in general (big bosses, politicians, etc.), it's Power Is Sexy.

This may be one of the results of Belligerent Sexual Tension. Also related to Weakness Turns Her On, Mischief for Punishment, Amazon Chaser, I Love You Because I Can't Control You, A Match Made in Stockholm, All Girls Want Bad Boys, and Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?. Milder versions of this may also overlap with Trickster Girlfriend.

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Examples:

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    Comic Books 

    Film 
  • In the 1968 movie Great Catherine (based on the eponymous play by George Bernard Shaw), when the titular Empress orders the British ambassador to come to her and he disobeys, she orders to tie him up and take him to her private torture chamber... where she "tortures" him by tickling with her bare foot. As a condition for getting him untied, she tells him to kiss her foot ("When an Empress allows you to see her foot, you should kiss it"), and after that, they spend a passionate night.
  • In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the relationship between Poe Dameron and his superior Amilyn Holdo was originally intended to have a flirtatious subtext. This was significantly toned down in the final version of the movie, but some subtle hints are still there.
  • In Phantom Thread, Reynolds is usually an obsessive Control Freak. However, when Alma learns to poison him so she can make him well again and put him in his place (because Weakness Turns Her On), both Reynolds and Alma seem to develop a mutual sexual attraction to Alma (non sexually) taking control.
  • Secretary is a film about a young woman who gets a job as a secretary at a law firm, and ends up entering into a dom/sub relationship with her boss when they realize he gets off on her obedience and punishing her for her screw-ups, and she gets off on being punished. There's a fair bit of emotional strife, mostly related to her insecurity and him being deeply ashamed of his interests, but the relationship itself is fully consensual and gradually makes her feel empowered and more comfortable in her own skin. With The Power of Love, they manage to make it work.

    Literature 
  • The Wheel of Time: Nynaeve and Lan marry in a culture where the higher-ranking member of an Unequal Pairing is expected to take an obedient role in private for balance's sake. Nynaeve's only word on being "outranked" on her wedding night is "glorious".
  • An oddly large number of the male heroes in Tolkien's Legendarium. Though perhaps the most well-known example is Celeborn. He's a renowned general in his own right, but Galadriel can and does kick Sauron's butt singlehandedly (at the end of The Hobbit she forcibly evicts him from Dol Guldur which the careful reader will note was not just his hideout. His spirit was actually connected to the tower). While they are presented as equals initially in The Lord of the Rings it soon becomes evident that Galadriel is the real boss in Lothlorien, when she chews Celeborn out for being racist in front of both diplomatic envoys, and his troops. Haldir seems oddly nonchalant about seeing his commander get publicly embarrassed, suggesting this happens frequently. She is also from a more highly regarded family than he is (and her other Big Damn Hero moment was attempting to defend his tribe, the Teleri, from her uncle Fëanor). But this also extends to the humans: most conspicuously, Faramir falling for Eowyn after learning that she took down the Witch King who had earlier defeated him and his men.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Twin Peaks, the relationship between Benjamin Horne and Catherine Martell has a shade of this, involving him kissing her feet and her replying to his compliments with sarcastic quips. Taken Up to Eleven when he's accused of murder and arrested, and she visits him in the jail. She takes off her shoe, and he kisses her foot, pleading her to confirm his alibi.
  • In Doctor Who, the Doctor's relationship with River Song also has definite overtones of this. She openly revels in her superiority to him in many aspects, including being better at piloting the TARDIS or knowing things from the future that he doesn't (when he asks her about those, she playfully answers: "Spoilers"). In two of the episodes, she handcuffs him to prevent him from ruining her plans, and when he asks about her reasons for doing so, she again replies "Spoilers". Also there was that time she tried to kill him...
  • How I Met Your Mother: In "Mosbius Designs", Ted hired a secretary to help him run an architectural firm out of his apartment. The new secretary is given the key to the bathroom and prevents Robin from using it without his permission. Robin finds this sexy and the two begin sleeping with each other. When Ted fires his secretary and he loses control of the bathroom key, Robin loses interest.
  • Scrubs: In her first appearance, Jordan was assigned to JD as a patient. Because she was a member of the hospital board, she largely ignored him and even planned to leave before he cleared her to go. This caused JD to snap at her and demand she follow his orders. Jordan becomes turned on by this and had sex with him.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Jake is very into it when Amy (his girlfriend, fiancé, then wife) acts domineering, which increases when she's promoted to Sergeant. For instance, when she's twisting his thumb around during the Halloween Heist, he asks her to "do it harder".
  • Succession: Roman is treated as Ambiguously Gay in Season 1, as he never sleeps with either of his girlfriends but he has a lot of sexual tension with his (male) trainer, whose job it is to push him physically. Season 2 confirms that Roman has little interest in sex; he jerks off multiple times to Gerri humiliating him and verbally attacking him for being a loser and a dumbass, and he can only try to have sex with his girlfriend when she's pretending to be dead.
  • In The Alienist, Kreizler and his servant Mary have a very weird power dynamic in their relationship, where on the one hand, Kreizler is Mary's boss, but on the other hand, he is highly dependent upon her because of his bad arm. Mary seems to enjoy Laszlo's timidity whenever he needs her to do something for him.
  • Dietland: Implied with Kitty. She threatens to fire Dominic, then offers that he can stay if he kisses her foot. He's about to do it when she tells him she just wanted to see if he would.
  • In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Artemis mentions that she's slept with a lot of paraplegic guys because she "likes the power".

    Video Games 
  • The Next Big Thing by Pendulo Studios has the protagonist spend a night of love with a beautiful living mummy called Krom-Ha. After that, he tells her: "Command me to kiss you, darling", to which she replies: "Ha ha ha, what a guy! Now do it, or I'll have you drawn and quartered".
  • In Paradise Killer, Doom Jazz suggests flirtatiously that Lady might want to "investigate" his body, which she can agree to depending on player choice. More serious conversations, however, make it clear that they fully understand the weight of her job.
  • Shows up briefly in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III when the crew tries to pry some information from an informant. Turns out he is quite willing if the three ladies in the crew steps on him. Angelica quips that the informant would probably have been even more willing to give them the info had Claire been in her RMP uniform.

    Visual Novels 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Implied during the third chapter, where the perpetually-lustful Steel Samurai director Sal Manella is a complete doormat for his producer, Dee Vasquez. Wendy Oldbag describes their relationship as, "She treats him like dirt, but I think he likes it." Official art depicts Dee sitting on Sal while he slobbers and sweats.

    Webcomic 

    Western Animation 
  • BoJack Horseman: In a flashback, acclaimed television writer Cuddlywhiskers has a sexual relationship with his assistant Jill Filipowitz (later known as Jill Pill when she becomes a playwright). Jill disobeys his orders by throwing his bottled water on the floor, Cuddlywhiskers yells at her, and Jill boasts about how she's a "dirty girl" and implores Cuddlywhiskers to come to the bedroom and "punish" her.

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