Logo

BDSM is a variety of erotic practices involving dominance and submission, role-playing, restraint, and other interpersonal dynamics. Given the wide range of practices, some of which may be engaged in by people who do not consider themselves as practicing BDSM, inclusion in the BDSM community and/or subculture is usually dependent on self-identification and shared experience. Interest in BDSM can range from one-time experimentation to a lifestyle, and there is debate over whether a BDSM or kink sexual identity also constitutes a form of sexual orientation.

The term BDSM dates back to 1969; however, the origin of the term BDSM is unclear and is believed to have been formed either from joining the term B&D (bondage and discipline) with S&M (sadomasochism or sadism and masochism), or as a compound initialism from B&D, D&S (dominance and submission), and S&M. Regardless of its origin, BDSM is used as a catch-all phrase to include a wide range of activities, forms of interpersonal relationships, and distinct subcultures. BDSM communities generally welcome anyone with a non-normative streak who identifies with the community; this may include cross-dressers, extreme body mod enthusiasts, animal players, latex or rubber aficionados, and others.

Aspects

The initialism BDSM includes psychological and physiological facets:

Bondage & Discipline (B&D)
Dominance & Submission (D&S)
Sadism & Masochism (or Sadomasochism) (S&M)
Types of Play

This model for differentiating among these three aspects of BDSM is increasingly used in literature today. Nevertheless, it is only an attempt at phenomenological differentiation. Individual tastes and preferences in the area of sexuality may overlap among these areas, which are discussed separately here.

Bondage and Discipline are two aspects of BDSM that do not seem to relate to each other because of the type of activities involved, but they have conceptual similarities, and that is why they appear jointly. Contrary to the other two types, B/D does not define the Tops and Bottoms itself, and is used to describe the general activities with either partner being the receiver and the giver.

The term bondage describes the practice of Physical restraining. Bondage is usually, but not always, a sexual practice. While bondage is a very popular variation within the larger field of BDSM, it is nevertheless sometimes differentiated from the rest of this field. Studies among BDSM practitioners in the US have shown that about half of all men find the idea of bondage to be erotic; many women do as well. Strictly speaking, bondage means binding the partner by tying their appendages together; for example, by the use of handcuffs or by lashing their arms to an object. Bondage can also be achieved by spreading the appendages and fastening them with chains to a St. Andrews cross or spreader bars.

The term discipline describes psychological restraining, with the use of rules and punishment to control overt behavior. Punishment can be pain caused physically (such as caning), humiliation caused psychologically (such as a public flagellation) or loss of freedom caused physically (for example, chaining the submissive partner to the foot of a bed). Another aspect is the structured training of the Bottom.

"Dominance and submission" (also known as D&s, Ds or D/s) is a set of behaviors, customs and rituals relating to the giving and accepting of control of one individual over another in an erotic or lifestyle context. It explores the more mental aspect of BDSM. This is also the case in many relationships not considering themselves as sadomasochistic; it is considered to be a part of BDSM if it is practiced purposefully. The range of its individual characteristics is thereby wide.

Examples of mentally oriented practices are education games, during which the dominant requires certain forms of behavior from the submissive. Special forms include erotic roleplay like ageplay, in which a difference in age, either real or enacted, formulates the background; or petplay. Concerted deployed sexual rejection exercised on the partner can be an aspect of Dominance and Submission as well. The most established and probably most cliché set form of dominance and submission is Dominance and slavery. These can be administered for the short duration of a session among otherwise-emancipated partners, but also can be integrated into everyday life indefinitely. In a few relationships, it leads as far as total submission of one partner in the truest sense of the phrase total power exchange (frequently abbreviated as TPE). Compensating elements of the total dominance and submission are care and devotion complementing one another, thus facilitating stable relationships. The consensual submission of the submissive is sometimes demonstrated to others by symbols indicating his/her belonging to the dominant, such as wearing a collar, special tattoos, piercings, a very short haircut or a bald head.

Often, "slave contracts" are set out in writing to record the formal consent of the parties to the power exchange, stating their common vision of the relationship dynamic. The purpose of this kind of agreement is primarily to encourage discussion and negotiation in advance, and then to document that understanding for the benefit of all parties. Such documents have not been recognized as being legally binding, nor are they intended to be. These agreements are binding in the sense that the parties have the expectation that the negotiated rules will be followed. Often other friends and community members may witness the signing of such a document in a ceremony, and so parties violating their agreement can result in loss of face, respect or status with their friends in the community.

In general, as compared to conventional relationships, BDSM participants go to great lengths to negotiate the important aspects of their relationships in advance, and to take great care in learning about and following safe practices.

