BDSM Etiquette

BDSM Dom in black stockings with fetish belt

This will be just a quick overview of some elements of etiquette in the BDSM scene, some things you may need to know when interacting with the BDSM community. Bear in mind that some things are different from place to place and group to group, but this article should serve as some good general guidelines. This guide may continue to grow over time.

Discretion, Always

Just as in the swinging community, discretion is vitally important in the BDSM scene. Much of the society we live in frowns on, or at least completely misunderstands, BDSM practices and lifestyle. People seen and things discussed at a BDSM gathering or event of any kind, or on a related e-mail list, should remain confidential. Likewise, if you see someone at a play party on the weekend, you shouldn’t mention that if you later see them at work or at the grocery store on Monday, nor should you mention it to anyone you or they know. Two people might even be the best of friends or frequent play partners at parties, but walk past each other every day in the rest of their lives as if they’ve never met, if they want to keep the two sides separated that much. Always be aware of this kind of separation, and don’t violate someone’s personal limits.

BDSM Scene Names

The convention in the swinging community for keeping some privacy where names are concerned is generally that only first names are used, at least in initial contact situations. The BDSM community isn’t quite as clear-cut as that. Most people do not go by their full names most of the time, that much is the same. But while some go by their first names, there are many others who use a “scene name”, a name by which they are known within “the scene”, or the BDSM community. Much like an e-mail “handle”, this is a different name that they have chosen, and you should usually respect their choice and use that name, at least on e-mail lists and at BDSM events. If you intend to interact with the larger BDSM scene, you may want to choose a scene name for yourself.

Capitalization

In exploring the BDSM community, you may see some strange conventions where the capitalization of words is involved. This is because some people like to indicate the relative status of Dominants and submissives by applying capital letters to Dominants and lower case letters to submissives, for their names and even for pronouns.

So for one thing, you may see a sentence referring to “Bill and judy”–from this, you may infer that “Bill” is a Dominant and “judy” is a submissive.

Another oddity you may notice is slashes and combinations where pronouns and other words are involved. You might see someone say something like “then She tied him up”. Even with pronouns, the capitalization has been maintained, so you know who is in what role in this case. Things like “Hello A/all” are also commonly seen. This is an example of someone using the word “all” to refer to a group of people, and trying to indicate that they are using a capital letter for the Dominants in the group and a lower-case letter for the submissives.

Brackets/Parentheses

Particularly in e-mail signature lines, you may see things like this: “Jenny (bob)” or “Master Paul {nelly}”. The brackets and parentheses in these cases are being used to indicate Dom/sub or especially Master/slave relationships–the person indicated in the brackets is in a committed relationship with the other in the submissive role, usually a Master/slave relationship.

Titles

Some Dominants like to use titles, such as “Sir”, “Madam”, “Mistress”, “Master”, etc. This is to emphasize their relative status as compared to submissives with whom they play. In most cases, they don’t necessarily want you to use this title with them, except if you have negotiated that. That is, a sub with whom they play may be “requested” to call them that during play, or if they play often, perhaps at other times as well, and a sub with whom they are in a relationship may call them that all the time, but upon meeting them or speaking to them casually, it is not required as it would be inappropriate–you don’t call someone “Master” unless that person is your Master.

Touching and Toys

It is a general rule that one does not touch another without prior permission, though it’s not always verbal (i.e. if someone offers their hand for you to shake, you don’t have to do so, but you know at least that it’s okay to touch their hand). This is especially true where Master/slave relationships are in play (see below), because you never know whose “property” you’re putting your hand on, even casually.

Toys are another thing you don’t touch. When someone has brought their toys with them–be they whips, chains, ropes, floggers, whatever–they expect that no one will touch them, even if they are on public display. First of all, they want to be able to be sure that nothing will be broken or stolen, and that everything will be where they expect it will be when they look for it. Next, there’s a danger issue–many toys are dangerous in untrained hands, and no one wants their toy picked up by someone else and wind up with someone injured with the item they brought. Finally, it is important to note that many toys need to be carefully cleaned and sanitized if they are to be used on different people at different play parties, for instance. If you handle them, you could undo their owner’s careful work at maintaining safety.

Part 2 of my BDSM Etiquette will be coming soon.

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