The ABC for Safer BDSM

The terms BDSM and kink often conjure images of latex-clad dominatrixes, whips, chains, ballgags, and blindfolds, but there is much more to it than that. Though my time in the scene have taught me things like how to swing the flogger with a certain degree of finesse, the most important skills I have picked up are far softer and have nothing to do with technique and appearances.

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Clear communication, boundaries, empathy and trust (in yourself and others) are the cornerstones of BDSM and what makes the practice possible to engage in safely—and, I have learned more about these through practicing kink than I think I could in any other way. As a kink-informed sex educator and writer, I see how important these skills are in all areas of life, and it is part of my mission to spread the most mindful philosophies and practices from the dark corners of the dungeons into the mainstream.

The Safer Kink Glossary

This ABC for Safer BDSM is a selection of words, terms, and practices I believe are useful to anyone engaging in sex, whether it be kinky, vanilla, or somewhere in between:

Aftercare

Aftercare is the mutual support you give each other after a scene and can entail anything from cuddles and a movie to comfort food, a warm bath, or whatever else makes you feel good. Though it happens after, it should be discussed before to make sure you and your partner(s) are available to meet each other’s needs.

BDSM

The four-letter acronym incorporates the six practices bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism. All large umbrella terms in themselves, a vast number of what we consider kinky fall under one or more of these.

Consent (in Kink)

Consent separates sex from assault and BDSM from violence, and while a yes always means yes and a no always no, kink introduces an additional layer of complexity. Since impact play, for example, can mean anything from light, bare-handed spanking to a hardcore scene with whips and canes, there is also the question of how much and to what degree. Always be specific, hence the next point:

Communication

I used to think talking about sex ruined the spontaneity of it, but I quickly learned the opposite to be true. I am a firm believer that you can never communicate too much and that the best way to get what you want is to ask for it. As an added bonus, talking about sex acts as foreplay by building anticipation before the act.

Check-in

Consent is reversible, meaning that agreeing to something beforehand does not require anyone to follow through. When a bottom enters subspace, they may find it hard to vocalize effectively when something goes too far or does not feel right, other times it can be difficult to distinguish a partner’s moans of pleasure from cries of pain. Therefore, it is always better to check in once too many.

Drop

Similar to hangovers, drops can occur after intense sessions where bucketloads of delicious pleasure chemicals, like dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin, have been dumped into our systems. The next day(s), we may naturally feel depleted—even depressed. Both tops and bottoms experience drops and the best way to cushion a rough landing is to engage in oodles of the aforementioned aftercare.

Edge Play

Not to be confused with edging, edge play pushes the boundaries of what is considered safe and thus carries higher risks of physical and/or emotional harm.
Examples of activities with high physical risk include extreme bondage, play with needles, knives, blood, fire, choking, and breath restriction. Humiliating activities, like free use, total power exchange, kidnapping, and ravaging play can take an especially heavy emotional toll. Approach these with caution and always agree on a safeword!

Fetish

The words kink and fetish are often used interchangeably and while there is a definite overlap, the biggest difference is that while a kink is something you like and that turns you on, a fetish is something you need in order to be aroused at all.

GGG

Coined by infamous advice columnist Dan Savage, GGG, aka good, game, and giving, is a great approach to kink and sex. Still, being GGG never means being game for giving anything your partner wants if it turns you off or conflicts with your limits.

Head Games (Mind Games)

Some wrongfully assume domination is about exerting brute force to physically overpower a submissive. Quite the contrary, the most effective powerplay is that which requires no physical force whatsoever. Our brains are our biggest sex organs and if you can get in there and control that, you are more powerful than you can comprehend.

Limits

One of the biggest red flags is when someone claims to have no limits. This person is either not mature enough or mentally fit to play, or they have not given it enough thought. Though they may fluctuate, it is helpful to have a clear idea of our hard and soft limits, meaning our absolute no-gos and the ones that could, perhaps, be open for discussion.

Munch

If you are kinky and you know it, go to a munch! These are regular, local meet-ups for kinksters in a bar or other public setting.

Negotiation

Before playing, and especially with a new partner or before trying something for the first time, it is recommended to have a pre-scene negotiation where limits and safewords are established as well as intentions, wishes, and desires for the session. Some play partners create elaborate contracts that are printed and signed.

Play Party

Basically like a munch, but in a club or private venue, where attendees dress up (or down) in their sexiest attire to socialize and engage in BDSM and kink activities.

(Sub)space

Often described as a floaty state and a disconnect from space and time, subspace is a natural high that subs and bottoms sometimes slip into during a scene. Tops and doms, on the other hand, can experience a type of hyper-alert, trance-like top-space.

Room for Error

Due to the inherent risks of some kinks, boundary oversteps do occasionally happen, despite our best efforts. The best way to judge whether someone is a good and safe play partner is not whether they have never made a mistake, but how they reacted when you brought it up to them. Acceptance, compassion, and course correction are green flags.

RACK

As opposed to the related guidelines SSC, meaning safe, sane, and consensual, RACK, aka risk-aware consensual kink, is a philosophy within the BDSM community that prioritizes informed consent and full awareness of the risks involved in the activities they choose to participate in.

Safeword

When used, a safeword stops any action immediately and should always be established and confirmed before play. You may choose your own word or use the conventional traffic light system; red for stop, yellow for pause, and green for go.

Scene

BDSM aficionados refer to sessions as scenes, affirming the practice’s inherently playful aspects and the notion of stepping into character. A scene may last anywhere from minutes to days, weeks, or even longer.

Tantric BDSM

If we look beyond trite aesthetics, Tantra and BDSM have more in common than what meets the eye. Both practices require participants to tune into each other and be wholly present in the moment; elements which constitute both a spiritual and erotic experience.

Ugol’s Law

Before playing, and especially with a new partner or before trying something for the first time, it is recommended to have a pre-scene negotiation where limits and safewords are established as well as intentions, wishes, and desires for the session. Some play partners create elaborate contracts that are printed and signed.

Vanilla Sex

A term used to describe any sex considered conventional, mainstream, or normal by social standards. I am not sure who gets to decide what is normal, but I do know that one is not inherently better than the other and you are allowed to switch between flavors as often as you wish.

WIITWD

The primarily internet-based acronym, WIITWD, meaning what it is that we do, is often used in place of the more narrow term BDSM to refer to all types of non-conventional sexual activities, or as a subtle nod to fellow kinksters.

YKINMK + YKIOK

In the scene, it is generally frowned upon to yuck someone else’s yum, or what we call kink-shaming. Therefore we say YKINMK and YKIOK, meaning, your kink is not my kink and your kink is ok. 

Always prepared!

Though BDSM can appear rough and hard from an outsider’s perspective, I have seen more softness, compassion and empathy in the BDSM world than most other places. On the contrary, if any encounters have left me feeling unseen, unheard, and even unsafe, it has been with so-called vanilla partners who were less educated when it came to consent, boundaries and communication. 

I often reflect on how all sex would be so much better if we incorporated concepts like pre-negotiation, mid-scene check-ins and aftercare. While these are absolutely necessary in order to practice BDSM or any potential risk-involving kink in a safe way, it never hurts to come extra prepared for any scenario.

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