BDSM. The term is sometimes thrown around without knowing the basics of BDSM. What do the letters mean? What is Dominance and submission? How do you start to explore BDSM play? What do you do if you want to try BDSM play? What should you try first?

I’m here to give you the facts about BDSM and answer all your BDSM FAQs. I got my first real intro into BDSM basics through 50 Shades of Grey. Although not an accurate nor fair depiction of the not-so-underground sexual practices, it’s definitely a driver of BDSM myths. Though the movie did pique my interest and make me ask questions about BDSM and my own sexual preferences. I wished I’d had my own BDSM beginner’s guide to learn what BDSM is all about… which is why I wanted to create that for you!

Consider this your official beginner’s guide to BDSM… your FAQ to starting BDSM play, from the BDSM basics and BDSM vs bondage to more complex questions, like vetting questions for BDSM groups in your community, to what to say when you want to explore BDSM play.

So, here are my helpful, researched answers to guide you through the facts about BDSM, dispelling the common myths behind BDSM, getting into BDSM, BDSM ideas, and different play types to explore. Please feel free to chime into the comments with more if you still have things you’d like to know! And remember, when you’re exploring new things, all questions are good questions.

 

 

Ready? Let’s do this…

Jump to a Question 

What does each of the letters mean?
What are Dominance and submission?
What is a play session?
How do I get started?
Will I hurt my partner?
What are limits and safe words?
What if I’m single?
Why is 50 Shades a bad representation of BDSM?
Am I normal to like BDSM?
What if I can’t orgasm?
What are some more resources?

 

What do the letters in BDSM mean?

BDSM is an acronym of various sexual practices that fall under a similar umbrella. Also, note that some letters stand for multiple things.

The B stands for bondage… When you practice bondage during sex, you’re being tied up in some way, shape, or form (or are doing the tying). Some of the bondage basics are blindfolds to tie around your eyes, ropes or restraints to tie around various body parts, or handcuffs to cuff your hands. Some people really get off on dungeon scenes, like being chained to a wall or a table. My fiance and I like to play with a BDSM cradle, and there’s specific furniture like spanking benches for certain BDSM scenes.

 

 

The D stands for discipline… When you practice discipline during sex, you’re generally finding pleasure by being ‘disciplined’ or doing the disciplining. This means your partner might discipline you by smacking you with everything from the palm of their hands to a whip or crop or a paddle board.

HOWEVER….

The D can also stand for dominance… When you bring in the dominance part of BDSM, that means you either get off dominating someone (this usually means you boss them around, discipline them, tie them up, et cetera) or you get off by being dominated (see ‘submissive’).

 

 

The S stands for submission… When you have a dominant, you also have to have a submissive. It’s like the yang to the yin of the dominant (i.e. The Dom or Domme). As stated in the second D, being a submissive normally means you like being submissive in bed or get off on being totally controlled or tied up or commanded to do things you don’t ordinarily do.

BUT…. 

The S can also stand for sado-masochism (notice the M comes into play here, too)… When you practice sado-masochism, it means you derive pleasure from either giving or receiving “unnecessary” pain.

Although BDSM encompasses a lot of different aspects of play, that does not mean that you have to incorporate every element into your play session. There’s no set way to go about BDSM, especially as a beginner, feel free to start with one of the basics. BDSM play is as unique as the individuals participating, so make it a point to try a couple things, mix it up, or stick with old favorites. The journey is yours!

 

 

 

What are Dominance and submission? Are those like roles you play? 

In a sense, yes! Here’s the breakdown about the roles inherent in the Dominance/submission relationship I was discussing earlier. In each BDSM encounter, there’s usually at least one Dominant and one submissive (though sometimes, there’s more!).

 

 

A common myth behind BDSM is that Doms in the bedroom are dominant personalities in real life – and submissives are submissive in real life. But this just isn’t true. Either can come from all different walks of life, whether a submissive be a high-powered CEO, or a Dom be shy and quiet in public!

Another beautiful thing about BDSM is Doms and subs do not have to adhere to stereotypical gender roles. There are a ton of female identifying Dominatrixes or Dommes, and many male identifying submissives that enjoy them being in charge. It is generally adduced that Doms are masc, but this is not the case.

 

 

 

Dominant: (i.e. Dom, Domme, Master, or top). The dominant can be male, female, or any other sexual or gender identity. The dominant is the person that gives the pain or discipline. They take pleasure in ‘giving’ pain, in doling out whippings or beatings, in tying up hands or feet or breasts or genitalia.

