What is BDSM?
It seems like a simple enough question, but a quick search of the internet will show you that there are more answers to this straightforward query than most people know what to do with – including some answers that are downright confusing or intimidating.
The term BDSM covers a wide spectrum of activities, and its meaning is getting looser and looser by the day. Some people use “BDSM” as a way to refer to any kind of alternative sexual activity, and so include things like feeding, foot fetishism and erotic hypnosis under the BDSM umbrella.
Others have a much more strict definition. When they refer to BDSM they usually restrict their meaning to activities such as bondage, erotic punishment and engagement with sexual power dynamics.
The term itself provides some clues as to its meaning. BDSM is actually a compound acronym – that’s an acronym where some of the letters have more than one word associated with them. Let’s break it down:
B – Bondage. Any use of rope, restraints or other materials to restrict your partner’s movements.
D – Dominance. When one person in a couple takes control, and acts as the dominant partner.
D – Discipline. Erotic punishment, often including spanking, caning, whipping, etc.
S – Sadism. A sadist is a person who enjoys causing pain.
S – Submission. When one person in a couple submits to the will of the other, and gives up control.
M – Masochism. A masochist is a person who enjoys receiving pain.
At its core, this is what BDSM is about. It is sexual activity that involves pain, submission, dominance or control in some fashion – and for a lot of people it is something that hugely enhances their sex lives... and their lives in general.
Sex and sensual play that doesn’t involve these things is often called “vanilla” by people in the scene. This is a term used to indicate ordinary, non-kinky sexual activities or persons. Vanilla sex is generally considered to be the opposite of BDSM sex.
Different people engage in BDSM at different levels. For some people it is a key part of their lives, and something they could never contemplate living without. They might even engage in a full-time dynamic with their partner, assuming a dominant or submissive role even outside the bedroom.
For some people BDSM is something that they like to play with and explore. It’s all about having fun and trying new things. They might enjoy a bit of spanking or being tied up, but may have no interest in living in a full-time dynamic, or assuming roles in the bedroom.
The important thing to remember is that a lot of things in the BDSM world revolve around self-definition. Perhaps you have some unusual sexual proclivities that you don’t think qualify as BDSM. That’s fine. It’s also fine if you only play very lightly, but think that what you do falls under that umbrella.
Some people will, inevitably, try to tell you that your definition of BDSM is wrong, and their definition is right. It’s all too common an occurrence for people in the kink world to claim that someone is not kinky, not dominant or not truly submissive unless they engage in certain activities.
To give you an idea of what this might sound like, here’s an example: “You’re not a REAL dom if you go down on your submissive.”
While this can be disheartening and annoying, it’s not worth paying these people any attention. Remember, BDSM is founded on self-definition. It is what you make it... and so really it’s up to you to decide what BDSM actually means.
If you’re new to the world of BDSM and kink, and want to find out more, there are plenty of resources to be found online. And why not join up with a BDSM community? One of the best ways to discover what BDSM means for you is by meeting and talking with other people. You’ll soon discover that there are a huge range of activities and dynamics to explore – and given time you’ll come up with a definition that fits you better than anything you might find on the internet, in a book, or elsewhere.