What anyone considering trying BDSM sex should know

The Editors
·12-min read

From Cosmopolitan

You'll likely have heard a lot more about BDSM in recent years, but what is the true BDSM meaning? With so many new BDSM dating apps around, and a rise in popularity of bondage sex, sex and relationship expert at Lovehoney, Annabelle Knight explains everything you need to know about BDSM sex. It's important to read up as much as you can on bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism before you try BDSM with a partner. In order to enjoy BDSM sex, you'll need to know what you're doing and how to do it safely. And if you're looking for a little inspo before you get started, read these IRL bondage sex stories.

What is BDSM?

BDSM is a term used to described certain aspects of sex that can be split into these major groups: bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism.

"Although some people think that BDSM is 'kinky', in some cases it doesn't have to involve sex at all – the mental connotations of some acts are more of a turn-on than the prelude of a particular act leading to sex," Annabelle says.

Photo credit: Gema Ibarra / EyeEm
Photo credit: Gema Ibarra / EyeEm

"Many specific practices by lovers who indulge in BDSM are performed in neutral, mutually consenting relationships. This emphasis on informed consent is of paramount importance when carrying out a BDSM act because BDSM often involves varying degrees of pain, physical restraint and servitude."

Annabelle says tying your lover up, making them your sex slave, spanking them or putting a dog chain around their neck and making them crawl around on all fours are just a few examples of various BDSM themed acts.

BDSM, consent and safe words

Informed consent between individuals is known as SSC (Safe, Sane and Consensual) or RACK (Risk-aware Consensual Kink). "It's common practice for lovers who indulge in regular BDSM acts to introduce a safe word, which when spoken ensures that the current act stops immediately if things start to get out of hand," Annabelle explains.

It can be a word unrelated to sex, such as 'pineapple' for example, just as long as you both agree that your chosen safety word means everything must stop until the situation has been resolved.

Photo credit: DigiPub
Photo credit: DigiPub

Traffic light system

The traffic light system is the most common and easily used safe word system. Each colour is used to communicate how you're feeling and what you want.

Red: means stop. Saying this will mean you want your partner to stop everything they're doing immediately. It should be used when you're not comfortable, things are getting too much, or you no longer consent.

Yellow (or amber): means slow down. Maybe you liked what they were doing but then it became a little too much. Yellow is basically saying "reel it in a little bit". It can also mean you're reaching your limit, or are edging on physical discomfort.

Green: means go for it. Use green if you like what your partner's doing, you feel totally comfortable, and you want them to continue.

Responding to a 'no' or 'stop'

If you're asked to stop, "you should always greet a 'no' or stop' with gratitude and acceptance," says, Bondage and fetish expert, Marika Leila Roux and CEO of Shibari Study, a globally run online course that teaches the practice of Shibari rope bondage.

"Saying ‘no’ can be very hard and any sign of frustration on the receiving end might compromise honest communication in the future. Showing positive reinforcement and acceptance when your partner finds the courage to express their limits and boundaries will encourage them to always communicate freely with you. This is important to protect them from feeling violated but also to limit the risk of you unintentionally violating them. Their ability to say ‘no’ is a beautiful gift, not a limitation!"

Consent

Marika says, "I cannot stress enough the importance of thoroughly educating yourself about consent and negotiations and making sure that your partners are sufficiently informed as well before engaging in any intimate activity involving power-exchange. Each partnership and context is different, and the methods used to negotiate and navigate a session consensually should be adapted to their unique needs and dynamics."

While everyone's needs are different, Marika has some general advice for negotiating boundaries and consent. "It is very important to learn how to properly and usefully negotiate with your partners. Seek first to understand, then be understood. Ask questions and genuinely listen to the answers from your partner. Seek to understand their genuine motivations and boundaries."

Don't rely on implied consent

"If you rely only on implied consent, there is room for misinterpretation. You cannot count on someone being able to read your mind any more than you should assume you can correctly read theirs. Cultivating mutual self-awareness as well as good communication skills is the key to successful and empowering experiences," she explains.

Be willing to speak honestly about your desires and boundaries

She says, "Don't be afraid to have a frank and honest conversation about desires, boundaries and consent with your partner/s. It is important to know your partner's unique views on BDSM, and their consent philosophy. Remember that consent goes both ways; it is important that everyone involved explicitly and honestly states their expectations, limits and experience. Be sure to discuss all of these things beforehand, especially if it's with someone new."

Don't think of consent as something to get out of the way before you can play

She adds, "Taking the time to negotiate a session and understand your partner’s and your own desires and expectations can be really exciting and a way to connect deeply. I’ve had several negotiations that were as fulfilling as the session itself!"

What does it mean to be a dominant?

Annabelle says to begin with, you and your partner(s) must first decide who's going to play the dominant role and who's going to play the submissive. "It's extremely important for both of you to interchange and play both roles so you can both experience being in control of your shared sexual destiny. Quite simply, the dominant role will demonstrate skill and power and will control the submissive role."

The dominant/submissive dynamic is often also referred to as top/bottom. "In BDSM, the top is the dominant partner who dishes out the spanking, bondage, clamping and whipping, and the 'bottom' is the submissive partner," she says. "However, bottoms can also be the more dominant partner by demanding the top to perform certain acts of their choosing and even insist on switching roles."

What does it mean to be a submissive?

Annabelle explains that the position of the submissive lover is "one of trust and learning". She says it involves "giving away the reins to your mind and body and allowing your lover to take them fully". As much as being a submissive is about relinquishing control, she is keen to point out you will not cease to have a voice.

