I originally said this in comments to another post, but I'm reposting it here because I want to think further on the topic:
I think a big thing that doesn't get discussed in these interminable "how much D/s is too much?" headspinning games is:
the concept of service.
Many, if not most, of the "slave" types that I have met are not so much looking to lose their freedom or not make decisions so much as they are looking to serve. They feel called to some kind of life of service, and want to be part of relationships or dynamics that allow them to serve well.
To me, the dominant partner in such a dynamic is not so much The Boss making All The Decisions as she is someone who provides the opportunity for the submissive to be of service to someone. The service is more important, for most I've met, than the decision making.
There are of course many people who do have the Stepford attitude, both male and female: decide everything for me O Sir/O Ma'am. They tend to proliferate, a la roaches or paramecia, on the internet especially -- as do the sorts of "Master" they want.
But in the real, dedicated, M/s community *I've* met -- it's Service that matters most. Obedience is secondary.
Do I know some people who I think overvalue it? Yeah. But I only consider myself qualified to offer relationship advice to people I know. And I find the more I get to know people, the more flexible I realize their power dynamic actually often is.
Yes, even the masters and slaves.
I first really noticed this with an old play partner/buddy. He wasn't my partner, in service to me, etc. But we were friends, and we'd play. I started to notice that he would do all sorts of little small things for me, totally unprovoked. Make little arts and crafts projects to give to me. Clean his car if I mentioned I didn't like it not to be tidy. Small things like that. I didn't ask for them, not at first. But when he did them, and I was impressed and grateful -- his face would warm like the sun. He loved to do those things.
I didn't really know what it was about. Gradually I realized that my buddy was what they call a service oriented submissive. That all was part of what he wanted to do and enjoyed about (mild; remember we were mostly all just buddies) submission to the people he was friends with.
At first I'd always assumed that I wouldn't like service oriented people. I figured that they were servile, and unsure of what they wanted. I felt sure that they would be unhappy, always giving other people what they wanted and never paying attention to themselves. But observing my friend, I realize that the small acts of service that he would frequently do made him happy. He really enjoyed giving toppy friends little things that they wanted.
And I don't remember him being chronically unable to stand up for himself. I do remember a couple of situations in which I thought he was a bit too flexible. But I don't remember times when something was important and he didn't tell us to shove it if we were being jerks.
So I started to realize that for a lot of people who feel called to SM slavery or other forms of deep submission, what it's really about is something similar. Service. Feeling pride in service will given. Of course they enjoy their place in the power relation -- that's part of the definition -- but it seems to me like enjoying that is more about kink and fun, and the service is the real calling.
I don't mean to say that there are never problems. Some people get very into the idea of behavior modification, and even those words make me cringe (if you want to know way too much about why, go have a look at ballastexistenz and look up any references to "the Judge Rotenberg Center"). I remember talking to a certain couple in the local MAsT group, who mentioned to me a persistent problem that they were trying to correct.
The issue was that the dominant wanted his submissive to speak in formal, polite ways: "Yes, Sir." "Please, Sir, may I ____?" etc. She had a rather gruff manner -- think New Yorker, though I don't think she was one. She'd lapse into "Oh, yeah, yeah." when she was supposed to be being formal. It drove her dominant absolutely up the wall.
They described an absolutely sitcom quality carnival of follies coming from attempting to modify this woman's behavior. No matter what they did, she could not speak this way. They were both very distressed about it, as she clearly wanted to change but simply could not.
To my mind, this is where the dominant partner in the relationship cuts his/her losses. If a person simply cannot change something, no matter how much D/s is put behind it, that's just a facet of that person. If he really absolutely couldn't stand it, to the point where it was dealbreaking, then that would be time for a dumping. If not, then that would be time for him to learn to deal with it, and choose some other ritualized behavior to demonstrate her politeness or her elegance or her service, whatever it was that the polite way of speaking was supposed to demonstrate.
So it's not that I think that anyone can do whatever they want, or that I believe that strict behavior modification is a wise thing for people to do. What I do think, however, is that service oriented submission is a valid life path, and that setting up power relations with such people is not inherently limiting, oppressive, restrictive, or bad.
I think if people want to challenge long-term D/s, they should at least be aware of the stress many people put on service, and be able to either argue
that it too is a bad thing from a feminist viewpoint
that it isn't relevant to the issue at hand (this would include, of course, a discussion of why it is not)
that it doesn't do enough to divorce long-term D/s from problems. This discussion should include, bare minimum, discussion of the nature of service and how it is given and accepted.