BDSM-What is it?

B-D-S-M actually stands for six different terms, grouped into three categories. In this article I will briefly define and describe each term and how each one relates to the others. Other articles will cover the dyadic terms more specifically as well as the individual terms.

The first couplet consists of “B” and “D”, or Bondage and Discipline. These are grouped together because they can be used to describe a type of relationship based on activities the partners participate in together and because bondage and discipline as activities often have a lot of crossover when specific activities are discussed.

Breaking them apart, we have bondage, which is pretty much dictionary definition. Bondage can be using anything like cuffs, rope, plastic wrap, etc. to keep oneself or partner(s) held in place. Bondage isn’t usually used in it’s old world definition of someone who is beholden to someone else for a period of time until a contract expires, although this type of relationship can certainly occur within these communities. This kind of relationship is usually referred to as a Master/slave or Mistress/slave relationship, which I will discuss another time.

Discipline is also a fairly easy word to define. Just like in “real life” discipline is used to refer to someone carrying out certain tasks, with the possibility of “punishment” or “reward” based on performance. I’ve put the words punishment and reward in quotations on purpose. It is very important to understand that in the world of BDSM, these terms can mean very different things to different people. Much like the concept of pain, which I will discuss more soon, these words are relative. What one sees as a punishment, another may see as a reward, and vice versa.

The next couplet is “D” and “s”. When these letters are put together for the purposes of discussing SM or leather relationships, they are written in this way: D/s. The “D” is capitalized and the “s” is not. This also indicates a clue regarding the type of relationship there is, not only between the words, but between the people who define themselves this way.

“D” in this case stands for Dominance. The Dominant is the one in charge. For some people, this can be temporary and only during certain times, with certain partners, or during specific activities. For others, this is their kink-sexual orientation all the time. The Dominant usually directs activity, makes important decisions, and for the most part is the one in control.

“s” in this case stands for submission. The submissive is the counterpart to the Dominant. Can’t have one without the other. The same applies to the submissive, in that for some this is a temporary state or relationship and for others this is their kink-sexual orientation all the time. The submissive carries out the orders of the Dominant, gives the Dominant what is necessary to allow him or her to make necessary decisions for both parties, and relinquishes control to the Dominant. One of the most important things to understand about a D/s relationship is the power exchange. The power exchange is the constant consensual give and take of energy, control, and responsibility between the Dominant and submissive. I will write more about this in a follow-up article.

The last dyad is the one most people seem to know about, even if it is not widely understood – SM. “S” stands for sadism. Within these communities, sadism refers to one who enjoys inflicting pain or extreme sensation on other consenting partners, usually for sexual pleasure. “M” stands for masochism and is the counterpoint to sadism, much like submission is for dominance. Masochism is defined within these communities as one who enjoys receiving pain or extreme sensation from consenting partners, usually for sexual pleasure.

It is important to note the significance of consent within these definitions. The BDSM/Leather/Kink Communities survive and thrive because of consent. People engaging in these activities, defining themselves by these terms, and associating themselves with these communities are doing so with the full consent of their partners. This is the enormous difference between BDSM and abuse, which I will discuss further in another article.

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