Bdsm has been brought out of the shadows and into the mainstream by books and movies like Fifty Shades of Grey. It encompasses a huge array of different practices. The common thread with all of these practices is that they all involve some sort of dominance and submission. Many people enjoy light bdsm practices like bondage. However, there are also many who enjoy more hardcore aspects of bdsm roleplay. These aspects include physical punishment like spanking, humiliation, and orgasm denial. BDSM is a hybrid term drawn from bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism.

Dom and Sub are terms commonly used to describe the dominant and submissive parties in the relationship. This arrangement doesn’t necessarily hold to traditional gender roles. A man can be a submissive and a woman can be a dominant. Rather than being determined by gender, the roles are determined by the sexual preferences of the participants. Some people enjoy playing both roles at different times, and some people decidedly prefer one role over the other.

Consent and the Use of Safewords

Many of the acts carried out in bdsm play would be illegal under other circumstances. What separates these acts from crimes like abuse, assault, and rape is that both parties consent to ahead of time. Consent is considered to be of utmost importance in the bdsm community. This consent takes different forms depending on the preferences of those involved. Some won’t engage in any bdsm activity without having both parties sign a contract beforehand. The contract lays out the specific rules for engagement, whether or not a safeword will be used, acts that are permitted, acceptable punishments the Dom can use on the Sub. Many participants do not feel the need for a formal written contract. Instead all of these elements are discussed and agreed on by verbal agreement.

Safewords are used by the submissive party when they don’t want to engage in an act or wish for the role play to stop. Since bdsm can include things like rape role playing, a safeword is used to indicate that the submissive truly doesn’t want to do something or wants to end the play. The word and what will happen if the word are used are agreed upon before play starts. Some people also use a combination of safe words to indicate different things. They may use the word “yellow” to indicate that things are getting too intense. This lets the Dom know to ease up a little without stopping the play. The submissive could also use the word “red” to let the Dom know that they want to stop. Depending on the level of trust the submissive has in the dominant and the comfort level of both parties, they may choose not to use a safeword at all. The pair may also choose to not have a safeword when the submissive is being punished for misbehaving.

A common misconception is that the submissive is completely at the mercy of the dominant. However, the submissive is the one who ultimately decides what happens. What will and won’t happen are negotiated before the scene begins. If the submissive doesn’t like what the dom is doing, they can use the safeword to get them to stop.

Trust and Intimacy

Many people outside of the bdsm community think that it is about abuse or pain. However, bdsm at it’s core is about trust and intimacy. It’s about trusting the other person to not do anything you can’t handle. The communication needed before and during the scene gives bdsm couples more intimacy than other couples. It allows them to explore their likes and dislikes and their limits together safe in the knowledge that the other person will look out for their well being.

Since bdsm means so many different things to different people, the best way to understand it is to look at different bdsm practices. Here you will find some of the most common acts found in bdsm, and some on the edge of the bdsm scene.

The Role of Fantasy

Fantasy is one of the core concepts of bdsm. Some form of fantasy is present in most bdsm encounters. While the average person may fantasize about certain things and keep it to themselves, bdsm participants act out their fantasies. Fantasies allow practitioners to let go of their inhibitions and try new things. It is also a great way to keep things interesting when you have a long term partner. Sharing these experiences can also make you and your partner feel closer and more intimate. Very few things in this world are considered taboo. The practices that are considered taboo are called “edgeplay”. These are practiced by a subset of the bdsm community. Some start with a basic scenario like “boss” and “secretary” or a rape fantasy and go from there. Others plan out the fantasy before they start. The fantasy and imagination of bdsm is one of the things that makes it so appealing. You can be someone different and act out fantasies that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

Aspects of BDSM

Bondage

Bondage is one of the most popular bdsm fantasies. It is practiced by many people who don’t consider themselves part of the bdsm community. It is considered more mainstream than some other bdsm practices. Bondage is a form of dominance and submission. The dominant person ties up the submissive person. The dominant person enjoys having power over the other person. The submissive gives up their power. This allows them to relax and enjoy whatever is going on without having to worry about making decisions or being self conscious. Giving up power in this way can actually be very freeing for the submissive.

There are many different ways to play bondage scenarios. Fantasy plays an important role here. If the participants are playing out a particular fantasy, the bondage should match the fantasy. For example, if they are playing a simple rape fantasy, using rope to tie the submissive’s hands and feet to the bed would be appropriate. Tape or handcuffs can also be used. The dominant may simply hold the submissive’s hands in place. There is also verbal bondage. This is where the dominant tells the submissive not to move. If the submissive moves, punishment is usually carried out. Some types of restraint like furry handcuffs are designed to be gentle. These forms of bondage are usually known as “soft bondage”.

