What is BDSM? That’s a complicated question, and and it has nearly as many answers
as it has practitioners. The word itself is an acronym, but unlike most acronyms, the
letters in it are a set of smaller abbreviations, interlocking to define – broadly – a group of
concepts that can mean something as brief as a good night out or something as rich and
varied as a lifetime’s experience. BDSM denotes a set of mental, physical and emotional
possibilitiesthat can, at times, seem as mysterious as a secret cult – but you might be
surprised to find out that the chances are good that you’ve had some experience in the
field, even if you didn’t know about it at the time.

Generally, BDSM denotes a set of erotic preferences; it’s a form of sexual expression
(although you can, without trying too hard, find splinter groups who will say it’s not
about sex at all) that involve what’s called “power play”, or the taking of complementary
roles that set two or more participants at different levels of power. Among the roles
common in BDSM relationships or sessions, you might choose from top and bottom,
dominant (dom or domme) and submissive, master or mistress and servant or slave, and
many more. Even among those black-and-white-sounding names, though, you can find
grey areas – switches are people who feel equally comfortable in more than one role,
sometimes even in the same session. An important thing to understand when learning
about these roles, though, is that in many if not most cases, the bottoms, submissives and
slaves are just as likely to be dictating the terms of the session as their more powerful-
sounding counterparts.

The first set of letters – B&D – stands for Bondage and Discipline. If you’ve ever put a
blindfold on a partner, tied his or her hands with scarves, or given a spanking to someone
for being naughty, you’ve dabbled in B&D. Bondage is the use of restraints to enhance
sexual pleasure, and Discipline is the use of rules or punishment to control or reward
behavior in a sexual context. Either can be as innocuous as mild foreplay, a prelude to
less exotic sex, or it can be an activity in its own right – for many, B&D involves more
than just physical sensation – it can be a gateway to deep emotional experiences or self-
discovery. Bondage may take the form of token restraint, or it may involve a complex
array of equipment designed for arcane purposes – arm-binders, spreader bars, cuffs,
breath restrictors, elaborate rope arrangements and more. Discipline, too, can be a forum
for the inventive gadget-enthusiast – many of the devices used for the punishment of a
wayward partner rival bondage gear in their complexity and ingenuity, but it can also
be as simple and unadorned as a list of rules for a partner’s conduct. Of course, a wily
dominant may deliberately set rules that can’t be obeyed in order to make punishment
inevitable, but it’s just as likely that a wily submissive might disobey the rules on
purpose; rules, here more than anywhere else, are made to be broken.

D&S, or D/s, stands for Domination and Submission (many of its devotees like to play
games with capitalization in order to put a flourish on the power relationships). It’s
the most purely emotional of the three concepts. People in D/S relationships may not
have any physical interaction at all, and in some cases may never even meet. While D/
S relationships often contain aspects of both B&D and S&M when they are physical,
they can also be conducted at long distance, over the phone, instant messenger or even
by mail. Many would say that D/S is the most formal and ritualistic of the relationships,

and these tend to be the ones that lend themselves best to the long-term. If you’ve ever
played out a fantasy that involved a boss and his secretary, a sheik and a harem girl, or
an experienced older person and a willing virgin, you were probably playing with some
aspect of D/S while you did it. The power exchange can be benign and formal, like a
schoolteacher making a student behave, or it can take mush more intense forms, with
elements of emotional abuse or humiliation. It can flow the other way, too – D/S is the
venue in which you’ll find the submissive worshipping his or her Goddess, or the abject
slave striving to be worthy of a stern taskmaster.

S&M stands for Sadism and Masochism; it’s the most physical of the three milieus,
although it may involve emotional torture or humiliation as well, and it’s the one that
you most likely got your impression of BDSM from when you saw it parodied in a
mainstream movie. S&M is whips and chains, it’s spanking, and it’s bruises and welts.
It takes its name from the names of two European perverts of yore – the Marquis de
Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch; both men wrote extensively about the pleasure
to be found in the giving and receiving of pain as part of sexual pleasure – sadism and
masochism respectively. If you’ve ever enjoyed pulling someone’s hair, smacking
someone’s ass during sex, or reveled in a sharp bite from a lover, you’ve taken at least a
tentative first step into S&M. S&M may be part of roleplay, used as a part of either B&D
or D/S relationships to further their emotional power, or it may just be something you do
bcause you like a little pain or rough sex. In the context of the BDSM lifestyle, S&M is
distinct from acts of sexual violence in that both parties, ideally, negotiate and agree to
the degree of severity involved in the giving and receiving of pain. physical S&M can be
as specific as nipple torture or cock and ball torture, or it can involve an entire range of
activities from spanking, paddling, whipping, hot wax, and approximations of real forms
of torture

BDSM is a single acronym that unites a myriad of lifestyles, fetishes, and paraphilia that
may otherwise have nothing in common. A MILF fantasy, a human pony pulling a cart,
a play rape, and a ball-crushing giantess are all aspects of BDSM. By and large, the only
thing that BDSM layers ahve in common is the agreement that it should be performed by
responsible partners, of their own volition, and in a safe way – the motto “Safe, sane and
consensual” sums it up.

Are you into BDSM? Probably. If that freaks you out, though, remember – pretty much
everybody else is too!