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What Is BDSM And Why Is It So Damn Enjoyable?

With a major motion picture in the works and three books that have topped best-seller lists for weeks, 50 Shades of Grey has taken the world by storm. The book and its sequels by E.L. James has been credited for bringing BDSM into the mainstream, but what exactly is BDSM?




BDSM is an acronym for bondage & discipline, dominance & submission and submission & domination. It’s an umbrella term that covers a range of activities and roles, some of which include sex and others do not.

Although elements of BDSM have been practiced for hundreds of years, the modern culture evolved from the ‘leather’ movement. The leather scene originated with soldiers returning home to the United States after World War II. Consisting mostly of gay men and a few women, the leather movement grew in large American cities. Since then, interest in BDSM has spread around the country to people of every gender and sexual orientation.

The general idea behind BDSM is that two partners engage in roles where one player is generally a submissive who receives pain or is in bondage of some sort or performs services for the other, a person in a dominant role who extends pains and punishment or puts the submissive in bondage or makes the submissive perform services for him/her…or it can be a combination of these things.

For many years, interest in BDSM was considered unhealthy or even categorized as a mental illness.

However in 2014, even mental health professionals recognize that BDSM can be safe and even therapeutic. Similarly, people have viewed an interest in bondage and power exchange as a characteristic of prior abuse or unhealthy relationships, but this is rarely the case because BDSM focuses on consensual and healthy play (more on that below),

Often, the person who plays the role of submissive relishes giving up control and not being responsible for the scene. The person who plays the dominant or top might prefer being in control or having an opportunity to take control when it’s not otherwise provided in life.

Common BDSM activities include but aren’t limited to the following:

Bondage and restraints (Cuffs, ties, bondage tape, blind folds, gags, rope knots and plastic wrap)
Impact play (Spanking, paddling, crops, and hitting)
Service (Where the submissive performs actions for the dominant)
Discipline (Reward or punishment for following or disobeying instructions)
Orgasm control
Roleplaying (Daddy/daughter, teacher/student et cetera)

Your mind might automatically move to extreme ideas, but BDSM only has to be as hardcore as you want it to be. For example, you already engage in bondage if you’ve ever placed your partner into fuzzy handcuffs or have been blindfolded. One of the joys of BDSM is figuring out what you’re interested in and potentially even pushing those boundaries.


How to Introduce BDSM to Your Relationship

When introducing the idea of it to your partner and explaining what BDSM is, you may be hesitant. It’s best to be specific about the type of activities, such as spanking, biting or handcuffs, that interest you. This ensures that the two of you are on the same page.

Generally, you’ll want to bring up the topic before you’re in the bedroom so you can discuss any expectations the two of you might have. This might include societal opinion about what BDSM is or past experiences that either of you may have, some of which may have been negative. Never pressure your partner into BDSM or physically force them to participate.

Discussing with your partner how you both can remain safe while exploring your boundaries might help overcome reluctance to engaging in BDSM. You can also stress how the two of you will have a safe word, which you’ll learn about later, to keep safe during a scene.

To ease into BDSM, you might first add a blindfold to regular sex or bind 2 of your partners limbs. We advise against doing both at once, which can be too overwhelming for your partner – and yourself. Try adding new elements one at a time and don’t be afraid of taking it slowly. And make sure to get (and give) loads of feedback so you know how both of you are feeling about it.


How to Be Submissive in a BDSM Relationship

While many people who practice BDSM learn strongly toward one side of the spectrum, like only the dominant and sadistic or submissive and masochistic sides, there are still many other flavors.

A person can be dominant and a bit masochistic, or a submissive might enjoying serving a dominant but dislike pain. A person might like playing both roles. This type of person is known as a switch.

There is no right way to be submissive or dominant, and for many people, there is no way to “force” those feelings if they don’t come naturally. This means that you might play the dominant or “top” role with your partner who identifies as a submissive, but you don’t naturally want to engage in those roles. You can’t teach someone how to feel submissive if those feelings just don’t exist.

For some people, a partner who is willing but who doesn’t feel strongly about those roles may not adequately fill the role.

In some situations, you might find yourself looking for a BDSM partner outside of your romantic relationship. It’s important to note that while bondage and discipline can include sex or your sex can included elements of BDSM, that the two aren’t mutually inclusive. For some couples, an arrangement like this can be beneficial because both partners are able to fully express themselves.

How to Engage in BDSM Safely

No matter who you’re playing with or whether sex is part of your playtime, there are some guidelines to follow that can help ensure that your BDSM activities are healthy. In fact, one of the tenets of what BDSM is, is the concept of safe, sane and consensual. To maintain a healthy BDSM relationship, all three ideals should always be present, and this is something that 50 Shades does a poor job of explaining.

BDSM activities typically take place within a scene, which has a designated start and end point; although, you might add some aspects of BDSM to your normal sex life. Discussion of the scene before and after ensures that you and your partner know what to expect and provides a way for you to connect and heal after a scene, which may be intense both physically and emotionally.

The idea of consent is one that may not be obvious to the casual observer, but safe, sane and consensual practitioners agree to limits – what they are and aren’t willing to do – before the scene. While a submissive might be experiencing pain that appears to push them to the limits, a good dominant will understand what those limits are, and the two will have discussed what to expect beforehand.

This is a crucial element to a functioning BDSM relationship.


Great Communication

Some people will say that the submissive actually calls the shots and has the power because of this, but it’s important to communicative effectively if you want to ensure both you and your man get the most out of BDSM. You’ll find that great communication is great for other things too, like figuring out what kinds of dirty talk you enjoy or when you want your man to keep his hands off your head during a blow job.

Communication is as important or even more important than in a traditional romantic or sexual relationship. You might one day find yourself playing with multiple people, but just like moving to an open relationship, this is a large step that you should only undertake when your BDSM relationship is stable.

One aspect of communication and safety in particular is the safe word, a word or phrase that a submissive will use if the scene becomes too intense. A safe word should be short so that it’s easy to remember and say during an intense scene, but it should not be “Stop” or “No.” For some submissives, they achieve a sort of high through being the bottom in a scene.

This is known as “sub space,” and you may lose the ability to talk if you’re in it. Aside from only playing with a top that you trust, you might consider a safe action such as dropping a ball in place of the safe word.


Physical Safety

Physical safety is extremely important in a BDSM scene, where there is the possibility of drawing blood, cutting off circulation and other bodily harm. It’s recommended that you always have an easy way out of a scene in event of an emergency. The key to cuffs should be nearby, and a paramedic scissors is always helpful. Never bind something with silk, which can tighten and cut off circulation.

If you play with multiple partners, be sure to sterilize toys and implements. Organic materials such as leather are porous and can harbor bacteria for months. This creates the potential to spread diseases when used on multiple partners.

However, glass, steel, plastic and silicone are among the materials that you can safely sterilize to use with multiple partners.

Common impact toys such as floggers and whips can draw blood. Not only should you worry about transmitting diseases, but you should also consider that you can do real damage to a person if you aim for a location on the body without enough padding. The butt and backs of thighs make an excellent target, while aiming for the lower back can cause damage to the kidneys.

The beauty of a BDSM interaction is that there’s no one way how to be submissive or dominant.

You can experience both sides of the coin if you’re a switch, and you may get different benefits when you play with different partners. BDSM can be exciting in and of its own, but you might also find that light elements of bondage and discipline bring something new into your sex life if it’s gotten stale.

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