BDSM: An introduction to some kinky ideas and terminology

4 Oct

Credentials and a disclaimer: A wonderful professor at the University of Michigan pulls me in once a semester to talk about this stuff. My information is coming from the collected resources of many years of study and community involvement, conversations and events, and personal observation. That being said, milage will vary. Every kinkster experiences and adapts the rules of kink to their own tastes and needs. Do not take this as kinky law, just as my interpretation of the culture!

The following is a review of some basic terms and concepts used within the BDSM community. For a list of more comprehensive resources, I highly recommend Clarisse Thorn’s BDSM Resource List

Kink is usually used as an umbrella term that encompasses the worlds of BDSM and fetish. We will spend more time in future posts going into greater depth about what all of these terms mean, but for now, a brief definition of each follows.

  • BDSM stands for Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/submission, and Sado-/Masochism,
  • Bondage/Discipline encompasses the physical elements of kink, including restraints and sensation play.
  • Dominance/submission encompasses the emotional and psychological elements of kink, including role play and consensual power exchange.
  •  Sado/masochism refers to the roles of one who takes pleasure in giving a physical sensation (or sadist), and one who takes pleasure in receiving physical sensation (or masochist).
  • Fetish refers to the sexualization of a not-usually-sexualized object, such as an article of clothing or object. In the world of psychology, having a fetish as a condition is when a patient cannot become sexually aroused without the presence of the fetish object; however, in the world of kink, the term fetish is used to describe any object people may find sexy.

There are many safeguards in place to establish and negotiate consent, as well as to keep a kinky exchange safe and fun for everybody involved. If it isn’t consensual, it isn’t kink, it’s abuse.

  • A kinky sex act is often referred to as a “scene.” During the scene is when all the kinky things happen and whatever was negotiated takes place.
  • Before a scene, individuals involved frequently negotiate their boundaries. Because the world of kink makes consensual sexual expression almost limitless, it is very important that people engaging with one another in a kinky way have at least some discussion about what they’re interested in, what they like, what they don’t like, and what they absolutely do not want to do.
  • There are two kinds of limits: hard limits and soft limits. Hard limits are things an individual is absolutely uninterested in doing ever, regardless of circumstances. Soft limits are things that are generally unappealing to the individual, but they’re okay with doing them if the situation calls for it.
  • During negotiation, the individuals involved will frequently agree on some safe words. These are words that usually the person receiving the kinky sensation can use to say that they need a break, or they need the scene to be over because something has become seriously uncomfortable for them.
  • Immediately after the scene is over, the individuals involved will check in with each other and provide aftercare. Depending on how intense the scene was, aftercare may involve emotional processing and/or physical care. Aftercare may be an ongoing process for several weeks or months, particularly if the scene stirred up very intense emotions for one of the people involved.
  • SSC and RACK are two kinky philosophies people abide by. SSC means “Safe, Sane, Consensual.” RACK means “Risk-Aware Consensual Kink.” The principals are fairly self explanatory and very similar- the primary difference is in the use of the word Safe vs Risk-Aware. Advocates of RACK contend that nothing we do in general is ever 100% safe, and a lot of what we as kinksters do carries some risk. According to the RACK model, all the participants in a scene should be aware of the risks involved in the activity when they are consenting to it.

There are several different terms people have for their involvement within the kink world, or within a particular scene. Some of the most commonly used terms follow.

  • A top is a person who is usually applying some kind of physical sensation (such as a spanking). A bottom is the person who is receiving the physical sensation. A top can also refer to the penetrating partner in a sex act, and the bottom to the person receiving penetration.
  • A Dominant refers to a person who is “in control” of a scene, through agreed upon power dynamics. A submissive refers to a person who is consensually giving their power to the Dominant.
  • Some people refer to their kink orientation using top, bottom, Dominant, or submissive, much as one might describe their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, or straight. People who sometimes are Dominant, and sometimes are submissive, may use the term switch.
  • People within the kinky community may refer to kink-free sex acts, or people who are not kinky, as vanilla.

To review terms, lets look at two sample scenes.

