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What is BDSM?

BDSM stands for bondage/discipline, submission/dominance, and sadism/masochism. These categories refer to a wide array of kinks and erotic practices.

Practising BDSM is about a lot more than the act of having sex. In fact, “a scene” may not involve sex or touching. You’ll find that many common themes — power dynamics, pain, humiliation, the taboo — are psychological.

Suppose you think that sounds intense, don’t worry! It’s entirely up to you how deep you want to get and how far you want to go with something. In BDSM, enthusiastic consent is paramount: you and only you decide how you want things to go.

This is a very basic description of what the BDSM subcategories mean. And remember, every aspect of these types of play is consensual and talked about beforehand.

  • Bondage/discipline. Bondage refers to someone being physically restrained. Discipline refers to a set of rules and punishment, usually enforced by the dominant partner onto the submissive.
  • Submission/dominance. Sub/dom play is when one person, the sub (or bottom) permits the dom (or top) to essentially be in charge. This may be an agreement you make for one night of play or it may be a 24/7 arrangement.
  • Sadism/masochism. Sadism is the enjoyment of doling out pain. Masochism is the enjoyment of receiving pain. If you like both? Well, that’s what we call a sadomasochist.

BDSM dictionary

With all distinctive cultures comes their own terminology. This list is a start and by no means definitive.

Aftercare

a post-scene ritual intended to help the dominant and submissive wind down and check in

Breath control play

restriction of oxygen to increase pleasure (i.e. choking, asphyxiation)

Chastity

denial of a partner to have sex and/or masturbate — sometimes devices are used to ensure chastity (cock cages or chastity belts)

Collared/collaring

worn to indicate someone’s status as a submissive (collaring can indicate belonging to a dominant, and to some is seen as the ultimate level of commitment)

Cuckold          

a man/masc person who enjoys watching their femme partner have sex with someone in front of them

Dom/domme/dominant        

the partner who leads the power dynamic in a dominant/submissive scene

Edgeplay        

bringing a partner to the brink of orgasm, but not letting them orgasm

Fetish  intense sexualization of an act, object or scenario

Golden showers         

the act of a partner urinating on another

Hard limits     

limits that never will be negotiable

Leather           

a subset of BDSM culture dictated by leather-wearing practices

 
Pegging          

refers to a woman/femme identifying person having anal sex with a man/masc identifying person, typically with a strap-on

Playspace       

an area designated for a scene or BDSM play

Risk aware consensual kink   

an alternative to SSC (below), as the term is disliked in the community for it’s ableist language (RACK also argues that kink isn’t ever safe, but that those that participate acknowledge the risks)

Safe, sane, consensual (SSC) 

a BDSM philosophy dictating the pillars of BDSM play

Safeword        

a word or physical cue meant to end play

Subspace        

a mental space submissive’s can go through in the middle of a scene; it’s often considered “dreamy” or “floaty” like a high

Switch

a partner who can be dominant or submissive

Topping from the bottom      

a bottom/submissive telling their top/dominant what to do to them

Vanilla

non-kink/BDSM activity

Rules and practices for BDSM

Here are some common rules to keep everyone safe

1. Leave alcohol and drugs out of it

Drugs and alcohol and BDSM don’t mix. It’s a safety risk for everyone involved. Intoxication can make it harder — or impossible — to give consent and muddy your ability to make decisions.

And if you also feel the need to get high or drunk to participate in these activities, that’s a good indication you have inner work to do before you’re ready to jump in. Consider chatting with a therapist or a trusted friend to untangle your feelings around BDSM.

2. Talk about how it will go beforehand

In BDSM, this is called the negotiation, a requirement for any play. This is where you state what you’re comfortable with and what’s off-limits. Because these activities leave us open to physical or emotional harm, getting specific about your boundaries is essential.

Start slow and talk to your sexual partner before you jump into things. The chat can often be a turn-on; discuss the various aspects you want to try, which role you want to hold and then try your way forward. You might find that what you like is something completely unexpected.

3. Give and get consent throughout

That consent is the most important aspect of BDSM. Because of the intensity of BDSM play and the actual mental and physical risks involved in many game types, you need to ensure every act is consensual.

A lot of this will happen in the negotiation, but check in with your partner throughout the scenes. Just because something is okay once doesn’t mean it always will be, so communicate throughout the entire interaction!

4. Always have a safe word

This is a word that signals to your partner you want to stop. It needs to be different from “no” because, depending on the type of play, begging or saying no may be part of the exchange.

Many folks choose the stoplight system to incorporate check-ins. Red means stop, yellow means proceed with caution and green means go.

Along with having a verbal safe word, it’s essential to have a nonverbal safe word if you’re incorporating gags or breath play. Maybe this is a signal, stomp, or tapping with your hand a la wrestling.

5. End play with aftercare

Aftercare is essential to BDSM, in which partners wind down together after the experience. Dom/sub interaction, impact play, and other aspects of BDSM can be intense. You get a ton of endorphins and even sometimes an adrenaline boost!

However, the come-down can be harsh. Aftercare is an attempt to mitigate that, often by cuddling, cleaning up, or just reflecting on the scene. Aftercare is different for everyone and should be discussed between partners before scenes begin.

How to ask questions without ruining the mood

Asking for consent doesn’t have to be formal, it can be part of the dirty talk flow. Like this:

  • “Your ass looks so good. Is it OK if I spank you?”
  • “Do you like it when I hold your legs down like that?”
  • “Can I turn you over and touch you from from behind?”