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It’s almost impossible to do a “101” on something as complicated as BDSM. BDSM is nuanced and varied and there almost as many ways to practice it as there are people who want to. Please know that is will barely scratch the surface and is in NO WAY all you need to know about BDSM. That being said, we have to start somewhere, so let’s dive right in, shall we? Let’s start with some definitions.
Kink is sometimes used interchangeably with BDSM, but not always. Kink is, more accurately, a term that encompasses many “atypical” or “alternative” sexual behaviors, desires, and fetishes. Some people might consider using a blindfold “kinky,” for others “kinky” might mean cross-dressing in bed, and still others might say “kinky” and mean that they like to be spanked until their skin is welted and bruised.
A fetish is a sexual desire directed at something that is not typically sexualized and is, often, an object. Or it is sexually desiring someone or something in an objectifying way. Some familiar examples might be a foot fetish, or a fetish for someone in a plaid school-girl skirt.
BDSM is an umbrella term that encompasses a myriad of practices under three main headings – Bondage and Discipline; Dominance and Submission; Sadomasochism. Usually these behaviors have a sexual context, but not always. There is a power exchange that takes place, where one partner is the giver of action (usually – but not always – this person is the Dominant) and one partner is the receiver of that action (usually – but not always – this person is the Submissive). This has been pre-negotiated and involves consent on the part of all participants. Consent in BDSM relationships (as it should be in all relationships) is an ongoing discussion and people in the community often joke that any given scene is about 70% talking about the thing and about 30% doing the thing. BDSM without consent is NOT BDSM – it is abuse. There are five defining features of BDSM:
a. Pre-negotiated exchange of power
b. Role play
d. (often) Sexual context
e. Mutual definition and mutual satisfaction
In a power exchange relationship, this is the person “in charge.” This is the one in the power exchange that power is being given to. Female-identified Dominant’s sometimes use the term “Domme”.
In a power exchange relationship, this is the person who has given power over to their partner. This person agrees to operate on the commands of their Dominant. This is negotiated and this person consents to this arrangement. It is really the submissive who has all the power, as they typically lay down the boundaries and limits of the scene and they have control over when the scene stops if they use their safeword.
This is a negotiated term that signals when a boundary has been crossed and action needs to slow down or stop. For example, let’s imagine a couple that has negotiated a scene in which the Dominant will tie the submissive up and then spank the submissive with his hand and, possibly, a number of implements like a paddle or a riding crop. Because there is a power exchange and a bit of role playing going on, the word “no” is part of the game. The submissive may say “no” and not actually mean that they want things to stop. They may have negotiated that the Dominant will continue even if he hears “no” because the power exchange is part of the thrill. Similarly, “ouch” would not garner much response – if the Dominant is a sadist, it would only make him swing harder. So, to maintain the rules of consent, the couple determines a new word that really does mean “no” or “stop”. This is called a safeword. Most couples use a “red-yellow-green” system. “Green” means “that’s awesome, I love it, keep going”. “Yellow” means “I don’t want to stop playing but you should slow down or not do that so hard, you’re approaching my limits”. “Red” means “Stop. Now. Absolutely. DO NOT CONTINUE” and signals that play should immediately cease and the couple should check in with each other. Some couples just have one safeword that means “stop” and is often something that wouldn’t otherwise come up during sex like “pineapple” or “congressman”.
A scene, also called “play” by many, is the negotiated action between two (or more) folks who wish to engage in BDSM. Imagine our scenario from above. The spanking situation was a “scene”. This couple probably pre-negotiated which implements would be used, what type of bondage would be permissible, where on the body the submissive would be hit, whether or not the Dominant would be allowed to leave marks on the submissive and what kind of marks those could be (bruises, welts, breaking the skin, etc.), how long the scene would last, whether or not there would be nudity or sexual interaction, what kind of sexual interaction there would be, etc. All of this pre-negotiation would culminate in a “scene”.
SSC is an acronym that means Safe, Sane, and Consensual. This is a mantra of the BDSM community. All play, all relationships, all power exchanges should be Safe, Sane, and Consensual.
THIRD is an acronym that means Trust, Honesty, Integrity, Respect, and Dominance.
RACK is an acronym that means Risk Aware Consensual Kink. There are so many activities in the kink and BDSM communities that involve risk beyond typical risk associated with sexual activity. People cannot give true consent if they don’t the risks they’re exposing themselves to. It is very important that all participants involved are aware of the risks and know how to practice safely.
This is just a tip-of-the-iceberg introduction to kink and BDSM. If you’re new to BDSM this probably raised more questions than it answered. For answers to those questions, Reach out to the author, Professor Sex. Her information is below.
About the Author:
Professor Sex, aka Angel Kalafatis-Russell (they/them; she/her) is a queer, kinky, polyamorous, sex and relationship educator, HIV and STI prevention specialist, scientist, and activist. They are an MSPS (Master of Science in Psychological Science) candidate and research sexologist. Additionally, they are Director of Outreach and Education for the Relationship Equality Foundation. They are also currently under supervision by the American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) to be a Certified Sexuality Educator . Angel is deeply passionate about sex-positive, inclusive, medically accurate, scientifically informed, pleasure-based sex education. They are currently accepting new clients for sex and relationship education consultations. They can be found in several places online, so it’s best to start at ProfessorSex.com and go from there.