Photo credit: Peter Dazeley
Photo credit: Peter Dazeley

"A submissive lover should always expect a level of balance and to be able to guide sex within the boundaries of their own desires without pressure to exceed them," she adds. "Many people with sexually submissive desires have concerns about the effect it may have on their day-to-day living. We have a conscious choice to act and by submitting to your lover in the bedroom, you will not find this choice has been invalidated. It is in fact incredibly common for confident and socially dominant individuals to act on their sexually submissive fantasies."

Annabelle says it's important to remember that by taking a sexually submissive role, "you are not giving your lover carte blanche to use you in any way they see fit". She says while there are couples that choose to live in a 24/7 dominant/submissive (D/S) relationship, not everyone who has submissive desires has to follow this relationship structure.

If you're at any point uncomfortable

If at any point during BDSM sex or play you feel like your partner is taking advantage of your submissiveness, then you must tell them how you're feeling. "You get to set the boundaries of your sexual play just as much as they do, submissive or not and if you're unhappy with any part of play then raising the issue is a must," she says.

BDSM and bondage sex toys for beginners

Annabelle suggests beginner couples leave out accessories and equipment for your first few times, and instead focus entirely on each other. She says, "Becoming accustomed to a role as a dominant lover takes time, even if you're used to leading sex. All lights are on you and what you're going to do next."

The popularity of bondage toys has skyrocketed over the last couple of years. So once you are ready to use sex toys and accessories, there are so many fun products to choose from.

Start with basic sensory deprivation

Annabelle says the use of a blindfold stops the wearer from seeing what is happening and handcuffs prevent them from moving.

This sensory deprivation – which is of course one of the best and most important aspects of bondage – can be a little unsettling for BDSM beginners.

Beginngers BDSM and bondage kits

A simple bondage kit is a great way to get started as it comes with beginners' accessories that are fun to experiment with and not too intimidating to use.

"Taking your time and moving through the gears not only reassures the restrained partner, it’s also a wonderfully tantalising way to tease them to even greater excitement. There’s plenty of time for dungeons once you’ve got the basics down," she adds.

Have fun

Annabelle says you must remember it’s a game. "If you’re having a go at bondage you’re presumably looking to have a little fun exploring something that you haven’t tried before and it’s important to remember that, as with all the good stuff that goes on in the bedroom, the top priority should be exactly that: having fun."

To have fun and experience pleasure, it's best to be relaxed, and always be respectful to your partner

Shibari rope bondage

Marika says the traditional rope bondage practice of Shibari is often used to build intimacy and trust in relationships.

"The best way to get started is to watch a lot of videos, browse through pictures and read about Shibari and other bondage practices. A great resource can be found on our site in the Theory & Inspiration section. It’s good to take the time to investigate your motivations and to discover your personal interests, turn-ons and expectations before practicing with other people. Of course your interests will change and be redefined often during your journey, but start with a clean unbiased slate, so you can point yourself and your partner in the right direction."

What is Shibari?

Shibari is a form of rope bondage originating from Japan. The technique has its roots in the feudal Edo Era, according to Marika. "But it was not an eroticised art form until the twentieth century. ‘Shibari’ is a Japanese verb meaning ‘to tie’. The more traditional and erotic expression of the practice is also referred to as ‘Kinbaku’, meaning ‘tight binding’," she explains.

"Shibari is often associated with BDSM, but the practice has evolved greatly in the last decades as it meets at the intersection of sex, art, bodywork, meditation and mindfulness practices and of Eastern and Western cultures. There is no ‘one true way’ to enjoy Shibari and integrate it into our lives and relationships. There are a multitude of different styles and approaches, making the practice more diverse, more dynamic and more beneficial than ever before."

What's the point of Shibari?

Marika says that shibari enthusiasts report many benefits from the practice. "It is a wonderful tool to foster self-care, self-love, self-confidence, self-exploration and body positivity as well as nurturing qualities such as empathy and sensitivity," she explains. "Couples often explain that it deepens intimacy and trust between them in profound and unique ways. It’s also an amazing form of physical exercise and intellectual stimulation; moving your body in new ways and learning a new craft. The artistic aspect of the practice lends itself particularly well to creative expression, as a new medium to combine with aerial circus, dance, photography, film or even theatre."

What to know before trying Shibari

Practice first

When it comes to learning the techniques, due to the pandemic, the only option is to learn online and practice at home with your partner/s or housemates, Marika says. "Whenever possible again, I advise to combine online learning with in-person classes with qualified instructors. There are pros and cons to both, but a combination of the two is ideal. All the basic knots and techniques can be practiced without a partner – on a chair or on yourself – so you can build confidence and experience before moving on to partnered tying."

Safety advice

Marika points out that the most important thing to learn when getting started with any kind of bondage, is general safety (you can take Shibari Study’s free safety course here) and to invest serious effort into grasping the basic techniques. "Regardless of your goals, I always recommend a 'low and slow' integration method and to make sure that the basics are fully understood and mastered before moving onto more challenging exercises. Good communication with your partner(s) before, during and after each session is also crucial for a safer practice," she explains.

"Of course there will always be some sort of risk in playing with ropes, but as long as you do your research you should be able to mitigate the outcome and create a fun and enriching experience. I recommend taking the time to establish and update your own personal risk profile and share it clearly and honestly with your partner(s). A risk profile is an evaluation of an individual's willingness and ability to take risks and what they are comfortable with. It is a way of describing the types, severity, and likelihood of various risks and how they relate to your willingness to participate in certain activities. Risk profiles are a vital element of RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink)."

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