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What is BDSM? What it is and what it isn't

When you hear the term “BDSM,” what comes to mind for you? Our understanding of this term has been largely influenced by mainstream culture’s representation of it (or “50 Shades of Grey”) — whether that is imagining handcuffs in the bedroom, wearing collars, or even calling your partner “Daddy”. Although all these activities are representative of BDSM and kink culture, there’s so much more that encompasses this term, and there is much more within the community to learn about.

 

In order to better understand this topic, we’ve split this topic into two parts — part one is focused on explaining some of the basics and breaking down some misconceptions, whereas part two will focus more on how to get started and some resources that you can use to learn more BDSM on your own.

 

What is BDSM and what is kink? 

Kink is a broad term to describe any sexual activities that are generally not considered “vanilla,” as in traditional sex. Another way to understand this term is that it’s an umbrella term for all types of different sexual activities that are nontraditional and generally non-mainstream, which includes BDSM.

BDSM stands for Bondage, Discipline/Domination, Sadism/Submission, and Masochism.

Bondage can involve elements of restraining and tying someone. We often see this through the rope in popular culture, but it can also entail psychological or emotional bondage.

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Discipline/Domination, which is often talked about in conjunction with "Submission". It means to submit or let go of your power over to someone else and can involve power play, where one person has control over another person in a relationship or during a sex scene together.
 
Sadism is a term that describes people who derive pleasure or sexual arousal either through inflicting pain or causing humiliation onto others.

 

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Masochism is similar yet the opposite of sadism — whereas a sadist would derive pleasure by causing humiliation or pain onto others, masochists are those on the receiving end who enjoy the humiliation and pain from their partners.

 

What BDSM is not: 

1. BDSM is dangerous and painful

Like any other sexual activity, BDSM can be dangerous or painful, but the main purpose of engaging in BDSM-related sexual activities is to derive pleasure. Yes, that sometimes can involve pain, if that’s what you’re into, but the point is to make your partner and/or yourself feel sexually aroused. There are many ways to do this that don’t require pain — BDSM can be as painless as tickling your partner with a feather!

2. BDSM is without consent and all about power and control

Oftentimes, when we think of mainstream BDSM representation, we may see rope and bondage, or someone being tied up against their will. In reality, these “scenes,” which are kink-related encounters or experiences, are discussed and agreed upon before such acts take place. You may think that BDSM is dangerous because you need to relinquish your control to the dominant partner, but in actuality, the “submissive” partner is the one with the power — everything done to them is for this person’s pleasure and enjoyment.

For example, if the dominant likes choking their partners, but the submissive  partner doesn’t like to be choked, then this would be a boundary discussed before the scene starts. That way, both partners have a general idea of how the scene will be like, what to avoid, and what to do to make their partners feel good and most importantly — safe.

In addition to this, having “safe words,” a code word used that indicates to the partner to stop a scene that’s not the word “stop”, ensures that participants’ needs are being met conscientiously and thoughtfully. For example, instead of saying “stop” someone could instead say “pineapples” or “potato” — just any word that wouldn’t be commonly used in sexual activities (and generally, a word that’s… not “sexy”). A physical gesture instead of a safe word is another form of accommodating needs if someone has a hard time verbalizing their preferences — they could give their partner three squeezes or put a finger up in the air to communicate their discomfort.

All this to say — while power and control are elements of BDSM, in practice, they have their own standards of safety and protocol that to ensure participants are having a good time.

3. BDSM only involves leather and bondage

As you can already guess, BDSM has way more sexual possibilities beyond leather and bondage. BDSM can involve using toys such as collars, chokers, whips, paddles, electric wands, restraints, floggers, vibrators, anal plugs, or nipple clamps.

However, if these kinds of toys aren’t quite your style, there are certainly a wide range of other kinds of gentler toys out there! You could use blindfolds, massage candles, tickle feather wands, corsets or ice cubes in your sexual ventures. BDSM can look different for every couple, but what’s most important about how you practice BDSM is that you and your partner are doing something that you both find enjoyable and pleasurable.

Who says the bedroom is only limited to the vibrator and lube? Use your imagination, and anything can become a sex toy (but please, don’t go putting cucumbers into crevices on your body).

4. Everyone in the BDSM community is polyamorous

While polyamory is certainly practiced amongst those in the BDSM community, like the previous points, this is not going to apply to every single person. There will be people you meet who are monogamous, who only have one partner, and there will be those who are in open relationships and have several partners at any given time. As well, people who are polyamorous will also have different philosophies and guidelines for how they practice this in their lives. Some may have a long-term partner and only have casual sex outside of their relationship, others may have several serious romantic partners at one time.

BDSM and Kink movies to watch

If you’re looking to understand BDSM through media (and not just by watching “50 Shades of Grey”), here are some movies that you can check out. However, keep in mind: while these movies do portray BDSM in a much more accurate way than the aforementioned, note that every representation should be taken with a grain of salt and that this is only a partial glimpse into what practicing BDSM could look like.   

“Secretary” (2000)

This American black comedy romantic drama explores what happens when the dominant lawyer (James Spader) develops a relationship with his submissive secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal). This movie’s comedic touches help better ease the audience, especially those who are unfamiliar with BDSM, into its world and what it entails.

“The Piano Teacher” (2001)

 

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 A French erotic psychological drama, this movie was based on a novel by Elfriede Jelinek, and depicts the story of an, as you could guess, unmarried piano teacher who lives with her mother. Frequently experiencing moments of emotional and sexual frustration and repression, the main character decides to explore a sadomasochistic relationship with one of her students. Both of the main actors, Isabelle Huppert and Benoît Magimel, won Best Actress and Best Actor awards for their role in this film. 

“Intimacy” (2001) 

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An internationally produced film, this erotic drama film explores the life of a bartender who leaves a loveless marriage and eventually starts having weekly casual sex with a stranger. The film follows what ensues between their relationship and the lengths to which the bartender will go to learn more about this woman. 

SOURCES: everyday health | elitedaily | elitedaily 2 | O School
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