Other methods make it painful for the submissive to fight against the restraint. Those in the bdsm scene usually prefer these types, and they also use more creative options. For more creative fantasies, the bondage itself gets more creative as well. Spreader bars can be used to keep a submissives legs spread open while still allowing them to achieve different positions or be moved around.

Bondage may also involve gags or hoods. Hoods restrict a person’s vision, while gags prevent them from speaking. Many implements can be used to gag the submissive. A ball gag is commonly used and is considered safe. For more vanilla couples, they may use scarves to gag and blindfold the submissive. In humiliation, objects considered disgusting are sometimes used to gag the submissive. Dirty socks or underwear are one example of this.

Reasons for bondage

Bondage has different purposes in the bdsm community. One reason is obviously to restrain the submissive for sexual pleasure. This method is practiced frequently in bdsm. This is also the method practiced by those who don’t view themselves as bdsm participants, usually in the form of soft bondage.

Bondage for Punishment

Bondage can also be used as a form of punishment. Sometimes the bondage itself is the punishment. When bondage is used for this type of punishment, the submissive may be tied up in an uncomfortable position. There are many ways to accomplish this. Restraining the submissive on an x shaped cross is one method that becomes uncomfortable fairly quickly. Another method is to hogtie the submissive. Hogtieing involves tying their hands behind their back, tying their feet, and then attaching the two together so that the hands and feet are pulled up behind the submissive’s back. The submissive may be left in these positions until the dominant feels that they have learned their lesson.

Another way bondage is used for punishment is when the dominant inflicts physical pain on the submissive. This varies from sadomasochism because the purpose isn’t sexual excitement, although it may occur, but punishment for not following the rules. Spanking or caning is one common form of punishment.

Predicament Bondage

Predicament bondage is commonly used in bdsm. It puts the submissive into an uncomfortable position, and is set up to cause them pain if they move from that position. This can be done with ropes, weights, objects, or a combination of these. A hook in the vagina or ass is one example. A rope is attached to the hook. The rope is then attached to the ceiling, so that the submissive has to remain on tiptoes or have the hook push inside them. It can also be attached to their head, usually so that they must keep their head pulled back to keep from pulling on the hook.

The submissive may be left in the position so long that they have to move into the one that causes pain, or they may be tickled or sexually stimulated making it difficult for them to remain still.

Predicament bondage can also be done with multiple submissives. This is where two submissives are bound together in a way so that causing pain to one relieves pain for the other. This is often done with submissives who care for each other, so that relieving their own pain causes their loved one pain and vice versa.

Safety

As with any aspect of bdsm play, safety is an important consideration. One aspect of this is a safeword. If a gag is used, the safeword may be a movement such as opening and closing one’s hands. In these situations it is necessary for the dominant to ask if the submissive is ok. The hand or body signals indicates that the subject is ok. Hand and body signals when the submissive wants to stop are also important, although it may be hard for the dominant to notice them in the heat of the moment. Safewords and hand signals are particularly important when the partners are not well acquainted. Those in a committed relationship can generally tell how their partner is genuinely feeling and if they are ok. This isn’t possible for people who don’t know each other very well. Therefore, utmost importance should be given to negotiation and safewords.

Both parties participating in this type of play should remain sober. If one or both of them is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the scenario becomes much more risky. The dominant should also keep a pair of scissors or extra keys on hand depending on how the submissive is being restrained. If the submissive needs to be released very quickly for an emergency, the dominant needs to have the tools to do so.

Restricting Movement

Some types of bondage focus on restricting movement. They can restrict movement some but not entirely. Hobble skirts are made of leather, pvc, or latex. These skirts are very tight, making it more difficult for the wearer to walk. Mummification restricts all movement of the wearer. Many times saran wrap is used to wrap the submissive’s body so they have no movement at all. However, many enthusiasts prefer sleep sacks to this practice for a number of reasons.

Sleep Sacks

Sleep sacks are essentially sleeping bags designed to completely restrict the movement of the wearer. They can be made of leather, rubber, canvas, and neoprene. Leather is the most popular material. To completely restrict the wearer’s movement, many come with d rings. Similar to a corset, a leather string is woven through the rings to ensure the tightest fit possible. Many sleep sacks come with zippers that allow access to different parts of the body like the nipples, vagina, and buttocks. This allows the submissive to be completely restrained safely while the dominant has access to parts of their body.