The term sadomasochism is derived from the words sadism and masochism (see Etymology). In the context of consensual erotic activities, sadism and masochism are not strictly accurate terms; there is a significant difference from the medical or psychological usage of both terms. Sadomasochism refers to the aspects of BDSM surrounding the exchange of physical or emotional pain. Sadism describes sexual pleasure derived by inflicting pain, degradation, humiliation on another person or causing another person to suffer. On the other hand, the masochist enjoys being hurt, humiliated, or suffering within the consensual scenario. Sadomasochistic scenes sometimes reach a level that appear more extreme or cruel than other forms of BDSM—for example, when a masochist is brought to tears or is severely bruised—and is occasionally unwelcome at BDSM events or parties. Sadomasochism does not imply enjoyment through causing or receiving pain in other situations (for example, accidental injury, medical procedures).

Discipline often incorporates sadomasochistic aspects, though some sadomasochists distance themselves from D/s practices such as punishment. Sadomasochism is practiced in isolation relatively rarely, though some masochists report biting, pinching, or even stun-gunning themselves as a prelude to, or as part of, masturbation.

In D/S, the Dominant is the Top and the submissive is the Bottom. In S/M, the Sadist is usually the Top and the Masochist the Bottom, but these roles are frequently more complicated or jumbled (as in the case of being dominant, masochists who may arrange for their submissive to carry out s/m activities on them). As in B/D, the declaration of the Top/Bottom may be required, though sadomasochists may also play without any Power Exchange at all, with both partners equally in control of the play.

Physical aspects

On a physical level, BDSM is commonly misconceived to be "all about pain". Most often, though, BDSM practitioners are primarily concerned with power, humiliation, and pleasure. Of the three categories of BDSM, only sadomasochism specifically requires pain, but this is typically a vehicle for feelings of humiliation, dominance, etc. The aspects of D/s and B/D may not include physical suffering at all, but include the sensations inherited by different emotions of the mind. Dominance & submission of power is an entirely different experience, and is not always psychologically associated with physical pain. Many BDSM activities might not involve any kind of pain or humiliation, but just the exchange of Powers (Power Exchange). During the activities, the practitioners may feel endorphins comparable to the so-called "runner's high" or to the afterglow of orgasm. The corresponding trance-like mental state is also known as "subspace" for the submissive, or "topspace" for the dominant. Some use the term "body stress" to describe this physiological sensation. This experience of algolagnia is important, but is not the only motivation for many BDSM practitioners. The philosopher Edmund Burke defines this sensation of pleasure derived from pain by the word sublime. There is a wide array of BDSM practitioners who take part in sessions for which they do not receive any personal gratification. They enter such situations solely with the intention to allow their partners to fulfill their own needs and/or fetishes. They do this in exchange of money for the session activities.

In some BDSM sessions, the Top exposes the Bottom to a wide range of sensual impressions, for example: pinching, biting, scratching with fingernails, spanking or the use of various objects such as crops, whips, liquid wax, icecubes, Wartenberg wheels, erotic electrostimulation or others. Fixation by handcuffs, ropes or chains may be used as well. The repertoire of possible "toys" is limited only by the imagination of both partners. To some extent, everyday items like clothes-pins, wooden spoons or plastic wrap are used as pervertables.[32] It is commonly considered that a pleasurable BDSM experience during a session is very strongly dependent upon the top's competence and experience and the bottom's physical and mental state at the time of the session. Trust and sexual arousal help the partners enter a shared mindset.[33][34] Some BDSM practitioners compare related sensations with musical compositions and representation, in which single sensual impressions are the musical notes of the situation. From this point of view, different sensuous impressions are combined to create a total experience leaving a lasting impression.

Relationships

Roles

Top and bottom

A typical slave collar with ring for possible attachment of a leash. Such or comparable models are sometimes used by bottoms as a symbol of ownership to their tops. Main articles: Top (BDSM) and Bottom (BDSM) In a BDSM relationship, the partner who has the active role in a session or in the entire relationship is described as the "top", a role that often involves inflicting pain, degradation or subjugation. The partner referred to as the "bottom" submits voluntarily to the actions of the top.

Although the top is usually also the dominant partner and the bottom the submissive partner, it is not inevitably so. In some cases the top (known in this case as a service top) follows instructions from the bottom according to the bottom's desires and in a way the bottom expressly requires. If the bondage/discipline aspect of BDSM involves a top actively performing a skill while a bottom willingly submits, then the dominance/submission aspect here is reversed from what is typically expected.

By contrast, a dominant top controls their submissive bottom partner, sometimes by using physical or psychological techniques, although consent is always established first. This power relationship is so common, "bottom" and "submissive" are sometimes used interchangeably. However, most frequently, bottom refers to anyone receiving an act while submissive refers to someone who is obedient to a dominant, i.e.; a dominant receiving a massage from a submissive is considered a bottom while the submissive is the top during the act of giving the massage. The top or bottom actors may change but the roles of dominant and submissive remain the same.

