BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, Masochism)

The acronym BDSM includes various sexual practices that fall under the category of bondage and discipline (B-D), dominance and submission (D-S), and sadism and masochism (S-M).The practice of BDSM has recently gained more exposure than ever before, but its origins can be traced back to ancient civilizations.Today, BDSM is considered a kink, with a fairly large community of people who enjoy practicing it. Contemporary participants define BDSM as an umbrella term for alternative sexual activities that may be considered non-normative by others.These sexual activities are typically based around explicit and negotiated power exchanges between any number of participants, and are not specific to any one sexual orientation or gender identity-all identities are represented in the community.3 The variety of sexual practices that make up BDSM range from casual play, such as light spanking, to increasingly intense play, such as electrostimulation and advanced suspension bondage. Other practices within the BDSM category include leather, latex, and rubber fetishes, body modification, urolagnia (golden showers), wax play, edgeplay, pet play, and more. Interest in BDSM can range from one-time experimentation to a lifestyle, and most people involved in the practice prefer self-identifying their specific BDSM interests or desires. This correlates to the large emphasis on self-identification and self-expression in the BDSM community.2 It is important to note that BDSM does not always involve penetrative sex or orgasm. People in the BDSM community practice BDSM for a variety of reasons that do not require sexual interaction, and the community itself has grown into a strong subculture.


Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, and

Submission (B-D, D-S)

The bondage, discipline, dominance, and submission aspects of BDSM often intersect in order to further the experiences and desires of the individuals involved.

BDSM Roles

There are many sexual identities included within BDSM, but three identities that are commonly found among the community are dominants, submissives, and switches. These BDSM roles are central to the power exchange dynamic that spans across all BDSM practices. The dominant role, also referred to as a “dom” or “top,” is represented by a person who consensually takes power, authority, or control in a relationship, scene, or activity.4 This role is inclusive of all genders, but female-identifying dominants are commonly referred to as a “domme” or “dominatrix.”4 The submissive role, also referred to as a “sub” or “bottom,” is represented by a person who consensually agrees to submit or give up control in a relationship, scene, or activity.This role typically submits to a person who identifies as a dominant or switch. The switch role is represented by a person who enjoys representing both dominant and submissive roles, and they will alternate roles in relationships, scenes, and activities depending on their mood, partner, or the situation.4 

Bondage and Discipline (B-D)

The practice of bondage involves physically restraining a person with devices or psychologically restraining them with commands as a key part of the sexual experience. The practice of discipline involves the dominant creating a set of rules for the submissive that they are expected to follow.5  When these rules are broken by the submissive, the dominant can use various forms of punishment in order to discipline their submissive. These punishments do not necessarily cause pain to the submissive, but further the power dynamic by giving the dominant control over the submissive’s actions and consequences. This practice focuses more on the pleasure derived from the power exchange and physical restraint, rather than physical pain. Just like all other BDSM practices, the extremity of bondage and discipline acts are defined by the personal preferences of the individuals involved. Bondage for one practitioner may be defined as using a blindfold or handcuffs, while another person may prefer being completely tied up and suspended in the air. The preference of discipline may be verbal yelling for one person, while another individual may prefer to be roughly spanked. Bondage and discipline allow for creativity and self-expression with one’s desires but require sufficient knowledge of safety and protocol, especially when incorporating tools such as rope. You can find information on navigating BDSM and kink play tools here.?

Dominance and Submission (D-S)

The practice of dominance and submission is based around the power exchange of BDSM roles. D-S focuses on one participant taking control while another gives over control through a dominant and submissive role exchange.5 People of all gender identities and sexual orientations can practice any role they desire. In D-S situations, participants may perform or roleplay various types of power exchanges, which can be both psychologically and physically stimulating. Roleplaying allows for a lot of versatility and creativity when choosing an ideal fantasy or scenario. Some popular D-S roleplay scenarios include teacher-student, master-slave, and pet-owner. D-S practices do not always incorporate actual physical violence, but instead create the illusion of a dominant-submissive exchange within the scene that arouses those involved.6 There are basic scripts, or sequences of expected behaviors for a given situation, that D-S people become familiarized with. These scripts are typically planned out beforehand and help guide BDSM interactions safely. This organization allows the participants a sense of comfort and stability, so that they may fully enjoy their scenario.?


Sadism and Masochism (S-M, Sadomasochism)

The practice of sadism and masochism comprises of individuals who identify as a sadist or a masochist. Sadists derive pleasure from the pain or humiliation of others, and masochists derive pleasure from their own pain or humiliation.5 Sadists and masochists may find activities pleasurable that society deems painful, so the BDSM community offers a non-judgmental place for these practitioners to engage safely in their desires. Some activities that sadists and masochists engage in may include humiliation, bondage, spanking, whipping, biting, choking, and slapping. Similar to D-S, S-M practices can involve basic scripts that ensure the safety, pleasure, and comfort of all participants. Before engaging in an S-M scenario, it is important to know the interests, desires, boundaries, and limits of all participants involved. Creating a general script before engaging in S-M activities is a great way to achieve this.