Leather sleep sacks also come with rings at the feet, shoulders, and along the sides. These allow the dominant to attach the sleepsack to a bed or table, or even suspend the submissive in a variety of different positions. Many sleepsacks also come with options like an attachable hood. Sleepsacks are popular because they are a generally safe way to restrain someone comfortably for a long period of time. Many fantasys, like waking up being bound, can be made possible with sleepsacks.

Sleepsacks do require some special safety considerations, The wearer should not be left alone while in the sleepsack. They should also remain hydrated because leather and rubber can make the wearer sweat. Circulation should be checked at least once every hour, and the wearer shouldn’t be hung in a position that reduces circulation for over an hour.

Dominance/Submission

The next part of the bdsm acronym is dominance and submission. This is a large part of the bdsm world and it takes many different forms. The biggest division in this category is those who use dominance and submission for sexual role play and those who live a dominant submissive lifestyle.

How It Works

There is much more to being a dominant than simply ordering a submissive around. The dominant is the teacher, the leader, and the protector of the sub. They make the sub feel safe because they look out for the sub’s ultimate best interest. The Dom should never punish the sub without just cause. Nor should they allow the sub to get away with prohibited behavior. Either of these extremes will cause the sub to lose trust in the dom. The dom should also reward the sub for good behavior. When appropriate, he should be tender and loving. While the sub is supposed to be submissive to the dom, they are also their own person. They are allowed to voice their opinions. They engage in activities with the dom. The relationship is between a dom/sub is much like the relationship between parent and child. The sub wants to please the dom just as the child wants to please their parents. The sub is punished when they misbehave, just as a parent punishes a child for misbehavior. A sub is free to voice their own opinions and have them considered, with the dom making the final decision, just as a child is free to voice their opinions and have them taken into consideration by the parents.

Dominance/Submission In Sexual Context

This involves one person being dominant and the other being submissive during sexual activities. This may be achieved through a variety of physical and psychological techniques. The desire to please is characteristic of a submissive. They want to please their dominant. This makes them submit to whatever the dominant orders them to do, and to endure punishment if they don’t do so. Partners can be dominant and submissive during sex, but not in their day to day lives. Others choose to live the “lifestyle”. This means that they stay in the dominant and sub roles at all times.

Master/Slave

The master slave relationship is stricter than the dominant/submissive one. The master has complete control over the slave. The slave is still viewed with love and caring, however, they are viewed as a possession. The most cherished possession the master (or mistress for the feminine) owns. The slave has complete trust in the master, knowing the master has their best interest at heart. The slave is held to a higher standard of conduct and submission than a submissive, and usually receives stricter punishment for misbehavior. Master/slave relationships tend to be a lifetime commitment. While dom/sub relationships can be a lifetime commitment as well, they can also be more short term.

Master/slave relationships usually involve a written contract. The contract is very detailed and states exactly what is expected of each party, and the possible punishments for the slave if they don’t comply. Some masters exert control over every aspect of a slave’s life, including what they are allowed to eat and what they are allowed to do with their time. Many times the signing of a contract involves a ceremony with the local bdsm community. It is considered a cause for celebration, much like a wedding.

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Slaves tend to bear some sort of mark or collar from their master. Physical marks may be a tattoo or an actual brand. Collars can be an actual leather collar worn around the neck. They can also be a bracelet or anklet much more suitable for public places. Many masters have something discreet for their slaves to wear in public, and a traditional collar for them to wear at home. The collar is a symbol and reminder of the slaves commitment. It is viewed the same way a wedding ring is viewed by traditional couples.

Rules of Engagement

While every relationship is different, there are some guidelines followed by most dominants and subs. First is that the sub should not be injured. This doesn’t mean that the dom will not cause her pain at some point, but it should be inflicted in a way to avoid serious injury. Prearranged limits or negotiations are also vital, whether the couple chooses to have a formal contract or just a verbal agreement about expectations and limits. These limits may change over time, but only with the consent of both parties. Some couples use “soft limits” and hard limits. Soft limits are things that the sub may not be comfortable with but are willing to try. Hard limits are things that one or both parties refuse to do. These things are completely off limits during play, where soft limits may be engaged in with appropriate precautions and a safeword. This is also where care and communication come in. If a dom does something that is in the sub’s soft limits, they should be extra attentive to their reactions to make sure they are comfortable with continuing.

Safewords are considered the norm in bdsm as well. Communication is vital to these types of relationships. The sub should be willing to submit to the dom and should derive pleasure from pleasing them. However, they should be comfortable being honest about anything they don’t like or feel is unfair. The ultimate goal of the relationship should be for the sub to be the best sub she can be for her dom. If both parties don’t share this view the relationship is unlikely to work.

