What is BDSM?
BDSM = Bondage & Discipline, Dominance &
BDSM is a convenient abbreviation for
most of the interesting activities discussed in the alt.sex.bondage
so convenient that it packs six initials into four letters:
B&D/D&S/S&M => BDSM. It's generally understood to include related
activities/phenomena that don't fit strictly into any of those three
categories. An "umbrella term" like this is useful because so few
actual (as opposed to theoretical) activities fit into only one
Bondage deals with tying people up (or
being tied up). Or chaining them up, or restraining them with straps,
or straightjackets, or ... well, you get the idea, no? In theory it
can be enjoyed simply for its own sake -- the sensations and images of
it. In fact, some people do enjoy bondage as bondage, without any
interest in D&S or S&M, but far more people find it pushes their D&S
buttons at the same time, or use it only for the D&S aspects, or
combine it with D&S and/or S&M.
Dominance and Submission
Dominance and submission deals with
exchange of power, trust, obedience, role-playing, "slavery" ... one
person submitting to the commands of another. Like bondage, it can
exist as a separate phenomenon, but it's likely to incorporate the
others. Bondage may be used to enhance the feeling of submission.
Pain-play (i.e. S&M) may be used to emphasize the position the
submissive is in or as punishments for disobedience.
S&M sort of stands for "sadism and
masochism", but not quite the same way the psychiatric establishment
uses those terms. So it's less confusing to keep the phrase tidily
together as "S&M". S&M involves strong sensations. It's associated
with pain, in particular, in most people's minds, but in fact pain is
only one class of sensations used. Furthermore, some stimuli which
would ordinarily be perceived as pain are not perceived as pain by
some participants when in an S&M headspace! (Note that I said "some".)
While I don't have statistics on this, it's my impression that S&M is
the one phenomenon of these most likely to occur without the others.
Nonetheless, it is quite common for one's interest in S&M to be in the
context of bondage or D&S (the pain makes it so very much clearer that
one can't get away because one is tied up, for example) or simply
alongside an interest in bondage and/or D&S.
Interestingly, while most "vanilla"
(i.e. not-into-BDSM) people do not consider tickling to be a BDSM
activity, many BDSM folks do.
Some people like to tie people up, whip
people, or give orders. Others like to be tied up, like to be spanked
or whipped, or like to obey. Because so many of the words one might
use to describe these preferences seem specific to just one aspect of
BDSM, push people's buttons, or only fit the ways some people
play, folks in the scene use the generic terms "top" and "bottom".
(Note that these words have a different meaning in gay male
culture, if I'm not mistaken.)
In bondage, a top likes to tie up
bottoms. In S/M, a top likes to provide strong stimulation (pain or
otherwise) to a bottom. In D&S, a top orders or controls a bottom. A
"switch" is someone who enjoys being both a top and a bottom.
Note that it's not always the top who's
in control of things -- in fact, much less often than the other way
around! For example, a bottom might ask to be tied up, and
his or her top might decide to honor that request, asking the bottom
if there were any particular things he or she wanted the top to do to
him or her tonight. Also, many people use "safewords", code phrases
that mean, "I'm not just playing, I really need you to stop." If a
couple uses a safeword, the bottom can stop the current activity by
using the safeword.
Some people claim that the bottom is
always the one who's really in control, no matter how things look.
They're mostly right, but things can get more complicated
© 2004 D. Arthur Glenn Jr.
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