BDSM Safety

The BDSM community emphasizes a high standard of health and physical risk awareness among all aspects of BDSM.6 Practices such as S-M incorporate activities that can be psychologically or physically harmful, so it is crucial to be aware of all safety precautions and to educate yourself on the correct way to approach all BDSM scenarios before, during, and after sexual activities.


A crucial aspect of BDSM, as with any sexual activity, is obtaining affirmative consent. Though BDSM is characterized by its rough nature, it is still necessary that all parties involved in a BDSM scene consent to everything that happens. In the BDSM community, safe, sane, and consensual (SSC) is a popular system that sets common principles to guide BDSM activities.7 The “safe” rule indicates that all attempts are made to identify and prevent risks to health. The “sane” rule requires that all activities are experienced in a sane and sensible frame of mind. The “consensual” rule requires affirmative consent from all parties involved.7Consent must be given continually throughout the duration of the encounter in order for all parties to enjoy themselves. The SSC system creates an organized guideline for BDSM practitioners to follow. If you are planning on engaging in any BDSM activities, make sure to confirm that all three rules of the SCC system are being adhered to throughout the entire BDSM encounter.

Safe Words and Signals

BDSM contains many sexual activities that should be practiced with an established safe word. A safe word is a word or signal that is used to make sure the scene is safe, sane, and consensual.8 The use of a safe word indicates an immediate stop to all BDSM activities. When choosing a safe word, it can be any word that is not part of common BDSM play speech.8 This is because any common play speech that is usually verbalized in BDSM play, such as “no” and “stop,” may be confusing for partners to indicate if they are playing or serious. Instead, we recommend choosing a word that is not related to BDSM activities. A great example of this type of safe word is “pineapple.” Another safe word option is the traffic light system.8 There are three safe words within this system. The first word is “green,” which indicates that you are enjoying the activity, feel comfortable, and want to continue. The second word is “yellow,” which indicates that you want to slow down the activity and may be approaching physical discomfort. The third word is “red,” which indicates that your partner should stop completely.8

Practicing bondage and restraint may hinder one’s ability to speak. For example, if a submissive is wearing a ball gag, they are unable to say their verbal safe word if needed. In addition to a verbal safe word, all participants should agree on a signal that is equivalent to the purpose of a safe word. Some examples include simple hand signals, ringing a bell, agreeing on a number of blinks, or choosing a sound to make such as a designated pattern of grunts.8 No matter where you are in your BDSM scenario, never refrain from using your safe word or signal if you feel the need to. There is nothing wrong with taking a break or stopping completely. The safety and comfort of all participants is the most important priority throughout the entire BDSM activity.   


After a BDSM scenario occurs, many participants enjoy in aftercare. This refers to the time spent taking care of one another once all sexual activity has ended.9 It is typically the dominant giving attention to the submissive, but this is not a defined rule of aftercare. During this time, partners are given a feeling of safety and security that may be preferred if they feel vulnerable after an intense sexual experience.Some examples of aftercare include providing a partner with water, food, a massage, or blankets. It may feel good during this time to communicate your likes or dislikes about the scenario.


Getting Involved in the BDSM Community

No matter your experience level, there are many resources to get yourself involved in the BDSM community.

The Online Community

The online resources alone offer endless opportunities to talk to other BDSM practitioners, learn about different practices, gain tips or advice, and much more. They are also a great place for newcomers to explore their options from the comfort and privacy of their own home. FetLife is a popular social networking site for all members of the BDSM and kink community alike. Here, individuals can join discussion groups dedicated to specific sexual activities as well as chat with other members. Another favorable resource is Reddit, a discussion-based website comprised of various topics called subreddits. Subreddits such as "BDSMCommunity" and "BDSMAdvice" provide a safe environment for open discussion and support. Some websites that focus on meeting members in person include BDSMDate, CollarSpace, and MeetUp, which organizes BDSM gatherings worldwide.

Kink Clubs and Conventions

If you find the desire to explore the BDSM community further, you may enjoy the experience of a kink club or kink convention. Kink clubs offer a fun play space for individuals or partners to explore BDSM in a safe, monitored, and open-minded environment. These clubs are found all around the world, typically in larger cities.11 You can find kink clubs in your area by doing an online search or asking others through forums and chatrooms such as the online resources listed above. Kink conventions are large-scale events that celebrate the many aspects of BDSM and attract people from all over the world. These conventions often have seminars, workshops, fetish models and photographers, vendors, and more.11 Kink Fest is a three-day convention held in Portland that celebrates all aspects of sexual diversity and the kink community. These conventions may also be themed, such as DomCon, a Los Angeles based convention focused on the domination aspect of BDSM. Whether you are exploring online or going out to a BDSM event, remember to be aware of the safety precautions involved when meeting strangers. We recommend refraining from sharing your personal information with someone you do not know or trust.


