The ABCs of BDSM

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In our opinion, these are the 26 most important things to know about being kinky. Whether you’re pure vanilla or made of whips and chains, our guide contains something for everyone.

A is for aftercare, or a period of time after a scene in which the players return to reality. The intensity and specifics of aftercare vary from person to person and should be discussed before the scene, particularly if you’re playing with someone new and don’t already know their needs. Aftercare is often thought of as something the top or dom provides to the bottom or sub, but tops may have aftercare needs as well.

B is for balance. Keep in mind that if you break someone down it’s generally a good idea to build them back up. You don’t want someone to leave a scene feeling like complete shit. This balance can be struck in various ways. For example, during a humiliation scene, you might call someone a “filthy fucking whore” (bringing them down) and then follow it with “only a whore like you could make me feel this good” (building up). Or, the building back up might not happen until aftercare.

C is for consent and communication. If you remember nothing else, remember these two words. Consent and communication are cornerstones of BDSM. Everything we do hinges on consent, and without it, we’re abusers, plain and simple. More specifically, players must give informed consent, meaning they understand what’s involved in the scene, including risks. This requires in-depth communication. (See also L, N, and R.)

D is for dominant (not domineering). Although dominants and dickheads might do similar things in play, they aren’t even close to the same thing. A good dominant is in control but isn’t controlling, is a good listener and is receptive to feedback, is willing to learn, and always has the best interests of the submissive at heart.

E is for empathy. Understanding what the other person in a scene is feeling or experiencing will not only help you achieve their goal feeling (see G), but will increase your awareness and help you detect any shifts in the dynamic that need to be addressed by checking in with the person or adjusting what’s happening.

F is for fantasy. Ultimately, all the kinky things we do are in the service of acting out a fantasy. The core tenets of BDSM (consent, negotiation, limits, etc.) provide a framework in which to do this. If you start to confuse fantasy with reality, take a step back and reevaluate what you’re doing.  

G is for goal feeling, meaning the feeling you want to achieve in a scene. Do you want to lose control? Take control? Be humiliated? Something else? Once you establish this, then you can decide what techniques and implements to use to get there. The implements should forward the goal feeling, not the other way around.   

H is for hurt, not harm. In other words, you can “hurt” someone by causing them pain, but you don’t want to “harm” them by causing lasting physical or psychological damage. Words to live by.

I is for intuition. Trust your gut. If something feels or seems wrong, it probably is.

J is for judgment, as in exercise common sense. If something seems too risky for you, don’t do it.

K is for knowledge. Know thyself—what you want, your limits, what you don’t want—and know what you’re getting into. If you’re interested in rope, study up on safety precautions, ties, etc. If you’re into face slapping, learn the correct way to slap someone to minimize risk of injury. The list goes on.

L is for limits, which should be relative to the style of play you’re negotiating. For example, you don’t need to make a limit related to jumping out of airplanes when you’re negotiating a spanking scene, but you will need to consider level of bruising, target areas, and implements.

M is for munch, which is a non-kinky hangout for kinky people. These get-togethers are the best way to learn about your local scene, find some inspiration, and make new friends.

N is for negotiation, or the process of deciding what will and will not happen during a scene.  When you’re starting out, or frankly whenever you’re playing with someone new, you should opt in to activities, not opt out of an arbitrary endless list. No matter what happens in play, negotiation can only take place among equals. Without the egalitarian framework of BDSM, it’s not kink; it’s abuse. (See also L.)

O is for “one true way,” or the misguided belief that some members of the community have that their interpretation of BDSM is the only way to go about it and everyone else’s is wrong. Stay away from these people. They’re idiots.

P is for power exchange. This phrase is tossed around a lot in relation to BDSM, but what does it really mean? It means that each person in the scene is dependent on the other to get what they need. In other words, one person must give up control in order for the other to feel in control, and vice versa. The dynamic is a two-way street.

Q is for question. Question yourself and your partner frequently to make sure you’re on the same page with your kinky interests. What works for you both today may not work tomorrow.

R is for RACK, or Risk-Aware Consensual Kink, an acronym that encapsulates the guiding principles of BDSM. This abbreviation has gained traction in recent years and is often preferred over Safe, Sane, and Consensual because it’s less subjective and more reflective of how people actually play.

S is for safeword, the sacred word or signal that will be immediately and unambiguously honored during a scene. Typically, “red” will stop the scene. It’s also wise to have a gesture, in case someone can’t speak, and an additional safeword that means “slow down.”

T is for trust. BDSM is predicated on an enormous amount of trust between players. Would you let someone you don’t trust beat you, tie you up, and call you names? Probably not. At the most basic level, bottoms/subs must trust that their tops/Doms won’t abuse them, and tops/Doms must trust that bottoms/subs will communicate if something is wrong. And trust is what can ultimately pave the road to rougher/riskier play.

U is for unselfish. Being giving and unselfish is not the sole responsibility of the bottom/sub. Tops/Doms should be just as eager to bring the bottom’s fantasy to life.

V is for variety. BDSM allows for a tremendous amount of variety in one’s sex life. With all those possibilities comes the likelihood that your interests will evolve. Something that may be a total turn-off to you now could become a turn-on 10 years from now.  

W is for willingness to learn. Even if you’ve been doing this for decades, there’s always more to learn. Don’t ever reach a point where you think you know it all.

X is for xo (hugs and kisses). BDSM doesn’t always have to be dark and edgy. Don’t be afraid to show affection.

Y is for YKINMKBYKIOK—Your Kink Is Not My Kink, But Your Kink Is OK. The abbreviation isn’t much of an abbreviation, but the concept is a good one: Respect other people’s kinks even if they’re different from yours.

Z is for zero tolerance. Don’t put up with assholes, abuse, or misogyny. This goes for individuals and within the community as a whole. We all have a responsibility to call out bad behavior when we see it.

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