What Is BDSM?

B.D.S.M An umbrella term involving three different groupings, used to describe a sexual practice that involves the use of physical control, psychological power exchange, and/or pain. It typically includes the components of bondage and discipline (B.D), domination and submission (D.S), or sadism or masochism (S.M). First up, BD, aka bondage and discipline. Bondage and discipline include activities like tying people up and restraining them (with their consent), along with setting rules and administrating punishments for misbehaviour. Then there’s DS, or dominance and submission. These are essentially power dynamics where one person will give the other power over them, whether it’s physical, emotional, or both. Lastly, SM (or S&M) is an abbreviation for Sadism, or liking to inflict pain, and Masochism, liking to receive it. It’s often shortened to “sadomasochism” to make things easier. 

One could be forgiven for having never heard the term 'BDSM'. Pre 2010’s, the term itself, or it's practices, weren't very ‘mainstream’ by any stretch of the imagination. It's practitioners were (and still are) an underground collective of sorts, everyday professionals who share common interests, not afraid to explore their kinks and desires and seek like minded companions to share these experiences with. These kink communities can be found in every corner of the world and feature some of the friendliest, happiest people you could cross paths with.

Like it or not, that status somewhat changed with the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in a series of novels by British author E.L James. Fifty Shades topped best sellers lists across the globe, eventually being translated into 52 different languages. It went on to become a movie franchise, with the first movie alone surpassing half a billion dollars at the worldwide box office.

While the franchise may have brought BDSM into the public eye, the way it was portrayed wasn't what the kink community felt was a fair representation of what the lifestyle is actually all about. It has been suggested that the books popularity has nothing to do with BDSM and it’s leading character Mr. Christian Grey is in fact a very inadequate/irresponsible Dom/Master.

The problem is that Fifty Shades casually associates hot sex with violence, but without explaining any of the context on which these dynamics are build. D/s (Dom/sub) relationships are built on trust, communication and extensive dialogue. Limits must be set and safe words established, knowing each others innermost desires and more importantly, their boundaries, is the key to any great BDSM sex scene and/or relationship.

If the FSOG phenomenon did nothing else, it certainly planted the seeds of interest in the minds of readers and watchers alike while also spurring more interest in kink and making it less stigmatised (so to speak). According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine (1), over 65 percent of women polled fantasised about being dominated, 47 percent fantasised about dominating someone else, and 52 percent fantasised about being tied up. On the other side, people take issue with the abusive, unhealthy relationship it portrays and the seriously unrealistic scenes. All in all, it is not an accurate representation of the BDSM community.

 Exploration

So what is a fair representation and/or explanation of BDSM? What are the foundations on which it’s pillars are built? To get us started, let’s take a look at some common BDSM activities. 

  • Bondage and restraints (Cuffs, ties, collar & leash, bondage tape, blindfolds, gags, rope knots etc.)
  • Impact play (Spanking, paddling, crops, and hitting)
  • Service – Where the submissive performs actions for the dominant
  • Discipline (Reward or punishment for following or disobeying instructions)
  • Orgasm control — Where one person controls when another is allowed to orgasm
  • Roleplaying (teacher/student, master/slave, doctor/patient et cetera) 

These are common activities but in no means a definitive list. People are exploring their bodies & minds and discovering new kinks & fetishes every day of the week. There is no right or wrong way to go about it, just your way. Sure, take inspiration from others but only do what makes you feel both excited and comfortable. The fact of the matter is that BDSM only has to be as hardcore as you want it to be. For example, you already engage in bondage if you’ve ever placed your partner into fuzzy handcuffs or have been blindfolded. One of the joys of BDSM is figuring out what you’re interested in and potentially even pushing those boundaries and many couples may practice less intense bondage activities more frequently than the extreme ones.

Consent & Safety

You might think that because you enjoyed being submissive under certain circumstances, that means you must agree to a whole host of submissive or masochistic practices that you're not necessarily into. But that is absolutely wrong. You can (and should) pick and choose which BDSM activities you are and are not interested in. Different factors must always be taken into consideration, such as the situation, the partner, or even the day. Just remember that consent is a requirement in BDSM, and it's possible to consent to one thing while still objecting to another. Having discussions with one another about your kinks will help set boundaries and limits. The clearer you can be when setting these limits, the better understanding you will have with your partner(s). This in turn will create a safe space for play for everyone involved. 

BDSM is never entirely without risk, even though you can mitigate those risks quite a bit with knowledge and preparation. There are a couple statements or ideologies that sum up the potential risk and acknowledging it.

SSC (Safe sane consensual): Safe, sane and consensual emphasises the safety of BDSM activities and being mentally able to consent to those activities.

RACK (risk aware consensual kink): This acronym explains that kinky activities are inherently risky, which means they can’t entirely be safe, and that you must be aware of those risks to consent to kinky activities.

Hurt Not Harm: This idea recognises that someone may be temporarily hurt during BDSM play but that this should not result in long-term harm.

Safe words are another way to promote safety when you’re part taking in BDSM activities and/or scenes. A safe word is simply a word you say (or a signal if you’re gagged) which is used to interrupt a scene. Usually words entirely unrelated to the situation, such as "red, banana" etc, are used as safe words. A safe word is important for both submissive and dominant partners to create a safe and comfortable space for everyone involved. As a submissive, your safe word keeps you safe in the knowledge that you can stop a scene if it gets outside your comfort zone. If you’re dominating your partner, the safe word lets you know that your partner is okay, connected to you and wanting to continue play.

Take The Time To Learn to Use Your Equipment

BDSM can involve a lot of equipment. The most common items include impact play implements (whips, paddles, floggers, canes, etc.) and bondage gear (cuffs, hoods, spreader bars, collars, gags, tape, etc.), but you can play with knives, needles, vibrators and dildos, bondage furniture, and even fucking machines.

While it’s hard to know everything about all of these items, you should know how to safely use and care for your tools. It is also important to know what your items are made of (and if they’re porous), whether they’re waterproof and how to care for them.

Keep safety in mind, too. It takes time and practice to get skilled with a whip or flogger. A good aim will ensure less accidents. Toys with longer tails can accidentally wrap around your partner’s body and hit areas you didn’t intend to hit. You should never aim for areas over organs. Be patient and enjoy your practice. 

Aftercare

Aftercare is, put simply, the time you and your partner take after play time to recover and also to see to each other’s emotional and physical needs. Certain role plays and kinky acts can be both physically and psychologically taxing, depending on how intense and extreme your scene gets so this is a great time for relaxing, as well as getting ‘back to reality.’ A good Dominant will ensure their submissive partner is cared for after a heavy scene. This can involve things such as clearing the room of any paraphernalia or equipment like restraints or blindfolds, getting your partner something to eat or drink, providing a blanket or warm clothing, kissing, cuddling and finally (and importantly), engaging in dialogue with one another about how the scene went.

Keep an eye on each other, it’s not just the submissive partner that can experience this ‘sub drop’ after a scene, it can be common in the dominant (or top) as well.

Between stereotypes, porn, and Fifty Shades of Grey, there's a lot of misconceptions about BDSM. Short of attending a workshop or visiting a dominatrix, the best way to learn more about it is to do some research. Just like with regular sex, if you want to be good at it, you really have to learn about it. Read articles. Read books. Go onto online forums and chat to like minded people. Attend events (if that’s your thing). Experiment with different toys. Above all else, have fun!

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1. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jsm.12734)

 

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