A similar distinction also may apply to bottoms. At one end of the spectrum are those who are indifferent to, or even reject physical stimulation. At the other end of the spectrum are bottoms who enjoy discipline and erotic humiliation but are not willing to be subordinate to the person who applies it. The bottom is frequently the partner who specifies the basic conditions of the session and gives instructions, directly or indirectly, in the negotiation, while the top often respects this guidance. Other bottoms often called "brats" try to incur punishment from their tops by provoking them or "misbehaving". Nevertheless a small, very puristic "school" exists within the BDSM community, which regards such "topping from the bottom" as rude or even incompatible with the standards of BDSM relations.

Switch

BDSM practitioners may also "switch", meaning they play either or both roles. He or she may practice this with one or more specific partners. The many reasons for switching are often very subjective and sometimes situational. A switch may simply enjoy both top and bottom roles or may be experimenting. Sometimes a relationship with a partner of the same primary preference (for example, two tops) requires switching to fulfill various BDSM needs within that relationship. Some change roles but do not regard themselves as switches as they do so irregularly or under specific circumstances only.

Types of relationships

Play

BDSM practitioners sometimes regard the practice of BDSM in their sex life as role playing and so often use the terms "Play" and "Playing" to describe activities where in their roles. Play of this sort for a specified period of time is often called a "Session", and the contents and the circumstances of play are often referred to as the "Scene". It is also common in personal relationships to use the term "Kink Play" for BDSM activities, or more specific terms for the type of activity. The relationships can be of varied types.

Long term

Early writings on BDSM both by the academic and BDSM community spoke little of long-term relationships with some in the Gay Leather community suggesting short-term play relationships to be the only feasible relationship models, and recommending people to get married and "play" with BDSM outside of marriage. In recent times though writers of BDSM and sites for BDSM have been more focused on long-term relationships.

A 2003 study, the first to look at these relationships, fully demonstrated that "quality long-term functioning relationships" exist among practitioners of BDSM, with either sex being the top or bottom (homosexual couples were not looked at). Respondents in the study expressed their BDSM orientation to be built into who they are, but considered exploring their BDSM interests an ongoing task, and showed flexibility and adaptability in order to match their interests with their partners. The "perfect match" where both in the relationship shared the same tastes and desires was rare, and most relationships required both partners to take up or put away some of their desires. The BDSM activities that the couples partook in varied in sexual to nonsexual significance for the partners who reported doing certain BDSM activities for "couple bonding, stress release, and spiritual quests". The most reported issue amongst respondents was not finding enough time to be in role with most adopting a 24/7 lifestyle wherein both partners maintain their dominant or submissive role throughout the day.

Amongst the respondents it was typically the bottoms who wanted to play harder, and be more restricted into their roles when there was a difference in desire to play in the relationship.[39][40] The author of the study, Bert Cutler, speculated that tops may be less often in the mood to play due to the increased demand for responsibility on their part: being aware of the safety of the situation and prepared to remove the bottom from a dangerous scenario, being conscious of the desires and limits of the bottom, and so on.[40] The author of the study stressed that successful long-term BDSM relationships came after "early and thorough disclosure" from both parties of their BDSM interests.

Many of those engaged in long-term BDSM relationships learned their skills from larger BDSM organizations and communities There was a lot of discussion by the respondents on the amount of control the top possessed in the relationships with almost non-existent discussion of the top "being better, or smarter, or of more value" than the bottom. Couples were generally of the same mind of whether or not they were in 24/7 relationship, but noted that in such cases the bottom is not locked up 24/7, but that their role in the context of the relationship was always present, even when the top is doing non-dominant activities such as household chores: cleaning, taking out the trash, and so on., or the bottom being in a more dominant position. In its conclusion the study states:

The respondents valued themselves, their partners, and their relationships. All couples expressed considerable good will toward their partners. The power exchange between the cohorts appears to be serving purposes beyond any sexual satisfaction, including experiencing a sense of being taken care of and bonding with a partner.

The study further goes on to list three aspects that made the successful relationships work: early disclosure of interests and continued transparency, a commitment to personal growth, and the use of the dominant/submissive roles as a tool to maintain the relationship.[44] In his closing remarks the author of the study theorizes that due to the serious potential for harm that couples in BDSM relationships develop increased communication that may be higher than in mainstream relationships.

Professional services

A professional dominatrix or professional dominant, often referred to within the culture as a "pro-domme", offers services encompassing the range of bondage, discipline, and dominance in exchange for money. The term "Dominatrix" is little-used within the non-professional BDSM scene. A non-professional dominant woman is more commonly referred to simply as a "Domme", "Dominant", or "Femdom". There are also services provided by professional female submissives ("pro-subs"). A professional submissive consents to her client's dominant behavior within negotiated limits, and often works within a professional dungeon. Professional submissives, although far more rare, do exist. Most of the people who work as subs normally have tendencies towards such activities, especially when sadomasochism is involved.[citation needed] Males also work as professional "Tops" in BDSM, and are called "Masters" or "Doms". However it is much more rare to find a male in this profession. A male "pro-dom" typically only works with male clientele.

(source: WiKiPedia)