BDSM is erotic role play, incorporating a wide variety of activities including bondage, discipline, power play, and fantasy. First and foremost, BDSM is the consensual exploration of specific fantasies, desires, and activities. It has always been a titillating subject, not only due to the association with taboo sexuality, but also because of the complex emotions it arouses. From the leather-clad dominatrix to the silk-tie-wielding prince charming, films like Secretary, Venus in Furs, and the Fifty Shades franchise have capitalized on our fascination with BDSM. However, these are merely the most common scenes depicted in pop culture. There is so much more variety in BDSM activities than most of us are aware of.

BDSM Defined

Most people believe they know what BDSM really means. But you may be surprised to learn that the BDSM acronym is polysemic: some of the letters have multiple meanings! Below is an easy reference guide to better understand the world of BDSM:

BD

Bondage: The consensual practice of tying, restraining, suspending, or caging a person for mutual erotic satisfaction.
Discipline: A form of consensual erotic play involving training and punishment between dominant and submissive partners.

DS

Dominance: Exercising power and/or influence over others.
Submission: Yielding to the will or power of another.
*Not specifically included in the BDSM acronym is the term Switch, which refers to an individual who enjoys both the dominant and submissive roles.

SM

Sadism: Deriving pleasure and/or sexual satisfaction from inflicting pain, humiliation, suffering, and torture on another.
Masochism: Deriving pleasure and/or sexual gratification from experiencing pain, torture, humiliation, and suffering, inflicted by another.

Common BDSM Activities

Although it may seem that all BDSM scenes involve tight leather outfits, latex and a comprehensive knowledge of rope tying, the truth is that many people engage in select activities that vary greatly. If you think of BDSM as a menu, not everyone orders the same meal. Like most people, the contents of a meal vary from day to day. Like most of us, people who engage in BDSM have their favorite treats! Below is a short list of some (but certainly not all) activities included on the BDSM menu. You may find you have already tried some of these things – not realizing it was part of BDSM.

BD DS SM
Bondage
Handcuffs
Ropes
Shibari
Training
Punishment
Sensation play
Collaring
Predicament Bondage
Play Parties
Spanking
Mummification
Leather
Latex
Gags
Verbal Humiliation
Aftercare
Worship
Punishment
Reward
Ageplay
Breath Control
Chastity
Humiliation
Feminization
Collaring
Ravishment
Puppy/Pony Play
Service
Objectification
Topping from the Bottom
Cuckolding
Aftercare
Pain
Flogging
Caning
Whipping
Orgasm Denial
Predicament Bondage
Spanking
Needle Play
CBT
Verbal Humiliation
Knife Play
Tit Torture
Paddling
Slapping
Gags
Electric Shock
Aftercare

 

Going Deeper

Some play very lightly, while others plumb the full depth of the experience. Although these lists are far from complete, they are a good sample of the many activities considered to be part of BDSM. Because the boundaries between subcategories of BDSM are fluid, there is significant overlap in types of play. People who explore BDSM make the most of this fluidity by combining activities that give them the most satisfaction and pleasure. Individuals also opt out of the activities that turn them off, or that they find boring or frightening. Regardless of the play you prefer, there are always three things you need no matter what kind of scene you create:

  • Consent: Is clearly given permission from ALL parties involved in an activity, before the activity begins. Consent can also be revoked by anyone involved once the activity is underway. One might assume that a dominant can do ‘whatever they want’ to a submissive, but that is completely untrue. BDSM activity is negotiated beforehand. A dominant only performs activities that are agreed upon by all people involved, before a scene begins. Any non-approved activity performed by the dominant partner can be considered sexual assault.

  • Safe Word: Even if a submissive agrees to an activity, they may decide mid-scene that it is not working for them for some reason. At this point, they can use their safe word – an unambiguous word defined before a scene that the submissive partner uses to signal the dominant partner to halt all activity and end the scene.

  • Aftercare: Sometimes people will want special care or attention at the end of a scene. This is called aftercare. Aftercare is requested by the submissive and performed by the dominant and can include cuddling, words of affirmation, food and water, or clean-up, amongst other things.

Explore the World of BDSM

Knowing the basics is helpful before beginning your own exploration of BDSM. Remember that going slow is the best way to determine what feels good for you and your partner(s). Communication about activities and consent beforehand will maximize pleasure and safety. If your experience doesn’t quite match your fantasy, don’t give up. More communication and practice will help move you closer to achieving your desires.

How a Sex and Relationship Coach Can Help

Because BDSM requires a high level of communication, skills-building, and attunement to your partner, it can be very helpful to work with a sex and relationship coach. Whether you want to be dominant or submissive, getting clear on your desires, how to negotiate them, and how to make sure your partner is consenting are all important skills.

If you are a dominant, you can work with a coach on how to offer verbal dominance, physical dominance, and how to take your partner through a full scene. You can find your exact flavor of dominance, and practice with tone, physical sensation play and psychological arousal tools. As a couple, you can see what parts of your fantasy your partner is willing to play out and bridge differences in your fantasies, while respecting each other’s boundaries.

Being a submissive, you can figure out your desires and boundaries around submission and how to communicate them. If you are coming in with a partner, the coach can help your partner learn how to give you your fantasies. If you are single, you and your coach can explore ways for you to meet and interview partners so you can make sure they are going to fulfill your desires while respecting your boundaries. You can also practice with safe-wording to make sure you are able to use your safe word during play.

You may discover during coaching that you are a switch and can learn to play both roles with the same partner. Or maybe how to find different partners to play with so that you can fulfill all of those desires.

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Shelby Devlin
Shelby is a certified Somatica sex and relationship coach who practices in San Francisco, CA. She guides couples rekindling passion, facilitates repair and negotiates changing relationship boundaries. She also works with men who are struggling to connect with women emotionally and sexually. In addition, Shelby also teaches dominance, submission, S&M, and role-play. Before Somatica, Shelby worked for a fetish boutique as a public educator and instructor. She assisted classes ranging from “Health and Safety with Insertables”, to “Role-play For Beginners”. She is a spirited practitioner, focused on practical elements to improve sex lives, dating or relationships.