The Paradox of Power in Sexual Relations

How can power affect sexual relations? In this article, we'll review how, as power is gained, sexual relationships can, indeed, be affected.
The Paradox of Power in Sexual Relations

Last update: 29 March, 2022

All the relationships you build may be seen as power relationships. In this way, your interactions are conditioned by certain power dynamics that determine factors such as dominance, submission, and leadership, among others (Vásquez and Emanuel, 2012). At times, these dynamics allow the paradox of power to come into play.

In the context of sexual relationships, when we talk about power, we understand it as the act of controlling and influencing the other person during sexual practice. We see it as “the action that is exerted on human beings by human beings” (Vargas, 2009). In fact, power understood in this manner can manifest itself in different ways and affect, both positively and negatively, the relationships concerned.

A couple having sex.

The paradox of power and sexual relations

The paradox of power occurs when a person who’s gained power begins to lose the positive qualities that brought them to the position of power they currently occupy. In other words, they were promoted based on their good qualities, but their behavior has worsened with each new move up the ladder.

With regard to sexual relationships, the paradox can be seen when one person, as they gain more control over the other, begins to engage in behaviors that degrade the relationship. In this way, those attitudes or behaviors that initially led to a better relationship fade or disappear in the same proportion as power is gained in the sexual relationship. After all, it’s known that power corrupts, and it also happens on a sexual level in certain cases. Consequently, power can deteriorate sexual relations. In fact, there are studies that demonstrate this relationship.

For example, an investigation was conducted by Lammers et al. (2011) on the relationship between power and infidelity. They found that high power is positively associated with infidelity because it increases an individual’s confidence to attract partners. Also, power may influence people’s opinions about extramarital affairs.

In another study on power and sexual perception, Kunstman and Maner (2010) found that power activates interest in sex and causes biased perceptions of others’ sexual interest. The authors also noted that power, coupled with misperceptions of sexual interest, can even lead to sexual harassment.

Power dynamics in sexual relationships

Sexual relationships manifest the power dynamics of each couple. There are those who assume dominant or submissive attitudes, where power is expressed in particular ways. Indeed, some experience satisfaction from feeling powerful and having sexual control over the other, while others like to feel controlled.

When the paradox of power begins to operate within these relationships, the behavior that characterizes each member can be degraded. In fact, dominance and control can gradually lead to sexual sadism and submission to masochism.

Sexual sadism and the paradox of power

Sadism refers to a set of behaviors through which a person experiences pleasurable sensations by causing both physical and mental harm to another living being (Gómez, 2021). On the sexual plane, a person is sadistic when, on inflicting pain during sex, they experience some degree of pleasure.

The paradox of power can exacerbate the practices of domination and control of these kinds of people. This happens because, with the gain of more power, the individual sees the need to increasingly deploy it. However, to do so requires greater dominance and control. In turn, the satisfaction they obtain from these behaviors drives them to seek more pleasure and satisfaction. This makes their behavior become progressively worse.

The paradox of power and sexual masochism

Sexual masochism is the polar opposite of sexual sadism. Sexual masochism is understood as the preference for sexual activities that involve receiving pain, humiliation, or slavery, this being the most important source of sexual gratification (Ibáñez et al., 2013). In general, these activities entail an attitude of submission on the part of the individual. At first glance, it seems that power and masochism are totally exclusive, but this isn’t always the case. As a matter of fact, although it sounds paradoxical, there can be power in submission. That’s because when people influence, manipulate, and control through submissive behavior it’s a use of power.

When a submissive person or sexual masochist is faced with the paradox of power, their behavior begins to deteriorate more. Because experiencing power through humiliation, submission, and pain leads them to increase the intensity and frequency of these behaviors. In the long run, the behaviors of the masochistic person not only affect them but their partner too. This is due to the fact that they’re forced to take part in aggressive acts that are not to their liking, just to please their partner.

In conclusion, the paradox of power teaches us that having a great deal of power in sexual relationships and, in life in general, can often end up negatively affecting our behaviors. Therefore, it’s advisable to cultivate self-control and recognize that the image that the power of ourselves sells us is often a simple illusion.

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  • Lammers, J., Stoker, JI, Jordan, J., Pollmann, M. y Stapel, DA (2011). El poder aumenta la infidelidad entre hombres y mujeres. Ciencia psicológica22 (9), 1191-1197.
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