A Beginner’s Guide to BDSM.
Sex education

A Beginner’s Guide to BDSM.

Published
Jul 02, 2020
Author
Davey Davis

Defining what it means and knowing where to start. 

BDSM has an awkward reputation for being both scary and corny at the same time. For those interested in dipping their toes into its dark waters, misconceptions about BDSM—from what the acronym means to what people are really getting up to—can make navigating a brand-new subculture all the more confusing.

But as general interest in getting kinky in the sheets (and elsewhere) continues to rise, opportunities to educate yourself have gotten easier to find. With the right resources, you can explore the world of BDSM the smart, safe way.

What does BDSM mean?
Think of “BDSM” as an umbrella for power exchange and sensation exploration, under which are many additional terms that communicate desires, activities, and relationships to other players. The acronym itself is complex, meaning, alternately and simultaneously: “bondage and discipline,” “Dominance and submission,” and “sadism and masochism.” 

The building blocks
BDSM’s most basic interpersonal dynamics are your building blocks to all things kinky: There are tops and bottoms, dominants and submissives, and sadists and masochists. Tops are the doers and bottoms are the people things are done to. (In the context of queer sex, tops can also be the active parties and/or the penetrators, while bottoms are the passive parties and/or the penetrated). Dominants and tops have control, while submissives and bottoms relinquish it. Sadists enjoy inflicting pain, and masochists enjoy receiving it. 

Then there are switches, who can be either a top or bottom, dominant or submissive. Like “top” and “bottom,” “switch” applies both to sexuality and to BDSM, activities that often—but don’t always—go hand in hand. While some of these labels are mutually exclusive (you can’t top and bottom at the same time), many are often combined to describe situational or static identities, like “dominant top” or “submissive-leaning switch.”

How do I get involved?
The world of BDSM encompasses countless subcultures based on fetishes and political affiliations, as well as identities like race, gender, and sexual orientation. The vibrant communities that form around common interests are a big part of what draws people to BDSM.

As with any other kind of community, building a network of other BDSM players takes time and a willingness to put yourself out there. Use social media sites like Instagram and Fetlife to find local munches (which are casual social gatherings for kinksters to get to know each other), classes and workshops, and BDSM-themed nights at bars. 

How do I stay safe?
Knowledge is power. Whether you’re doing your homework with books like The New Topping Book by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy Tens or building relationships with trusted mentors in your local scene, learning BDSM history and safety practices is just as important as trying that new scene idea you’ve fantasizing about. 

Most importantly, however, is to know yourself. Think hard about what you’re interested in, and what you’d rather avoid. Just like in the vanilla dating world, knowing what your boundaries are and enforcing them are important to keeping yourself and others safe. 

A Beginner’s Guide to BDSM.

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