Why Do People Practice BDSM?

Although BDSM has existed in society for thousands of years, it still remains a taboo topic. Many non-BDSM members resort to myths or stereotypes in order to understand the reasonings of practicing BDSM from an outsider’s perspective.2 It is not possible to assign a reason to every BDSM practitioner’s desire to participate in BDSM activities, but there have been many interviews and research studies conducted to get a comprehensive and unbiased understanding of why people practice BDSM.

Many BDSM practitioners find respite within the inclusive and supportive community. In many societies, there are limitations to strong emotional expression. Human sexuality and the human body are often kept private. BDSM can offer an opportunity to release this desire for expressionism through intense and emotional activities.10 These practices can generate forms of healing, love, affection, vulnerability, and connection that many members of the BDSM community enjoy expressing through their sexual desires.10 BDSM can bring an immense amount of sexual pleasure to the individuals involved, and many practitioners report this being their main motive for involvement with the BDSM community.3 In addition, many members express that BDSM is a form of escape. The self-identifying and versatile aspects of BDSM, as well as the wide-range of practices available, offer individuals a way to temporarily replace their reality with any fantasy of their choosing.They are able to let go of daily societal norms and express themselves in a completely different environment.


Tips for Beginners Exploring BDSM With a Partner

Introducing novelty into your sex life can be a great way to learn more about yourself and your partner. Like any new experience, it is ideal to start slow. Make sure there is good communication between you and your partner at all times, and that you feel comfortable with each situation.

Step 1: Talk with your sexual partner about what you are interested in and what your fantasies are. Be open, honest, and specific about what you hope to get out of your sexual experience.

Step 2: Listen to your partner. A sexual relationship includes all individuals involved, so be sure to listen carefully to what your partner desires and imagines as well.

Step 3: Explore ideas together about how to achieve your fantasies. Talk about different sexual acts that you have heard of or seen that you wish to try. A good place to start is watching pornography together. This can offer a visual idea of what you may want to do together.

Step 4: Set boundaries. Make sure to discuss with your partner what your limits are and listen to theirs. Make your consent and dissent clear to your partner.

Step 5: Go slowly. Before you begin, decide on one or two new things you will try during your BDSM scene. Build up the intensity slowly. For example, if you are experimenting with spanking, have your partner start softly, and slowly increase the intensity until you reach an enjoyable place.

Step 6: Check in. During the experience, make sure to ask your partner how they are feeling about the encounter. After you try out your new moves, talk it over with your partner. Describe what you liked and disliked, what you want to do more of, and have your partner share the same information.

Step 7: Explore! Continue to try new things with your partner as you become more comfortable with the process. Also, look around you for inspiration-there is a whole world of BDSM waiting for you to discover. Whether it’s through online BDSM chatrooms, websites, porn, or in real-life kink clubs, connecting with others who are interested in BDSM can be a great way to learn more.

The steps above offer some guidance for incorporating BDSM into your sex life. When exploring BDSM, it is important to remember that every individual’s experience may be different. Therefore, consistent communication can greatly enhance the BDSM experience for all partners involved.  

Concluding Remarks

The conversation and coverage regarding the BDSM community and its practices is progressively gaining exposure. BDSM can be practiced by anyone and can be extremely rewarding when done correctly. Beginners should consider dedicating some time to research the sexual activities they find interesting in order to practice it in a safe and healthy way. The BDSM community is very welcoming, especially to those who are interested in learning. There are many resources that can help a person navigate their BDSM interests.



  1. Faccio, Elena, et al. Forbidden games: the construction of sexuality and sexual pleasure by BDSM 'players'. Taylor & Francis, 25 Mar. 2014. EBSCOhost.
  2. Powell, Rodney Dean. Bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sado-masochism (BDSM): partnerships, couples, and health outcomes. 2012. USC, PhD dissertation.
  3. Yost, Megan R., and L.E. Hunter. BDSM practitioners' understandings of their initial attraction to BDSM sexuality: essentialist and constructionist narratives. Taylor & Francis, 8 May 2012. EBSCOhost.
  4. "Glossary of Kinky Terms." FetLife.
  5. He ?bert, Ali, and Angela Weaver. Perks, problems, and the people who play: A qualitative exploration of dominant and submissive BDSM roles. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 2015. EBSCOhost.
  6. Lindemann, Danielle J. Health discourse and within-group stigma in professional BDSM. 2013. Social Science & Medicine. ScienceDirect.
  7. "SSC." BDSM Wiki, 2015.
  8. Gilmour, Paisley. "Everything you need to know about using safewords." Cosmopolitan, 2018.
  9. "Aftercare." BDSM Wiki, 2014.
  10. Carlström, Charlotta. BDSM, Interaction Rituals and Open Bodies. 2017 Sexuality & Culture.
  11. “Bondage and BDSM Conventions.” Kink Lovers, 2015.

Last Updated: 07 February 2019.