LIFESTYLE
24/04/2019 12:27 PM IST

BDSM For Beginners: What You Need To Know

Forget what you saw in "Fifty Shades of Grey." Sex experts help you safely get in touch with your kinky side.

BDSM is more mainstream today than it has ever been. That said, there’s still a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of people who may be interested in exploring it but aren’t sure where to begin.

For starters, BDSM is an acronym that stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism ― basically an umbrella term for different kinds of play that often (but not always) involves established power dynamics. It’s also become a catch-all term for many kink communities and activities beyond the vanilla. It may include spanking, caning, role-playing, cuckolding, watersports and sissification. Note that BDSM play ― or “scenes,” as they’re called ― may or may not include actual sexual activity

Whether you’re single and looking to spice things up or have a partner who is ready to experiment, we’ve got you covered. Below, sex workers, sex therapists and other sex experts share what you need to know before you get started.

First, do your research. 

Don’t rush into anything. Do some research first in order to learn what’s out there, what’s of interest to you and how to engage safely in that kind of play. 

“Easing into it is definitely the approach to take,” said escort and professional dominant Oz Bigdownunder. (In a dominant/submissive relationship, the dominant (or Dom) is the person who is wielding the power in a scene, while the submissive (or sub) is the one who is willingly relinquishing control.)

You can check out social media sites like FetLife, known as “Facebook for kinksters,” to find information about different types of meetups or other social events in your area. 

“‘Munches’ are meetups for kinky people to meet at a non-kinky venue,” Bigdownunder said. “There’s no play at a munch but you can always make new friends there and get together in private or in public at a kinkier venue.”

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Before any BDSM play begins, make sure you've done your research and had an open, honest conversation with your partner(s) about consent. 

You can also read books on the subject, attend kink workshops or link up with a BDSM mentor who can show you the ropes, so to speak. 

“You shouldn’t just go out and buy toys when you haven’t even been trained on how to safely use them,” said Hudsy Hawn, a kink coach and professional dominatrix. “The first and most important muscle to exercise in your kink practice is your mind. Select the books written on the topics that speak to you. Find classes in your city teaching the subjects you and yours are drawn to. And finally, get out and meet like-minded people so you can watch and learn from them.”

For newbies, Kitty Stryker, editor of the anthology “Ask: Building Consent Culture,” suggested bringing a pal with you to these events until you feel comfortable flying solo. 

Communication, as a whole, is essential. 

For many people, talking about sex or other erotic topics can be awkward and even deeply uncomfortable. But there’s no way to safely engage in BDSM without having an honest, grown-up conversation with your partner(s). 

“We have to be comfortable talking about BDSM before we embark on it,” sex therapist and psychotherapist David Ortmann said. “Sounds easy, but our society still has serious problems talking about sex in a direct manner, so we have to begin with communication. We have to talk to our partners about our experience or lack thereof, desires, fantasies and the fun fears that tingle and can fuel fantasy, as well as our real fears about safety, negotiation, the respecting of boundaries and consent.”

If you or your partner has difficulty having these conversations, then you may not be ready for BDSM right now. 

“If you can’t talk about sex, you can’t ask for, give or offer consent,” Ortmann said. “Therefore, not being able to talk about sex is a dealbreaker. A non-starter.” 

Consent is everything. 

“If there is no consent, it’s not BDSM,” Bigdownunder said. “It’s abuse and someone is going to get hurt.”

Whenever Bigdownunder meets with a new client for a BDSM session, he makes sure they have a clear, honest conversation about consent before engaging in any kind of play. 

“I ask if they have any limits, anything they especially want to happen or don’t want to happen, have they done this before, what did they like about it, any great experiences, any bad experiences,” he said. “I get as much info as I can so I can make the best session possible for them.”

Hawn said that her formula is simple: communication + negotiation = consentIn order to get proper consent, she said, you both need to put your individual agendas aside and communicate with each other to find out what kinds of activities you’re interested in exploring, as well as those that you want to steer clear of. 

If there is no consent, it’s not BDSM. It’s abuse and someone is going to get hurt.Oz Bigdownunder, escort and professional dominant

“Then you can both begin negotiating the finer points on those desires,” Hawn said. “Once these steps are taken, you’re left with a list of consensual items to play with. If you have a great idea after playtime has started, save it for a later discussion when you’re both in a grounded state of mind and can give proper consent.”

When Stryker started in BDSM, she mistakenly thought that having people violate her consent or push her boundaries in ways she wasn’t comfortable with was “just part of the learning process of figuring out what I liked and didn’t like.”

“It’s not,” she said. “You get to set your boundaries for yourself, and people should respect them.”

Be sure to establish a safe word beforehand. To avoid confusion, safe words should generally be things you would not be likely to say during a scene. Even words like “no” or “stop” can sometimes be misinterpreted if used during resistance play.

Check in with yourself and your partner throughout the process. 

When you’re expanding your sexual horizons, sometimes you’ll try something new, only to find out that you don’t actually like it. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just make sure you communicate that information to your partner and encourage them to do the same. 

“Feel things out!” Stryker said. “It’s OK not to like something. It doesn’t make you a bad kinkster.”