Punishment and Reward

Punishment and reward are a major part of the dominant and sub relationship. Punishment for misbehavior actually makes the sub feel safe and secure. They know that incorrect behavior won’t be tolerated, and they feel comfortable within these limits. People on the outside sometimes think that dom/sub relationships are all about punishment and pain. However, punishment is merely a part of the overall relationship dynamic. Many times punishment won’t involve pain at all. The dom may punish the sub by using bondage, humiliation, or stern language. The dom may also remove the sub’s privileges. They may not be allowed to sit on the furniture, may be made to sleep on the foot of the bed or the floor. They may not be allowed to orgasm. Physical punishment should be saved for major willful infractions. Smaller mistakes warrant smaller punishment.

Reward

Reward is just as essential to the relationship as punishment. Rewards can also come in many forms. It may be in the form of praise, special privileges, or sexual gratification. It can also be a material gift. These can be as simple as a bouquet of flowers. They can also be more elaborate gifts like a new outfit, jewelry, or a special night out. Rewards are the way the dom secures a subs willingness to please him. It also lets the sub know that their good behavior is noticed and appreciated. When a sub is happy they will do anything they can to make their dom happy.

Going From Girlfriend/Boyfriend to Master/Slave

If you are wondering how one gets into a master/slave relationship, for many it is a natural progression. Much like a typical couple starts dating and becomes more committed to each other over time, many times pledging their lives to each other, many master/slave relationships start off as “regular” relationships and evolve over time. Of course this only happens in relationships where one person is naturally dominant and the other is submissive. They may start off as a regular relationship, then move to being dominant/submissive relationship. Over time some couples move to a master/slave relationship. They may start out as master/slave part of the time and being in a “regular or dom/sub relationship the rest of the time. As time goes on they spend more and more time in the master and slave roles.

Characteristics Specific to Master/Slave Relationships

There are some characteristics unique to the master/slave relationship. The master takes over not only ownership, but complete responsibility for the slave. The master is completely responsible for the slaves health, wellbeing, and happiness. The slave solely depends on their master for these things. The master has final decision making power in all things, unless they give that responsibility to the slave.

The master can choose to control every aspect of a slave’s life. How much control they choose to exert depends on the master. A common misconception is that a slave is a doormat to the master, and has no say in what happens in their life. Most masters choose to give their slave some decision making power. Another misconception is that the slave cannot function without someone telling them what to do. This is also incorrect. A slave does not need to be given constant orders in a well functioning master/slave relationship. They know what is expected of them and do these things for their master without questioning or complaint. They may stay at home and handle all of the household responsibilities or they may have a job outside of the home. Either way their job is to make their master’s life easier. In return, the master makes sure that they are well cared for. This type of relationship works well for those who are naturally inclined to it. The master must have the need to control and possess his partner, and the slave must have the need to be controlled and possessed. Those practicing Dominance and submission also need these characteristics in order to be comfortable in their roles, but the need tends to be much stronger in those who choose master/slave relationships than those who choose dominant/submissive relationships.

Sadism and Masochism

These terms make up the S&M part of the bdsm acronym. Sadists get sexual pleasure from inflicting pain on others. Masochists derive sexual pleasure by feeling pain. Many times these acts lead up to sex, but not always. This encompasses everything from being held down and tickled to being flogged or suspended in a painful way. This is a subset of the bdsm community. It is differentiated from dominant/submissive situations where the dominant gives pain and the submissive takes it as punishment by the motivation behind it. While doms and subs may also get sexually aroused by giving and receiving pain, that isn’t their primary motivation.

Pain and pleasure are very closely related in our brains, especially when referring to sexual pleasure. As your body becomes aroused, your pain threshold increases. For masochists, the pleasure outweighs the pain.  Pain releases certain chemicals in the body called endorphins. In addition to being the body’s natural painkillers, endorphins can also create pleasurable feelings. Other chemicals including epinephrine and norepinephrine are released as well. These can create an exciting rush. Most sadists and masochists dislike giving or receiving pain when it isn’t in a sexual context, however. This suggests that while biology plays a part, psychology plays a major role as well.

For S&M participants, violence and pain are an expression of love. The sadist doesn’t give pain and violence from a place of abuse, but out of love and knowing that the masochist will enjoy it. While this behavior may seem extreme, most sexually active adults have participated in the practice to some extent. If you have ever been having sex or foreplay and given or recieved your hair being pulled, being spanked, or having your nipple pinched and enjoyed it, you were practicing light S&M. Some practitioners are considered “switches”. This means that they enjoy being in the Sadist or Masochist roles.

