BDSM

The ultimate guide for beginner BDSM

If you look back just a few years in the past and watch any American advertisement or TV show even hinting at kinky sex, odds are it refers to dirty old men, websites leading you down dark rabbit holes, and a sex life that would never fit inside the lines of 'decent' society. Thankfully, that closed-minded attitude is a relic. As sex positivity filters into our collective awareness, many of us are waking up to the fact that we don't have to hide our sexual selves. Even better, our sexuality doesn't have to define us if we don't want it to. We're allowed to salivate over new floggers while also being the boss executive we are in our nine to fives.

And your favorite book has actually gotten it all wrong. So move over, Fifty Shades of Gray. You may have discovered BDSM by flipping through those blush-worthy books, but I have to break it to you: try that series’ approach to kink in the real world, and you'll have your partner running for the door faster than you can say “blindfold.” Skip the Christian Grey policy of giving your partner no negotiations, and get one hundred percent into the right, sexy mentality for BDSM - starting by learning the ins and outs of the sexy reality of this fantasy realm.

What is BDSM?

Bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. So many delicious facets of control, submission, and surrender. But what does it mean to be in a BDSM relationship? While many people jump to fantasies a la Fifty Shades of Gray, the reality of BDSM is a lot more nuanced, more complex, and an all-around richer exploration of discipline, submission, pain, control, and - most importantly - trust.

BDSM is actually an umbrella term that covers a whole range of play that can be divided into the following categories: bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism. Pain, pleasure, control, and surrender all mingle in BDSM sessions (formally called 'scenes' by folks in the BDSM world). But while BDSM is inherently a sexual exchange, you may be surprised to learn that it doesn't always coincide with penetrative sex of any kind.

While sex involving your genitals can absolutely happen, it's not a must to complete a BDSM scene. to understand this world, an expanded definition of sex is essential. What works varies between partners, kinks, and scenes, and one day may look entirely different than the next. That's the beauty of the BDSM ride - and as you explore your own relationship to redefining sex, you'll realize something monumental: there is no 'normal' way to have sex. Whatever works for you, works. Plain and simple.

Every year, new data comes out showing that BDSM is a healthy expression of sexuality. But our public perception of it is hampered by our culture's puritanical roots. We have a hard time understanding that someone can both bake their neighbors cookies and wield one mean paddle in the sack. But there are those people out there - and most of us have that much nuance within us already. BDSM is something people relish in to varying degrees, and what gets you off doesn't have to define you as a human. You may end up happy in a full-time master/slave relationship dynamic, or you may just break out the paddle and handcuffs a few times a month with your partner. Any manifestation of your own intimacy is legitimate.

As you explore BDSM, there are several core aspects you may encounter on your voyage:

Bondage and discipline

The iconic visuals that the acronym BDSM evokes largely fall in the arms of bondage and discipline. Traditional ropes have a home here, as do more inventive restraints. For folks dipping their toes in the bondage waters, handcuffs do the trick in a snap.

In the world of rope, there are several different avenues to explore, the most popular being shibari, or Japanese rope bondage. Complex and involved, shibari calls for a series of small knots working in tandem create truly remarkable works of intimacy that double as art. Often, rope bottoms are suspended in poses of surrender, trusting the rope top to safely hold their bodies with the rope. To get an idea for the methods involved, do a quick Google search to find some of the reporting on this increasingly popular form of bondage.

The fun doesn't end with rope. Latex, ball gags, face coverings, under-the-bed restraints, and mummification also feature in people's bedrooms and dungeons around the world in the name of bondage.

Dominance and submission

If you've ever envisioned a leather-clad dominatrix leading a man around on a leash, then you're fantasizing about a little song and dance called domination and submission.

Dominating another person is about consensually receiving their utter and total surrender. Through safewords (more on that later) and a bounty of trust, you and your partner can yield to one another in varying expressions. Some domination techniques include blindfolding, putting your partner on a leash, being the one doling out pain, or dictating their actions in scenes.

Domination sometimes boils down to rough sex, and a dom can just be the person who serves as a firm guiding hand. Other times, domination is more complex, involving sex furniture, role play, punishment. Sometimes, it can even include humiliation, an erotic technique where the dom (with their sub's permission) embarrasses their sub and belittles them - occasionally even in public.

For another twist on erotic humiliation, some subs turn to the world of fin doms (financial dominatrixes), who berate and humiliate their subs before demanding money from them.

Sadism and masochism

Sadism and masochism is one facet of BDSM that is possibly the least socially accepted. It's a love of giving and/or receiving pain. Many folks enjoy a good spanking in the bedroom, as well as hair pulling, but BDSM looks beyond those boundaries. Paddles, whips, canes, rods, needles, and electric shock all can take the stage in an exchange of pain and pleasure.

