BDSM Safety

BDSM Safety

Sarah Riccio

Whether you're a BDSM newbie or have been on the scene for years, BDSM safety is crucial. Join me as I discuss the basics of BDSM, including safety protocol, answers to commonly asked questions, and why consent is the cornerstone of kink.

Plus, we'll cover some of the need-to-know terms like RACK, SSC, and more. 

What Is BDSM?

All right, pleasure seekers, let's take it from the top (pun fully intended). What is BDSM, anyway?

In the literal sense, BDSM stands for bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism. Over time, the acronym has varied a bit; and many consider BDSM to stand for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism

Let's explore each of these words in more depth. 

Bondage

Bondage involves the restriction of bodily movement. This restriction can come in the form of rope, handcuffs, tape, spreader bars, or even the verbal instruction not to move.

The common thread in all forms of bondage is restriction and manipulation of the ability to move the body. Popular examples of bondage are Shibari or Kinbaku, two ancient but still-popular forms of Japanese rope bondage.

Discipline

Discipline is a form of mental play intended to have a psychological, and often physical, impact. If discipline is part of your scene, you may experience verbal instruction, degradation, and/or praise.

Examples of discipline include a verbal command to get on all fours and serve as human furniture, or a non-verbal signal to take off your clothes and face the wall. The common thread in all forms of discipline is control and manipulation of behavior.

Dominance

Dominance refers to power play. Power play refers to a dynamic in which control is surrendered to the dominant player. Typically, this involves someone who controls the scene/activities, the dominant, and one person who surrenders control, the submissive.

Power play scenes can involve many people, but the common thread here is the exchange of power

Submission

On the other end of the power play spectrum is submission. As with dominance, submission involves an exchange of power and the surrender of control.

The relationship between the dominant and submissive is often called a Dom/sub dynamic, or D/s for short. Submission and dominance takes many different forms and looks different for one, but always involves the exchange of power

Sadism

A sadist derives pleasure from inflicting pain on others. This could be physical pain, psychological pain, or a combination of different types of pain. Common examples of sadism include flogging, spanking, and dripping hot candle wax on bare skin.

No matter what delivery system you choose, the name of the sadistic game is giving pain.

Masochism

On the other side of the paddle is the masochist, a person who derives pleasure from experiencing pain. Again, this pain can be strictly physical, or incorporate psychological sadism, as well. But any way you slice it, masochism is about feeling pleasure from pain.

The Dom/sub relationship is similar to the sadist/masochist dynamic in that both roles complement and depend on each other. It's difficult to experience one without the other. 

The Importance of Consent

What do bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism all have in common? If you guessed consent, you've discovered the most important element of BDSM. 

That's right. Undergirding all successful BDSM relationships is the freely given consent of everyone involved. All BDSM activities should be negotiated before they begin, and require consistent communication and re-establishing of consent throughout playtime.  

While BDSM may seem to involve a dominant or sadistic party who controls what happens, inflicts pain, or decides what to do next, the submissive player actually controls the scene. The submissive sets limits, decides when a scene is finished, and wields the true power.

Confused about consent and BDSM? Nervous about "doing it right?" Don't worry! Next we'll discuss how to establish a BDSM safety protocol and make sure everyone feels heard and protected.

BDSM Safety Protocol

Now let's dive into safe words, communication, negotiation, aftercare, and more BDSM safety essentials.

What Is A Safe Word?

A safe word is a word or phrase that can be used at any time during a scene in order to slow or stop what you're doing. It's common to have a few different safe words that mean different things. For example, someone might use the word yellow to slow things down or take a break, and use the word red to bring the scene to a halt completely. The severity of the scene does not matter when it comes to invoking your safe word. Feel free to use safe words any time you feel uncomfortable, need a breather, or want to step out of the scene in any capacity. 

There are no limits to how many safe words you can have, nor are there any specific words you should be using. However, there are a couple rules. Firstly, all safe words should be negotiated and established well ahead of playtime. You don't want to find yourself in a situation where safe words are unclear; but in the event that someone forgets their safe word, you can simply say, "safe word." 

That said, I can't over-stress the importance of discussing safe words with your partner(s) ahead of time and/or during the scene itself. Remember: it's better to be safe than sorry! Not to mention, there's some sticky legal grey area surrounding BDSM so, again, make sure all consenting partners are on the same page before playtime begins. 

