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Unless you've been living under a rock the last few years you will no doubt have heard the term BDSM or variations of it such as s & m, kink, fetish or D/s relationship. There have been records of this terminology as far back as Ancient Mesopotamia (circa 3100 BC) so it's hardly a new concept. Many of the original stories surrounding this would contain Gods and Goddesses which makes sense as the Dominant partner is often considered to be ‘above’ the submissive and moving forward these are titles/honorifics which are still in use today. One such Goddess, Inanna, who was the Goddess of fertility and passion, was well known to have (literally and figuratively) whipped her followers into a sexual frenzy and historians believe that this is where the documentation of sexual activities, including those relating to BDSM began.
In modern times we have been inundated with references towards BDSM with the internet and social media making it a term that most adult people will now have heard of and whether subtle or obvious, popular culture has been touching upon this topic much more openly for the last few decades. With songs such as 2011 'S & M' by Rhiana, programmes like Netflix's 2019 controversial mini series 'Bonding' or documentaries such as 'Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over' in which she met with a well known Dominatrix pushing the subject more in to the collective social subconscious than ever before.
"Fetish is the exploration of sex as art, and the refinement of ones personal desires. Anything can be fetishised…there'll be new fetishes forever. I feel that the 21st century is all about fetish"
Gone are the days of keeping these activities behind closed doors and tightly pulled curtains. It is now very much in the mainstream whether that is popular culture, fashion or merely chatting with friends. Just look at how popular leather harnesses and padlock necklaces have become to see how much we have welcomed bdsm related paraphernalia into everyday use. However, many people still don't really know what BDSM stands for or what it actually means in practice.
So what does it actually mean and what is it? Is it just about kinky sex or is there a deeper, psychological aspect?
“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”
BDSM is the umbrella term that covers all aspects of kink and fetish whether your interest is purely sexual or fully emmersive, whether you are a professional or lifestyle, Dom(me), sub or switch. It surrounds activities which relate to physical restriction, power exchange, control/relinquishing control, role playing and the giving or receiving of pain.
The initialism BDSM stands for specific terms within the kink framework. It is broken down into pairings -
Bondage and Discipline
Domination and Submission
Sadism and Masochism
Each of these indivisible titles and pairings have their own connotations for purveyors of kink, fetishes and an interest in the BDSM umbrella, whether that interest be purely sexual, professional, fully lifestyle, or a cross over of any or all of the above.
Bondage involves all aspects of restraint using materials such as rope, chains and cuffs. It centers around controlling the submissive's ability to move or putting them in certain positions designed to control or humiliate them or make it easier for the Dominant partner to access areas of the body which they wish to target.
Discipline is part of the practice of training an individual to obey or punish them for not doing so. Punishments and discipline can be seen as a fun activity (funishment) if the submissive enjoys the activities used, such as spanking, or could be used as a deterrent by using activities which the submissive does not enjoy (as long as they have consented).
Domination is exercising one's control over another, it is a show of power and influence. The Dominant partner is known as the Domme (female) or Dom (male) and will control their submissive within the confines of pre-discussed and pre-agreed limits and consent.
Submission is the opposite side to the coin, the action of giving up ones control to another.
Sadism is the propensity to derive pleasure (whether in the form of sexual gratification or general enjoyment) from activities which involve causing, inflicting, witnessing and/or observing the pain, suffering or humiliation of another.
Masochism is the opposite, a masochist derives pleasure from being the one on the receiving end of the pain, suffering or humiliation.
For many people who are embroiled in the various BDSM activities it is a full part of their lives, something that gives them meaning, makes them feel comforted and content and is more than merely a sexual act that they enjoy.
BDSM is not purely a list of sexual activities, for many it is a full blown lifestyle and comes complete with rules, community, careers and subdivisions. Though there is also nothing wrong with purely enjoying it as a sexual act. Another important aspect of BDSM play is the aftercare and it is not just the submissive partner/player that could require it. Just as subs may need to feel comforted and may require physical, mental and/or emotional aftercare in the aftermath of a scene, so do Dominant partners/players. Both Dommes and subs can feel a 'drop' after play and that should not be ignored or brushed under the carpet. Aftercare could be as simple as a cuddle, a kind word or some sugar.
Relationships which have BDSM as an aspect or basis can be particularly satisfying and gratifying because when these connections are consciously, openly and honestly formed, there is trust, an ongoing openness to exploring your own needs and those of your partner/play-partner/client etc...whilst maintaining an open dialogue about roles, responsibilities and personal limits.
What it is not is abuse, coercion or non consensual. Consent and open, honest communication are always key to a fulfilling BDSM experience.
What does BDSM mean to you?