What Is Bdsm? A Newb Guide For Beginners And The Curious - Part 1: Some Terminology

What is BDSM?  A Newb Guide for Beginners and The Curious - Part 1: Some Terminology

By EP User: SunniL

Disclaimer & Preface:
This is Adult Only Content.
Be respectful, do not reprint or publish any information contained within this entry without my permission.


Let’s start with terminology and go from there.
Or you can break down and order a great book entitled:
SM 101 - A Realistic Introduction” by Jay Wiseman.

BDSM: This is an acronym for three different sets of terms.
Bondage and discipline:  Often seen as: B&D, B/D, or BD
Domination and submission:  Often seen as: D&s, D/s, or Ds
Sadism and masochism:  Often seen as: S&M, S/M, or SM
BDSM is a consensual lifestyle choice by many.  In some cases it is a type of adult role-play between two or more individuals.  In other cases it is just a way to keep the sex life spicy, hot and alive.

Now let’s break down the terms of BDSM.
Bondage:  This is the practice of physically restraining, whether it is with scarves, handcuffs, rope, leather cuffs, etc…

Discipline: This is the practice of psychological restraining with the use of rules and punishment to control behavior.

Domination:  The act of accepting control over another.

Submission:  The act of giving up control to another.

Sadism:  The act of deriving pleasure from inflicting psychological or physical pain on another.  This includes degradation and humiliation.

Masochism:  The act of deriving pleasure from receiving psychological or physical pain from another.  This includes degradation and humiliation.

Dominance and submission together are considered a ‘Power Exchange Relationship’.  There is also what is called a Total Power Exchange or TPE, but we will go there later.

Know that just because someone is in a D/s relationship does not mean that all the other four aspects are present.  There are several practitioners that use no bondage while others use no physical pain.  I could go on, but I hope you get the picture here.

More terms for you:
Dominant:  Often seen as: Dom, Domme, Dominatrix, Master, Mistress, Owner, Top: The person in control.

Submissive:  Often seen as: sub, pet, slave, toy, submissive, slave, bottom: The person giving up the control
Note that when you see references to Dominant and submissive, the Dominant role is almost ALWAYS capitalized and the submissive role is not.  It is a way to define the roles and who is in control and who is not.  It is not meant to be derogatory as many have indicated to me that knew little to nothing within the BDSM lifestyle.  There are also other words used for Dominants and submissives, but I am giving you the main ones right now.

Lifestyle:  When used in the BDSM context it is a term used simply to state, “Yes I am a BDSM practitioner.”  This can be related to either individual whether they are a Top, bottom or Switch.  I will explain ‘Switch’ further down since it needs a bit more explanation.

In simple terms, a BDSM relationship is a consensual agreement based around the Dominant in control and the submissive being controlled.  This can cross over from the bedroom into everyday life.  A submissive willing gives up his/her power to the Dominant who willing takes it.  You may have heard the phrase, “gift of submission.”  That is exactly what it is for a practicing submissive, a gift to his/her Dominant.  When BDSM crosses over from the bedroom into everyday life where the parties involved practice 24/7 it is referred to as a Total Power Exchange or TPE.

Total Power Exchange or Absolute Power Exchange:  Often seen as: TPE, APE or 24/7.  In this particular relationship you might find a Master/slave setup.  This relationship is a bit more complex as the Dominant or Owner has complete authority over the submissive or slave’s life at all times.  This includes the majority if not all decisions, clothing, appearance, finances, etc.

I am going to steer clear of the rest of the terminology and explanations to this relationship.  It is in depth and complex.  It also gives the wrong impression I am attempting to explain right now.  I have also been in contact with relationships that were not exactly consensual that were TPE.  This is not the norm within the BDSM community and not endorsed due to legality issues.  So let us steer clear of this one for now…  But I will state that within the consensual relationship, the rights of the sub/slave are not taken; they are given freely within a negotiated period of time.  Many use what is considered a contract.  This is true within many BDSM relationships that stray outside the bedroom and overlap into everyday.
Within a BDSM relationship whether it be in the confines of the bedroom or overlapping into a 24/7, the specific time period, is considered to be a power exchange relationship.

