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Kink 101: Everything You Need to Know About BDSM

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Aug 14, 2019

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BDSM, or Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sadism and Masochism, is a sexual practice that includes a variety of sexual identities and activities. BDSM is often regarded as this dark, freaky, non-normal kind of sexual preference, often forcing its players to retreat into the shadows and stick to carefully curated communities alienated from the majority of society. 

BDSM participants identify themselves in one of three main ways: dominant, submissive, and switch (as oscillating between the first two). It’s important to remember that all of these identities are fluid and continuous, and can change depending on the participants’ mood or partner.

What is BDSM? 

Bondage: A form of restricting a sexual player’s movement, for example, by ropes or handcuffs. This kind of restrainment can increase sexual enjoyment for some, and induce somatosensory (of warmth, coolness, pressure, pain) feelings in different areas of the body. 

Discipline: A series of rules and punishments — all agreed upon before a sexual encounter begins — for a (usually) dominant partner to exert control over and dictate the actions of their (usually) submissive partner. The above-mentioned bondage can be a form of, and a vehicle for, discipline. 

Dominance: The act of dominating a sexual partner, both in and out of sex. Sometimes, dominants have arrangements with their sexual partner in which they dictate (with the others’ consent) not only their partners’ behavior in bed but also behavior out of it — from food habits to sleep patterns.

Submission: The act of a submissive following their dominant’s actions. They have as much control over deciding what happens to them as their dominant does, even more so, perhaps. Communication between the dominant and submissive is of utmost importance, as that’s where boundaries are set, desires are shared, and permission is given. 

Sadism and Masochism, or Sadomasochism: The pleasure that a BDSM participant derives from either inflicting pain (sadism) or receiving pain (masochism); this could also manifest as emotional pain in the form of humiliation. Yes, BDSM can be violent — if the word ‘violent’ is stripped of all negative associations. Called intense sensation play, BDSM can involve hitting, pinching or causing any other physical harm to a sexual partner — but this is all consensual. Consent is the key to a healthy expression of sado-masochism, with an understanding between all partners that the activity could stop at any moment should anybody be uncomfortable with the intensity of play. 

How do people engaging in BDSM deal with consent? 

Consent — when given in an uncoerced, enthusiastic, clear manner with boundaries outlined — makes a BDSM encounter a safe and inclusive sexual experience for all partners. Consent and boundaries can be outlined in a formal contract, a verbal agreement or a casual conversation. Consent is also not absolute — the desires and comfort of sexual players in BDSM are of the utmost value; if a player is uncomfortable anytime before or during the experience, they can easily revoke the consent, and other players must respect the change of heart. This can be done through previously agreed upon safe words, which when said, signal others to stop. 

Limits, or boundaries, also take many forms: soft limits are activities with which a BDSM player is uncomfortable but might be willing to try. Safe words are especially important here. Hard limits, on the other hand, are a complete no-no under all circumstances. 

Can BDSM be incorporated into vanilla sex? 

BDSM can take many shapes — it is not only categorized by whips and leather, as seen in most pop culture depictions. The desire for discipline, sadomasochism, dominance or submission is an innate feeling, which can then translate to a variety of actions, be they light spanking or biting, using fuzzy handcuffs, even denying a partner an orgasm. Kink is a state of mind, and BDSM provides a wide spectrum that can accommodate sexual desires of different intensities. 


Related on The Swaddle:

BDSM Culture Can Make Women More Assertive in Work, Relationships


What makes someone inclined toward BDSM?

Kink, and the desire to engage in BDSM, can either be an innate desire, much like a child learning they’re queer, or, a kinky person can slowly realize their identity over time. People who don’t necessarily have the kink gene, so to speak, can find BDSM later in life — perhaps to spice up their relationships, or to find excitement in their sexuality.

Does undergoing trauma lead to an interest in BDSM?

Trauma itself isn’t a catalyst for a desire to engage in BDSM. However, BDSM can provide an encouraging and safe framework for trauma survivors, who might want to overcome their trauma by enacting it again — this time with control over the outcome. The usual care, respect and communication that members of BDSM communities extend toward each other also make it a safe space for trauma survivors to assert and explore their sexuality.

Is everyone polyamorous in BDSM communities?

No, not necessarily. BDSM is an alternative sexuality — that is, it deviates from what society considers the norm. Naturally, BDSM is also accepting of other alternative sexualities, such as polyamory (or consensual non-monogamy). BDSM communities are also welcoming of all queer sexualities. While a conflation or generalization of all alternate sexualities coalescing with each other is not fair — a dom-sub relationship could be monogamous, for instance — there is a definite overlap, as marginalized groups find acceptance with each other.

From detailed, comprehensive conversations before an act of BDSM to delineate boundaries and assert sexual needs, to open and honest communication and care after the act, the ethics of BDSM encompass a safe, respectful environment that can allow for unabashed exploration of sexual identity.

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Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news in New York City. Back in the homeland, she spends her free time trying to dismantle societal beauty standards, laughing uproariously at comedy shows, and fervently following her football team, Arsenal.

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