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As it pertains to BDSM, slavery refers to a dominant person owning a submissive person as their property. It is a consensual exchange of power between individuals. The use of the term 'sex slave' rather than just 'slave' is sometimes used to differentiate between consensual slavery and non-consensual slavery, because sex is not a necessary component of consensual slavery. Not all who are into Submission are slaves, though all slaves would normally be considered submissive in the relationship. Sex slaves, and their owners, can be of any gender, sexual identity, or orientation.

The types of activities entered into are usually well defined in advance and sometimes spelled out in a slave contract, a non-legally binding document that outlines the desires, limits, and expectations of all involved. Slaves can and are often expected to perform sexually, though typically many relationship-oriented dynamics are also clearly negotiated, including clothing, diet, speech restrictions, household affairs and schedules. Typically outlined are clear expectations of whether the couple will be monogamous or Polyamorous, and if there would be permission/expectations of sexual interaction with other people. Otherwise, a sex slave is often expected to perform many of the same functions that are expected of a slave/submissive, including wearing very revealing clothes, being shared, collar and/or leash, S & M activities, or Bondage.

The duration of this ownership may vary anywhere from a few minutes, as in a scene, to a lifetime commitment. Slaves may be traded by their masters, enabled by sex club/Swinging events, personals in BDSM interest magazines or internet based social networks.The owner might be any person or group, though the majority of such relationships are usually either one dominant, or a committed dominant couple owning one or more slaves. Commonly, an owned slave is also said to be a collared slave, though not every slave wears a physical collar. A slave who has satisfied the duration of the negotiated time of service is expected to be released, unless a new duration of service is negotiated. At any time, the slave has the right to revoke their legal consent to the relationship; effectively nullifying their status as a slave.

Generally the expectation with a slave are greater, and less subject to the whim of the slave than with a submissive. A slave has agreed to serve and obey and does not need to make a decision each time. Although expectations may be spelled out in a contract, they are frequently very broad, and give tremendous room for the dominant to direct the slave.