Switch:  This is a little complicated to me, yet not for those that are considered ‘Switch’.  This is a person who practices on both sides of the spectrum of Dominant and submissive.  Best way I can explain this is to use my husband as the example.  He enjoys being submissive.  And if I could bare it, I would go find him a Mistress to feed his hunger for it.  However, he enjoys being Dominant as well.  Since I have no Dominant tendencies behind closed doors, he maintains being Dominant and curbs his submissive side.  Yes, I have tried switching and it was the most uncomfortable experience for me.  There are several people in the BDSM community that are switch and do both well when the scene demands that particular role.

Ah tossed a new term in there, didn’t I?

Scene, also known as session:  Think of it as the time period where there is a power exchange between the people involved.  In a TPE it can be described as the period when BDSM is in full practice which can but does not always include B/D, S/M or sex.

A few terms you might be seeing and just not have any idea what they are:
Vanilla:  No it is not a flavor, it is a term used to describe the people who do not practice BDSM or a relationship that does not involve BDSM.

Safe Words: These are words that are used by either Dom or sub.  Colors are great words.  Green for keep going.  Yellow for slow down.  Red for stop.  There are times when words can’t be used then other signals come into play.  Something in a hand that can be dropped is used as the signal to stop or slow down.

Safe, Sane, Consensual, also seen as SSC:  Do I really need to explain it?

Limits:  If you go to this post:  "What Is Bdsm? A Newb Guide For Beginners And The Curious - Part 5: The Limit List".  It defines what a Dominant and submissive have experience in, like, won’t do, want to do or might be open to doing.

Hard Limit: This is defined as “Do NOT do this EVER.”  There is no negotiating, but there may be a discussion as to why it is a hard limit.

Soft Limit: This is defined as, “Maybe, we need to discuss it more and you can push it a little.”  I am going to explain this in terms a Vanilla person can understand a bit better only because I have been asked a handful of times to define it.

You are married man and your wife refuses to perform oral sex on you.  You have tried every trick in the book, but the answer is still no.  She tried it once and really did not like it.  Within the scope of BDSM limits, the Dominant would want to know what about it is making the submissive say no to it because it is something the Dominant enjoys and wants to do.  Was there some sort of trauma?  Or did it hurt that much?

In many cases if you could get your wife to tell you exactly why she won’t do it the answers are going to be something akin to:
  • The act is unnatural which comes from religious beliefs, social stigma, or how they were raised.
  • Afraid she will hurt you.
  • Inexperience.
  • It is a humiliating experience.
  • It is embarrassing.
  • Does not like the taste or feel.
  • Man’s penis is scary huge to her.  Stop cackling guys.
  • The loss of power she feels when performing the act.  Many people find the subservient kneeling position for oral sex humiliating and/or embarrassing.

There are other answers, but am I close?

Now let us take this into a BDSM negotiation… uh first find me one where oral sex is a limit.  *laugh*
Seriously, within negotiation terms, I named many reasons for a Dominant to use it.  Humiliation, embarrassment, loss of power felt and the fact it is done on ones knees a lot of times.  Breaking down the barriers of a taboo act is a huge one too.

For many submissives, that encompassing feeling of humiliation, embarrassment, loss of power, and kneeling before ones Dominant is like an aphrodisiac.  Unless there is trauma from the act previous that the submissive holds on to such as being orally raped, this act would be negotiated to a soft limit.

The Dominant would push this limit here and there to help transition the submissive into it and hopefully the end result would be them both liking it.  The pushing could be an exercise in practicing on a fruit, vegetable or vibrator/***** and working up to the actual act of oral sex after a few or several discussions about it after each scene.  I hope I explained that clearly enough.

Now some areas that need a bit of myth busting: 

BDSM is not about abuse.

Limits are adhered to, safe words in place, scenes agreed upon, communication open and constant and most important: consent given.  Abuse comes about when limits are crossed, consent not given, or the safe word is used and the scene continues anyway.  A good practicing Dom will not cross these lines.  Does it happen?  Yes it does.  As a submissive should you tolerate it?  No.  Pushing the submissives limits is one thing, crossing the negotiated line without warning and agreement is another thing.

