As a writer and a longtime active participant in power exchange, I have to admit that the phrase “Total Power Exchange” has never felt comfortable for me. Something about it felt off, like the love songs that toss around words like forever and always as though they’re realistic goals. How many people in relationships have been lulled into a false sense of security because they are sold a story that their relationship is going to be a happily ever after story?

What is TPE, Anyway?

Total Power Exchange is a term that refers to a Dom/sub relationship, generally at the Master/slave level. It is often, though not always, used to describe a relationship (or the desire for a relationship) in which the participants have consensually chosen to live their commitment 24/7. The TPE commitment is often symbolized and formalized by collaring and signing a contract in which the details of the relationship are spelled out in writing.

TPE is Redundant (for me)

I think the reason the term TPE makes me twitch is because I don’t see power exchange as something to be done halfway. If you are involved in a power exchange dynamic, you need to show up and be fully present. In that way, calling in a Total Power Exchange feels redundant for me, because I don’t do power exchange that isn’t total. I fully embrace that this fact is one of the reasons that having a relationship with me is a pretty intense experience.

To use TPE as a phrase feels as though it gives me the subconscious permission to not show up sometimes. If it isn’t a TPE relationship, I can just phone it in, right?

I do understand that TPE is a symbolic term that represents an ideal, and I don’t want to be dismissive of the fact that what it represents is an important distinction. My opinion is based on my own experience and nothing more. When someone approaches me and says that they are interested in a TPE relationship, I understand that they are expressing an interest in a full-time M/s ownership scenario. The term works, I just don’t like everything it implies.

Power Exchange requires input of 100% to be effective. If I come to the table with 25% and my partner with 25%, the energy we create isn’t going to do much. Does that mean we both show up with full batteries and give everything we’ve got every time? Not at all.

Power Exchange is about reaching a collective 100%; if you’re only bringing 30% to the table today, I can make up the difference by showing up with 70%. Next week, those percentages might reverse. It’s rare in relationships that partners each show up bringing 50% of the required energy, which is the beauty of the energy of the Power Exchange in the first place. Relationships are about give and take, and creating a balance of energies.

A Final Word

I don’t think Total Power Exchange is wrong. I don’t use the term for the reasons stated here, but I’m not writing a rule book or an exhaustive dictionary of all things kinky. If the term works for you, by all means use it. My only goal is to help people employ a broader understanding of how the words and phrases we use can (and often do) have broader implications, and multiple meanings.

Like anything that sparks an interest, I suggest that you test drive words and phrases to see how they feel in action. Language should make you feel something, and the terms we use to describe ourselves and our relationships should give us a sense of belonging, like coming home.