Glossary of BDSM Terminology

BDSM fetish whip

This glossary is not the be-all and end-all of BDSM terminology; it will continue to grow over time, and some terms are used a little differently from place to place. If you have a suggestion for something you’d like to see here, let me know.

BDSM – A combined acronym standing for Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission, Sadism & Masochism. A catch-all term for fetish and kink.

aftercare – The cool-down period at the end of a scene. Because of the bodily chemicals and hormones and emotional heights involved in BDSM play, particularly where pain play is involved, coming back down can sometimes be a rough experience. Even when there is no emotional or chemical “down” at the end, aftercare is an important time of strong emotional connection between tops and bottoms. The specifics of aftercare depend on the individuals involved, but may include quiet, darkness, cuddling, soft words, etc. In cases of individuals who are in submissive relationships with their Dominants, it may be recommended to hand the sub off to his/her own Dom/me for aftercare, so that the emotional connection that takes place at this time strengthens that relationship, rather than confusing it.

bondage – Being tied up or restrained as a part of BDSM activities.

bottom – The receiving partner in a BDSM scenario or relationship. Sometimes used interchangeably with submissive, sometimes used specifically to refer to the one receiving sensation, as opposed to the one delivering it.

D/s – Short form for Domination & Submission, giving the “s” in lower case to indicate the sub’s subservient role.

discipline – Usually refers to percussion play as a part of BDSM activities, such as spanking, paddling, flogging or caning.

DMs/Dungeon Monitors – At a venue like a play party, individuals designated by the organizers to be on the lookout for everyone’s safety are DMs. They will watch for unsafe practices, rule violations and anyone ignoring a safeword. They have the power to stop any scene in progress, and they usually have the power to eject anyone from the party.

Dominant/Dom/Domme/Domina/Dominatrix – In power exchange play, the one who is accepting power form another. Dominatrix is the term most familiar to those not in the scene; Domina is sometimes preferred by those within it; Dom (for males) and Domme (for females) are those most often seen today. The Dominant is the direct opposite of the submissive.

domination – Refers to “power exchange” play, in the role of dominating or having power over another.

fetish/fet/fetish party/masquerade – A way of differentiating a party whose focus is on fashion, dressing up, socializing, music and dancing, rather than BDSM play itself.

masochism – Refers to enjoying pain play, in the role of delivering pain.

Master – Sometimes used interchangeably with other words for a Dominant, this word is most often used to refer to a Dominant in a “lifestyle” relationship; that is, one for whom domination is part of everyday life in their relationship.

munch – An informal social gathering of BDSM people at a restaurant or bar. The emphasis is on socializing and networking; fetish wear, toys and overt BDSM behavior are frowned upon at a munch.

negotiation – The discussions preceding a scene, particularly with a new play partner at a play party, covering aspects of what each person is into, what they do and do not want, establishing of safewords, and so on.

play – Much as with the swinging community, the actual practices of BDSM are often referred to as play.

play party – A gathering of BDSM people with the specific purpose of play. Specific rules will vary from party to party, but generally, only semi-nudity is permitted (no exposed genitals), sex is not permitted, alcohol and drugs are not permitted, and play is only to take place in specific areas set aside for it. Most play areas at a play party are on display, and anyone can watch, as long as they don’t disturb the scene in progress. Some parties are more private than others, but it is a general rule that one must reserve or get on the guest list in order to attend, and may need to be known to the organizers or be vouched for by someone they know. It is very important to be fully familiar with the specific rules of any given play party before attending.

podcast – A free, episodic audio (or sometimes audio/video) broadcast on the internet.

power exchange/erotic power exchange – Sometimes used as an alternative term to BDSM, this refers specifically to the D/s side of things, in that the submissive in a scene is voluntarily giving up power to the Dominant, and that this is often used for erotic purposes.

sadism – Refers to enjoying pain play, in the role of receiving pain.

