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BDSM

By Bellesa Team

BDSM is an acronym that stands for Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism. As a shorthand term, it encompasses an array of sexual practices, erotic activities, and roleplay scenarios between consenting adults, which can relate to the enjoyment of restraints, pain infliction, psychological teasing, humiliation, or exaggerated interpersonal power dynamics.

Because BDSM is such a broad term, it applies differently to different people. Some subscribe to a BDSM lifestyle and consider themselves a part of the greater BDSM community. Such individuals practice kink activities with frequency and/or as part of an established, ongoing relationship. Others engage in more à la carte play, bringing in kink elements to their sexual or erotic activities only on occasion.

According to Ali Hebert and Angela Weaver, BDSM can be divided into six main components, or three main spectra: bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism. 

Bondage and Discipline 

Bondage and discipline indicates the the use of restraint in the context of erotic play. 

Bondage refers to physical restraint through implements such as rope, tape, cuffs, chains, or other such binding materials. The aim of such restraint is to reduce or remove control over the bound person’s movement and encourage a surrender.

Discipline refers to psychological restraint through a system of verbal commands, or punishments and rewards. Punishment is a highly subjective term, and could be physical (e.g. spanking, application of physical restraint) or psychological (e.g. humiliation, revoking of freedoms or rewards) in nature, depending on the dynamic, desires, limits, and agreements of the partners involved. 

Domination and Submission

Domination and submission (D/s) involves playing within power dynamics, which are often exaggerated, to explore the exchange of power and control between play partners, either by taking or surrendering control in the context of erotic play.

Within a BDSM dynamic, there tends to be two distinct roles: the dominant partner (also widely known as a “dom”, “domme”, or “top”) is typically the more assertive person who instigates the scenario and takes control over the submissive partner (also known as a “sub” or “bottom”), who in turn willingly relinquishes their control to the dominant partner. An individual who flips between dominant and submissive roles is referred to as a switch. Switches can express this tendency across all relationships, or within a given relationship.

While physical activities often do overlap with D/s dynamics, the D/s aspect of BDSM is highly psychological. Because it can manifest in many ways across individuals and relationships, the specifics of what these terms encompass occupy a significant range.

Sadism and Masochism

Sadism and masochism, often seen as the single portmanteau term: sadomasochism, is the tendency to derive pleasure from pain or mental suffering, whether it be one’s own anguish or that of another.

These terms find their origin in the names of renowned authors Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch respectively, both of whom wrote extensively on matters of erotic pain and humiliation from either end of this spectrum. 

It is important to note that de Sade’s writings explored themes that challenge or defy ethical as well as legal statutes. They should therefore not be considered informative or indicative of kink play, as they do not adhere to the core values of BDSM, most notably: consent.

Safe, Sane, Consensual Kink

The most fundamental and essential element of BDSM is informed consent. Because most activities  involve deliberately curated power imbalances, often putting someone into a vulnerable physical and/or psychological position, it is important that everyone involved is making informed choices within their personal limits. For this reason, the phrase and concept of “Safe, Sane, Consensual” (SSC) was coined.

In the early 1980s, the New York Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA) committee published a report with the new term that still serves today as the standard rules of engagement for anyone participating in BDSM. SSC simply means that everyone involved is sound of mind, fully informed, and in enthusiastic and mutual agreement to the terms they’ve laid out for each other.

Setting the Scene Safely

Before any play, all participants negotiate their terms of engagement, assess potential risks, and take any necessary precautions. These agreements that lay the foundation of informed consent can be made verbally or in the form of a written contract.

BDSM activities will often occur within a designated time frame known as a scene. This episode is also sometimes called a session, or simply play. Scenes can be finely crafted role play scenarios or organized sessions with specific and pre-planned activities, or a less structured incorporation of kink elements within sexual or erotic play.

While BDSM activity can be highly erotic in nature and pleasurable in outcome, it does not always include explicit sexual activity. The pleasure experienced can be evoked through varying degrees of somatosensory stimulation and/or psychological control. 

Risks and Safety Measures

Beyond the basic considerations of SSC kink practices, there is another concept known as RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink), which acknowledges that people may want to explore scenes that challenge one’s limits in a safe and informed way. RACK stresses that no activity is truly without risk, and the line between what is safe and unsafe is up to the informed individual rather than the community. In this same line, any kink discussion should therefore include risk-assessment discussion regardless of perceived risk level for true consent to be established.

Establishing a safeword (a word, phrase, non-verbal cue, or other predetermined signal to interrupt or end a scene) is a safety measure play partners will put in place prior to a scene. The purpose of a safeword is to have a means of communicating when someone is too uncomfortable within the session. 

If ever a safeword is used, it is to be respected by immediately pausing the scene to then check in and offer whatever support is required. If a safeword is not respected by the other participant(s), this is not only a serious moral offense but also criminal as it would constitute action taken against a person with a lack of their consent.

To mitigate risks, BDSM activities should only be pursued with trusted partner(s) with whom terms are negotiated. The thorough discussion of boundaries, potential risk, safety measures, communication expectations, emergency procedures, and aftercare needs should all be in place prior to the scene. Any activities that involve bodily harm or fluid exchange should be handled with extra care and the necessary precautions to prevent injury and spread of disease.

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