Introduction to BDSM




Classically, BDSM stands for Bondage, Discipline, Sadomasochism (Sadism and Masochism). Without replacing the original categories, Domination and Submission were added later. BDSM means different things to different people. Depending on preferences, most people participate in one or two interests, rather than all of the categories.

BDSM is different from most expectations. Between stereotypes, porn, and Hollywood movies, 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 have to learn about it through reading, discussions, lectures, observations and practice.

BDSM does not always involve sex. Most people think BDSM is always tied to sex, and while it can be for some people, others draw a hard line between the two. BDSM experiences can be sensually and bodily intense and cause a lot of very strong feelings in people who practice them. BDSM is similar to a massage. Sometimes a massage, however sensual it feels, is just a massage. For others, a rubdown pretty much always leads to sex. It's a matter of personal and sexual preference.

There is nothing inherently wrong or damaged with people who are into BDSM. This is one of the most common and frustrating misconceptions about BDSM. BDSM isn't something that emerges from abuse or domestic violence, and engaging in it does not mean that you enjoy abuse or abusing.

Enjoying BDSM is just one facet of someone's sexuality and lifestyle. It's just regular people who happen to get off that way. It's your neighbors and your teachers and the people bagging your groceries. The biggest myth is that you need a special set of circumstances. It's regular people who have a need for that to be their intimate dynamic.

You can always say "no." A lot of people starting out think it's "all or nothing," especially if you've only been with one partner. For instance, 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 behaviors that you're not necessarily into.

But that's absolutely wrong. You can and should pick and choose which BDSM activities you are and are not interested in. And that can vary depending on 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 object to another.

BDSMers are just as stable as people who prefer vanilla sex. It's easier for people to get into BDSM if they don't have a history of abuse, people who are in a more stable place in their lives. A 2008 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that people who had engaged in BDSM were no more likely to have been coerced into sexual activity and were no more likely to be unhappy or anxious than those who didn't do BDSM. And actually, men who engaged in BDSM had lower scores of psychological distress than other men.

That said, BDSMers do not judge people who aren't into it. The term "vanilla" isn't meant to be derogatory, just to refer to non-BDSM sexual acts or people who aren't interested in kink.

Most public portrayals of BDSM are considered inaccurate in the BDSM community. While some people appreciate that movies like Fifty Shades of Gray spurred more interest in kink and may have made it less stigmatized, others take issue with the abusive, unhealthy relationship it portrays and the seriously unrealistic scenes which are not an accurate representation of the BDSM community.

It's not all whips and chains all the time or ever, if that's not your thing. Sure, some S&M enthusiasts might have these in their arsenal, but it's definitely not everyone's cup of kink. Some people go for what's called "sensual dominance," which is where there might be some toys or play but no pain involved at all. It's more like one partner agrees to do everything the other person asks. BDSM doesn't have to follow any pattern, and there is no one model for what a BDSM relationship can be.

BDSM encounters are called "scenes." Since it isn't always about intercourse, you wouldn't necessarily say that you "had sex" or "hooked up" with someone after a BDSM experience. Instead, these are called scenes (as in, you "scened" with someone or you had a "scene").

It's an evolution from a time where, if you did S&M, you might only do it with a professional for an hour, or you might just see it performed at a BDSM club. Now people have much more organic relationships, but they still call it a scene the time when we bring out the toys or get into that headspace.

There are dominants, submissives, tops, and bottoms. So you've probably heard about dominants and submissives (if not, the dominant enjoys being in charge, while the submissive enjoys receiving orders). But BDSMers may also use the terms "tops" and "bottoms" to describe themselves. A top could refer to a dominant or a sadist (someone who enjoys inflicting pain), while a bottom could refer to a submissive or a masochist (someone who enjoys receiving pain). This allows you to have a blanket term for those who generally like being on either the giving or receiving end in a BDSM encounter. And there's no rule that says you can't be both dominant and submissive in different circumstances or with different partners.

It can be as simple or as technical as you want. Maybe the thought of being tied up excites you, or you enjoy spanking or being spanked. Or maybe you're more interested in leather masks and nipple clamps and hot wax. All of that (and obviously a lot more) is within the realm of BDSM. Basically, you can still be into kink without actually ever going to a dungeon.

Before you go past the basics, do your research. Using a blindfold or an ice cube or fuzzy handcuffs you got at a bachelorette party are all relatively harmless beginner behaviors if you're into them. But before you play around with some of the trickier tools, you need to learn how to do so safely. Even a rope or a whip can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing.

