If you’re a woman who likes being in control or a man who likes playing a more subordinate role, you might be interested—or already finding yourself involved in—female-led relationships.

What is a female-led relationship, or FLR?

A female-led relationship, or FLR, is traditionally a type of BDSM relationship between a dominant woman and a submissive man. Although the term originated within the kink community, some people now use the term “female-led relationship” more generally to describe any relationship between a man and a woman wherein the woman holds more power than the man, whether in terms of breadwinner status, decision-making authority, or the couple’s sexual dynamic.

“The definition has many variants, as this is a wide umbrella term,” according to sex educator and professional dominatrix Lola Jean. “FLR can be any relationship that is not ‘male-led.’ In its most lenient format, [an FLR may be] more of an equal-power or varied-power exchange between partners. In its more extreme and perhaps traditional [form], FLR is a relationship where the female, or femme, is the decision-maker for the other partner. This could be anything from their finances to their attire to more menial tasks like chores.”

Any of the below dynamics might be involved in an FLR, though not all need to be present for a relationship to be considered FLR:

  • The woman is the sole or primary income earner in the relationship.
  • The man handles most or all of the domestic responsibilities and child care.
  • The woman is the chief decision-maker in the relationship.
  • The woman’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives are given priority over the man’s in the relationship.
  • The woman has full financial control in the relationship, including controlling what the man is or isn’t allowed to spend money on.
  • The woman is sexually dominant, and most sexual encounters revolve around her pleasure.
  • The woman is typically the one that decides when and how to have sex.
  • The man’s role is largely submissive and obedient, whether in the relationship, in bed, or both.
  • The man and woman are largely equal in their day-to-day lives, but the woman is dominant in the bedroom.

The kink vs. feminist relationships.

In the kink community, FLR specifically refers to an eroticized power dynamic wherein women have power over men in a relationship, whether sexually, financially, or in terms of day-to-day decision-making. But some people have begun to embrace the term as a sort of synonym for a feminist relationship or a relationship where the woman is the head of the household.

“We’ve seen many BDSM terms and concepts seep into mainstream culture,” sex therapist and researcher Gloria Brame, Ph.D., tells mbg. “FLR is another term that once specifically referred to a female-dominant/submissive-male dynamic but which can be understood by any feministic people.”

As a kink, FLR gets much of its excitement and thrill from turning traditional gender roles on their head, Jean explains. Where our society still tends to view men as dominant and women as submissive, FLR consciously flips the scripts and indulges in a power dynamic that places women on top.

That said, today’s culture is thankfully starting to shed its old gender norms in general. It’s becoming increasingly common for women to be the primary earners in their households and for relationships to seek more egalitarian grounds by consciously empowering the women in them. Nearly 30% of women in dual-income marriages make more money than their husbands, according to 2018 census data. It’s also becoming common for women to take the reins in the bedroom, even outside the world of BDSM. While a dominant woman may have previously been seen as a rarity or a kinky fantasy, today it’s much more mainstream.

As such, many couples might find themselves accurately represented within the broadest definition of “FLR,” even if the term isn’t one they would necessarily use to describe themselves.

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Feb. 16 2021