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In the BDSM lifestyle, slavery is the act of a Dominant owning a submissive, or a Master owning a slave, as their property. It is an exchange of power between two individuals, where the Dominant holds controlling power over the submissive, and the submissive equally gives themselves to their Dominant.

There are many different levels of slavery. It can be anything from roleplay taking place within predefined scenes, through to a lifestyle encompassing a person's entire life. No matter what the level, it is widely accepted in the BDSM community at large that any level of slavery must be safe, sane, and consensual between two adults, just as any other activity or lifestyle choice would be. When promoting oneself as a slave, or advertising looking for an owner, it is well to bear in mind that many people feel entitled to assume a meaning close to the dictionary definition of slave: full-time, unremitting ownership.

Full-time slavery may be commenced with the use of a formal contract, where both partners sign a list of agreements which have been thoroughly negotiated. In many ways, even if in a completely non-sexual manner, entering into a contractual slavery agreement is much like a vanilla marriage situation; both partners are committing themselves to each other and defining their roles, attitudes and behaviours toward one another. There can be no encompassing statement about what life as a slave entails: it is entirely up to the owner to determine what it required of the slave. Duties can be long, tedious and sometimes harsh.

Slavery, in adult or erotic fiction, (such as Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty Trilogy) is often portrayed as a non-consensual act of forced ownership. This is not only taboo and discouraged, but illegal in most societies and bears no reflection on the term as used in the BDSM lifestyle.

The definition of slavery from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
slav·er·y Pronunciation Key (slv-r-ee, slvree)
n. pl. slav·er·ies
1. The state of one bound in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household.
1. The practice of owning slaves.
2. A mode of production in which slaves constitute the principal work force.
3. The condition of being subject or addicted to a specified influence.
4. A condition of hard work and subjection: wage slavery.

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