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BDSM For Beginners

BDSM Play Could Be What Your Sex Life Is Missing — Here's What to Know

Among the many kinks and fetishes in the world, one very popular sexual practice is BDSM. By now, you've likely already heard of the term — it became popular when the "Fifty Shades of Grey" series hit a few years ago, and is now searched on Google a casual 450,000 times a month. But while the books and movies get a few things right about BDSM, there's a lot more to the multifaceted world of kink that people should know.

For starters, BDSM is an umbrella term that stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. For many individuals, BDSM can be exciting and allow participants to feel like they are experiencing a new world of sex play. Often times, participants take one one of two roles: submissive or dominant. Many people who take on a submissive role (sometimes referred to as a "sub") enjoy the feeling of security they get from being controlled. On the other hand, people who take on a more dominant role (sometimes referred to as a "dom") enjoy the feeling of power that comes along with being the one in control.

Sure, BDSM may not be for everyone, but for many, it's the perfect way to explore their sexuality and add excitement to their sex lives and relationships. If you're interested in delving into the kinky world, here's what you should know.

What Is BDSM?

Like previously mentioned, BDSM is an acronym that stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. The sexual practice encompasses a whole lot of kink and power play. Carol Queen, PhD, a sexologist for sex toy company Good Vibrations, says that the power dynamic in these relationships can "take the form of physical acts" and/or be purely mental.

One example of a BDSM activity is bondage, a physical type of control in a power dynamic where you might be using a blindfold or ropes and ties to consensually restrain your partner. Another example of BDSM is role-playing, in the form of one person role-playing having more power than the other.

Impact play, like flogging and spanking, is also considered BDSM, since it is a "physical activity that engages the senses, and may cause (wanted, negotiated, consensual) pain, says Queen. Basically, whenever someone assumes any sort of agreed upon power role in a sexual partnership, this could take on the form of BDSM, Queen confirms.

BDSM Terms to Know

  • Bondage — The act of tying someone up. This is done to render the submissive or "sub" vulnerable to the desires and actions of the dominant.
  • Dom — The dominant partner.
  • Sub — The submissive partner.
  • Switch — Someone who switches between the roles of dominant and submissive.
  • Discipline — When the submissive obeys the commands of the dominant.
  • Sadism — Enjoying the act of inflicting pain.
  • Masochism — Enjoying the act of having pain inflicted on you (ex: flogging, spanking).
  • Safe word — A word that is decided upon before the session and is said when the sub wants the act to stop. A safe word is used in place of "stop" because the safe word is supposed to be something that wouldn't come up naturally during a session, in order to ensure that the word, when spoken, is taken seriously and that the action is stopped.
  • Hard limit — An act that can't be tolerated and that cannot be done. Doing the action may provoke the usage of the safe word and can also end the session/relationship.
  • Soft limit — An act that stresses a sub but that he or she can "take in moderation."

What Are Some Things to Discuss With Your Partner Before Engaging in BDSM?

While you can absolutely engage in BDSM by yourself, "the power exchange aspect is fundamental for people who enjoy it," says Queen. For this reason, it's way more common to engage in a BDSM practice with a partner. This, of course, means you should have lots and lots of conversations with your partner to discuss boundaries, hard limits, wants, and needs, prior to engaging in any type of sexual play — but especially when it comes to BDSM. Queen suggests talking about the following subjects:

  • What are you interested in trying?
  • What are things you're not interested in?
  • Do you have any hard limits?
  • What names do you like being called? What names do you not like to be called?
  • Do you have any sort of physical limitations or pain that is relevant to mention? (For example, if your partner has back pain, it's probably not a good idea to try suspended bondage.)
  • Who is the top and who is the bottom? AKA, who will be doing the submission and who will be doing the dominating? (Note that it's very common to be a "switch" and want to engage in both sides of subbing and being a dom, but it's important to clarify who will be playing what role for that particular scene or act.)
  • Do you want to use any sex toys or sex accessories like a blindfold, handcuffs, nipple clamps, etc.?

After you've discussed your answers thoroughly and agreed with each other on terms, it's time to choose a safe word. "If play is getting to be too much (or you just need to stop and pee), you can use the safe word to make it clear you need to pause the action," says Queen. This can be a word like red or spinach or pineapple — any word that wouldn't otherwise come up in your scene.

What Are Some BDSM Tips?

Like most things in life, you'll want to educate yourself on the practice before diving head-first into it. Queen recommends reading books like "Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns" by Philip Miller and Molly Devon and "Playing Well With Others" by Lee Harrington and Mollena Williams.

You can also explore some local classes or clubs. "Clubs have a vested interest in helping members and visitors play safely. Connecting with one is usually a much better idea than, say, finding a kinky sounding person online and connecting with them before you know what their reputation for safety and trustworthiness might be," says Queen.

Know that any pain you experience that you didn't expect or previously agree upon is not normal. In these cases, you'll want to use your safe word and alert your partner, says Queen. "Communicate about it together — do you need to stop the scene or just change activities or positions? BDSM play is all about clear communication. It is not just an option to communicate: it is expected, and part of the scene."

Lastly, once play is over, you'll want to engage in what's called aftercare. Queen says this is a post-sex check-in you have with your partner to see how you're feeling and reflect on the sex. "It can mean discussing the scene in detail, or just finding out how you're doing and whether you need some water or a hug. Sometimes people part ways after a scene and a check-in call happens the next day. Express what you need — this is an accepted part of BDSM."

What Are Some BDSM Sex Toys?

Queen and her colleague Andy, an educator at Good Vibrations, recommend a blindfold and a massage candle as a beginning kink combo. "The warm soy oil of the massage candle feels so much kinkier hitting the skin when you can't see it coming," says Queen. If interested, you can try any of these IgniteMe massage candles (that come in multiple scents) and pair it with a blindfold like this one.

For more experienced BDSM-doers, you can try a flogger (like this one) for impact play. Queen notes, when browsing, "the softer and more plentiful the tails (think suede or fabric), the less intense it will feel." You can also invest in some nipple clamps, as "some people love a painful pinch," says Queen.

As you navigate this world of BDSM — whether as a beginner or experienced pro – remember that you should allow yourself the opportunity to try new things and see how they feel. As long as you're exploring yourself with someone you trust and actively enjoying the pleasure, you have nothing to be scared of.

— Additional Reporting by Taylor Andrews

Image Source: Getty / shironosov
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