Kink 101: Introduction to BDSM

Here are all the juicy details you’ve wanted to know about BDSM but were too shy to ask.

BDSM has found a foothold in today’s mainstream thanks to the popularity of films such as “50 Shades of Grey”and “Eyes Wide Shut.” While I’m glad more people are starting to embrace their deviant side, these films fail to accurately depict healthy, functioning kinky relationships, leaving an uninformed viewer with a misguided understanding of BDSM.

So, what is it exactly? In short, BDSM is a compound acronym that encompasses a wide array of fetishes and the intersections between them. It stands for bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. On paper, BDSM can seem dangerous and cruel, but its actual practice is one of careful communication, risk awareness and enthusiastic, ongoing consent.

I hope to demystify this complex subject, so you’ll see that BDSM is more than just a list of fetishes, but rather a thrilling, deeply intimate way to connect with your partner.

Read the article on Giddy.

You’re bound to love bondage

Bondage takes on many different forms, from ropes, silk ties and fuzzy handcuffs to locking leather straps, straitjackets and bondage tape. You name it. There are so many different materials to choose from, there’s truly something for every body.

Due to the uniquely visceral, yet somatic, nature of bondage, people can enjoy it on its own, beyond sexual gratification. In her book, “Somatics for Rope Bottoms,” bodyworker Natasha Nawateneko illustrates how being tightly bound can help us focus our awareness on the parts of our body that carry trauma, allowing us to release tension and create a sense of “deep peace.” This is why many sex therapists may use bondage to help their clients calm anxiety and process painful, traumatic emotions.

That being said, bondage is, for many, a welcome addition to sex. Bondage creates a wonderful sense of vulnerability between you and your partner that opens a door to heightened senses and lowered inhibitions.

Spank you, kindly

Many of us have not-so-fond memories of going to the principal’s office for goofing off in class, or earning a set of pushups for talking back to a drill sergeant, or maybe bending over daddy’s knee while getting acquainted with the business end of his belt. Most of us have experienced discipline in some shape or form, though only some of us derive sexual pleasure from it.

Indeed, some people become aroused solely from obeying orders, but more often than not, it’s difficult to separate the concept of discipline from the other aspects of BDSM, because they are so interconnected. You could think of it as the sauce that makes BDSM extra spicy.

For example, if your partner acts bratty, you might want to give them a spanking as a form of punishment. This would bring both elements of discipline and impact play into your dominance/submission (D/s) dynamic. However, discipline can also be the main event. Dominants sometimes use a system of rewards and punishments to mold their submissive’s behavior, almost like kinky operant conditioning.

No matter how you choose to give it, never discipline your partner without their consent. Sure, they don’t need to know exactly how or when you plan to dole it out, but they should be in on it and have an opportunity to voice any wants, needs and expectations.

Who’s your daddy?

Dominance/submission, a very important aspect of BDSM, is often the cornerstone of kinky relationships. D/s usually involves some type of power exchange, wherein a submissive consents to the will of a dominant. Kinksters tend to prefer one role to the other, but it is also common to switch between dominant and submissive roles, even in the middle of a scene. People usually take on these roles in the bedroom, though there are people who choose to live out their roles 24/7 with their partner.

When incorporating dominance/submission dynamics into roleplaying scenarios, people will sometimes use honorifics, such as “Sir”or“Mistress,” to show respect to their dominants. Conversely, dominants will use names like “pet” or “toy” to pull rank on their submissive. D/s can manifest itself in countless ways: daddy (zaddy)/baby, teacher/student, police officer/criminal and so on; the scenario really depends on the specific nature of each relationship.

Part of the fun is finding out which buttons to press and levers to pull, so to speak, to get your partner in the right headspace. As long as you practice proper negotiations and ask for ongoing, enthusiastic consent, the only real limit in D/s explorations is your imagination.

Sadomasochism crash course

The term sadism has roots in pre-revolutionary France, coined from the last name of the notoriously salacious philosopher and author, Marquis de Sade. Locked behind bars, the marquis wrote lurid stories of sexual deviants taking pleasure in inflicting pain onto others in works like “Justine”and “120 Days of Sodom.”

Later, in 19th-century Austria, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch put pen to paper, detailing the fantasies of a man who longs to be dominated by “Venus in Furs,” giving us the term masochism. Hundreds of years later, these authors’ storylines still shape and define the idea of sadomasochism as we know it today.

Sadomasochism itself is a portmanteau of these two writers’ names, created by psychologists Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Sigmund Freud. They are responsible for most of the problematic rhetoric surrounding the subject, having posited that sadomasochism is a dangerous psychological perversion. Their work has since been disputed.

Moreover, the acronym BDSM was created in rebellion against the damaging connotations behind this clinical diagnosis. As it stands, the phrase sadomasochism has been reclaimed by the kink community to describe someone who enjoys playing with pain in a safe, sane and consensual (SSC) manner.

The end…and the beginning

Kinks don’t exist in a vacuum. The elements of BDSM blend together to create a colorful tapestry of kinky sexuality, and everyone’s tapestry looks different. A vast spectrum of identities and behaviors fall under the umbrella of BDSM, so the subject is quite difficult to pin down, pun definitely intended.

After exploring a bit of your kinky side, you’re sure to come up with a definition of your own. BDSM is more than a list of fetishes; it’s an ongoing conversation with our sexuality, an embodied inquiry into our own boundaries and a downright fun way to play.

While everyone’s kinky preferences differ, the common denominator in BDSM will always be “connection.” Kink offers us an exciting opportunity to explore intimacy with our partners in unconventional ways. In fact, the amount of open communication and trust required to explore kink will only strengthen the bond between you and your partner. What could be better than that?

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Experienced writer with a background in performing arts and creative collaboration.