People just love to make assumptions! Yet many times when we do we are very, very wrong. This can be especially true if you are making assumptions about a person based solely upon their career. That is hardly a good gauge of one’s true self, preferences, tastes, character, or sexuality, especially these days! Doctors can have different bedside manners, tattoo artists often have different hand pressure from one to the next, grocery store checkout people have different interaction skills and personalities, etc. The important thing is to choose someone who offers you what you are seeking. Perhaps you want a doctor in good standing with the medical board but who also has a sense of humor, or a light-handed tattoo artist practicing proper equipment cleaning procedures, or a friendly checkout person who can actually count back your change. None of these preferences can be determined simply by knowing a person is a doctor, tattoo artist or checkout person. Those specifics are determined by the person’s own unique personality, work ethic, and character, not by the job itself.
This same idea applies to the BDSM dominant. Each and every dominant was once a child with their own unique personality. Once a dominant, all of these people don’t assimilate into an army of clones. They remain unique individuals with their own unique fetish preferences and personal preferences. They merely share some traits relating to dominant behavior. Due to their differences, however, each dominant is going to have a unique style. Having said that, there are still some basics that set responsible dominants apart from the wannabees and those just trying to turn a quick buck or trick you into a bad situation. The article I am sharing below is about just that! Enjoy!
1. First things first: Here’s what BDSM actually stands for:
BDSM includes bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&S), and sadism & masochism (S&M). The terms are lumped together that way because BDSM can be a lot of different things to different people with different preferences, BDSM writer and educator Clarisse Thorn, author of The S&M Feminist, tells BuzzFeed Life. Most of the time, a person’s interests fall into one or two of those categories, rather than all of them.
2. It doesn’t always involve sex, but it can.
Most people think BDSM is always tied to sex, and while it can be for some people, others draw a hard line between the two. “Both are bodily experiences that are very intense and sensual and cause a lot of very strong feelings in people who practice them, but they’re not the same thing,” says Thorn. The metaphor she uses for it: a massage. Sometimes a massage, however sensual it feels, is just a massage. For others, a rubdown pretty much always leads to sex. It’s kind of similar with BDSM; it’s a matter of personal and sexual preference.
3. There is nothing inherently wrong or damaged with people if they’re into it.
This is one of the most common and frustrating misconceptions about BDSM, says Thorn. BDSM isn’t something that emerges from abuse or domestic violence, and engaging in it does not mean that you enjoy abuse or abusing.
Instead, enjoying BDSM is just one facet of someone’s sexuality and lifestyle. “It’s just regular people who happen to get off that way,” sex expert Gloria Brame, Ph.D., author of Different Loving, tells BuzzFeed Life. “It’s your neighbors and your teachers and the people bagging your groceries. The biggest myth is that you need this special set of circumstances. It’s regular people who have a need for that to be their intimate dynamic.”
4. Know that you can always say no.
“A lot of people starting out think it’s ‘all or nothing,’ especially if you’ve only been with one partner,” says Thorn. For instance, you might think that because you enjoyed being submissive under certain circumstances, that means you must agree to a whole host of submissive or masochistic behaviors that you’re not necessarily into.
But that’s absolutely wrong. You can — and should — pick and choose which BDSM activities you are and are not interested in, says Thorn. And that can vary depending on the situation, the partner, or even the day. Just remember that consent is a requirement in BDSM, and it’s possible to consent to one thing while still objecting to another.
5. BDSMers are just as stable as people who prefer vanilla sex.
“In my experience, it’s easier for people to get into BDSM if they don’t have a history of abuse, people who are in a more stable place in their lives,” says Thorn. A 2008 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that people who had engaged in BDSM in the past year were no more likely to have been coerced into sexual activity and were no more likely to be unhappy or anxious than those who didn’t do BDSM. And actually, men who engaged in BDSM had lower scores of psychological distress than other men.
That said, BDSMers do not judge people who aren’t into it, explains Thorn. The term “vanilla” isn’t meant to be derogatory, just to refer to non-BDSM sexual acts or people who aren’t interested in kink.