safe call – When meeting a new person for play, a safe call is a standard safety measure, usually used by both persons, whether Dom or sub. A safe call involves leaving information about where you will be, when and with whom with a trusted friend. Details about what you’ll be doing are a must, as well as contact information. Some safe calls involve a prearranged time at which the person will call their friend to confirm that they are okay, and some involve a prearranged time at which the friend will be the one to call. To ensure that the other play partner could not force this call, faking the “I’m okay” sentiment, code words are sometimes involved–either the friend is told that the code word will be used if the person really is okay, and the play partner does not know that word, or the friend is told that a certain code word will be used is the person is not alright. If anything about a safe call goes wrong–the player doesn’t call the friend on time, the friend’s call to the player isn’t received, or the code words indicate trouble, the friend is to immediately call the police and provide all of the information they have. The idea is that the embarrassment of the police knowing about one’s BDSM activities is less important than ensuring that, if one is abused or abducted, the police can be alerted as quickly as possible.

Safe, Sane & Consensual – The catch-phrase or buzz-words of BDSM. Everything is BDSM is meant to be these three things. Safe: There is some risk and danger in many things associated with BDSM, but those risks are to be understood and minimized, so that maximum safety can be maintained. Sane: Don’t take unnecessary risks, keep things controlled and careful, don’t get carried away or out of control. Consensual: Everything that happens must be the free-willed choice of everyone involved. Even in scenes playing at the idea of non-consent, like fantasy rape, consent is still involved and the non-consent is only play. Everyone needs to have both the right and the ability to stop the scene at any point for any reason.

safeword – A safeword is a word (or words) chosen to be used to stop a scene at any point. The idea is that, if the sub is not comfortable or feeling safe for whatever reason, or if the scene simply isn’t working, the safeword is spoken and everything immediately stops, bonds are untied, and everyone is checked for safety, injury, etc. Some use two-level safewords, such as yellow and red, as on a traffic light. Yellow would mean slow down, check in with me, a little lighter please, and that sort of thing, while red would mean stop everything now. In scenes where a gag might be used, other methods are used, such as having the sub hold a handkerchief which can be dropped as the equivalent of using a safeword. Safewords are for everyone’s safety; someone using a safeword is not necessarily saying that they never want to play with that partner again, simply that something is wrong at that moment. At play parties, there is often a “house safeword” that will be considered to be in play at all times, no matter what other safewords might be used, so that the DMs can keep a safe eye on play.

scene name – If someone uses a different name, nickname or e-mail handle as the primary way they are known in the BDSM community, this may be referred to as their scene name.

scene/The Scene – The word scene is used to refer to a particular BDSM session. For example, a scene involving role-playing a teacher spanking a student would include setting the scene, the actual spanking and any role-playing involved, and the cool-down called aftercare. At something like a play party, several scenes will likely be going on at once, and any given person might be involved in several scenes in an evening. Overall, the BDSM community and events are also referred to as “the scene”.

slave – Occasionally used interchangeably with other words for a submissive, this word is most often used to refer to a submissive in

sub drop – After a scene, some subs experience a “drop” in their mood and/or energy level, anywhere from minutes to days afterward. This result occurs because of the cessation of the pleasure and pain-management chemicals the brain releases during scening. Proper aftercare can lessen or eliminate this effect, depending on the sub’s needs and reactions.

submission – Refers to “power exchange” play, in the role of submitting to or giving power to another.

submissive/sub – In power exchange play, the one who is giving up power to another. The submissive is the direct opposite of the Dominant. Sub is a very commonly seen short form.

switch – A switch is a person who sometimes enjoys the Dominant/top role, and sometimes enjoys the submissive/bottom role.

trigger – A trigger refers to some event, item, approach, style or other element of play that has particular impact on a sub/bottom. Some triggers are good–“Wooden paddles are a good trigger for him; just the sight of one really turns him on”–and others are bad–“Calling her something like ‘slut’ during play is a bad trigger for her; she has bad associations with that, it takes her right out of the head-space and ruins the scene for her.”

top – The delivering partner in a BDSM scenario or relationship. Sometimes used interchangeably with Dominant, sometimes used specifically to refer to the one delivering sensation, as opposed to the one receiving it.

vanilla – A term for someone or something which is not BDSM, which is conventional or non-kinky (occasionally used in a derogatory sense).

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