Even if you’re in the middle of a scene, speak up if you realize you’re not OK. It doesn’t matter that you gave consent to begin with. If it’s not working for you, it’s fine to take a break or stop altogether. 

It’s OK not to like something. It doesn’t make you a bad kinkster.Kitty Stryker, editor of the anthology “Ask: Building Consent Culture”

“As a Pro Dom, the worst-case scenario for me is that someone might keep quiet and endure something they’re hating because they think it would be a failure to quit,” Bigdownunder said. “I always do my best to make it clear before I start any kind of BDSM session that it’s fine if they want to ease up or take a break or change their mind about what we’re doing or how we’re doing it or to stop at any point, just let me know. And I ask people often how they’re doing.” 

Start small and work your way up.

It’s totally fine to dip your toe into the BDSM pool instead of diving head first into the deep end. Nazanin Moali, a sex therapist and host of the podcast “Sexology,” suggested starting small and then building on that over time as you get more comfortable. 

“You may wish to start with a vanilla sexual act that you both have previously found pleasurable and add a small kinky wrinkle to it, such as hair pulling or light spanking,” she said. “Later, you can move forward with an addition to another sexual behavior that you have both found pleasurable together in the past. Sometimes the addition of too many props and new acts at once can lead to confusion and disappointment.” 

Don’t forget about aftercare.

In the BDSM world, aftercare refers to physical and emotional comfort or attention exchanged between partners following an intense sexual experience. It may include offering your partner water, a snack or kind words. It may involve tending to any cuts or other injuries your partner has sustained (think a sore butt after a spanking). 

“Both parties need ample nurturing,” Hawn said. “It’s important to replenish our partner’s emotional and physical wellbeing, so find out what kind of post-play interaction they prefer. Kink is a two-way street where everyone deserves aftercare.” 

You can also use this time to debrief about the sexual experience: How did it compare to your expectations? What did you each enjoy ― or not enjoy ― about it? 

“I have often heard from my clients that they assumed that they would enjoy a certain kinky act. However, when the time came, it was not as interesting as they expected, or it was even a turnoff,” Moali said. “Make sure you talk about your experience afterward with your partner and go over what worked and what didn’t.”

Know that BDSM isn’t always about inflicting pain. 

Sure, some BDSM activities, like whipping or flogging, may involve physical pain but that’s not what it’s all about. 

“Although pain exchange is certainly part of sadomasochism in particular, most BDSM activities are undertaken to alter sensations and add novelty to one’s sex life,” Moali said. 

And just because you’re into BDSM doesn’t mean you’re “damaged” in some way.

Anyone, regardless of their sexual history, can be interested in BDSM. It doesn’t mean you’ve experienced sexual trauma or there’s something “wrong” with you. 

Engagement in alternative sexual behaviors does not imply any mental health disorder or history of trauma.Nazanin Moali, sex therapist and host of the podcast “Sexology"

“Engagement in alternative sexual behaviors does not imply any mental health disorder or history of trauma,” Moali said. “There are many forms of sexual expression, and desires of this sort are far more common than the general public assumes.”

If thinking or talking about BDSM-related play brings up feelings of “dirtiness” or shame, you may want to confide in a trusted friend or partner or see a therapist to unpack any damaging beliefs.

So how can you bring up an interest in BDSM with your partner?

If you’re in a relationship and want to broach the subject with your partner or spouse but don’t know how, our experts have few tips to help things go more smoothly.

Be clear in your own mind about your desires and how involved you’d like your partner to be before you have the conversation.

“Take the time to consider which elements of BDSM you find arousing and journal about them,” Moali said. “It’s normal to be afraid of being misunderstood and to feel a little ashamed. In fact, that’s often why many people don’t take the time to reflect on what they want and like.”

She continued, “They assume that their partner will not be open to exploring this area with them. You will improve your chances that your partner will be ready to participate with you in this experience if you have already understood specifically what you like in it and what you find arousing.” 

You may choose to strike up the conversation in an intimate setting.

“Talk about expanding your sexual adventures into the kinky realm with your partner or partners in a space that is already intimate — like talking in bed before sex or sleep,” Ortmann said. “Tease one another. See where the good, fun buttons are and push them.” 

Or you may want to start (or continue) the discussions outside the bedroom. 

“It’s essential for your success that you schedule a time so that you and your partner can take the time to discuss the topic,” Moali said. “They might have follow-up questions, and it might take them some time to process what you say and provide their reaction to it.”

Express your own desires clearly to ensure that the two of you are on the same page.

“As you are speaking, use clear and concrete terms to describe what you want from your partner: Is it a pure fantasy or do you want to enact aspects of it with your lover?” Moali said.

Be open to negotiation. 

“No one can get everything they want from all of their interactions,” Moali said. “If your partner appears open to explore some of what you find interesting — even a small part of it — thank them for their willingness. Be sure to reciprocate: Ask them if there is anything they would like to explore in the bedroom.” 

Sex Ed for Grown-Ups is a series tackling everything you didn’t learn about sex in school — beyond the birds and the bees. Keep checking back for more expert-based articles and personal stories.