BDSM is really a very compacted acronym, and in its extended form expands to: Bondage and Discipline, Domination and Submission, Sadism and Masochism.

BDSM is a large catch-phrase that encompasses a very wide variety of sexual practices and relationships.

Most practitioners go by three rules, sometimes known as SSC, which stands for "Safe, Sane, and Consensual." The first is keeping everyone involved from true harm, the second is keeping everyone from going off the edge, and the third and most important, is that everyone must have given informed consent to the activities they intend to perform.

Why are these things so important? you might ask. Well, it's because we are messing with big, powerful things. The power of sex, the power of submission, the power of sadism - these are all very strong and can deeply touch people. For this reason, communication is intensely important, and many of us use things like safewords.

For a more unfortunate reason, many of the sexual acts that practitioners do are illegal. Many states still have laws against sodomy, which often includes oral sex (so, this may mean you too!)! Practicing sadists can often easily be charged with battery, against the wishes of their partner. Finally, for those with children, there is the ever present danger that Child Protection Services will come and take those loved ones away.

Like generations of homosexuals, people into any aspect of BDSM are easily persecuted by the mainstream population. I can only hope it changes.


slim, don't half those buttons say "sumbit" anyway?
The easy part first: B&D = "bondage & dominance" or "bondage & discipline." S&M = "sadism & masochism." D&S = "dominance & submission." Generally people interested in BDSM are people who are interested in ways of having sex that are outside the mainstream. Some people enjoy submitting themselves to others in a sexual context. This is called D&S, dominance and submission. D&S is basically an erotic game where both participants are getting off. One playing on the thrill of control and the other playing on the thrill of being controlled. The 'top' is dominant while the 'bottom' is submissive.

Often people outside of the S&M scene don’t see any appeal in the things that look painful. What's so enjoyable in being hit? Well, have you ever noticed after you've had some intense sex you've had bite marks on your neck that you have no memory of? What happened was your love partner bit you, HARD, so hard that it bruised you, and all you felt was a jolt of pleasure. If you had been bitten while you weren't having sex you would have screamed, "OUCH", because it would have been extremely painful. But, you were sexually aroused and because of that your pain tolerance goes way up, so the stimulation that you usually feel as pain you feel as pleasurable.

How is this possible? Feeling pain as pleasure when we are sexually aroused? A simple explanation is that the brain produces endorphins, natural opiates, to compensate for pain. You actually get high off the sensation. The "runner's high" comes from pushing the body painfully for so long that the endorphins kick in; the rush you get after eating chili peppers comes from the same source; and that's what makes it enjoyable for S&M players to be whipped or spanked or whatever. All athletes that are "hooked on exercise" are essentially masochists who enjoy stressing their bodies to get that chemical response. So your friend who enjoys being spanked may actually be a lot less masochistic than your average marathon runner!

Of course different people enjoy different levels of sensations, "Different strokes for different folks." What may be a wonderfully sweet caress to one person may be totally unnoticeable to another, and what may be a delightful spanking to one person may be no fun at ALL to someone else! Some people find this absolutely absurd. "How can you find pleasure in pain?" What may be considered a hurtful sensation to one person is considered ecstasy to another. Some people want more sensations; they find it thrilling and exciting. The sense of vulnerability, the sense of power, the trust and love in your partner, all are part of BDSM. Sexually expressing yourself in safe and new exciting ways will change your life for the better. Remember you set your boundaries, no one else. You choose exactly what you want. Open your mind and try it out or you'll never know what you're missing.
Modern Aesthetic History
As amelinda notes, BDSM is a largely marginalized set of sexual practices, and as such it is a difficult thing to trace historically. The commonly accepted theory within the community is that BDSM emerged from World War II soliders, who sexualized the intense emotions of their wartime experiences and associated them with the severe utilitarian aesthetics and the psychological domination required of the military. Upon returning back home to the States, soliders found a similar aesthetic in the motorcycle community, specifically the Harley-Davidson community. BDSM’s aesthetics (specifically its love of leather, buckles, metal studs, and machismo) thereby emerged as a hybrid of mid-century motorcycle and military look-and-feel.

The evolution of the practices of BDSM is much harder to trace. It can be said with certainty, though, that the emergence of the Internet linked practicioners worldwide, who found mutual support, access to global storefronts for equipment, shared practice, and even a desire to formalize the history and culture around BDSM.

Modern practice (an overview)
BDSM is practiced differently by every person who participates. There are, however, certain recognized commonalities.

  • The DOM, or dominant, assumes control and responsibility of the scene. A Master is someone who exclusively assumes this Dominant role. One typographic convention in the community is that the name of the DOM, or Master, is entirely capitalized, to dinstinguish this person from the sub.
  • The sub, or submissive, grants the DOM control and responsibility. A slave is someone who exclusively assumes the submissive role. One typographic convention in the community is that the name of the sub, or slave, is entirely written in lower case, to distinguish this person from the DOM.
  • In the negotiation, which occurs before and outside of the scene, the sub and the DOM discuss what they expect from the scene and their personal boundaries.
    Sometimes the DOM and the sub will discuss specific desires for the beginning, middle, and end of the scene. The safeword is often defined in the negotiation.
  • The scene is when the BDSM takes place, where the negotiation plays out. This is what most people think of when they hear the term BDSM.
  • The safeword is the safety catch for the scene. If either participant feels that the scene is getting out of hand or too much for him/her to handle, by speaking the safeword, he/she signals to the other that they wish the scene and its fantasy to stop immediately. It signals that they want to take back control and responsibility for themselves. Notably, any verbal communication other than the safeword can be considered part of the scene.

Sources: My leather daddy uncles, willingly sharing with their wee vanilla nephew

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