Krati Mehra is an empowerment coach, host of Experible podcast, speaker, and writer. She has a Masters from University College London and a Bachelors in Psychology from Panjab University.
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September 28, 2023
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In traditional societal constructs, men have conventionally been assigned roles that place them in dominant, decision-making positions, while women have often been cast in complementary roles characterized by their nurturing and supportive qualities.
The old structures may offer the comfort of familiarity, but these outdated ideals limit individuals from expressing aspects of their personalities and needs that deviate from conventional norms. Such restrictions can negatively impact a person’s mental health and the health of a relationship. They also create power imbalances skewed in favor of men and to the disadvantage of women.
However, as society evolves, people are challenging such standards. They’re re-evaluating and redefining roles, responsibilities, and boundaries in a relationship. One such example of this transformation is the emergence and acceptance of female-led relationships (FLR).
What is a female-led relationship?
In a female-led relationship (FLR), a woman is the dominating partner and makes most, if not all, of the decisions in the relationship, while the man has a more submissive position. The degree to which this plays out can vary greatly.
FLRs, flipping the script on traditional relationships, seek to create either a more equitable partnership, or one that puts the power in the hands of the female partner. This new relationship paradigm is rooted in mutual consent and can create greater sexual satisfaction and deeper emotional intimacy.
“Within an FLR, the woman typically leads decision-making, sets boundaries, and establishes the overall direction of the relationship,” certified sex therapist, Aliyah Moore, Ph.D., tells mindbodygreen, adding, “This may extend to various aspects of life, such as finances, household responsibilities, and even intimate aspects, depending on the specific preferences and agreements of the individuals involved.”
Non-kink specific signs of an FLR:
- From choosing holiday destinations to family planning, the woman is the primary decision maker; the man has a more supportive role.
- The woman manages the finances, sets the budget, and may even be the primary earner; The male partner may or may not hold a job, but the female partner will maintain financial control.
- The female partner sets the boundaries in the relationship, covering anything from social engagements to personal space.
- The male partner seeks approval from the female partner before attending events or forming new friendships.
- Domestic chores are the man’s responsibility, while the woman may or may not lend a helping hand.
- The female partner may also control the male partner’s habits and daily routine. She decides whether he is allowed to smoke, consume alcohol, or use social media.
- The female partner takes the lead in navigating and resolving conflicts.
- The woman’s opinions, feelings, and ideas are given priority.
Female-led relationships in the kink community
Power play, with one partner assuming a dominant role and the other a submissive one, is a popular theme in kink play and BDSM; FLR is one aspect of it.
An FLR becomes part of a kink when the woman’s control extends to the bedroom. The couple indulges in BDSM and/or other sexual fantasies with the power and authority in the woman’s hands. FLR can add excitement and a certain emotional richness to a couple’s sex life. However, “Consent, communication, and respect for one another should always come first when incorporating FLR dynamics into a kink environment,” Moore cautions.
In a kink-specific FLR, a couple seeks to express their desire for dominance or submission through different sexual practices.
Signs of a kink-specific female-led relationship
- There are clear dominant/submissive roles with the woman, of course, in the dominant role, and as part of the play, referred to as “Domme” or “Mistress.”
- The female partner decides the when, how, where, and frequency of sexual encounters, and they are more focused on the woman’s preferences, desires, and satisfaction.
- The sexual activities and rituals may include the usage of BDSM tools like restraints, paddles, whips, etc., and techniques like bondage, discipline, sadomasochism, etc.
- The submissive can use a mutually agreed upon safe word or signal to communicate discomfort or distress to the dominant partner.
- The male partner follows set rules and rituals, with the dominant partner administering rewards for compliance and punishments in case of disobedience.
- Partners may also engage in role-play and fantasy exploration.
- The power play may continue in public, with the man continuing to stay submissive to the authority of the female partner.
- The submissive may also have to follow specific dress requirements outlined by the female partner.
- The couple may outline the relationship’s boundaries, expectations, rules, and rituals in a written agreement.
These signs are reflective of a kink-specific FLR, but as forceful and extreme as a BDSM-oriented relationship may seem, every FLR and, in fact, most BDSM-based relationships, prioritize the very unique needs and desires of the individuals involved. The couple can adjust the form and extent of power play to ensure both male and female partners feel comfortable and fulfilled.
Types of female led relationships
Low control female-led relationship
A low control female-led relationship is a foundational type of FLR, aiming for equality. Consciously or not, as gender roles change and women seek equal rights alongside men, many heterosexual couples find themselves practicing aspects of a low-control FLR at various times and in a variety of ways.
In a low control FLR, women enjoy limited authority. “The power dynamic is relatively balanced, with both partners actively participating in decision-making and taking the lead in different aspects of the relationship,” says Moore, adding, “The woman may lead in some areas, while the man takes the lead in others, creating a more equal partnership.”
