What Does BDSM Look Like?

Guest post by M. Christian

What does BDSM look like? Maybe you already have a clear sense in your mind. If not, close your eyes for a moment and imagine what you think BDSM might encompass.

What did you picture? Don’t feel badly if what comes to mind is sternly black leather, frighteningly brutal equipment, roaring screams of pleasure and pain, knee-quaking intensity, and people who hide behind masks.

These kinds of images are all too common when many people think of BDSM, but this is a rather superficial take. Of course, we also have to give credit to mainstream media who, instead of doing any real research, seem to universally default to endless cliches, the worst of which being that BDSM is the result of damaged people unable to have “normal” sex (sigh).

But before we get too much into reality versus fantasy, a little detour is probably in order. In short, what exactly is BDSM?

Keeping it short and sweet, BDSM stands for: Bondage / Discipline / SadoMasochism (or slave / Master / Mistress, depending on who you ask) and it can cover a wide range of activities, up to and including various fetishes, role-play, power exchange, restraints, impact play, piercing and cutting… the list goes on and on. 

A lot of BDSM’s image problem lies in it being this umbrella term: it is much easier to picture just one aspect of it than strain yourself to imagine these infinite styles and options.

Though, to be fair, the BDSM community contributes a great deal to its own image problem: relishing in black leather, stern dominants, placid submissives, and especially the unspoken race to see who can be more intense than everyone else. 

The reality is that the true world of BDSM much more human: by this I mean that, yes, BDSM can be everything it advertises itself to be (whips and chains etc), and can even sometimes dip its toes into what the mainstream media says it is, but like the term itself BDSM is actually so much more than that. 

In my 30+ years as a member of the community, I’ve seen more than my fair share of dark dungeons, bull whippings, blood play, full-body mummifications, suspension bondage scenes, cock and ball tortures, and far too many more scenarios to mention but what I’ve mostly seen and experienced are human beings simply exploring their sexuality – not due to any emotional damage but consciously, positively, and with the full consent of the other people involved.

And then there’s the love. Sadly, this notion is not out there in the public zeitgeist as much as it really should be: for many, BDSM is not so much about cold intensity but affection, self-care, respect, nurturing, healing, belonging, and even fits of delightful giggles. For me, the true heart of BDSM is: hands held in support, hugs given, tears shed, kisses shared, pleasures experienced, and especially so much tender affection.

It might take awhile, considering how prevalent these often deceptive images of the community are out there, but the humanity of BDSM doesn’t look as dramatic – or is as salable – as all that heavy equipment, black leather, and broken people.  

Further reading:

BDSM Basics

Pleasure from Pain: Endorphin “Highs” and the Subspace

Beginner’s Guide to Fantasy