What is BDSM anyway? A Beginner’s Guide to BDSM

A Beginner’s Guide to BDSM

Far from just what you may have seen in “50 Shades,” BDSM is an erotic practice that encompasses several kinks that can be divided into multiple categories:

 

 BD (Bondage and Discipline) - Involves   physical restraint of another person
 DS (Dominance and Submission) -   Generally refers to situations in which one   participant (dominant) executes power   over another (submissive)
 SM (Sado-Masochism) - The consensual   giving or receiving of pleasure from acts   that are considered painful or humiliating

 

 

These letters are categorized together based on the variety of different activities that can stem from any of these categories, but BDSM can be a lot of different things to different people with different preferences. Activities and relationships in BDSM are often characterized by the participants' taking on roles that are complementary and involve a power differential; thus, the idea of informed consent of both partners is essential. When it comes down to it, the main characteristics of BDSM are power play and trust. BDSM play is all about trusting your partner(s) to feel a powerful connection through control and submission.

Terms and Roles

In addition to BDSM terms explained above, the terms "submissive" and "dominant" are often used to distinguish between roles: the dominant partner ("dom") takes psychological control over the submissive ("sub"). The terms "top" and "bottom" are also used; the top is generally the one who initiates an action while the bottom is the receiver of the action. The two sets of terms are subtly different: for example, someone may choose to act as a bottom to another person, by being whipped, purely recreationally, without any implication of being psychologically dominated, and submissives may be instructed to perform on their dominant partners. Although the bottom carries out the action and the top receives it, they have not necessarily switched roles. There are also times when the submissive may attempt to control the play, the dynamic, or the relationship from their submissive position using seduction, persuasion, or other tactics. This is often referred to as “topping from the bottom.”

BDSM Etiquette

Before you jump right in and whip out the restraints, it's to brush up on your BDSM etiquette to ensure it's done safely. Again, it's all about trust and consent, which means every aspect that you or your partner(s) wants to try has to include consent of the group. Play that involves any kind of pain or violence needs to be discussed before playtime. BDSM is all about communication, which means that everyone involved has the right to communicate what they want, and don't want. Again, BDSM is an umbrella term, which means that there are many fun, exciting activities that can be classified as BDSM play; however, you don’t have to try them all! It is totally up to you and your partner(s) what you want to try, and it's ok to say no! It is also ok to change your mind once you are already engaged in play! It’s important to continue the discussion of consent throughout the experience. For example, you can ask questions like “how does this feel,” “is this too tight,” “would you like me to go a little slower/faster/harder?”

Safe Words or Taps

Communication is key, but it may be hard to hear or understand your partner if they are gagged or perhaps “orally occupied.” This can lead to someone getting unintentionally hurt or not having quite as pleasurable an experience. That’s why it's so important to establish some sort of safety word, or even safety taps when the mouth is obstructed. Safety words and/or signals should be set between your partner(s) and agreed upon unanimously as to what they are before beginning play. This is an easy but particular word or movement that either partner can say or do if they become uncomfortable with the activities, and might want to pause or stop completely (words like "marshmallow" are better than words like "stop", because “stop” could be used as a pleasurable word, instead of a real warning.

Aftercare and Recovery

So you now know what to do before you get started, and how to communicate throughout the experience, but just as important as setting the ground rules is engaging in aftercare and recovery. In BDSM, aftercare is the time partners take after play to recover and attend to each other’s emotional and physical needs. Because of the physically and psychologically taxing nature of some BDSM practices (and sex in general) aftercare plays an important role in reviewing what just occurred and getting someone back to “reality.” Physically, you may notice your partner getting tired or fatigued while playing, so it’s a good idea to start thinking up a little list of things to bring them when you're all done, such as water, a snack, a blanket, and possibly an ice pack for any residual pain. But aftercare isn't just about addressing physical concerns, it's about tending to your partner’s mental and emotional state too. When it's time to come back to reality and return to your normal day-to-day roles, it's important to discuss how things went while transitioning back. You can discuss what was desired in the act, how that was received and interpreted, and how things may be changed or incorporated in the next session. It can allow for each participant's desires and needs to be met, thus reducing harm and increasing connection through the entire process. Comforting things, like cuddling or pampering each other after play, is the healthiest way to recover and come back to reality.

What you Need to Get Started

At this point, you may be ready to start your BDSM journey, but what exactly do you need to get started? The good news is, you don't need a whole dungeon to call yourself a BDSM-er. Toys are great, but they aren't necessary for most BDSM play. A lot of BDSM is psychological, which means you can easily use your voice to get your point across in asserting your role. You don't need whips, restraints, or gags to make your partner obey your word, though it can certainly help to expedite the process! For inspiration, check out The FPlay’s collection of bondage sets, handcuffs, face masks, and floggers to get you started! Happy playing!

About the Author:

Holly Wood is a Dana Point based Sex Therapist, EMDR trained Trauma Specialist, and Clinical Sexologist specializing in trauma, sex, and intimacy concerns. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality from the California Institute of Integral Studies, focusing on sexual trauma and social justice. Holly is committed to sexual wellness by working with clients to get past their past and develop the necessary skills to achieve lifelong change for a more pleasurable and connected life. 

“I am passionate about helping people achieve their goals and live happy, healthy, rewarding lives. I truly believe that trauma is the source of pathology and that everyone has within them the capacity to heal. I work with couples and individuals to sort things out, let go of what does not serve them, and develop the necessary skills to achieve lifelong change to improve their quality of life. I believe that people deserve to create the life they truly want. Peaceful. Connected. Powerful. And Pleasurable.”

- Holly Wood, MS., LMFT

To find out more about her work or to schedule an appointment, check out more at https://www.hollywoodmft.com/

The cookie settings on this website are set to 'allow all cookies' to give you the very best experience. Please click Accept Cookies to continue to use the site.
You have successfully subscribed!