Dominant’s and submissives are either gender.
Do not assume the Dominant is male and the submissive is female.  There are several different gender groups going on in this lifestyle.  M/f, F/m, F/f, M/m.  BDSM does not seclude itself to the Hetro World.  There are Gay & Lesbian couples, Transgender & Transitioned couples as well.  And yes there are practitioners that have more than one submissive or Dominant.  I have a set of friends that are a married Dom/Domme couple that scene with a submissive married couple.  A little crazy in my head, but it suits them and all four enjoy their setup.

Not all Dominants are about inflicting pain on another.
I cannot state this enough times or loud enough or in print enough times.  Not ALL DOM’s practice Sadomasochism.  Nor do all submissives submit to it.  Whatever you thought, forget it.  Not all submissives are into pain.  I am climbing on the roof top right now and screaming, “I AM NOT MASOCHISTIC.”  Pain does not thrill me.  However the pleasure that can be obtained from handing oneself over to another in the form of accepting the pain because it pleases the other is insanely gratifying to both parties if that is how they practice.

Do not underestimate and mistake a submissive as being weak.
The strength it takes to give the gift of submission to another is a rush of eroticism gone off the charts.  A submissive is what I consider the strongest of the BDSM couple.  The submissive also holds all the control and power initially as well.  Some will argue with me here, but it is just my opinion, yours may vary here.  But who do you think is the one that sets the Hard and Soft Limits?  The submissive!
The amount of trust alone is higher in this type of relationship than in any vanilla relationship I have ever experienced.  The submissive has to trust the Dominant to know that they will respect boundaries, limits and desires, needs, wants, etc…  And the Dominant has to trust that the submissive has been forthcoming and honest with what are their boundaries, limits and desires, needs, wants, etc…  Each has to communicate openly in the negotiation phase.  Without that, trust is misplaced and someone gets hurt whether it is psychologically or physically.  Both do damage.

I dispelled your thoughts on BDSM being all about pain - I hope.

Now let’s get into a few other aspects:  Bondage, humiliation, discipline, sadism, and sex in a generalized manner.

These are some of the areas a practitioner may deal with.  You did note that I said ‘may’.  I did that for a few reasons.  Mainly because I am a practicing BDSM submissive and I do not deal with humiliation and degradation or much of the discipline side.  As a couple, my husband decided to keep these aspects out of out scenes due to things he is aware of within my past.  This is by his choice, not mine.  He is very oversensitive to my needs and past experiences that he refers to as trauma.  I call it more a learning curve.  Again, his idea and choice – not mine.  It sometimes drives me insane that he is that careful.  At the same time I have rational and sane moments of knowing it is because he loves and cherishes me that much.

He also is also one of those practicing Dominants that do not incorporate sex into his scenes very often.  This is mainly because we both got into Japanese Art Bondage.  The time and patience needed for this is a bit intense and by the time it is said and done all I want to do is sleep.  Our sex is more sensual and erotic.  It does cross into BDSM though by the acts and protocol incorporated into it.  We do have straight vanilla sex as do many other practitioners.  Don’t assume we all are into kinky, hang from the chandelier sex, because guess what?  The vanilla world is too, they just don’t realize it until it is pointed out!  The difference is the power exchange and how the sex acts are handled.  A simple example of this is: The act of asking for permission to ****** and then being denied.  I personally find this a sadistic act, but not a bad one.

Okay, so why even do this?  Because as a submissive, I find it enjoyable, rewarding, challenging, fun, honest, erotic, structured, freeing, pleasurable, sensual, fulfilling, committed, safe, satisfying… there are so many other words and feelings.  In my relationship, my husband is my best friend, lover, protector, husband, provider, confidant, sounding board, and calming force besides being the Dominant one in our relationship.
Alongside my own experience and knowledge, I have done a lot of reading, chatting and research into others within the BDSM community and for the most part, I believe I have explained the basics enough to give a new person a look inside one submissive’s thoughts on BDSM.  Everyone’s thoughts vary and everyone practices differently.  But the essentials are there usually: Communication, Trust, Respect, Limits, Negotiation, Safe Words/Signals, SSC, Power Exchange…
There is no manual for how to practice BDSM anymore than there is a manual for when you have a baby.  Just like getting pregnant and having children, there are guides, but nothing set in stone.  Each individual practices how it suits them.  Some dabble, some go all the way to the extreme.