The aspects of BDSM can be practiced independently, or in combination. Some people are into dominance/submission and sadomasochism. Bondage and discipline often overlaps with the other two aspects as well.

Edgeplay

Edgeplay are practices that are considered extreme or “on the edge” of the bdsm community. These practices are more extreme than more mainstream bdsm practices. They may be considered taboo because of psychological implications, as with age play. They may also be regarded as dangerous by the community, as is the case with knife and blood play.

Knife Play

Knife play if largely psychological. It can be dangerous, but there are various techniques that make it safer. It is usually safer if the submissive partner is bound. This prevents them from moving too much an inadvertently causing the knife to cut them. The dominant partner can also restrain the submissive and show them a sharp blade. Then blindfold them and switch it out for a dull blade. A credit card can also be used. The edge of a credit card feels very similar to a knife blade. To enhance the sensation, a blade that has been in the freezer can also be used. This will make the blade feel sharper. Dipping it in ice water can even make the submissive feel like the knife is drawing blood. Alternatively, heat can be applied to the blade to increase the sensation as well.

Knife play is essentially fear play. Threatening whispers and a stern look can go along way toward making the scene more effective. Clothing may be cut off as well. This also adds to the element of fear. The dominant should be sure to cut away from the submissive when cutting off clothing.

Before knife play occurs, the partners should be informed if either of them has a disease that is transmittable by blood. The dominant partner should understand basic first aid, and have supplies on hand to treat any cuts that occur.

Blood Play

Blood play is a form of edgeplay where blood is intended to flow. This can occur from many activities including caning, flogging, cutting, or piercing. Blood play is risky for obvious reasons, but it also builds extreme trust and intimacy in a relationship. For some blood play is simply a byproduct of sadomasochism. They may enjoy the pain that drawing blood causes. For others, the letting of blood itself is sexually stimulating.

Age Play

Before you start thinking that age play is perverse of a precursor to pedophelia, watch the Brittney Spears video “Hit Me Baby One More Time”. In the video Britney Spears plays a role often fantasized about. She is wearing a very sexy schoolgirl outfit, pigtails, and she is eating a lollipop. If you or your partner have ever dressed like this, you were actually engaging in age play. Age play in bdsm usually takes it a step farther, however. They use terms like Daddy and baby. Sometimes the dominant has a child like nickname for the submissive. Depending on how far they wish to take age play, they may only take these roles for the purposes of sexual fantasy, or they may live them out on a day to day basis.

This practice has nothing to do with being attacted to someone undereage anymore than someone who gets turned on by rape roleplay would enjoy actually being raped. Ageplay allows the dominant to be the nurturing father/mother figure, and the submissive to feel safe and cared for. Many subs who enjoy age play naturally have a more child like personality or tendencies. They may enjoy things like coloring and watching cartoons. They are very much in touch with their inner child.

Dungeons

BDSM dungeons are much like they sound like, yet there is much more to it. It is considered a “safe place” to indulge in your fantasies and fetishes, especially the riskier ones. There are people on hand to make sure that everything is consensual. If a safeword is spoken, it must be heeded immediately. They are also experts in making sure riskier behaviors are being conducted in the safest way possible.

The other element that makes dungeons so enticing to the bdsm community is exhibitionism and voyeurism. Those who choose to actively participate are watched by spectators. This can be very sexually exciting in its own right. For those who aren’t active participants, they can watch others do things that they may fantasize about but not be comfortable actually trying.

There is also a sense of community and acceptance at these events. Dungeons don’t necessarily welcome any all types of behavior. Many dungeons don’t allow certain types of edge play. Still, there is no judgement regarding someone’s looks or sexual fetishes. Everyone feels free to be themselves.

Dungeons also provide specialized equipment that isn’t economical for your average bdsm practitioner to buy for their homes. Specialized suspension equipment, bondage apparatuses including St Andrew’s crosses, medieval style stocks, and cages can be found in dungeons.

Some dungeons also employ professional Dominants and sometimes submissives. Professional dominants don’t have sex with their clients, which is what differentiates it from prostitution. They dominate their clients. They may tie them up, whip them, or humiliate them in other ways. While there are male and females who are professional Doms, the majority tend to be female. Many men, especially those in powerful positions, enjoy being dominated. However, this isn’t something they want others in their lives to know. Paying for the services of a professional ensures secrecy, and allows them to seek the service when they need it without trying to find someone to have a dominant submissive relationship with.