Are You Curious About BDSM?

BDSM is not for everyone. But you’re not everyone…

Posted Feb 22, 2021

BigPixel Photo/Shutterstock
Source: BigPixel Photo/Shutterstock

BDSM is a form of sex play enjoyed by countless individuals, couples, and groups. Though there is sometimes a stigma attached to BDSM (and, really, all forms of “nontraditional” sexual behavior), versions of BDSM are relatively common, and as long as the behaviors are mutually consensual, BDSM can be highly arousing and gratifying.

So what is BDSM? The name is an acronym for Bondage, Discipline, Submission, and Masochism. Generally speaking, BDSM is the creation of intense, highly sexualized emotional, psychological, and physical sensations through power dynamics and the creation of pleasure through pain.

Wait a second. Pleasure through pain? Really?

Yes, really. Pain really can create pleasure, mostly through the release of endorphins. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “runner’s high,” which describes the endorphin rush that runners experience when they push through the point of physical and mental exhaustion. For many runners, especially long-distance runners, this “high” is one of the major payoffs of their behavior. They actually push themselves beyond the breaking point to feel this intensity and pleasure.

Those who practice BDSM say they experience the same intense pleasure/pain response.

50 Shades of Sexuality

For people who are first exploring BDSM and related behaviors, the terminology can be somewhat confusing. And the 50 Shades books—many people’s first exposure to the idea of power exchange, pain, and physical/psychological intensity contributing to sexuality—don’t do much to clear things up. So, for the curious (and perhaps adventurous), I’ve provided a basic primer on BDSM terminology and behaviors.

  • Scene: This is where the action takes place—a dungeon, a sex club, a rubber room, etc. 
  • Play: This refers to the acts that take place in a scene. Play ranges across a wide spectrum, from light tickling with feathers to hot wax to flogging to just about anything else you can think of.
  • Safe, Sane, and Consensual: These are the three buzzwords of the BDSM community. If play is not safe, sane, and consensual, the behavior becomes abuse rather than BDSM play.
    • Safe: BDSM is not a license to inflict injury or a request for abuse. Practitioners of BDSM know what they’re doing. They educate themselves, and they avoid both unintentional and non-consensual harm. That said, BDSM play does at times create welts, burns, bruises, and the like. But only as a mutually consented-to form of play.
    • Sane: BDSM play is controlled. Always. There is good communication before, during, and after. There is always a safe word that can be used to trigger an immediate stop. Play involves trust and consensual exchanges of power, and those gifts must not be violated.
    • Consensual: BDSM play should always be preceded by a thorough discussion of boundaries and limits. Again, this discussion always includes setting a safe word. Safe words are especially important when things like physical restraint, infliction of pain, and fighting back are planned as part of the play.
  • Safe: BDSM is not a license to inflict injury or a request for abuse. Practitioners of BDSM know what they’re doing. They educate themselves, and they avoid both unintentional and non-consensual harm. That said, BDSM play does at times create welts, burns, bruises, and the like. But only as a mutually consented-to form of play.
  • Sane: BDSM play is controlled. Always. There is good communication before, during, and after. There is always a safe word that can be used to trigger an immediate stop. Play involves trust and consensual exchanges of power, and those gifts must not be violated.
  • Consensual: BDSM play should always be preceded by a thorough discussion of boundaries and limits. Again, this discussion always includes setting a safe word. Safe words are especially important when things like physical restraint, infliction of pain, and fighting back are planned as part of the play.

As long as the action is safe, sane, and consensual, pretty much anything goes with BDSM. That said, some scenes and types of play are more common than others.

  • Bondage Play: Bondage involves one or more people getting tied up, handcuffed, suspended, or otherwise restrained.
  • Sensation Play: Sensation play involves the creation of intense physical sensations (everything from tickling to the infliction of pain). Sensation play could involve the use of feathers, sex toys, pinching, whips, nipple clamps, hot wax, etc.
  • Roleplay: Roleplay involves a power dynamic of some sort. Often, this power dynamic is taboo if it were played out in real-life—teacher and student, master and slave, nurse and patient, etc.
  • Fetish Play: Fetishes are the intense sexualization of objects, body parts, or certain actions—high heels, leather, masks, bare feet, diapers, and the like. The variety of fetish play is endless.

Ideally, BDSM play also includes aftercare, with participants processing what happened to make sure everyone is OK. Some participants may need (or simply want) a drink of water, a blanket, or a hug. For scenes that were especially intense, checking in a day or two later at an agreed-upon time may also be part of the process.

Please keep in mind that BDSM is not for everyone. The fact that it exists and plenty of people are into it does not mean you need to try it. If it seems like something you want to experiment with, by all means, do so—in a safe, sane, and consensual manner.

If it’s not for you, so be it. There are countless other ways to enjoy sexual and emotional intimacy with a mutually consenting partner (or partners). The goal of sexual behavior is not to be like everyone else; the goal is finding ways to mutually fulfill your and your partner’s (or partners’) needs and desires.

References

If You Want to Learn More

The following websites, podcasts, and videos provide useful education and other information about BDSM scenes and play.

Bound Together, BDSM Resources Loving BDSM National Coalition for Sexual Freedom Kinkly Fetish.com Proud To Be Kinky Podcast My Life on the Swingset Podcast Kink Craft Podcast BDSM 101 Video Video on Limits, Safe Words, and Boundaries