BDSM Basics

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“We are hierarchical animals. Sweep one hierarchy away, and another will take its place, perhaps less palatable than the first. There are hierarchies in nature and alternate hierarchies in society. In nature, brute force is the law, a survival of the fittest. In society, there are protections for the weak. Society is our frail barrier against nature. When the prestige of state and religion is low, men are free, but they find freedom intolerable and seek new ways to enslave themselves, through drugs or depression. My theory is that whenever sexual freedom is sought or achieved, sadomasochism will not be far behind.” – Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

If you haven’t already read 50 Shades of Grey, no doubt you’ve heard of it. Everyone is talking about BDSM – it has been a long time coming. But what is it, really? BDSM refers to B&D (Bondage and Discipline), D&S (Dominance and Submission), and S&M (Sadism and Masochism). It can involve power play, role-play, restraint, sexual contraptions, and sex toys to invoke intense sensory stimulation and emotional highs. Some people may engage in BDSM during just one experience, others consider it a lifestyle that they engage in 24/7. Up until recent times, BDSM was a seemingly small subculture but it is becoming more visible in the mainstream. Still, it remains a taboo topic for many.

At first glance, a BDSM scene can look like at least one person involved does not want to be there or is not enjoying themselves. Despite what it seems, these situations exist between consenting individuals who are aroused by what is going on. Before the experience even begins, people’s boundaries and expectations are discussed and made clear, and a “safe” word is chosen that everyone will respond to that will pause or end the experience. (Note: safe words would not be words that someone might shout out in pleasure or pain, like “yes!” or “stop!” Rather, safe words are arbitrary words, like “blue” or “mustard,” that have nothing to do with the sexual experience.) There can be a fine line between “good” pain and “bad” pain. Since much of BDSM revolves around the eroticizing of pain, humiliation, denial, and restraint, communication is key, and safety and consent are paramount. Read more about how to tell the difference between kink and abuse here.

In general, there are 3 kinds of roles people assume:

Dominant/ Top/ Daddy/ Big: the person that controls the activity. The Dom (male title) or Domme (female title) appears only to be concerned with his or her own pleasure during play, but cherishes their sub because it is from the sub that they derive their pleasure.

submissive/ bottom/ pet/ little: the person that is controlled. Subs have varying degrees of submission and can endure varying degrees of pain, which helps determine what kinds of “training,” discipline, and situations are appropriate.

Switch: Someone that takes on the dominant role in some situations, and the submissive role in other situations. Sometimes people recognize only two types of roles (Dominant and submissive) and do not recognize switches as a separate role.

There are also several kinds of play in BDSM. Play allows people to explore both physical BDSM, which is an umbrella for all kinky activities that are expressed physically, and mental BDSM, which are verbal activities intended to make a psychological impression, evoke confusion, or involve a mind fuck, sometimes without a physical aspect. All of the kinds of play give people the opportunity for people to experience different roles, levels of control, vulnerability, arousal, and develop another level of trust with their partner:

Sensation play: using hands or toys to go beyond the normal range of physical sensation, like bondage, flogging, or spanking. Learn more about erotic spanking here. Sensation play can range from light to heavy, and many of the activities are not focused on pain or even involve it.

Power play: involves an intentional power exchange where each partner takes a different role: one person is Dominant and the other is submissive. The Dominant person takes command and most of the responsibility as far as safety and comfort goes, while the submissive person obeys the Dominant person’s orders. Power play often involves physical sensation and an emotional component.

Trans play: an alternative state of consciousness that happens when endorphins are released from intense stimulation.

The ladies at Pleasure Mechanics give a great introduction to what BDSM is and how to get started in their podcast, which you can listen to here. In essence, they describe BDSM as an erotic game in which all the “players” involved have agreed to follow a certain set of rules within the game. The setting of the game is negotiated, behaviors within the game are discussed, even the time frame of the game is set, so partners can get in the mind set of the game when it is happening and are not taken off-guard because all people involved are aware of when the experience is finished.

After the experience it is important to remember to take part in aftercare: making sure all parties involved attend to each other’s emotional, psychological, and physiological needs and anything else that may have come up for them during the experience.

Interested in learning more?

Watch The Notorious Bettie Page, about the 1950s pin-up girl whose racy (at the time) sadomasochistic photos made her the subject of a censorship investigation. Well-balanced film that gives insight into Bettie’s life and how censorship laws have changed over the years.

Watch The Secretary, a quirky film with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, depicting the relationship between a sexually dominant man and his submissive secretary.

Watch the documentary Fetishes, made in 1996 about one of New York City’s professional BDSM studios, Pandora’s Box (still in existence). Many reviewers criticize the interviewer’s style and the editing, though if you’re curious about what is out there you get to see professional dominatrixes and people with a wide variety of fetishes on camera explaining why they do what they do and why certain behaviors turn them on.

Watch Maitresse, starring Gérard Depardieu and Bulle Ogier (no, it’s not a porno, but it does include some hardcore S&M scenes). This 1973 movie was banned in France til the 80s; it’s actually somewhat of a romantic comedy.

Check out BDSM Tips for Beginners by Lady Green and Jay Wiseman here.

Find a glossary of BDSM terms here.

Read Come Hither: A Common Sense Guide to Kinky Sex by Gloria G. Brame

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

Read Learn the Ropes, by Race Bannon

Read SM 101: A Realistic Introduction, by Jay Wiseman

Read Conquer Me: Girl-to-Girl Wisdom About Fulfilling Your Submissive Desires, by Kacie Cunningham and Jay Wiseman (foreword)

Read The Mistress Manual: The Good Girl’s Guide to Female Dominance, by Mistress Lorelei

Read The Master’s Manual: A Handbook of Erotic Dominance, by Jack Rinella

– Nikita

Featured image courtesy of Adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos

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