Most often, there is a dom/sub dynamic here as well, but it's not always necessary when exchanging pain and pleasure, and often, the two can be entwined in otherwise equal-footing relationships. No matter how you fall on the BDSM play spectrum of kink, bondage, pain, or humiliation, know this: whatever your proclivities are, they're legitimate, normal, and a healthy expression of your desires.

Understanding where you fit in

We culturally hold the idea that a kinkster is just born kinky. But while some people may have in fact felt a sexual pull to BDSM from a young age, many people find their way onto this deliciously thorny path after conscious communication and an evolving relationship to their sexual selves. Often, joining the BDSM world only comes after a little soul searching, especially with a partner you trust completely.

As you explore, you may discover you identify with one of three roles: dom, sub, or switch.

Dom, sub, or switch?

Remember, BDSM stands for Bondage & Domination, Domination & Submission, and also Sadism & Masochism. In all of these roles, someone is in power, even if it's just for a fleeting moment. Knowing where you stand is a great place to start as you sink your teeth into this sex haven.

Dom

When it comes to dominance and submission, a BDSM relationship without someone who is at least a part-time dom. A dom thrives when they take a partner and (consensually) bend them to their sexy will. They can dominate through findom, erotic humiliation. sadism, sissification, erotic hypnosis, spanking, dictating a scene, or role play. A dom isn't just a taker, though. The exchange is mutual, and even though a dom is in charge, they recognize their sub as a pivotal equal in the power dynamic, and fundamental to their pleasure.

Sub

No dom is complete without a sub. Subs delight in surrendering control, releasing themselves from making decisions during a scene, and are at the will of the dom’s every desire. They aren't just passive players though. Submission is test of your own will, and yielding is its own form of strength. Before the scene starts, a sub negotiates their boundaries. Nothing happens unless a sub says so - and the limits of the scene are crafted by what the sub themselves is comfortable with.

The switch

My favorite Tom Robbins quote is this: 'There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world, and those who are smart enough to know better.'

A switch is the kind of person who knows better. They are a person who straddles two worlds in the BDSM scene. A switch enjoys the experience of being dominant, as well as the experience of being submissive. Both have sexual rewards associated with them, and satiate different facets of their selves. A switch may delight in being used as human furniture by a dominatrix, and also be in their element as an erotic hypnotist domming their subjects.

Sadist or masochist?

Many people, even folks in the BDSM community, make one mistake: they think all doms are sadists and all subs are masochists. In reality, these traits are two different elements of a sexy, sexy coin. A dom can be a masochist, and vice versa. Maybe a dom wants a personal slave who can flog them just right, or a sub is just waiting to be ordered to tighten those ropes on their master just a little tighter. Just like with doms and subs, switches abound here, too.

If you don’t yet know how you fit into this world, don’t worry. As you explore, your relationship to kink will deepen, and you'll learn your titles over time.

Explore your BDSM identity through play

What most people don't talk about when it comes to bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism, dominance, and submission is this: it's not just soul-awakening or deep. Sometimes, it's just fun to explore, to trust, and to use your body through complete control or submission in a new and exciting aspect of your life.

Often, what we like may evolve over time, so don't feel pressure to be one fixed kind of sexual being. We're constantly changing, and what you like to use and explore in the bedroom may differ year to year. What's important is exploring BDSM play through exactly that: play.

One key way? Hit up a local play party in your area. They're fun and flirty, and all attendees have a common pull: to experience BDSM activities in new and exciting ways. It's not Fifty Shades of Grey, where a strange man whisks you away and demands manipulative things of you. Instead, everyone, dominant and submissive alike, is on a level field at a play party, communicating what they want, what they're fantasizing about, and also what their limits are.

Since the BDSM community is harshly against shame (unless that's your kink, of course), any sexual boundaries you enforce at a play party are explicitly honored. After all, trust is a fundamental part of surrendering control to a partner, and pain only feels good when you and your partners are on the same page as one another about how a scene will unfold.

Consent is fundamental

While consent is a nonnegotiable part of all sex, nowhere is it more vital than in BDSM. With potentially dangerous activities like breath play and rape fantasies, you must make sure every action has been explicitly and enthusiastically consented to. Unlike sex that sometimes “just happens” (like a quickie against the kitchen counter) BDSM scenes never unfold without prior discussion – at least not until you’re in a long-established relationship where you’ve already had countless consent discussions. 