The woman earns and contributes either as much or more than the man. They jointly care for the children and other household work. While the woman has certain advantages over the man, they make most decisions together.
Moderate control female-led relationship
In a moderate FLR, the female partner has a more pronounced leadership role. While there is a limit to how far she can go, the woman makes most day-to-day decisions. She controls the finances, assigns domestic chores to the male partner, and even makes decisions that impact the man’s life.
The power exchange may continue into the bedroom, with the couple practicing kink and the woman controlling the play. Moderate control FLR also has limitations. In some areas of their life together, the male partner has equal authority. A couple may adjust their respective power roles as they wish or as their circumstances demand.
Defined control female-led relationship
With mutual consent, in a defined control FLR, the power exchange is weighed further in the favor of the female partner. From daily decisions to major life choices, the woman holds authority in virtually every area of the relationship as well as the life of the couple. The male partner has more of a supportive role.
As the name suggests, in this type of FLR, the roles and responsibilities in and out of the bedroom are fixed. There are definite boundaries in the relationship, clearly understood by both partners.
Extreme control female-led relationship
This is the most intense form of a female-led relationship, where the female partner exercises complete control over every facet of the relationship. The male partner is submissive in all areas of life, including the sexual interplay.
According to marriage and family therapist Lauren Cook-Mckay MFT, such an FLR represents a complete role reversal. “The woman becomes the primary breadwinner, while the husband assumes the responsibilities of a homemaker. Although relatively rare, it’s interesting to note that this setup can sometimes endure longer,” she adds.
An extreme control FLR is a massive commitment and more of a lifestyle choice where partners stay in their designated roles throughout their daily lives. Of course, the partners can also switch out of their parts when necessary and create power shifts within the relationship to best suit the changing circumstances in their lives.
It is highly likely that in an extreme FLR, the couple practices BDSM. In such a play, the woman, as the dominant partner, controls the sexual pleasure of her male partner.
Like most relationships, FLRs are highly adaptable. Due to the nature of the relationship, and especially in a kink-specific scenario, the key is to ensure that both partners communicate openly and frequently. The power play should evolve with both partners’ shifting needs, preferences, and desires.
Why women seek female-led relationships
Except for what we may observe in a matriarchal society, an FLR is a sharp departure from the traditional relationship structures. To practice a power dynamic that defies social conventions, an FLR has to be a conscious and deliberate choice for both male and female partners.
“Some people are predisposed to power dynamics and thrive in situations that suit their dominant or submissive tendencies,” Moore tells mindbodygreen.
For women who have previously experienced repression, an FLR can be liberating and psychologically healing. The power to make their own decision—and that of their male partner—can be a strong lure for women who desire independence and leadership roles in their interpersonal relationships.
“In FLRs, women often hold leadership positions, make important decisions, and set the tone for the relationship. This can be liberating for those who value autonomy and want to assert themselves in their personal lives,” Moore says.
The clarity around each partner’s rights and responsibilities offered by an FLR can also help avoid conflicts and reach a resolution with minimal fuss in case of a disagreement.
Leading may also appeal to a woman’s instinct to nurture and protect. They may enjoy guiding their partner and safeguarding their interests. As Moore explains, “Some women take comfort in knowing their partner is willing to relinquish power and prioritize their needs and desires, which can build a strong foundation of trust and communication and foster a deeper emotional connection.”
Moreover, a man willing to follow a woman’s lead and bend to their instruction can allow the woman to arrange the relationship satisfactorily and create the ideal partnership for providing deep emotional support.
Women who love sexual dominance may appreciate the sexual dynamics of an FLR as well. If the partners are compatible and can establish an understanding, FLR can provide a safe environment to explore sexual fantasies and BDSM.
Why men seek female-led relationships
A man can find it very relaxing to have the female partner make the decisions in a relationship. This dynamic allows him to shed traditional masculine expectations. They can let someone else shoulder the responsibilities without guilt or shame, and can also be more vulnerable in their interactions.
“For some men, having a female-led relationship can bring a sense of security and comfort,” Moore says, adding, “This can help relieve the pressures associated with traditional gender roles and expectations, giving men the opportunity to explore a different way of relating to their partner and breaking free from societal norms.”
Some men are also naturally submissive, so an FLR can feel more natural to them. They can find contentment and fulfillment in surrendering control, whether in everyday decisions or more intimate settings. “They take pleasure in being in a submissive role and prioritize their partner’s happiness and success over traditional ideas of dominance,” Moore explains.
Just as women can explore their love for sexual dominance, men can express their sexual submissiveness when integrating BDSM into their relationships. For some men, taboo BDSM activities, like humiliation or spanking, offer a clandestine thrill. It is a secret way of challenging social judgments and can feel empowering.
