Dear Readers,

In April and May the Tool Shed hosted weekly Ask the Sexpert events (via Zoom), inviting folks to anonymously submit questions pertaining to sexual health and sexual pleasure. A member of the staff would read these questions and we would answer them. We had so much fun doing this, and we learned so much with all of you! One of the things we learned is that a lot of people are curious about kink and BDSM. Not all of these folks were longing to launch into the world of dungeons, safe words, and latex bodysuits (though some were!). Instead, many of them were just looking for information and clarification. A lifting of the veil, if you will.

In response to those Sexperts events, and in an effort to demystify BDSM for the general public, I’ve put together a glossary of 12 common terms used in BDSM and kink. I’m using the terms BDSM and kink pretty interchangeably here. That’s common in our area of SE Wisconsin. In some places, kink and BDSM have more distinct meanings, with kink meaning a particular sexual interest and BDSM being specific to activities that involve any of the things in the first definition.

BDSM – These four letters are a compound acronym that stands for six different words. Bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism.  But does all of that mean? At its core, BDSM is about power exchange and sensation. It is not necessarily about pain, though don’t tell the 50 Shades crowd. Plenty of kinky people enjoy a little pain (or even a lot), but it’s not a prerequisite. Tickling, orgasm denial, bondage, and role playing, are some types of BDSM play that are not inherently painful. Power exchange means that one person (the dominant) willingly takes responsibility for the pleasure and safety of another person (the submissive). It also means that the submissive willingly surrenders that responsibility to the dominant. (See the definitions on consent, negotiation and safewords for more information.) It’s good to note that for some people BDSM includes having sex, but not for everyone. Lots of kinky people do BDSM for its own sake, not as a prelude to or part of their sexual encounters.

Vanilla – This is a subjective term people use to describe sexual acts which, from their perspective, are not kinky, i.e. do not include negotiated power exchange, role play, consensual pain, etc. Sometimes the word “vanilla” gets thrown around like an insult, implying that people who are into vanilla sex are somehow not very interesting. I would like to go on the record as saying that vanilla sex can be really hot, really rewarding, and really fucking satisfying.

Consent – The single most important part of any physical or sexual relationship. Without consent, physical interactions are assault. Non-consensual sexual interactions are rape. Everyone involved in these interactions needs to give enthusiastic consent. That consent should extend to anyone who may witness your interactions, too. If you’re being kinky or having sexy times in front of another person, you are obliged to get consent from them as well.

Negotiation – The process of establishing consent. And it can be a real process! If you don’t like open communication about boundaries, desires, safety and experiences then BDSM is probably not for you. BDSM is nine parts talking to one part playing. Negotiation starts with all parties saying what they like and what they aren’t willing to do (those acts are known as hard limits). The conversation continues by discussing things like how much experience each person has, what kind of health limitations they may have, how they react to strong stimulation, and how each of them can end the interaction immediately. All parties should agree on all of these terms before they start a scene together. After the scene (though probably not immediately after), they should once again talk about it to review what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they’d like next time. What’s a scene? Check out the next definition.

Scene – In BDSM, a scene is an encounter between two (or more!) people, and it is usually preplanned. Generally the scene is discussed fully and consists of an agreed upon beginning, middle, and end. Whether or not a scene will include sexual activity is also agreed on before it begins. Think of a scene as a story or a play, where each person has a specific part to play and everyone is following a shared arc to get to the same conclusion. A scene is also a fun and creative expression for the participants, and most commonly features a power exchange between a dominant and submissive partner. Scenes may occur in someone’s home, at a private party, at a club or some other space that has been designated for BDSM play, and where non-consenting people won’t accidentally witness the encounter.

Safeword – A catchall term for a way to end a scene with no questions asked. Sometimes it’s a word phrase, or action that you wouldn’t normally say or do in the context of a kink scene. This is so that its meaning can never be mistaken for anything else. Safewords are a key component of consensual play. Because BDSM can be physically and emotionally intense for all partners, every participant should both have one. Sometimes people will try to avoid using their safeword because they don’t want to ruin the scene or because they want to prove they “can take it.” If you are overwhelmed, have had enough stimulation, are in too much pain, or just need a break, using your safeword to end a scene is the smart and responsible thing to do.

Red, yellow, green – Sometimes the words red, yellow, and green are substituted for a safeword. Just like a traffic light, these colors indicate stop (red), use caution (yellow), and carry on (green). Regular check-ins between partners are a healthy part of any scene. Using red, yellow, green allows partners to really calibrate how fast the scene moves or how intense it becomes based on how each person is feeling in the moment.

Play – In the sex positive community, people add the word “play” as a suffix to almost anything to indicate a sexual activity that incorporates that thing. So, rope play means activities that involve rope. Impact play means activities that involve hitting someone with something (usually a hand, paddle, flogger, or crop, though the possibilities are nearly endless). Sensation play often refers to using things that enhance or dampen the senses (like blindfolds, warm massage oil, ice cubes, feather ticklers, ear plugs, or scented items) for sex. Notice that the word “play” is used for this! People engaging in kink are enjoying themselves. They’re having fun, even if their kind of fun seems strange to other folks. They are incorporating kink into their lives in ways that make them happier and healthier.

Honorifics and titles – For many people who practice BDSM, titles are an important part of their relationship or identity. Some kinky folks use popular titles, and often people make up their own titles as well. A dominant might want to be called Sir, Ma’am, Master, Mistress or something else. Submissives might be called slave, kitten, prince/princess, pet or something else. These names are known as honorifics. There are also names for the kinds of relationships kinky people have. Usually these names describe both people and their relationship to each other. Some of the more common ones are Dom/Domme (short for dominant)/sub (short for submissive), Top/bottom, and Master/slave.

Play parties/public play – Many kinky folks are “bedroom players,” meaning they mostly play with their own partner(s), in their own home or other private locations. But the kink community is pretty big, and there are a lot of kinky people who enjoy playing in shared spaces. The term “public play” is a misnomer, as public play is still only done in spaces where everyone present has consented to participating in the scene(s). In some cities, there are big play spaces that are available to club members or people who have been vetted by someone else in the community. Some folks host big parties in their own homes, or rent all or part of a hotel or other gathering space for play parties. There are kink conventions, with educational events in the day and play parties at night.

Marks – Hickies, bruises, welts, ropeburn, etc. It’s good to know that you get to decide whether or not you want these mementos, or whether or not you’re comfortable giving them. This should be covered during negotiation. For some people, having marks after a scene is great, and for other folks it is not. If someone doesn’t want any marks, care is taken to avoid them.

Aftercare – I’ve heard more than one kinkster say that aftercare is the best part of BDSM. Because kink can elicit intense physical and emotional responses, it’s important to plan adequate care for the end of a scene. This is usually part of the negotiations before play begins. While submissives most commonly need this kind of attention, it’s also very possible that the dominant partner needs some as well. Aftercare should include evaluating the submissive for injuries that may require first aid or medical attention. It may also include cuddling under blankets, watching television, eating specific foods or drinking specific beverages (definitely have a big glass of water!), processing the scene (though this may wait until later), taking a bath or shower, brushing the submissive’s hair, and other comforting measures. In general, the partners stay together throughout the aftercare process.

Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at mkesex@gmail.com and she’ll get back to you with an answer.

About The Author

Contributor

Lucky Tomaszek, LM, CPM, is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee's only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Most mornings you can find her balancing her cat and her keyboard in her lap, working to make the world a smarter, safer place for people of all genders and orientations.

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