Make the talk sexy. Start by asking your partner about their fantasies, and be bold in sharing yours. Once you’ve found out what they do want, ask about their hard limits, and accept their firm “no” to certain acts without any debate. 

I could spend this entire article writing about consent because it is the single most important aspect of BDSM. If you haven’t talked about consent with your partner yet, then start. And if you aren’t comfortable bringing it up, or aren’t prepared to accept rejection from your lover at any point during a scene, then you aren’t ready for BDSM, period.

Choosing safewords

BDSM is delicious, fun, and liberating - but newbies need to recognize it goes beyond the fantasy. If not done right, you could be wading into traumatizing or uncomfortable territory. BDSM often pushes the boundaries of humiliation and physical pain, and sometimes even includes things like consensual non-consent or forced orgasms. These tricky spaces can bring us so much pleasure thanks to the safeword - the only way to ensure a scene is consensual.

No BDSM scene is complete without safewords. Bondage, discipline, and other aspects of submission and control are wrapped up in the understanding that everyone agrees to what is going on. Trust is an absolute must when you're exploring all the shades of pain and pleasure together. While vanilla sex unfortunately has many people used to failing to share a safe word, BDSM (or any sexual exploration) calls for an absolute guarantee of consent. The best way to do that is choosing a safe word together.

A safeword is exactly what it sounds like: a word that either person can say when they need to tap out. There’s no shame in using a safeword. After all, at its core BDSM is about the exploration of our limits, boundaries, and needs. Reaching your boundary is natural. A submissive should always feel confident using their safe words, especially when discipline involves physical pain - and if there's even a whisper of a submissive being unable to vocalize their needs, then they may just be finding themselves sinking into a non-consensual environment.  

Most BDSM practitioners recommend two safe words – one to slow down, that signals “I’m almost at the end of my line,” and another to say, “stop right now.”

For many people, the stoplight system works well. Green for go, yellow for slow down, and red for stop immediately. When you or your partner give “red,” everything comes to a halt. If your partner is tied up, release them as quickly as possible, and ask them what you can do for them.

Red and yellow are so popular because they’re simple and straightforward. Try it out with those (or choose silly words that you'll both remember), so you and your partner can play without worry. If your partner’s mouth is occupied, have a hand signal (like tapping your arm) to substitute as a safe word.

Beginners' BDSM basics

Before starting anything, obviously, you can go with establishing consensual safe words right out the gate. Knowing your partner's own limits is fundamental - and so is sharing your own. How do they know what to do if you don't tell them? But befoer even getting to the safe word, you and your partner have to start with the scariest first step: having a conversation about BDSM.

Take your time, and have a nonjudgmental talk about fantasies. One of the best times to do this isn't when you're hot and heavy. Sometimes, our ardor blurs our own self-discipline and ability to give active consent. Skip that question mark status, and bring BDSM up at a moment when you're both spending intentional time together, like eating dinner or reading side by side in bed.

It doesn't have to be weird. Talking about sex is, well, sexy, and is a very good indication of sexual health as a couple. Try asking your partner about their fantasies, and provide an open door. It's also great to cushion a new discussion about BDSM with things that you like in the bedroom that you've both done in the past. With that little ego boost, you're both feeling confident in sharing, and may learn new things about your partner's sex drive you may not have known before. If your partner has no particular fantasies (or is too shy to share), ask if you can share yours. A good partner will be GGG (good, giving, and game), and will be be open to listening to your own BDSM fantasies of submission, your call to be dominant and discipline them, or your fantasy of being used as a footstool. No matter what you share, there is nothing shameful, and your partner should be willing to discuss the ins and outs of BDSM with you. If you're both curious, but don't know where to start, there are a few intro activities you might want to give a whirl:

BDSM activities

If you're brand spankin' new (sorry not sorry), you may want to test the waters with your sexual partners by incorporating BDSM techniques without buying new toys. Use what you have on hand to explore bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism - all without breaking the bank. If you and your partner(s) decide that you'd like to get kinky more often, you can always invest in a good toy later.

One of the best ways to start incorporating BDSM in the bedroom? Homemade paddles. Your hairbrush, cutting board, and wooden spoon all have a different use you may not have explored yet.

The hairbrush is a classic choice that conjures up images of women in the 1950s getting frisky a la Bettie Page with the shades drawn, and letting their hair down to explore the painful edges of love. Try using the non-bristled side first. For a really good spanking session, build up as you wallop those bottoms. Start slow, and gradually build up to heavy smacks. After a while, pause, and rub the bristles over their reddened skin.

