BDSM Lite: A beginners guide you've always wanted but never asked for

BDSM Lite: A beginners guide you've always wanted but never asked for

SexDecember 28, 2017 By Kylie Weinmeister

Sweet, calm and smiley, Rachel Anderson seems like she could be a wholesome meme if she wanted to. She wears her honey blonde hair swept up into a neat ponytail and is sitting next to her husband, “Andy” (“Short for my last name,” he jokes) when we speak to them. He’s got an average build and is lowkey muscular. “I like to go the gym, but not excessively,” he grins. Both radiate poise.

On the surface, they seem like a couple one would meet at a church potluck or a PTA bake sale.

But they actually make a lot of their friends through BDSM meetups.

BDSM, which stands for “Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission (and/or Sadist and Masochistic),” gained notable recognition after the “50 Shades of Gray” book series was released and went global some six years ago. But actual members of the BDSM community are continually skeptical of the books.

They're quick to relate that it isn't really like that in real life, and the books are more abusive and unrealistic than what’s often found in the scene. Yet even after the popularity surged from the series, BDSM is still a misunderstood community.

“I've actually always been into it,” Rachel confesses.

“(She) brought it up and I was hesitant at first,” says Andy. “But we gave it a shot and then just got more and more into it.”

Rachel and Andy have been into BDSM for a little over six years and are active members in the community. Rachel writes online articles for BDSM websites under a pseudonym and often engages with others on r/BDSM (there’s a Reddit for everything). 

On top of all that, Rachel says she works hard to normalize the sexual kink — including teaching others how to go about it if they’ve never done it before.

First, the terms:

A Dominant/dom or “top” is someone who likes to be in charge, inflict pain and pleasure and basically just be dominant, explains Rachel.

A Submissive/sub or “bottom” is someone who likes to have pain and pleasure inflicted on them, to be bossed around or take orders and to basically just be submissive.

A “switch” likes to do both at different times, in different situations or with different people.

“I'm a switch,” Rachel says, adding she enjoys exploring both sides of her sexual personality through being dominated and dominating.

Andy bashfully shares that he identifies as a Sub, or is the submissive one.

“Andy and I are very close,” Rachel says. “One of the most important things is making sure that I never push him too far.”

Their planned BDSM escapades are called a “scene” — and it's something they carefully go over before getting into the mood and the moment. Rachel says she’ll first bring up what it is she wants to do, and discusses it with Andy. That way, if there's anything he's uncomfortable with, they can discuss it with level heads outside of passion of the moment.

Safety is one thing Rachel stresses above all, and is generally the bulk of the introduction class. BDSM is not as easy as grabbing rope and tying your partner up. It’s important to know what kind of material to use to avoid causing harm. It’s equally important to know the kinds of bondage that’s safe.

If you’re using rope, scarves or something you can tie, you need to know the kinds of knots that will bind your partner without cutting off circulation, Rachel says. You also need to be certain you have a plan in place for emergencies. That might be having scissors next to your nightstand, keeping a spare set of handcuff keys in your top drawer, or other measures to be certain you can get your partner unbound quickly.

“We know another couple who wanted to try BDSM, and [she] got stuck in the handcuffs and he couldn’t get the key to work,” Rachel says. “They had to ask for help to get undone. It was really embarrassing for both of them.”

Having a safe word may seem cliché, too, but it’s a must, especially for BDSM scenes.

“A safe word is just something you can use if the situation is getting to be too much,” Andy adds.

A lot of couples have two safe words, one for if the situation is getting close to being too much and one that means stop.

“Part of the fun is sometimes being able to push past words like ‘no’ and ‘stop’ for some people,” Rachel says. “So, you should pick words that wouldn’t really come up in the bedroom and are simple and easy to remember.”

One of the biggest things is for both parties to agree to stop whenever the safe word is in play.

Which brings the conversation to trust and communication, two huge fundamentals for BDSM. It might seem counterintuitive, but a lot of communication and trust go into the scene of one partner tying the other one up and having their way with them.

“It’s really important that Andy know that he can trust me,” Rachel says. “I make sure to always communicate with him about how he’s feeling that day too. Just because we did something last week doesn’t mean he wants to do it tonight.”

Trust is what makes it fun for a lot of Subs, Andy adds, noting he wouldn't be interested in pursuing BDSM without it.

Talking before and after an encounter is also key.

“We always talk after for a couple of reasons,” Rachel says. “Some of the stuff we do is pretty intense. I want to make sure that Andy feels good afterwards and sort of reconnect in our relationship. A lot of stuff I do, well, it can kind of seem bitchy out of context and talking and cuddling after gives us a few minutes to bridge the gap between what we do in the bedroom and what we do the rest of the time.”

Props and toys are another element that often comes up at BDSM meetups. “You don’t have to take out a second mortgage to create a sex room,” says Jerry, a 29-year-old self described “BDSM enthusiast” and “Dominant” who asked not to use his last name.

“A lot of household items can be used and can be really fun,” he explains. “Wooden spoons for spanking, or clothespins as nipple clamps. Ice cubes for ice play.”

Rachel says she and Andy have invested in a few props and toys too, including an under the bed restraint system that allows for quick and safe bondage that tucks away when they aren’t using it.

But the acts of tying, spanking and nipple clamping aren’t always sexual for people. Pain and punishment is one of the biggest aspects of BDSM people shy away from — or maybe just don’t understand.

Yet some people get off feeling pain and some people get off giving it.

But for another couple we met named Ed and Jean, it’s slightly different. Jean is stylish, petite and has shoulder length hair done up in a cute puff. Ed dwarfs her, at 6-feet-tall, with serious brown eyes that contradict his not-so-serious smiles. They've been engaging in BDSM their whole relationship of 11 years — Ed has identified as a Dom since late high school, and has been active in the community for about 20 years.

“(Pain is) just part of the scene,” Jean says. “For me, it really helps me get into it, if I know if I don’t listen to him or if I don’t do something right then I’m going to be punished. And it really helps him establish the Dominant role.”

For some couples like Ed and Jean, there are lists of rules to follow, and for others it’s more relaxed. But punishment plays a role in most BDSM encounters.

“We do (BDSM) pretty much all the time,” Ed shares. They've chosen to live their life as a Dominant and Submissive.

Other couples choose to have it just be a bedroom element, listed on the menu with other sexual escapes, like Rachel and Andy do.  

Others split it to be more 50/50 or 75/25, incorporating the dynamic into some relationship aspects outside of sex but not with others.

Yet Ed feels BDSM is more like a sexual orientation than just a kink for him.

“I identify as a Dominant,” he says. “I really can't imagine living or having a sexual relationship any other way.”

The community — which includes many like Ed, Jean, Andy and Rachel — is also welcoming to those who just want to dabble or try it out.

Because if you start by not listening to the experts, you may just find yourself stuck in handcuffs looking for a way out.