If you ever find yourself at a BDSM meet-up or dungeon, don’t mention any shade of grey. While some people appreciate that the books spurred more interest in kink and may have made it less stigmatized, others take issue with the abusive, unhealthy relationship it portrays and the seriously unrealistic scenes. All in all, it is not an accurate representation of the BDSM community.
7. It’s not all whips and chains all the time — or ever, if that’s not your thing.
Sure, some S&M enthusiasts might have these in their arsenal, but it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of kink. “Some people go for what’s called ‘sensual dominance,’ which is where there might be some toys or play but no pain involved at all,” says Brame. “It’s more like one partner agrees to do everything the other person asks. BDSM doesn’t have to follow any pattern, and there is no one model for what a BDSM relationship can be.”
8. BDSM encounters are called “scenes.”
Again, since it isn’t always about intercourse, you wouldn’t necessarily say that you “had sex” or “hooked up” with someone after a BDSM experience. Instead, these are called scenes (like, you scened with someone or you had a scene).
“It’s an evolution from a time where, if you did S&M, you might only do it with a professional for an hour, or you might just see it performed at a BDSM club,” says Brame. “Now people have much more organic relationships, but they still call it a scene — the time when we bring out the toys or get into that headspace.”
9. There are dominants, submissives, tops, and bottoms.
So you’ve probably heard about dominants and submissives (if not, the dominant enjoys being in charge, while the submissive enjoys receiving orders). But BDSMers may also use the terms “tops” and “bottoms” to describe themselves. A top could refer to a dominant or a sadist (someone who enjoys inflicting pain), while a bottom could refer to a submissive or a masochist (someone who enjoys receiving pain). This allows you to have a blanket term for those who generally like being on either the giving or receiving end in a BDSM encounter. And there’s no rule that says you can’t be both dominant and submissive in different circumstances or with different partners.
10. It can be as simple or as technical as you want.
Maybe the thought of being tied up excites you, or you enjoy spanking or being spanked. Or maybe you’re more interested in leather masks and nipple clamps and hot wax. All of that (and obviously a lot more) is within the realm of BDSM. Basically, you can still be into kink without actually ever going to a dungeon.
11. Before you go past the VERY basics, do your research.
Using a blindfold or an ice cube or fuzzy handcuffs you got at a bachelorette party are all relatively harmless beginner behaviors if you’re into them. But before you play around with some of the trickier tools, you need to learn how to do so safely. Even a rope or a whip can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Hell, you can even mess up with your own hands (think: fisting): “[Some people] think they can clench a fist and stick it inside somebody,” says Brame. “That’s a good way to really injure someone and send them to the hospital.” (Instead, she suggests an “enormous amount of lubricant” and starting with two or three fingers, then slowly and carefully building up to the whole hand.)
12. Seriously, BDSM involves A LOT of reading and learning.
If you’re one of those people who throws away the directions and tries to build the bookshelf on intuition alone, BDSM is probably not for you. “I would say the vast majority of what we call BDSM education is how to maximize ecstasy and minimize risk,” says Brame. “How to do all the things you fantasized about doing and to do them safely.”
Classes, conferences, and meet-ups are also helpful for learning specific techniques, says Thorn. Another popular resource is FetLife.com, a Facebook-like network for the kink community, which can connect you with message boards, groups, and classes in your area.
13. It’s important to get your information from a variety of sources.
One mistake many people make when first experimenting with BDSM is relying on one person to show them the way. Even if they do have your best interest at heart (and they might not), it can be limiting to only have one perspective on something that is so multidimensional, says Thorn. Instead, seek out books, workshops, meet-ups, mentors, friends, message boards, and more to find a safe place to explore your interests.
“When you can’t talk about what’s happening and you can’t make sense of your experience with like-minded people, that’s way more dangerous than the variety of activities you might fantasize about,” says Thorn.
14. Safe words are definitely a thing.
It might sound cheesy, but it’s a well-established norm in BDSM. (And hey, your safe word couldactually be “cheesy” if you want. You do you.) “Safe words are probably one of the most important norms that have spread across the community, even if people use them in different ways,” says Thorn. For instance, not everyone uses safe words all the time after a while, but it’s important to start out with them. They can essentially be anything you want, as long as it’s something that you wouldn’t normally say during sex. You can find more info about safe words here.