A word of caution: as you spank or flog, be careful to avoid the mid back – sensitive organs are grouped there, and you can accidentally injure your partner if you go too hard. Sexual discovery gets put on hold quick when you risk injuring your partner.

The fun doesn't end with homemade paddles. Unearth your inner bondage and discipline dungeon at home by modifying sex toys from things that have been used for much less NSFW purposes in the past. One suggestion? Clothes pins, metal clips, chip clips and more as a double for nipple clamps. Be careful though, because if a nipple turns white or pale, it isn't getting enough circulation and can lead to permanent nerve damage (something that will not enhance any future sexual excursions). Try using these slowly, and only for short periods of time, before exploring other options at your disposal. Adding the slow pressure of a nipple clamp fuels that sexual fire burning between a submissive and their dominant.

Maybe you can add to the flavor of your play by depriving your partner of one major sense: sight. Use a strip of fabric to make a homemade blindfold, because what better way for a dominant to control their submissive than taking away their ability to see what comes next?

DIY bondage

DIY bondage may seem scary, but it's actually a thrill if you're mindful of what you use to constrict your partner. To start, opt for gentler things, especially if you're just starting out. Your bathrobe tie can be used as a perfect restraint for putting your or your partner's hands over their head. Tying them up can enforce sultry order and discipline for your naughty submissive's behavior.

To make sure you both feel confident, try watching a few YouTube videos on how to create knots you can easily undo in a snap. And absolutely never, under any circumstances, use something like a zip tie unless you've learned how to do it safely from pros in the BDSM realm. Just in case your partner panics and you need to break the scene stat, keep a pair of scissors nearby that can be used to cut your partner free if necessary. Restraints are sexy, but only when all parties feel confident about it and may surrender to the moment while exploring BDSM.

BDSM toys

Armed with informed consent, safewords, and a trial run with different kinds of DIY kink, you’re now prepped for the fun stuff: building out your chest of pleasures.

Shopping for the right toys can be a sexy kind of foreplay with your partner in and of itself, so be prepared to have a good time as you shop. But if you're a first timer, shopping for certain kinds of toys can be a little daunting on websites that are big and sprawling - so stick with something more intimate.

For beginners, the best site to get acquainted with the wealth of kinky toys at your disposal is through Spectrum Boutique. An inclusive, catered company, Specturm Boutique divides their BDSM toys into six categories: chastity, restraint, impact, sensation, wearables, and medical. Whether you want someone to inspect you like a doctor, you want to wear a chastity cage to show your devotion, or you just want to be blindfolded and flogged, there is something for everyone.

Don't see something there you like? Explore other avenues to find candles for wax play, cock rings to build tension, and latex wear to heighten sensations sure to tantalize any fledgling BDSM honey. Remember, sex - including BSDM scenes - are meant to be fun.

Build your BDSM community

Try a play party together, and test out all the scintillating goods available. As you explore, you’ll find that pain has different textures, depths, and sensations. Uncover what’s right for you one toy at a time. FetLife is an amazing resource for finding play parties in your city. A group setting may be intimidating, but diving into your local kink community it is the single best way to learn about BDSM, hands down. We all need a little community guidance now and then, and the BDSM community is, by and large among the most open and enthusiastic communities around. Everyone you meet will be more than eager to show you the (literal and metaphorical) ropes. Hit up your local play party (or find one online), and get to know others in the BDSM community who have been going at it for eons.

Your sexual journey doesn't have to be gone at alone. You can find friends and companionship in your local BDSM scene, and grow sexually faster than you thought was possible.

Remember aftercare

When you see BDSM in a music video, TV, or even some bad movies (*ahem* Fifty Shades of Grey *ahem*), there is a glaring omission in the way they depict BDSM scenes between a dominant and submissive: the aftercare. In addition to getting legitimate consent, you also must make sure you are helping one another com down from the scene. A submissive (and even sometimes a dom) can experience what is known as a 'drop.'

During play, a submissive sometimes transcends into what's called 'subspace,' a place of floating somewhere beyond, that is a tender feeling without words. And BDSM in general elicits a lot of emotions. It goes beyond sex. It evokes another time or space that often transports people into new realms, both sexual and mental. Because of that, it's pivotal that all parties involved check in with one another and see how they can nurture each other afterward.

Sometimes, the sub may experience that drop as severe, including flu-like symptoms. This calls for a lot of tenderness, something ads may not have you believe is part of BDSM, but is actually essential to a good time. People who experience bondage and discipline for the first time may also require care the way you may even think a child would. This is part of the process.

