In BDSM, Master/slave is a relationship in which one individual (the submissive) gives to another (the dominant) ultimate authority over them. It is a form of dominance and submission. The participants may be of any gender or sexual orientation. The relationship is structured in terms of slavery, because of the association of the term with ownership of the slave and the rights of a master to their body, as property or chattel. The dominant is often called Master if male, or Mistress if female.
The owner/slave relationship is usually entered into on a consensual basis, without the legal force of historical or modern non-consensual slavery, which is forbidden by the laws of most countries.
Outside the BDSM community, the relationship of Master/slave is sometimes regarded as a form of consensual sexual slavery. In BDSM, a slave is a specific type of submissive. The master/slave relationship refers to the relationship between the individuals involved, and does not necessarily require any specific acts, sexual or otherwise, though sexual activity is usually an aspect of the relationship. The sexual aspect could be conventional, and not necessarily BDSM. A slave could also be a masochist or bottom, but this is not always the case.
Some participants regard the relationship as sexual roleplay, while others enter into the relationship on the basis of a highly committed, long-term, submissive lifestyle.
Some practitioners feel the difference between submissive and slave is the degree of submission. However, many who are involved in Master/slave relationships see the difference as being conceptual. For example, some slaves may not have a naturally submissive personality, but choose to surrender their will and volition to another.
Various forms of symbolism are sometimes used to affirm the owner/slave relationship. These include the wearing the owner’s collar, being registered in a slave register, adopting (sometimes legally changing to) a name chosen by the owner, or engaging in a public declaration or ritualized ceremony of some type.
Some people draw up a slave contract that defines the relationship in explicit detail. These contracts may also deal with domestic arrangements (such as cleanliness, home duties) and interpersonal relationship matters (such as issues of deference, language, etc.), besides the sexual arrangements. Typically, they would provide that the master has the only say in all matters relating to the body and manners of the slave, including clothing, underwear, social relations outside of the arrangement, etc. However, these contracts are understood as not having any legal weight and are not intended to be used in a court of law, but are an understanding and agreement between the individuals.
In some traditional rituals, after signing a slave contract, many people celebrate the commitment to the relationship with a collaring ceremony, which can be simple or elaborate and friends are usually invited. The slave then wears a collar, which symbolizes their status. The collar may be a piece of neckwear, or may be a bracelet or other piece of jewellery that symbolizes slave status. These collars are generally not removed unless or until the relationship is dissolved, although some slaves are permitted to wear a more subdued (or less obtrusive) one outside of the home – for example during work or in social situations with people who may feel uncomfortable by them.
Slave training is a BDSM activity usually involving a consensual power exchange between two people taking on the roles of a master or mistress and a slave. Typically this involves changing the slave’s behavior in a manner that is pleasing to the master or mistress, perhaps instructing the slave to follow a set of rules that the master or mistress has set out.
Slave training is a learning process both for the slave (or submissive) and for the master or mistress, or dominant. Training will usually be set out and defined clearly before it begins. The master or mistress will teach the slave how to speak, act and think in a way that is pleasing to them. The slave, in return, gets pleasure from being able to make their master or mistress happy. Or, the slave gets a reward like food, a bed, etc.
In some instances, in more extreme relationships, it may also involve some forms of aversion training. This could include use of spanking, cropping or clamping to encourage compliance, and to permit the slave to find an excuse for complying in their own minds. If the “slave” being trained is also a masochist, they may enjoy painful punishment; therefore punishment may need to be psychological or emotional, to create the unpleasant result that the punishment requires.