Some men, having had strong female figures, may naturally gravitate towards FLRs. As Dr. Moore points out, “Men often pursue FLRs because they desire a relationship that is more emotionally fulfilling.” She believes that in a female-led relationship, men can experience a strong sense of trust and deeper emotional intimacy that can be very satisfying.
Additionally, FLRs can foster personal growth. There is no pressure to conform to outside expectations, so the male partner can freely explore his inner self.
Pros and cons of a female-led relationship
Female-led relationships have both advantages and potential drawbacks. The effectiveness of an FLR depends on the individuals involved, their compatibility, and the understanding they can establish with each other.
Pros of a female-led relationship
A healthy FLR can allow a couple to explore their love for kink in a safe environment and in a way that further strengthens their bond and creates deeper sexual satisfaction. The clear distinction of roles also brings efficiency to the decision-making within the relationship with less possibility of a conflict.
As relationship expert Tina Fey explains, “One of the biggest advantages of an FLR is the focus on clear and straightforward dialogue. The structure inherently promotes conversations about desires, boundaries, and future plans, enabling both partners to be on the same page.”
And as Moore adds, “Creating a clear structure for duties and responsibilities can eliminate ambiguity and prevent potential disputes.”
While FLRs empower women, they also reduce the pressure on men. Both partners venture into new territories that encourage personal growth while experimenting with new identities. The woman further strengthens her ability to lead, make decisions, assert herself, and stay confident in various situations.
Meanwhile, the man can enjoy a slower, more gentle pace in life; With someone else holding the reins, he can let go and focus on becoming self-aware.
A unique benefit of such power dynamics is that they are built on a lot of mutual support, trust, and surrender, turning the relationship into a sanctuary for both partners.
“When one person takes the reins, it often cultivates a deep sense of trust between partners. The dominant partner values the submissive partner’s surrender, while the submissive one values the dominant’s leadership,” Fey says.
Cons of a female-led relationship
Due to the nature of the relationship, there is always a possibility that the power imbalance will turn harmful and oppressive, with one partner feeling marginalized. According to Moore, extreme cases of FLRs can become abusive “if boundaries are not respected, consent is not obtained, or one partner exploits the power dynamic for harmful purposes.”
An FLR may also lead to codependency. The submissive partner can become overly needy and reliant on the dominant partner, which may hinder the submissive’s growth and create stress and resentment for the dominant partner. Continuously making decisions and guiding the male partner can become exhausting for the female partner.
“Given the structure, it’s easy for the submissive partner to become emotionally dependent on the dominant one for affirmation and decision-making, which can echo shades of codependency,” Fey explains.
Unless both partners can handle social disapproval and judgment, they may also feel pressured when friends, family, or community members demonstrate hostility to their relationship. “The secrecy and stigma surrounding FLRs can lead to feelings of isolation or lack of support from friends and family who may not understand or approve of the relationship dynamics,” Moore adds.
Strict adherence to the FLR roles can be problematic when a certain degree of flexibility is needed. Such inflexibility might hinder the relationship’s collective growth and each individual’s personal development.
What are female-led relationship practices?
The practices can vary widely depending on the nature and intensity of a Female-led relationship. They can be anything from the female partner, in her dominant role, offering guidance and mentorship to the male partner to dictating the terms of intimacy and setting boundaries inside and outside the bedroom. FLR practices encompass the relationship interplay between the two individuals, with the female partner as the dominant force.
What is female-led relationship feminism?
In the context of feminism, a female-led relationship challenges traditional gender norms by allowing the female partner to lead, but as much as it disrupts the patriarchal standards, feminism, at its core, is about promoting equality, not just shifting the bulk of the power from one gender to another.
What is a level 2 female-led relationship?
A level 2 female-led relationship is a moderate control FLR where the woman assumes a more prominent leadership role and exercises control over certain key areas of the relationship. At the same time, daily decisions continue to be collaborative. The extent of the female partner’s dominance can differ based on individual couples’ understandings and agreements.
What is a female-led date?
Defying traditional norms, in a female-led date, the woman takes the lead in planning, organizing, and managing all elements of a date, from the location to activities.
A female-led relationship offers a tantalizing glimpse into a world where not the age-old gender roles or outdated social norms but individuals’ personal preferences and desires hold sway when forging romantic relationships. FLRs can add new dimensions to our understanding of authority and intimacy.
With the power placed in the hands of the female partner, FLRs empower women to take a bolder, more dominant approach to the life they share with their partner. At the same time, men are allowed to be vulnerable and further develop their sensitivity and inclination for surrender.
Consider it a twist on the traditional or feminist statement; the satisfaction and emotional connection found within the bounds of an FLR can demonstrate the power of a relationship built on mutual respect, consent, and communication in a relationship.