Though, the best Doms are not the ones that just do whatever they want for their own pleasure (looking at you, Christian Grey!). Doms in many ways have to be incredibly responsible and responsive to their partners (subs) to make sure that the sub is enjoying him or herself and is not suffering any emotional, mental, or physical pain from whatever play they choose to engage in. There is a great amount of checking in and care throughout and after play.

Submissive: (i.e. sub, slave, servant, or bottom). The submissive can be either male or female or any other sexual or gender identity. The submissive is the person that receives the pain or discipline. They take pleasure in receiving pain, receiving whippings or beatings or being tied up or gagged, led around on a chain, etc.

Just because you’re a submissive in the bedroom (or in a particular BDSM play session), does not mean that you’re submissive in real life. It does not mean that you’re a doormat, or that you don’t stand up for yourself. In fact, the best subs to play with tend to be incredibly communicative. They know their limits, they know what they will or won’t try, and they’re not afraid to say it. They will communicate with the Dom all the way through the play session and are open about using safewords and signals to let the Dom know when to slow down, keep going, or stop completely.

 

 

What is a BDSM “play session”?

Oh! Play session is one of the ways in which BDSM practitioners refer to their encounters. Because so many different tools, toys, and roles are involved, it often feels like you’re playing. Not to mention, a lot of BDSM sessions involve different types of scenarios… “Would you like to play in the dungeon today? Or should we ravish you on the pirate ship, today?” See what I mean?

Also, not all BDSM scenarios have sexual activity involved. Although there is often a sexual element, some people enjoy the power exchange or pain exchange elements more than any sexual element.

 

 

If I was curious about learning BDSM, how would I get started?

I hope that this beginner’s guide will be a good BDSM starting point for you. I will be talking about more BDSM topics in future posts, but I would start out by doing some reflecting. Let your brain run wild…. If you’ve ever had fantasies about being tied up or being dominated or by having someone begging to do your bidding or being chained in a dungeon or overtaken by a sexy pirate… Then BDSM is probably for you!

I knew that I wanted to try it out when I realized that I always had sexy thoughts about being completely powerless. In my brain, I’d find myself ravished on the ground, tied up in a dirty alleyway, or chained to a dungeon wall or things of that nature.

 

 

If you haven’t spent a lot of time digging into your fantasies, it’s a good thing to do. Start now! This Guide to Getting Kinky is a great place to start, with lots of ideas to spark your imagination and fantasies. You can also get started by checking out erotica short stories, the BDSM/bondage sections of porn sites, BDSM and fetish sites and communities, or kink-themed magazines. You’ll start to see certain themes run together, and you’ll be better able to narrow down what specific types of play interest you.

 

 

Will I hurt my partner if we try BDSM together?

It’s easy to see why this would be such a common question. I mean, BDSM is basically deriving pleasure from pain. But how far is too far? It’s all about communicating, connecting, and regularly checking in.

The most important thing for beginners to know is, in BDSM safety should be your first priority. Before my fiance and I got into BDSM play, we did a lot of research about setting limits and using safewords. This is what we learned.

 

What are limits?

In BDSM, there are hard limits and soft limits.

Hard limits often take into account people’s moral or religious ideologies (i.e. nothing with animals, nothing with children, nothing with family members), but they also might be more related to extreme personal preferences, like nothing with blood or guts or operating tables or things of that nature. Hard limits are things you are never willing to cross or compromise on. They are on your firm no-go list. They are not up for discussion.

Soft limits are things that you’re not particularly keen on doing at this point in time, but may be more flexible on in the future (i.e. I’m not a huge fan of anal, but that’s okay). With more comfort, trust, communication, and practice – soft limits may be more open to being explored but are off limits for right now. Soft limits might change, but it’s unlikely that hard limits will.

 

 

Limits are different for everyone. It’s always a good idea to go over a BDSM activities checklist with yourself and your partner before engaging in play. My partner and I knew each other so well by this point we basically knew each other’s limits, but more conversation doesn’t hurt. Use a checklist like this to explore and open the conversation with your partner.

 

 

What are safe words?

So, let’s say you’ve looked at the limits, you’ve decided on yours, you’ve talked to your partner about yours and theirs, and you’re both feeling pretty good. But here’s the thing about sex… Sometimes you start and everything’s fine and then you lose yourself in the moment. In vanilla sex, losing yourself in the moment normally doesn’t get anyone hurt. In BDSM, it’s a different story.

Check-ins throughout BDSM play are used as a way to gauge the pleasure/pain threshold, to make sure you’re still feeling good about what you’ve decided, to make sure it’s not too hard, and to slow down or stop if absolutely necessary. 