In the first scene, a vanilla couple has just met at a bar, and they have decided to negotiate their sex act as if they were kinksters.

Alex: Lets get it on. What are you into?

Robin: I really enjoy bottoming anal sex, but with plenty of lube and a condom.

Alex: That’s great, I like topping anal sex, but I really don’t like condoms. Are you flexible on that?

Robin: No, sorry, it’s a hard limit. I like to give oral without condoms, though, so maybe we can do a little bit of that as well as protected anal?

Alex: Alright, sounds great. Let me know how everything feels for you, you can tell me to stop or slow down as needed.

Here they have negotiated what they both want out of the scene, and what roles they will take during it. Robin has stated a hard limit, and they’ve worked together to find a way to make the scene mutually satisfying. Alex gave Robin some safe words, and they proceeded to get it on. Now we fast forward a little bit.

Robin: Well, that was lovely. Thank you.

Alex: I agree. How do you feel?

Robin: I feel really good and happy. I could really use a glass of water, though.

Alex: I’ll go fetch one for you.

And there we have it: a vanilla sex act negotiated with kinky scene negotiation strategies.

For a second example, lets take some heavy kinksters who have been playing together for several months. In this case, they are planning on embarking on something new that they’ve never tried before.

Jesse: I’m really interested in tying you up and then flogging you today. How do you feel about it?

Pat: I don’t know, I’ve never tried. Lets give it a go and see how it works out for us?

Jesse: Okay. Is there anything you don’t want me to do?

Pat: Well, you know my regular limits… and today I don’t think I’m in the mood for any oral sex.

Jesse: Alright. As usual, lets use yellow for “slow down” and red for “stop.”

Having established safe words, and negotiated what they’d like to do, Jesse and Pat proceed to get it on. Halfway through the scene…

Pat: Red!

Jesse: (immediately drops the flogger and begins untying ropes) What’s wrong?

Pat: That just brought up some really unpleasant memories from my past, I, uh, I’m not feeling really good..

Jesse: It’s okay, we don’t need to talk about it yet, lets get you back to a comfortable place for now (proceeds to bundle Pat in blankets, offer Pat some water, and hold them while they cry it out).

Because the scene brought up some intense emotions for Pat, after providing aftercare during the initial calming down period, Jesse will check in with Pat to see if Pat wants to talk about it, and probably check back in a day later to see how they’re doing.

Please give me some feedback:

  • Was this little terminology guide helpful for you?
  • What are some of the advantages of this style of intimacy negotiation? Disadvantages?

5 Responses to “BDSM: An introduction to some kinky ideas and terminology”

  1. MLBA October 11, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    I like the use of definitions here. In my experience, the planning part is essential to the success of the event. Especially with a multiples event, I want to hear from all 3 or more partners on the matter, as one of them might be speaking for the others, and the one left out doesn’t get a real say in the outcome of the plan. For example. I have a threesome planned out, and I will refuse participation until the third has her own conversation with me regarding it. What if one participant is really not willing in the event, but goes along because of the relationship with the other two participants? I want to hear what all partners have to say so that we can all have a lovely time, and not leave one to require aftercare because they maybe thought they wanted this type of event, but wasn’t quite sure until the actual event was occurring. Everyone may have a fantasy for a multiple event, but in some cases, if not planned well, it maybe should have remained a fantasy for them. I have more thoughts but i’m formulating still.

  2. Kexiii October 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    Hey, great stuff C. To be honest, I really think that the terminology as used in the “vanilla” setting could probably help out a lot of people in a similar situation. I think a lot of the time there are some misinterpreted interests or meanings.

    Overall though, great summery of terms and the scenarios really helped illustrate how they would be used in a real setting.

  3. Cruz May 5, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    Hi! This post could not be written any better! Reading this
    post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this.
    I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.
    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Linda Barber November 14, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Fantastic post! I know I’m coming into this conversation a couple years late but this is a big topics that’s important to discuss. You have some excellent tips here for approaching people with your special fetishes. I was also reading https://www.slixa.com/late-night/403-bdsm-101-negotiating-kinky-play-with-a that really elaborates many of your points here. Worth a read if you have a couple of minutes.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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