Now something else I want to mention here is that most of us did not just wake up one morning and go, “Hmm, I think I want to become Dominant and/or submissive.”

If you wander around different forums and experience groups you are apt to find that many of us had an idea in our younger years.  We just did not know what to call it or what it really meant until many of us actually became sexually active.  Unlike many, I had a name for it around 13-14 after shanghaiing a book out of my mom’s bookcase called: 
“Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*
*but Were Afraid to Ask.”  By David Reuben, M.D

I was beyond curious and scared to death by what I felt inside myself.  I was so scared that it took me until I was 19 to have my first actual sexual experience.  And it took a Dominant man to take control of the situation and push me a small amount.  Anyone prior to that I was able to laugh off, push away, or simply say no to for the most part.
There are several other aspects I have not gone into, but will as the mood strikes me to write about them.  In the meantime I am working on a definition list next.  It is long, so there is your warning!  I have not found a good list in any one spot on the net or in a book, so hey I can’t help myself, I want a complete one to share with others.  *As of July 19, 2012, I am still messing with this list.  It may never see the light of day at this rate!*

What is BDSM?  A Newb Guide for Beginners and the Curious - Part 2: BDSM Contracts, Other Agreements & TPE's  
EP Link

Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

SunniL SunniL
46-50, F
16 Responses May 3, 2011

very good discription Im gay and The Dom in the relatioship ive had with my partner for 27 years. In gay circles the sub is more often refered to as boi in uk.

I've been interested in this for awhile and so has my husband I'm glad there is a place I can check out how it all is.

Hi Cyra! Feel free to post if you have any questions. :)

great info ...... I am looking forward to reading more about this lifestyle. Thanks for taking the time to write down your experience and knowledge. DP

Thanks DP :) I didn't ask on the comment you made on my blog, so will ask here. Did your wife join EP too? It is always nice when you both are reading the same stuff as well as find more stuff to share with each other! :) *Psst, watch out, we are a crazy bunch, but well meaning and fun!*

not yet. I am working overseas and she is in my home country. I was trying to eduacate myself on this topic so I do not mess up the gift she is offering me.


Ahh! :) Well keep on reading then! You will eventually trip over the links list for websites and books!

More GREAT info.... Thanks so much....You are a wealth of reliable, solid and factual info on all these subjects...I sooo hope the new folks wandering into it and those who are just curious about what it really is finds these posts.....I will do my best to link them here when I see them...

Thank you so much for this


Most informative! Looking forward to reading the other Newb Guides.

Thank you siram :) Feel free to /poke me if something sounds off or confusing. I do tend to go off on tangents. LOL!

Awww thank you lostlittlefirefly :)

Thank you, thank you, thank you - what an informative, enjoyable read - and for someone who is just 'accepting' who they are it was a definite must to read..... and i agree... should be compulsory for all newbies - Dom/sub alike..... thank you

I'm seeing a name change from SunniL to "googleismybitch"...sorry couldn't resist!


Well you are better than google, CoolAutumn is right ;)x

CoolAutumn<br />
Welcomewagon eh? <br />
And WOW! Better than google? Now that is one hell of a compliment! You are too kind!<br />
Thank you very much for taking the moment to post. Scream if ya have a question or if I was unclear, incoherant or other. I do tend to go off on tangents sometimes :P

Most Welcomes ct :)

thanks for the beginners guide on Dom/Sub

LOL Cel and Thank you Toll :)

You're cute when you blush.

Awww *blush* Thank you Cel :)

This should be compulsory reading for all newbies. <br />
I thought the same when it was your blog and nothing's changed. You're a legend.