Fisting, for example, can really injure someone and send them to the hospital if you don't know what you're doing. You cannot simply make a fist and stick it inside somebody. The technique requires copious amounts of lubricant, then starting with two or three fingers, then slowly and carefully building up to the whole hand.

BDSM involves a lot of reading and learning. If you're one of those people who throws away the directions and tries to build the bookshelf on intuition alone, BDSM is probably not for you. BDSM education is learning how to maximize ecstasy and minimize risk. How do you safely engage in your fantasy.

Suggested Reading:
Leatherman
The Legend of Chuck Renslow
by Tracy Baim and Owen Keehnen

SM 101
by Jay Wiseman

Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns
by Phillip Miller and Molly Devon

The New Topping Book
and The New Bottoming Book
by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton

Classes, conferences, and meet-ups are also helpful for learning specific techniques.

It's important to get your information from a variety of sources. One mistake many people make when first experimenting with BDSM is relying on one person to show them the way. Even if they do have your best interest at heart (and they might not), it can be limiting to only have one perspective on something that is so multidimensional. Instead, seek out books, workshops, meet-ups, mentors, friends, message boards, and more to find a safe place to explore your interests.

It is way more dangerous when you can't talk about what's happening and you can't make sense of your experience with like-minded people, than the variety of activities you might fantasize about.

Use "safe words." It might sound cheesy, but it's a well-established norm in BDSM. Safe words are probably one of the most important norms that have spread across the community, even if people use them in different ways. For instance, not everyone uses safe words all the time after a while, but it's important to start out with them. They can essentially be anything you want, as long as it's something that you wouldn't normally say during sex.

And at some public events, there are even safety monitors on duty. Dungeon monitors will kick out people who don't look like they're playing safely. This can be anything from ignoring safe words to using a whip incorrectly. Safety is paramount. Safe, Sane and Consensual (SSC) is one of the most common pillars of the BDSM practice.

It's not as spontaneous as Hollywood movies or porn make it out to be. Getting swept up in the moment and accidentally stumbling into a millionaire's red room (where you'll have multiple orgasms) is probably not going to happen to you ever. But, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The sexual fantasy makes everything look so easy. People who actually do BDSM are very cautious about it. It has to be the right place and right time and right equipment. And you have to know you can get the person out [of whatever bondage] if there's an emergency. You have to feel you can trust the person. So there's a lot that goes into one scene, but that doesn't mean it's any less satisfying for those who enjoy it.

There's also probably way more talking involved than there is with (most) vanilla sex. Whenever people question the role of consent in BDSM, they should consider the enormous amount of communication that occurs before, during, and after the scenes. Talk before doing anything. Talk about what you want to do, what your partner wants to do, your fantasies. Verbally negotiate the scene you and your partner want to engage in. Then, talk about it after.

There's actually a pre-negotiation period, where the partners discuss what they like, what they don't like, and what they absolutely will not tolerate. Think of this as the primer before the scene. It's a way of discussing the experience ahead of time to increase emotional security. This can involve anything from scripts and checklists to a more informal discussion of what each person's expectations are for the scene, what they want and don't want, and any words or actions that are completely off-limits.

And then comes aftercare, the debriefing period that happens once the scene ends. Since BDSM can be an incredibly intense and emotional experience for some, most experts strongly suggest this wrap-up step, where the partners can discuss the scene and any reactions they had to it. People are extremely vulnerable during aftercare. It can be really weird to have a scene without it. This can also be a strong bonding experience between the partners.

BDSMers can be monogamous, polyamorous, or whatever they want. Not everyone who's interested in BDSM has multiple sexual or relationship partners. It used to be a popular perception that BDSMers don't form long-term relationships. A lot of BDSMers are just monogamous people. A lot of people just want to do it with their partner or play with the big toys at clubs.

There are so many different types of whips. This is not a one-size-fits-all kink. There are light floggers, leather whips, whips with single tails, whips with multiple tails that are flat and wide, the list goes on. But because certain types can be harsher than others, you really need to learn how to use them properly. People practicing with a single-tail whip will often start with a pillow or some distant small object, like a light switch.

There are some places that you definitely don't want to whip, like, the eyes, or areas of the body where the skin is thin and you have vital organs underneath. You can bruise your kidneys.

Bring it up in your current relationship. Don't be too nervous to bring it up and then find out later that your partner has the same fantasy. If you're nervous about it, ask if they'd be interested in checking out a particular book or workshop you heard about. Or just talk about it in the context of sexual fantasies by asking your partner if they've ever tried anything like BDSM or if they've ever wanted to. If you think about it, you're only risking one awkward conversation, and the payoff can be huge if this is something you want in your life.