Aftercare is unique for everyone, but it all begins the same way: a negotiation before the scene starts. Just like in any aspect of BDSM, discussion comes first - and you have to consent to a scene by knowing what to expect after it happens. It may feel awkward at first, but as you get used to talking so much about sexual needs and lines during a BDSM relationship, the easier it will become for you to speak up in every aspect of your life.

One thing tops the list of BDSM aftercare basics: the dominant giving the submissive access to a nice glass of water after they play. Think of this as Aftercare 101. The submissive partner experiencing bondage, discipline, and sexual punishment for the first time may go through a bit of a shock. It is consensual, but still, the effects linger. Another essential in BDSM aftercare is to tend to any cuts, welts, or other abrasions. Bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism can leave marks, and it is fundamental for a dom to take care of the sub they played with and also fall into a caretaking role in those moments that follow.

One thing you might expect subs to negotiate include is a shift in mentality into a caretaking role. Before the BDSM scene begins, both parties acknowledge that after the scene is done, they'll switch into a mindset of care and appreciation. It is the dominant partner's job to tenderly release the partner from the scene.

The negotiations may include other things as well. Agree to have a cup of tea together afterward, or maybe you ask for tender, gentle sex. For some subs however, getting sexual is off the table. It may be as simple as a sub asking for nothing more than a comfy blanket and some privacy afterward. The content of a scene can be so intense that processing solo is the best way for them to move forward, especially introverts. Whatever the sub says will recharge their batteries after a BDSM scene, the dom must honor.

BDSM tips for aftercare vary, and as you explore BDSM, you may find your aftercare calls for something you weren't expecting. Everyone is different. What you continue to need will evolve, but for starters, it would help you and your partner enjoy exploring BDSM afterward if your negotiations for aftercare included even just asking what they can do for you in that moment. Just like with vanilla sex, expect your needs to vary as time goes on.

Resources for the BDSM lifestyle

As with any practice, there's endless learning at your fingertips. Giving you a full list of BDSM resources to feed your sexual awakening may as well take a whole other article, but whether you're dominant, exploring the limits of submission, or just into some switchy bondage and discipline, there are a few choice reads, sites, and movies that can be used to teach you the ins and outs of BDSM and kinky sex.

  • Dom Sub Living: a community resource and website bursting with advice on cultivating a consensual, sexy experience where you can foster sex in a whole new light.
  • The BDSM Community Subreddit: always a divine source of practical information from like-minded people, the BDSM Reddit is a goldmine for learning about all the shades of BDSM you may not have been able to ask about.
  • VICE article by Matthew Terrell titled 'How to know if your BDSM relationship is abusive:' this article is an excellent, nonjudgmental resource on distinguishing your BDSM relationship as consensual or boundary-crossing. People on the outside may struggle to understand, but the BDSM community knows clearly the lines between consensual discipline and abuse. Read more about them by googling the article by Terrell, published April 4th, 2019.
  • BDSMwiki.info: a fundamental resource offering everything you need to know about the world of BDSM. Find subsections illuminating bondage/discipline as well as dominance and submission. Need to know a new word? Think of this site as a compendium offering you thorough definitions of all BDSM terms.
  • Secretary: a movie that used to be lauded as a sexual awakening for people before the internet was such a treasure trove of knowledge, Secretary highlights a BDSM relationship between a submissive who yearns for pain, and the dominant who navigates consent and control as they both fall in love.
  • Kushiel’s Legacy by Jacqueline Carey: a critically acclaimed trilogy of trilogies following the journey of a female submissive who finds pleasure in extreme pain. Through her journeys in BDSM, she becomes a polyglot who aids her queen in saving the kingdom, and later, the world. An excellent, sex-positive read that is steamy while also affirming healthy BDSM, Kushiel's Legacy is best described as Game of Thrones without rape, and with a lot more consensual, LGBTQ-friendly, BDSM-filled sex. Consider this required reading for an understanding of BDSM culture.

Unleash the dominant or submissive inside you

BDSM is a perfectly healthy expression of love, sex, and power. While you may feel shy as you uncover this kind of sexual awakening, over time, you'll uncover the person you can be in the world of BDSM. Bondage and discipline, as well as dominance and submission, are beautiful, vibrant parts of expressing your highest sexual self, and are nothing to be ashamed of. You're worth your love. And while Fifty Shades of Grey may have given BDSM a bad reputation - you're lucky enough now to know better.

The joys of being sexual, submissive, and dominant (or even being a saucy switch), are here for the taking. So start a gentle conversation with your partner about the potential for a sexual awakening. You're in for a ride. It's about more than leather - it's about a whole mentality.

Whether it's a blustery November or you're sinking into the meat of summer. seize the day and talk to your partner about incorporating BDSM into your sex life tonight.