BDSM is an acronym for bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism. BDSM activities can range from light slapping, to bondage, to intense use of sex toys and other tools. Despite what popular media may like us to believe, there are no significant differences in rates of psychopathology, depression, anxiety, OCD, and psychological sadism and masochism between folks who practice BDSM sex play and those who don’t (Connoly 2006). In essence, folks who practice BDSM are not violent, they aren’t “crazy”, and their BDSM practices don’t leave them psychological troubled. According to the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, approximately 18-20% of folks have been blindfolded during sex, 30-32% of folks have tied someone up or been tied up during sex, and 38-50% of folks have been spanked during sexual activity.
Knowing that so many folks engage in BDSM, and that it doesn’t have to include being locked up in a basement dungeon…are you thinking you may be interested?
talk first, then play
Communication is the first step to exploring BDSM with a partner. Be clear about what you want, what you’re open to exploring, and what your limits are. It’s also important to keep in mind that your sex partner(s) may be exploring BDSM for the first time, or they may have previous experience.
Just as you would like your sex partner to do for you, it’s important to:
be respectful of your partner’s limits
be willing to explore their desires
not criticize, ridicule, or poke fun at their sex play interests
uphold agreements and privacy
There are helpful worksheets and checklists you can print out to get the conversation started, which list a range of light to intense BDSM activities and provide space for you and your partner to voice whether you think each sounds super-hot, is something you’re up for discussing, or is something that is off-limits.
ready to explore?
The urge to engage in or explore consensual BDSM may be confusing for some folks, especially those who identify as feminists, whose ancestors have historically been enslaved or beaten, or folks who have experienced sexual assault or relationship abuse in the past. For more dialogue on the reconciliation between BDSM play and feminism, check out feminist sex and relationship columnist Jessica Wakeman’s articles First Time for Everything and Slap Happy and Sylvia Fox’s article Reconciling Feminism with an Interest in BDSM which can be purchased online or in print.
Being a survivor of interpersonal violence who is interested in BDSM does not necessarily mean you have not healed from your experience. Abuse and assault are not about sex, they’re about power and control. BDSM is about the consensual play of dominant and submissive sexual relationships and mutual arousal resulting from these activities. Just as a survivor of interpersonal violence can maintain or regain interest in sex after being assaulted or abused, they can also regain or become interested in consensual BDSM.
Here are some red flags that a BSDM sex partner may in fact be abusive:
- Ignoring safe words
- Not respecting your limits, negotiations, agreements, or contracts
- Pushing you into a D/S relationship too quickly
- Belittling your ideas or suggestions for sex play
- ONLY interacting with you in a kinky or sexual manner as if they are always role-playing
- Threatening or coercing you into engaging in submission or BDSM activities outside of your comfort zone
Check out the books The Loving Dominant (Warren & Warren, 2008) and The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge (Taramino, 2012) if you’re interested in learning more about BDSM practices and the BDSM community.
If you’re concerned you or someone you know may be being coerced, pressured, or forced into engaging in sexual activities they’re not ready for or aren’t interested in, check out the information and resources at safe.unc.edu or the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.
Connoly, P. (2006). Psychological functioning of bondage/domination/sado-masochism practitioners. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 18(1).