Subs Don't Need "Training" but Doms Do
A few years ago, I was dating a submissive girl who lived at the other end of the state. She was delightful and adorable and apparently really kinky, but our early visits were rocky; she would express ambivalence and occasional antipathy towards me. Despite this, we kept trying to find a groove over the course of eighteen months. Along the way, she expressed an interest in "slave training"—a topic she'd encountered on BDSM forums, and discussed with other subs. I had not given any sort of training to my previous partners; I tend to develop a romance organically, and teach my partner things, about me or about herself, as needed.
Seeing a training project as an avenue to bring us closer together, I proposed that she visit me for a long weekend of specific lessons. I made a list of kink activities to introduce, a lesson plan for each, and a schedule for each day. Over four days, there would be three 90-minute sessions per day, with breaks in between. Topics included behavior basics, emotions management, kissing, oral service, bondage, pain, protocol, and submissive mindset. I even drafted an agreement for us to sign together, defining the framework of the weekend.
The four days of instruction went well, in fact better than any of our previous meetings. She struggled with a few of the lessons, but didn't become grumpy or withdrawn, a pleasant surprise. The final lesson concluded with the two of us in a calm, connected place. But the exercise did not dispel the greater issues between us; they soon resurfaced. I suspect she had wanted an experience that would suddenly demolish her internal barriers to feeling safe and connected to a lover; that would train her to be... herself. My training schedule was not nearly as intense as it could have been, but in retrospect I don't believe that any dom-imposed training regime could have accomplished what she sought.
In my opinion, all the talk in BDSM circles about "training a submissive" is wrong-headed. No standard training regime is required to be a good submissive partner. (Though many subs I've met could stand a course in how to select a worthy dom! See How to Interview a Dom/Master.) In reality, it is we doms who require the training, and not simply on how to wave a whip safely.
Doms need training, or knowledge and practice, because we assume the authority in the relationship. The ability to retain and wield authority responsibly, and consistently over time, is not innate—there are no "natural dominants". One must acquire and hone these skills, and doing so can take years. Even accurately perceiving your own words and tone as you speak can be challenging, as is choosing an effective mix of substance and style to convey a specific demand.
Although one can find workshops presented by dominant men or women describing their own experiences with D/s, there are no accredited schools for dominant lovers. Most doms therefore educate themselves, hopefully with some mentoring by other wise doms. But for most of us, we are trained by trial and error within our relationships, causing our subs and ourselves suffering when we err.
For subs, the only skills which all must master are emotional and interpersonal best practices, like clear communication, sound boundaries, managing emotions, awareness of triggers, focus in the present—which aren't specific to kinky relationships. Subs who tend to have a strong psychological subspace response should also learn to handle that (see Two Kinds of Subspace). Whatever other abilities that a particular dom desires his love to obtain can be taught at the appropriate moment as their romance unfolds.
And doms do indeed teach their subs many things, especially how to recognize and fulfill their needs & desires, and also life skills beneficial to their partners. Different doms naturally teach different lessons. But to be an effective teacher, a dom must first learn his sub; her strengths and weaknesses, how she absorbs and embraces new ideas or behaviors. Next, he must adapt his ways of instructing and guiding to her. Teaching is a lot easier if you understand how the pupil thinks and learns!
Having a mentor is the closest that most doms and subs get to actual training. The most productive mentoring relationships are dom-to-dom and sub-to-sub, although the other combinations can also work. Mentoring is largely conversational; it happens over coffee, on the phone, via the Internet. While mentoring may occur within a romance, a relationship formed for the purpose of mentoring should not become sexual, as that creates a conflict of interest for the mentor. A mentor's goal must be the growth and success of his protégé.
Some couples like to use "training" as a kinky label for getting-to-know-you activities or early BDSM sessions. These really aren't training per se, but language is a useful romantic lever, so why not "train her" if that feels hot. In the opening stages of a D/s relationship, both partners are best served by simply learning each other. Fitting any two people together, in kinky relationships as much as vanilla ones, is like doing a jigsaw puzzle; it takes time and some trial and error. A dom may need to accommodate a new sub somewhat to win her trust. Over time, she will of course accommodate him extensively as their trust deepens.
A period of immersion in D/s roles—around the clock for a weekend, a week, or even a month—may be hot and bonding for some couples. (For a case study, see Crossing the Line.) However this is not a getting-to-know-you exercise! Only couples with established mutual trust should attempt to dive in such waters.
Some would-be doms like to talk about "breaking a submissive" as a desired outcome of "training". Sadly for them, people are not horses. You cannot expect to magically level your lover's limits by putting her under sustained pressure. For many kinky couples, the practice of BDSM is indeed about finding and transcending boundaries, over time. Someone facing a boundary to be crossed must decide to do so; forcing them across is almost always damaging, to the individual and the pair.
I've heard of doms who offer general "training" for inexperienced subs. They are, from what I could tell, either players looking for easy kink, or polyamorous people seeking short-term relationships with kink newbies. The fact that a dom offering such a "service" fervently believes that it's for the benefit of the sub doesn't make it so. There's nothing inherently wrong with kinky hookups or short-term relationships, but misleading a new sub about the value of the experience is unfair, and all too common.
So my advice to subs is: "Don't seek BDSM training; work on your emotional and interpersonal skills, and seek a capable, sincere dom." And my advice to doms is: "Definitely seek education and mentoring; what you wish to achieve is hard!" A dom's responsibilities—wielding authority wisely, and teaching and guiding his partner—are not easy, and not inborn. Learning these skills takes focus and practice, and wisdom from those with some mastery of them. Becoming that to which you aspire is a long and often arduous journey.