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For some, the subculture of BDSM is a mystery wrapped in an enigma that has people intrigued, confused or even repulsed. Mainstream media can be thanked for some of the feelings about the world of BDSM due to the misrepresentations of the culture that is prevalent in books and movies such as 50 Shades of Grey and Exit to Eden. In reality, BDSM practitioners take their time and practice safety when setting their scenes and engaging in play.

BDSM: A quick crash course

BDSM includes bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&S), and sadism and masochism (S&M). The terms are lumped together that way because BDSM can be a lot of different things to different people with different preferences.

BDSM: BDSM is an acronym that stands for bondage, discipline, dominance and submission. There are not any set rules when it comes to what you can or cannot participate in.. Basically, you can enjoy a little bondage and submission just as easily as you can dabble in a bit of sadism and masochism. Some individuals derive sexual pleasure from the restrictions created by bondage attire and role-playing. Bondage usually takes place with a cooperative partner(s) who binds or restrains the individual and sometimes administers discipline such as spankings. Sadomasochistic (SM) is the association of sexual expression with pain. Sexual sadism involves the act of obtaining sexual arousal via physical or psychological pain and sexual masochism is the act of obtaining sexual arousal through receiving physical or psychological pain. For some, sadomasochism provides participants with an escape from the rigidly controlled, restrictive role one may play in their everyday public lives.

Set the “scene”: those in the BDSM world have a specific name for their encounters with one another and it is more or less a blanket term for what goes on behind closed or open doors. All encounters are called scenes and apply to everything from having sex in bondage to being whipped into submission.

The name game: participants in this subculture are aptly referred to as practitioners given that they are actively engaged in the practices of BDSM. Practitioners are further labeled as dominants, submissives, tops and bottoms depending on their proclivities at any given time.            

Safety: BDSM is definitely not a community that you would want to throw yourself into without guidance. There is much more to it than slapping on a pair of handcuffs and obeying your master. Practitioners put much time and careful effort into making sure that the toys, tools, props and scenarios are safe for everyone involved physically as well as mentally. Reading, preparing and organizing come before anything actually goes down.

Never underestimate the power of a safe word: Many have made jokes about needing a safe word a time or two, but they are no joke in the BDSM world. Practitioners utilize this tool as a means to keep things under control in the heat of the moment should their scene partner(s) need to stop at any given point.

Facts vs. Fiction

Now that you have had an overview, let us get to the center of the issue and myth bust. BDSM often gets a negative association largely because it is seen as different from mainstream sex, which can in turn make people uncomfortable due to a lack of understanding. From this discomfort and confusion, rises a breeding ground for speculation, false information and misplaced judgment.

Fiction: BDSM is all about sex

This may come as a surprise, but sex and BDSM are not mutually exclusive. It is just one of the many things one is led to believe about the subculture. In fact, a sociologist and member of the Washington, D.C. BDSM community, surveyed a group of their fellow members and received some interesting feedback regarding the role of sex during their “scenes.” Only 27% of the 70 members questioned found sex, whether vaginal, anal or otherwise, to be of notable importance. An additional 21% felt that sex was not a factor in their BDSM equation at all. The remaining members stated that the inclusion of sex during scenes was dependent on each engagement and the who, what, and where of it.

BDSM is primarily about sensation and power play. Sensation can be an endless source of enjoyable exploration and is often explored via impact play (such as spanking, etc.), and pushing boundaries around pain and pleasure, restraint, blindfolds, and objects. Fantasies and power dynamics are also explored through role-play.

Fiction: the world of BDSM is full of kinky creepers and seedy sex spots

There is a fairly large and welcoming BDSM community filled with everyday people with everyday jobs with perfectly normal psychological profiles. There is the occasional ill-willed participant and questionable BDSM watering hole, but those are rare and not supported by the BDSM community.

This community takes special care to create safe and secure environments where the experienced can go for a bit of hair pulling, spanking and kink of various types. The same can be said for those who are new to the lifestyle and considering engaging in the world of intrigue. Community members fully embrace newbies as they walk them through the many different facets that encompass the BDSM subculture in an effort to maintain the sense of safety and security that more seasoned members have grown to expect.

Fiction: those engaging in BDSM interactions do so with anyone, anywhere and at any time

This is another misconception that is far from the truth. It is the opposite as BDSM regulars take many precautions in an effort to keep themselves and their scene partner(s) safe and get down to business in a neutral environment that is also safe and somewhat controlled.

Consent and an in-depth discussion of boundaries and physical safety are the hallmarks of BDSM. Throughout the community, there is a general message that encourages participants to make safe choices with trusted individuals to ensure that all ventures into BDSM remain titillating, freeing and pleasurable to all involved. However, this does not by any means imply one must keep scenes vanilla and tame. In fact, there are plenty of safe places in the BDSM community that are designated specifically for meeting people and engaging in some fun with each participant being bound by a specific set of rules. There is far more thought put into the safety of these situations while still allowing plenty of room to express desires.

Fiction: anyone who enjoys BDSM must have some sort of psychological issue

This little bit of BDSM fiction is simply not true, another wholly inaccurate social stigma. Today’s psychologists have done the necessary legwork to find out what is going on behind the psychological scenes for these individuals. Research clearly shows that BDSM practitioners are often happier and healthier than their vanilla counterparts. The list goes on as researchers have found lower incidences of “depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychological sadism, psychological masochism, borderline pathology and paranoia.” It is also important to note that those engaging in BDSM are found to be more extroverted, conscientious, open to new/different experiences and/or people and all around more in tune with themselves and those around them.

Fiction: healthy relationships should steer clear of BDSM

With the underlying foundation of vulnerability that BDSM requires, the trust that one and one’s partner(s) build from exploring these new dynamics leads to deep bonding. BDSM, in offering an intense context to explore eroticism, power play, sensation, and relationship dynamics, is a rich space for personal development as long as one plays by the agreed upon rules.

The skills required for BDSM include trust, clear communication, self-acceptance, and acceptance of the other person/s. Those same skills enhance relationships and sex – no matter how you play. BDSM requires ongoing, detailed discussion. Players must plan every aspect of their scenes beforehand and evaluate afterward. Pre and post-scene discussions can be as intimate, erotic and relationship engaging as the scenes themselves. Partners who enjoy occasional power play, but who are not exclusively into BDSM, may enhance their non-BDSM sex because the practice they get negotiating scenes makes it easier to discuss other aspects of their sexuality.

Sexology International, like all of our work, is for people of all sexual preferences and all forms of gender expression, including people whose identity is something other than male or female. As such, we like to use gender-neutral pronouns. More recently accepted alternatives include words like “ze” and “hir” or the universal pronoun “they.” Throughout our work, we will be doing our best to use alternative pronouns, such as “they,” whenever gender or plurality is unimportant. In doing so we hope it helps everyone to feel included in the discussion and that it inspires you to think outside of traditional sex and gender binaries.



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