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BDSM Explained

A SENSUAL ART OF COMMUNICATION AND TRUST

Woman with a ball gag in her mouth

In this article we’ll cover a brief description of the core tenets of BDSM, what it truly represents, it’s various different communities and subgenres, and the vast array of tools and toys involved in the trade. We’ll also look into the psychological importance of understanding emotional concepts like guilt, fear, submission, control, desire, and pleasure and how they apply to the BDSM lifestyle.

INTRODUCTION

In today’s current politically-charged, socio-sexual climate where things like the #metoo movement and questions regarding what constitutes sexual consent are necessary, the tenets of BDSM aremore pertinent than ever. In contrast to the common misconceptions that are often portrayedby popular media, in reality, BDSM promotes (above all else), consent, honesty, trust and most importantly - communication.

Sadly, despite modern society developing a more liberal attitude towards sex in recent years, BDSM remains a stigmatized industry that is often shunned by the mainstream. As a result, those interested in the art may shy away from it and repress their natural, instinctual desires in fear on judgment or reprisal.

The truth is, however, that the desires represented by BDSM activities are perfectly innocent elements of the human psyche. Far from its archaic view of perversion, slavery, and abuse, the BDSM scene is far more often populated by the most loving, open-minded and respectable

BREAKING DOWN BDSM

What exactly does BDSM stand for? Well, rather than being an anagram for four specific words, it encompasses a larger spectrum of concepts most of which happen to fall under one or more of the four letters.

Most commonly, the B stands for Bondage, the D stands for both Discipline and Dominant, the S stands for both Sadism and Submissive and the M for Masochism. In this way you can see how several subgenres of a wider community fit under one single term - Bondage & Discipline (B&D), Dominance & Submissive (D&S) and Sadism & Masochism (S&M). However, over time BDSM has grown to include several other lesser known activities too and is now a general umbrella term for all things kink and fetish related.

A woman bent over face down on a foot stool with her hands in restraints behind her

First and foremost, the most common misconception related to BDSM is that it is entirely sexual in nature. This is not necessarily true and, in fact, quite often BDSM does not involve any sexual activities at all. In some situations, dominant/submissive (D/s) role-playing involves one partner simply following instructions to do everyday tasks like washing dishes or cooking meals. Many married couples may not even realize that they are already in a D/s relationship!

Bondage & Discipline covers what is considered probably the most mainstream version of BDSM and usually involves one partner being restrained while the other issues some form of spanking or other punishment. Sadism & Masochism covers the more extreme versions of deriving pleasure from either inflicting or receiving pain or participating in humiliating or degrading activities.

The Importance of Communication and Consent BDSM can quite often be about pleasure or about pain (usually a bit of both), but most importantly it’s about trust and consent. It requires a special relationship built upon a variety of aspects including trust, control, submission and consent that facilitates a comfortable environment where one can enjoy heightened emotional responses to feelings of pleasure or pain.

Participants in the BDSM community often use various anagrams to educate and inform new members while also providing easy reminders to existing members. RACK stands for “risk-aware consensual kink” and reinforces the need to always communicate potential risks so that all consenting partners are aware of them. Another anagram, SSC, stands for “safe, sane and consensual”, again reinforcing the importance of consent while highlighting the need to stay level-headed and not get carried away in the heightened emotion of a situation.

A woman lying on the bed blindfolded in pleasure

Incorporating a ‘safe word’ is a well-known technique that has been popularized by mainstream media. Agreeing on a safe word before engaging in any BDSM play is paramount to ensure a situation can be quickly diffused if either party feels uncomfortable. It simply involves selecting an unusual word, like ‘banana’ or ‘doorknob’, that neither participant would normally use under the circumstances.

However, communication in BDSM doesn’t begin and end with just consent and a safe word. Participants should spend a decent amount of time before any activity discussing specific details like degrees of pain, health concerns, time constraints, emotional triggers, and limitations - amongst others.

It is also just as important to enter into ‘aftercare’ communication once an activity has ended. At the very least, this requires ensuring a partner feels safe and comfortable and that no physical or emotional boundaries were overstepped. Aftercare communication can also involve discussion of likes, dislikes, questions, answers and any other new experiences that were enjoyed.

SAFETY

Maintaining a safe BDSM environment requires good knowledge of both psychological and physical practices. It is just as important to use safe and hygienic equipment as it is to understand emotional and psychological reactions and responses.

