A Beginner's Guide to BDSM

Spice up your sex life with these tips!

There are power dynamics inherent to every relationship, no matter how subtle. If you pay close attention to the way you interact with your significant other, you'll begin to notice that in certain situations one person tends to take the lead while the other follows, while the dynamic flips in other situations. As long as no one person has the power all the time, this shifting power is actually perfectly healthy and normal. A 2015 paper by Farrell, Simpson, and Rothman concludes just that, saying that "power differs across relationship domains." This means that decision-making and control shifts between partners depending on the situation. So, you may be wondering, where does BDSM fit into all this?

You'll probably find that this concept of shifting power dynamics also applies to the bedroom. Perhaps you and your partner already purposefully play with power dynamics in your sex life, sometimes devoting intimate sessions to one partner's fantasies. More likely, however, an inherent power dynamic has naturally shaped your sex life, causing one partner to routinely take the lead while the other takes a more passive role. At its core, BDSM is simply about becoming intentional about these already present power dynamics.

Going forward, it's important to keep in mind that BDSM is all about consent. At no point should either partner feel unsafe or like they're being forced to do anything they don't want to do. Yes, sometimes fantasies incorporate the illusion of non-consensual force, but it's always important to have distinct ways to separate fantasy from reality (see "Establishing a safe word" below). First and foremost, ensure that you are communicating effectively with your partner at all times.

Flipping Roles

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Does your partner usually initiate sex? Do they decide the positions, types of foreplay, and duration of intercourse? If so, try flipping the script. This will not only make your existing power dynamics extremely clear, it will likely add an exciting new element to your love-making. By the end of this experiment, each partner's preferred roles will become clear. If you find that you are both uncomfortable or less aroused in these new roles, that's important information to have going forward. If the experiment is exciting and arousing, that may indicate that regularly switching up the power dynamic in the bedroom will benefit your sex life.

Designating the Dominant VS. Submissive

In BDSM, there is almost always a dominant (dom or domme) and a submissive (sub). The dominant takes the lead in the sexual relationship, often issuing commands and punishment to the sub, who consents to give up control to the dom. But if you are just beginning your foray into the world of BDSM, don't worry; you don't have to go to leather restraints and whips right away (or ever, if you don't want to). Simply establishing who is the dom vs. sub for one particular instance can be an exciting twist on existing power dynamics, allowing both partners to really commit to and savor the eroticism of taking control/giving up control.

Establishing a Safe Word

Playing with power dynamics in your sex life can be incredibly fun, but it can also get out of control very easily, particularly if you're incorporating sadism and masochism (the giving and receiving of pain). To prevent things from getting out of hand, establish a safe word, even if you think you won't be engaging in anything that requires this extra measure. Your safe word can be as simple as "stop" or "red," but make sure it's distinct enough that your partner can separate the fantasy of control from the reality of consent.

Start Out Slow

If you've never engaged in BDSM play before, begin by having the dom issue simple commands to the sub. These commands don't necessarily have to be sexual to begin with; in fact, they can be as mundane as "put your hair in a ponytail" or "make the bed." The point is to test both partners' comfort levels with one's total surrender of control to the other. If this experimentation goes well, the commands can begin to take on a more sexual nature. If at any point either partner becomes uncomfortable, its important that both partners are prepared to relinquish the fantasy and revert to normal power dynamics immediately.

Incorporating Bondage and Discipline

If things continue to go well and both partners find the power play fun and exciting, you may want to eventually consider taking it a step farther and incorporating the B and the D of BDSM (bondage and discipline). These elements are probably not actually too unfamiliar to you, as couples often include mild forms of bondage and discipline in their sex lives, anyway (behaviors like eye covering, mild-choking, pinning your partners hands to the bed, etc.). Once again, BDSM is just about being more intentional about these pre-existing impulses. Begin simply, perhaps tying your partners hands to the bed or having them wear a blindfold during intercourse. Separately or concurrently with this new step, you can also begin trying discipline play, whereby the sub is "punished" for any behavior that goes against the commands of the dom. Punishment may include physical retribution (spanking, hitting etc.), deprivation (refusing to continue with a pleasurable act until the sub complies with commands), or erotic verbal-humiliation. Once again, make sure a safe word is in place and expectations and limits are made very clear before engaging in bondage or discipline.

Incorporating Sadism and Masochism

It's very possible you and your partner will enjoy the individual aspects of BDSM without wanting to delve into the realms of giving and receiving pain for sexual satisfaction. While pain can be a way to further expand the control play in the dom and sub relationship, it is not a necessity, and many doms and subs never engage in it at all. But if you do decide this is something you're interested in trying, make sure you and your partner are on the same page about what is and isn't on the table. As with every other aspect of BDSM, start slowly and experiment to establish what each partner enjoys. Some people who engage in BDSM like inflicting or receiving pain in conjunction with sexual pleasure, while others get sexual pleasure from the infliction/reception of pain on its own. Don't feel like you need to go out and buy expensive whips and toys right off the bat! Start by experimenting with spanking and slapping. Most importantly, make sure you remain communicative with your partner about what you do and don't like throughout the session.

Aftercare

Aftercare is an essential part of BDSM play. It's a word that refers to checking in with your partner after the BDSM play is over and ensuring that they are emotionally and physically healthy and safe. It's a way to reenter the normal power dynamics of your relationship and establish the love and care underlying them. Many couples tend to use this time to cuddle and debrief about the session.

Remember, if you decide to experiment with BDSM, consent and communication are the most important things!