Before we talk about negotiation in greater detail, I have one more safe word tip to impart: Pick something memorable, non-sexual, and unambiguous. For example, dinosaur is a better safe word than no or stopWhy? Because there are many instances in BDSM where saying things like "no, stop, don't" can be mistaken for role play, especially during CNC or other scenes involving consensual non-consent. 

Negotiation

When I talk about negotiation between play partners, I don't mean that one person tries to convince the other to do something they don't want to do. With BDSM, negotiation is not to be confused with compromise. At no point should anyone engage in sexual and/or kink activities that make them feel uncomfortable, forced, or coerced in any way. 

On the contrary, negotiation between play partners revolves around establishing clear boundaries, wants, and needs. For example, a Dom and sub should discuss hard and soft limits before playing together. A hard limit is something that's completely off the table, while a soft limit is something a person might be willing to explore under the right circumstances.

Other examples of things to negotiate ahead of time are punishments and rewards. If you're incorporating discipline into a scene, you might negotiate what kinds of activities you'd both like to enjoy when the person being disciplined is "bad," and how to reward them when they're good. 

Remember: BDSM and kink scenes are largely theatrical! That's partly why kink-centered play is often referred to as a scene. That said, don't forget that most actions played out during a scene are completely choreographed ahead of time to ensure safety and consent are always present. 

If you only remember one thing from this article, let it be this: consent must always be present before, during, and after all BDSM and sex related activity. Period. 

What Is Aftercare?

Once you've effectively communicated with your partner(s), you've worked out which kinds of scenes and activities you'd like to try, and you've thoroughly enjoyed yourselves, it's time for aftercare!

Aftercare refers to the time spent caring for each other after a scene has ended. BDSM activities can be both physically and emotionally exhausting (in a good way), which is just one of the reasons why aftercare is so important. Aftercare is a great time to reconnect with your partner and revel the warmth of the afterglow. It's also a good time to talk about what worked, what you'd like to change, things you don't want to try again, and so on. 

If you're looking for inspiration regarding aftercare plans, I've got some suggestions! Taking a warm bath or shower together, cuddling, soft kissing, and meditating together are all examples of great aftercare activities. If you're finishing a scene in which corporal punishment or physical pain was present, icing bruises and tending to wounds can be a great part of aftercare as well. 

No one is obligated to take part in aftercare. If you prefer to go home immediately after a scene and care for your own self, you absolutely can. That said, being with a partner who refuses to provide aftercare despite your want/need for it is a toxic dynamic. Don't forget to prioritize your own pleasure and wellbeing, no matter which role you're assuming in a BDSM scene. 

BDSM Terms to Know

Truth be told, so much of understanding BDSM comes from years educating yourself and, if you're inclined, personal experience. But, hopefully, this guide has given you a basic lesson in the wide world of BDSM. Before you go, let's take a quick look at some commonly used words with definitions that aren't so commonly known!

  • RACK. This acronym stands for Risk Aware Consensual Kink. This means all parties involved are consenting adults who are fully aware of the risks involved in a scene. 
  • SSC. Safe, Sane, Consenting. This acronym also points to consent, which must be present at all times. It also implies that all play partners are fully capable of making decisions, and are not under the influence of something that could get in the way of total consent. 
  • Hard Limit. A hard limit is a NO. Hard limits are non-negotiable. If someone's hard limit is tickling, for example, that means no tickling should be present in a scene under any circumstances. 
  • Soft limit. A soft limit is kind of like a maybe. It's something that someone might be willing to explore under the right circumstances with the right person. But, until the green light is given, soft limits should also be treated as a NO. 
  • Fetish. A fetish is something that must be present during playtime in order to feel arousal. For example, if someone has a foot fetish, feet must be involved in order for that person to truly become aroused. 
  • Kink. A kink is usually something that mainstream society considers deviant or outside the norm. Someone's kink serves to enhance their pleasure or arousal. For example, if someone has a spanking kink, the act of spanking can supercharge their arousal! 
  • GGG. Good, giving, and game. This one is pretty self-explanatory! 
  • Kinkster. A kinkster is a term used to refer to someone within the kink community. 
  • Fetlife. Fetlife is an online community for kinksters. Essentially, it's like Facebook... for kinky people! 
  • Watersports. I know this sounds like it involves a jet-ski or water skis, but watersports actually refers to the involvement of urine within a BDSM scene. 
  • Scat. The refers to the involvement of feces within a BDSM scene. 
  • Shibari. Shibari is a type of Japanese rope bondage that has become popular all over the world. 

Play safe, everybody!