15. And at some public events, there are even safety monitors on duty.
“Dungeon monitors will kick out people who don’t look like they’re playing safely,” says Brame. This can be anything from ignoring safe words to using a whip incorrectly. Seriously, did we mention that safety is paramount here? In fact, the acronym SSC (safe, sane, consensual) is one of the most common pillars of the practice.
16. It’s not as spontaneous as Hollywood movies or porn make it out to be.
Getting swept up in the moment and accidentally stumbling into a millionaire’s red room (where you’ll have multiple orgasms) is probably not going to happen to you ever. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “The sexual fantasy makes everything look so easy,” says Brame. “People who actually do this stuff are very cautious about it. It has to be the right place and right time and right equipment. And you have to know you can get the person out [of whatever bondage] if there’s an emergency. You have to feel you can trust the person.” So there’s a lot that goes into one scene, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less satisfying for those who enjoy it.
17. There’s also probably way more talking involved than there is with (most) vanilla sex.
Whenever people question the role of consent in BDSM, they should consider the enormous amount of communication that occurs before, during, and after the scenes. “We talk about it hugely before we ever do it,” says Brame. “We talk about what we want to do, what we’re going to do, what our fantasies are… that’s part of negotiating a good relationship as a BDSMer.”
18. There’s actually a pre-negotiation period, where the partners discuss what they like, what they don’t like, and what they absolutely will not tolerate.
Think of this as the primer before the scene. “It’s a way of discussing the experience ahead of time that can increase emotional security,” says Thorn. This can involve anything from scripts and checklists to a more informal discussion of what each person’s expectations are for the scene, what they want and don’t want, and any words or actions that are completely off-limits.
19. And then comes aftercare, the debriefing period that happens once the scene ends.
Since BDSM can be an incredibly intense and emotional experience for some, most experts strongly suggest this wrap-up step, where the partners can discuss the scene and any reactions they had to it. “People are extremely vulnerable during aftercare,” says Thorn. “It can be really weird to have a scene without it.” This can also be a strong bonding experience between the partners.
20. BDSMers can be monogamous, polyamorous, or whatever the hell they want.
Not everyone who’s interested in BDSM has multiple sexual or relationship partners. “It used to be a popular perception that we don’t form long-term relationships,” says Brame. “A lot of BDSMers are just monogamous people. A lot of people just want to do it with their partner or play with the big toys at clubs.”
21. There are so many different types of whips.
This is not a one-size-fits-all kink. There are light floggers, leather whips, whips with single tails, whips with multiple tails that are flat and wide, the list goes on, says Thorn. But because certain types can be harsher than others, you really need to learn how to use them properly (again, workshops are crucial). “People practicing with a single-tail whip will often start with a pillow or some distant small object, like a light switch,” she says.
22. And there are some places that you definitely don’t want to whip.
Like, um, the eyes, obviously. Or the kidney area. “The skin is thin there and you have vital organs under there. You can bruise your kidneys,” explains Brame.
23. If you want to bring it up in your current relationship, absolutely do it.
“There are plenty of stories out there of people who were too nervous to bring it up and then found out that their partner had the same fantasy,” says Thorn. If you’re nervous about it, ask if they’d be interested in checking out a particular book or workshop you heard about. Or just talk about it in the context of sexual fantasies by asking your partner if they’ve ever tried anything like BDSM or if they’ve ever wanted to. If you think about it, you’re only risking one awkward conversation, and the payoff can be huge if this is something you want in your life.
24. There is an immensely helpful list of kink-aware professionals so you can find a doctor or therapist who uniquely understands your lifestyle.
Maybe you’re worried that your gynecologist or your lawyer won’t be sensitive to your lifestyle or doesn’t allow you to feel comfortable talking about it. Check out the Kink Aware Professionals Directory from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom to find someone who will be more accepting.
25. Basically, it’s way different than most people expect.
Between stereotypes, porn, and Fifty Shades of Grey, there’s a lot of misconceptions about BDSM. Short of attending a workshop or visiting a dominatrix, the best way to learn more about it is to do some research. “Just like with regular sex, if you want to be good at it, you really have to learn about what’s going on when this stuff is happening,” says Brame.