What Is BDSM?

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What Is BDSM?

BDSM is an acronym for a variety of sexual practices that involve bondage, dominance, and submission/sadomasochism. The practice usually involves partners taking on specific roles in which one partner is dominant and the other is submissive. These practices may involve such things as role-playing specific scenes or pain play. While it is often portrayed as deviant or taboo, research has shown that it is a very common fantasy and practice for many individuals and couples.

Types of BDSM

Some types of BDSM practices include:

  • Dominance/submission
  • Bondage
  • Roleplay
  • Wax play
  • Impact play/spanking
  • Sadism/masochism/pain play
  • Humiliation play
  • Sensation play/edgeplay

It is important to note that while BDSM practices may involve the use of pain and humiliation or role-playing scenarios characterized by dominance and submission, it also requires the use of safety precautions. In addition to general safe sex practices, BDSM may also include pre-sex negotiations, disclosure, consent, and safewords. A safeword is a predetermined word that a person can use when they reach a point that they need to stop.

How to Practice

If you are interested in giving BDSM a try, there are some great ways to get started. There are a number of "light" BDSM practices that can be a good starting point for beginners, including such things as:

  • Hair pulling
  • Blindfolds
  • Light spanking
  • Scarf or tie bondage
  • Roleplaying

For more intense forms of erotic play, many experts suggest taking a class, reading a book, or watching instructional videos. Some practices can be dangerous and lead to injury without taking proper precautions. And, as previously mentioned, BDSM activities need to be carefully pre-negotiated so that each party understands what will happen.

Impact of BDSM

Recent studies devoted to understanding BDSM and its effects on the body have shown surprising results. Researchers have found that these practices may offer a number of health benefits.

Improved Mental Health

In one study, researchers looked at personality traits, relationship attachment styles, and the general well-being of individuals who engaged in BDSM. Contrary to many popular stereotypes, the study found that those who engaged in these sexual practices were actually, on average better adjusted than their non-BDSM practicing counterparts.

Those in the BDSM group:

  • Felt more secure in their relationships
  • Had an increased sense of well-being
  • Were more conscientious toward others
  • Were more extroverted
  • Were more open to trying new experiences
  • Had decreased anxiety
  • Were less sensitive to others' perceptions

Reduced Stress

Research has shown BDSM participants enter an altered level of consciousness similar to the meditative state yoga practitioners experience or the marathoner’s “runner's high.” It is commonly known these activities can benefit health by helping lower our levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Participation in BDSM may have the same effects.

For example, one series of studies found that partners in dominant roles had decreased cortisol levels after a BDSM session. Cortisol is known as the "stress hormone" and may be associated with a range of health issues including high blood pressure, suppressed immunity, and insulin resistance

Researchers have also found that some participants regard BDSM as a spiritual experience.

Better Relationships

Researchers have also determined that participating in successful sadomasochistic scenes increases the feeling of connectedness and intimacy with partners. While the exact reasons for this are not entirely clear, research has shown that doing novel things with romantic partners, rather than the same routine activities, increases intimacy. Brain scans of married couples revealed that sharing novel activities triggers the brain's reward system and floods it with dopamine and other feel-good chemicals.

Tips / Tricks

The world of BDSM has its own distinct subcultures and terminology. It can be intimidating for beginners, but there are some tips and tricks that may help you explore.

  • Remember that communication is critical. Before you even begin, you need to talk about your interests and boundaries. If you are engaging in something as part of a BDSM scene, it needs to be something that each partner has talked about beforehand.
  • Start slowly. Light BDSM practices are a good starting point for figuring out what you like and what you are comfortable with. Role-playing sexy scenes or engaging in dirty talk, for example, can help you explore your fantasies.
  • Set the scene. Engage all of your scenes. Mood lighting, scented candles, soft music, and erotic clothing can all help create the right mood for your BDSM play.
  • Have a safeword and don't be afraid to use it. BDSM should be fun for everyone involved—so if something isn't working for you or is too much for you to handle, there's no shame in saying so and trying something else.

Potential Pitfalls

While BDSM can be fun and safe, it is important to follow safety precautions. Always know how to safely use any clothing, gear, or toys that you want to try. Bondage and pain play, for example, can present the risk of injury if you are not careful or do not use equipment properly.

You may find that taking a class or watching instructional videos can help you learn how to engage in BDSM practices safely.

It is also important to remember that BDSM is not for everyone. Many people fantasize about BDSM-related practices but do not necessarily enjoy actually engaging in those activities. Some people may prefer activities such as reading or watching BDSM scenes without exploring those practices in real life.

History of BDSM

Mainstream culture often represents BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism) as reckless, dangerous, and unhealthy. Take Fifty Shades of Grey, for instance; Christian Grey’s reasons for enjoying kink stem from his childhood abuse. Television crime dramas often portray fetishists as seedy, unethical lawbreakers. It isn't just the media that frames BDSM this way.

Prior to the release of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, participation in fetishism and sadomasochism was actually considered a mental disorder by health professionals. Attitudes about kinky sex have shifted. Pop culture didn’t make kink the latest fad, however. Humans have always had a penchant for adventurous sex.

A 2005 Durex Global Sex Survey found 36% of adults admitted to using some form of bondage during lovemaking. Even back in 1956, a ​Kinsey Institute Study revealed 50% of men and 55% of women enjoyed erotic biting. We may not be having kinky sex much more than we always have, but we’re certainly talking about it more.

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