What is BDSM?

When most people hear the term “BDSM”, an image of a sexual dungeon equipped with chains and whips may appear in their mind. The reality is that BDSM does not have to involve that level of intense play.

BDSM, also commonly known as “erotic power play” is a blanket term that encompasses activities that involve physical and psychological surrender and trust. Activities fall under the following sub-groupings:

Bondage and discipline (B/D): Bondage is the application of physical restraint on a partner, which can include the use of handcuffs, ropes, chains, etc. Discipline refers to psychological and/or physical punishment.

Dominance and submission (D/S): Rituals that involve giving or receiving control. The person playing the dominant role (‘dom’) controls the action while the person in the submissive role (‘sub’)

Sadism and masochism (S/M): The exchange of physical or emotional pain. Sadism is the pleasure someone derives from inflicting pain upon a partner and masochism is when pleasure is gained from being hurt. 

What is a BDSM Scene?

A BDSM scene is a sexy story that generally has an agreed-upon beginning, middle and end. The scene involves the characters you’re playing, the place where you are enacting your scene, and the story that unfolds. Accessories (e.g., handcuffs, gags, hot wax, cold ice, lingerie, costumes, etc.) are not required, but can allow you to further immerse yourself in the scene.


Roles within BDSM 


“Submissive” (“sub” for short) and “dominant” (“dom” for short) are the two roles within a BDSM scene. The “sub” sets the parameters and gives control to the “dom” to make the decisions. One way to think about it is that the “dom” is the person who prefers the doing while the “sub” prefers having it done to them. To be a “dom” is to know what to do, how to do it, and when.


The “dom” is also sometimes called the master or mistress, while the “sub” may be called the servant or slave. It’s important to understand that these titles don’t dictate the power dynamic. The “sub” retains a lot of control by setting the limits within which they are willing to abdicate their power. The “dom” is continually working to obtain consent from the “sub” to the action in progress. Although the “sub” is put in a compromising position (tied up, blindfolded, surrendering to the action, etc.), every moment is still a practice of them accepting - even that which may be humiliating or degrading. 


New BDSM players almost always begin as “subs”. By allowing “doms” to use them, they learn techniques and safety. Some will discover that they desire to be a “dom” themselves, while others will prefer to remain a “sub.” “Switches”, which are those people in BDSM who enjoy alternating between the “dom” and “sub” roles. 


It is also worth noting that not all BDSM involves sadistic or masochistic action. A “sub” may dislike and refuse to bear any pain and a “dom” may not enjoy inflicting pain. Still, power can be exchanged, service demanded and given, and a certain amount of rough stimulation involved.

Why do people like BDSM?


BDSM is a practice of increasing psychological expansion and sexual fulfillment. Some folks engage in it for pursuit of self-enhancement, while others use it to deepen intimacy with their partner. Because BDSM involves vulnerability, it can create profound depths of trust. New research is finding similarities between BDSM and mindfulness practices, such as meditation, in the context of heightened consciousness. 


Since the “dom” is charged with monitoring and protecting their partner, the “sub” is in the better situation for achieving an altered state of mind and transcendence. Accordingly, this state has been dubbed as the “subspace”. By putting full trust into the “dom”, the “sub” becomes relaxed. Their brain is receptive, ready to interpret all sensations as erotic. Many “subs” describe feelings of floating and peacefulness. Research on psychology of BDSM has also indicated that when pain is administered, it triggers a rush of endorphins similar to a runner’s high. 


Russel Stambaugh, sexologist and alternative-sex psychologist, has been studying sexual deviance, sexual variation and the psychology of sexuality for decades. He has identified the following top pleasure themes that BDSM participants experience:

  1. Giving up control can be very sexy
  2. You can feel power in the bedroom in ways that are impossible to arrange in daily life
  3. Dark emotions can energize eroticism
  4. Kink is often a “trust fall” and it feels good, safe, and intimate to be accepted and cared for in ways that don’t readily happen in day-to-day life
  5. Sometimes, transcendence can be found through pain, stress, and privation, even if on the surface those experiences are unpleasant. 

Who enjoys BDSM?


There is no single archetype for a BDSM practitioner or player - the BDSM community is very diverse! Research has shown, among “those who practice BDSM… the only personality trait that they hold is more openness to new experiences, making them more open-minded and adventurous” (click here to read more about this study).

“Type A” personalities are often drawn to BDSM to experience submission. We’re talking about the CEO, lawyer, or doctor types that have high-stress jobs where they have to be in full control. BDSM can appeal to someone like this because it provides an opportunity to unleash and escape being “in charge.” In submission, they have no choice but to enjoy what a partner is doing to them. 


Some folks who have experienced trauma (physical, sexual, psychological, etc.) will integrate BDSM into their healing process. Through BDSM, they may recreate a painful scene, addressing complex issues in a more controlled environment so as to reclaim agency. Those who suffer from performance anxiety may also benefit from BDSM participation if they take on the “sub” role and are relieved from worrying about being a “good partner” who provides pleasure. 


Where to begin with exploring BDSM?


Your first foray into the world of BDSM does not have to feature latex outfits or elaborate props. You can start exploring in small ways, like incorporating a blindfold into foreplay. But before you do that, you’ll need to have a conversation and negotiation with your partner about what you’re curious to explore together. You will want to get as much information as possible about their past, fantasies, conditions, boundaries, etc. Get explicit about what you both want to experience. There are several frameworks used by the BDSM community for structuring negotiation of BDSM participation; for example: Caring, Communication, Consent, and Caution (4Cs)


It’s important to suspend all judgement and create a safe space for exchanging your fantasies. This requires shedding ego and letting go of social compliance. It’s helpful to approach it with childlike playfulness. How do you want to play together? How can your fantasies be adapted and blended together so that you are both willing to try? 


Maybe this discussion naturally transitions into setting up a BDSM scene. However, you may require some additional time to prepare, whether that is mental time or time to acquire the items needed to set up the BDSM scene. Regardless, be sure you’re both primed and excited for it. You want to create a scene that will turn you both on. Your negotiation is also the time to establish a “safe word”, BDSM speak for a special prearranged word or gesture that the “sub” can say to the “dom” that means stop. 


What are some other key BDSM considerations?


“Safe” is relative and you can decide what it means to you, designing the boundaries and protocols with your partner. You can feel respected, even though you’re being disrespected in a specific BDSM scene. You can feel appreciated while being humiliated or insulted. That being said, there is clear etiquette in BDSM, and consent is fundamental. Don’t confuse an abuser with a BDSM practitioner. 


BDSM can be used irresponsibly. It’s important to educate yourself on the risks to minimize potential harms to yourself and your partners. For example, scarves and ties form knots that can be very difficult to undo, and binding someone incorrectly can cause permanent damage to wrists or ankles. This is why it’s safest to buy and use professionally made BDSM accessories.


Maintain strict boundaries with what has been negotiated. If certain things are off the table, make sure you find partners that can honour that. Respect your partner and practice regular check-ins throughout the experience. Embarking on a BDSM journey can bring up big emotions, so BDSM beginners should go extra slow so as to not get overwhelmed. If you are going to play with pain, it’s wise to start with pleasure. A gentle stroke, some space, then a spank, then some more space to relish in the sensation and build anticipation for what comes next ;) 


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.