Communication is key in BDSM play. Choosing good safewords is part of this communication. Commonly used safewords include the light system (i.e. “Green = go,” “Yellow= slow down,” and “Red= stop”). Other people use random nouns like “elephant” or “goat” to denote slowing down or stopping.  

 

 

What if I’m single. Can I still practice BDSM?

Of course, you can! The great thing about the Internet is that it’s super easy to find meet-ups in your area or chat rooms online where the primary purpose is to think, talk, and practice BDSM with matched playmates.

I would check out this site called Fet Life. FetLife is a free social networking site or community for BDSM and kinksters where you can sign up anonymously to find out the latest of activities in your area. You can also delineate whether you are signing up for a playmate, a relationship, friends, events, etc. There are a ton of groups to join… For newbies, I’d recommend the Novices and Newbies group, as well as the Under 35 group. You can find out more information in our earlier post: Are You Kinky? 

 

 

You said 50 Shades of Grey is a bad representation of BDSM. Why?

This movie perpetuates all kinds of myths about BDSM. To start, the relationship represented in 50 Shades of Grey is not a healthy one. It has all the red flags of an abusive, controlling relationship. Anastasia is a virgin, she’s taken advantage of emotionally, and manipulated into signing a contract which contains things that she doesn’t even know the details of until it’s too late.

Secondly, the BDSM portrayed is also dangerous and controlling. There is no use of safewords throughout any of their play. And Christian Grey engages in absolutely no aftercare. To be blunt: BDSM does not end right after the scene is over. This is where the emotional part of the relationship is fostered; where people are cuddled or hugged or washed after it’s over. 

 

Is it normal to like BDSM?

Absolutely! Sure, the vanilla community has it painted that we’re freaks if we’re into being chained up, whipped, or gagged, but those in the vanilla community also often get caught in the trap of having sex the same way over and over again until they’re bored, don’t have fun, and then completely stop having sex.

Not to say that vanilla sex can’t be totally enjoyable and intimate. I love a good round of vanilla sex. But if you’re not into it at all or you like to add some sprinkles or chocolate sauce or even have a completely different flavor of ice cream, that’s totally fine, too.

 

 

In fact… Researchers have found that those that prefer the ball gags, whips, and chains of BDSM tend to be: “less neurotic, anxious or paranoid, and more extraverted, conscientious and open to new experiences than that of the general public.” So, next time someone tells you you’re weird, then tell them they’re just being paranoid.

People also often loop in how ‘normal’ they are in real life, and how they aren’t violent or sadistic people in real life. So, isn’t it weird if they like to be hit with a paddle? And I get it. Meeting me outside of my sexy extracurriculars, you would never guess that I absolutely love being tied up and smacked with a riding crop while my partner takes me from behind. But, regardless of how you are outside of the bedroom, it’s entirely normal to feel differently in the bedroom!

 

 

BDSM is fun, but what if I can’t orgasm doing it?

Okay, so remember that scene in 50 Shades of Grey where Ana orgasms at Christian’s command? Well, that’s a real thing, but it’s also not usually a beginner’s thing.

If you’ve never experienced an orgasm, or only orgasm once in a while, or just can’t get off being slapped all the way to orgasm… That’s OK. To be honest, I haven’t gotten to the point where my partner can snap his fingers and say, “Come,” and I just fall to pieces, though I do want to work on this…

But if that seems weird to you, or you’re just not there yet, don’t worry. Plenty of people combine BDSM play with some vanilla sex as well, and it’s no big deal.

 

What are some resources I can use to learn more about BDSM?

Okay, so your BDSM beginner’s guide is not complete without a few more resources to point you in the right direction. First off, I’d say, catch up on some reading… There are some fabulous BDSM blogs out there with all kinds of information to get you started. Then, I would say, pick up some erotica… Literotica has all kinds of short stories to get you thinking about things you want to try. Or join a sex-positive community for more chats about specifics. You can look up local munches in your area or try a resource like Fetlife.com

We also have a powerful course led by Slutty Girl Problems’ founder, Lorrae Jo, to support your sexual evolution and create the sex life you desire. While it’s not specifically on BDSM, what you learn can definitely be applied to transforming your mindset and unwriting the cultural shame and stigma many of us have toward truly owning our fantasies and communicating about our kinks with a partner. If you’re ready to create all the pleasure in your life you dream of, Subvert Your Subconscious will help you fully embrace your desires without shame or fear. Sign up and learn to let go of shame-based messages and subconscious blocks, to create the sex and love life you truly crave.

 

 

Now tell me… Have you tried BDSM before? Do you like playing top or bottom? What are your favorite kinds of scenarios or what would you like to try?

Answer in the comments!