In order to always be aware of your partner’s state of mind, it is imperative that you keep your own state of mind clear. It is generally considered irresponsible for participants to engage in BDSM activities while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While one or two drinks amongst consenting adults may be appropriate, being heavily intoxicated can quickly make a BDSM environment unsafe.

A woman with her hands in restraints above her

When engaging in activities that can cause pain, always start much slower and softer than the level you intend to build up to. In the long-run, a partner will be able to enjoy a higher level of pleasure from the pain if their body is able to build a slow tolerance to it, making the overall experience more enjoyable for everyone.

EQUIPMENT

Always ensure the equipment you choose to incorporate into BDSM is properly designed for the activity of choice. Most BDSM toys are specifically crafted to avoid injury and using cheap alternatives like common household rope or leather is not appropriate, as it can cause burns or abrasions.

In the same way, correctly designed whips and paddles can achieve excellent results without causing any damage to the skin or flesh. Proper candles designed for wax play are crafted with paraffin rather than beeswax as it doesn’t melt hot enough to cause lasting burns.

ELEMENTS OF BDSM

RESTRAINT/BONDAGE

Bondage is probably the most mainstream form of BDSM and often acts as an introduction for many participants. Many couples play with the idea of bondage at some point in their relationship, using either toy handcuffs or common household objects like scarves, ties or belts.

In the BDSM community, there is a huge amount of variation when it comes to bondage instruments, with thousands of different restraints of all shapes and sizes. Any object that restricts a partners ability to move or interact falls under this category - including mouth gags, leg spacers, cuffs, ropes and blindfolds.

A man is putting nipple clamps on a woman

PAIN/SENSATION PLAY

There is a broad range of instruments designed especially for this element of BDSM, which generally falls under the S&M category. The most common tools used for pain or sensation play are spanking paddles, canes and whips. Pain play toys come in a wide variety of different styles and in their more advanced forms (like whips), often require some training in order to use safely.

Beyond just spanking, pain and sensation play can involve all kinds of toys, depending on how imaginative you are. Hot wax, branding, needle play, cutting and clamping are examples of some of the more extreme elements of pain play.

MALE/FEMALE CHASTITY

Male/female chastity is in a way a subgenre of bondage, as it involves restricting a partners use of or access to their genitals. This can be in the form of a leather chastity belt for women or a ‘cock cage’ for a man, which makes it impossible to achieve erection.

The idea of chastity belts are to restrict the possibility of sexual intercourse or masturbation, and are used in modern times by dominant/ submissive couples as a form of control, denial and humiliation. For the submissive, the loss of control leading to a build up of sexual desire and then eventual release is the key attraction.

ROPE PLAY (SHIBARI/KINBAKU)

Shibari is a type of Japanese rope bondage, traditionally known as Kinbaku (緊縛 - ‘tight binding’), that typically involves delicately tying up a willing participant and then suspending them above ground.

A woman with her back to the camera with arm and wrist restraints

Unlike normal rope bondage, shibari is a complex art that requires years of training in order to perform safely and successfully. The rope needs to be placed with careful precision and delicate balance so as to ensure no body part is overlypressurized and injured when suspension occurs.

A correctly ‘bonded’ participant shouldn’t feel excessive pain when suspended, only mild and evenly distributed pressure, resulting in a pleasurable feeling of floating. In addition to correctly placing the knots, shibari artists will typically use the rope to create intricate and beautiful patterns.

MENTAL PLAY

Mental play in its most simple form usually involves acting out a fantasy and often includes role play and costumes. This can be a simple doctor/nurse fantasy or something more indepth, like reliving childhood experiences or on the dark side, rape fantasy

Mental play fantasies are often rooted in complex psychological situations and when played out may result in both positive or negative experiences. For this reason, it is important that both parties properly understand what they are getting involved in beforehand.

Other version of mental play can include a dominant figure inflicting degrading or humiliating experiences on a submissive. These situations are agreed upon beforehand and intended for the pleasure of both parties.

EXTREME PLAY (EDGING)

Some advanced BDSM practitioners with years of experience in the field may participate in more risky activities that can result in serious injury or death. These are known as extreme play (or edging - as in, living on the edge) and should never be attempted by anyone without the proper training.

Some of these include inflicting pain and injury using knives and autoerotic asphyxiation, where one experiences pleasure from being strangling and cutting off oxygen to the brain.