An absolute beginner's guide to BDSM

Curious about BDSM? Start with these expert tips on safely incorporating it into your relationship.

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BDSM:

Bondage, Discipline and Domination, Submission and Sadism, and Masochism — a sexual behavior that involves both pleasure and pain.

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As we get less uptight about what sex between two consenting adults is supposed to be like, more of us are letting our kink flags fly.

Americans apparently engage in the BDSM lifestyle at a greater rate than any other people in the world. Most recently, our appreciation for films devoted to the topic that — whether an accurate depiction of the BDSM lifestyle or not — have domestically grossed over $380 million combined.

If you foster a fairly vanilla sex routine and want to start toying with BDSM, there are important tips to consider before appropriately and safely integrating it into your relationship.

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Here are a few of the most important, according to a trusted authority on the topic.

Talk to your partner first

Say you want to explore BDSM, but your partner has never mentioned it. Don’t expect to bring it up on Friday, and then by Saturday have your partner in a gimp costume, tied to the wall by a complex series of rope-knots. In fact, initially you might not even want to use the phrase BDSM, especially if you've never broached the topic before.

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"Seeding"

An approach used by Lola Jean, a dominatrix who leads workshops helping people live their best sex lives. Plant a seed by telling your partner something like, “Hey, I was watching this documentary about these men who like women who throw them around and beat them up and they get off on it. Isn’t that interesting?” This can help gauge how open your partner is to the concept. Pay attention to and respect their response, and go from there.

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When the time is right, casually bring up the topic again. If your partner is receptive to how turned on you are by certain BDSM play, you can ask them if it's something they’d be interested in learning more about. Or more forwardly, “What do you think about trying something like that out?”

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Proceed with sensitivity.

If you seem overly eager and propose an extreme scenario out of the gate, it could feel too aggressive, especially if your partner is new to this. (Keep in mind that something as simple as hair-pulling could be a BDSM-lite starter.) But there is, of course, the serendipitous possibility that they’ve been fantasizing about it too.

When thinking about incorporating BDSM into your relationship, prioritize communication and consent above all.

That starts outside the bedroom (or wherever you want to get freaky), and has thankfully been at the center of most conversations about successful BDSM practices.

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Be aware of how you communicate during BDSM

If you’re the prospective dominant and begin experimenting with your submissive, don’t be so quick to raise your voice. Save that for later, perhaps when the sub may be more comfortable with the interactions you've established. In the meantime, shouting could either take them out of the “scene” or, worse, intimidate them into agreeing to something they don’t really want to do.

While BDSM is personal and can include behaviors that come off as aggressive, Jean says that raising your voice — at least out of nervousness, fear, or for intimidation purposes — doesn’t usually exhibit a desirable sense of control.

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True dominance is knowing that you may not necessarily know what you’re doing, or what’s next, or if you’re doing something accurately, but having calm and patience, [regardless].

Lola Jean

As a counterpoint, utilize silence to your advantage.

“If you can be comfortable in silence, that’s actually an act of dominance, because you can be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.”

Jean sometimes tells her clients to “Dom like a strict mom,” because “moms use silence very, very well. They use silence and a look.”

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Express the types of play you like and don’t like

Whether you’re the dominant or a submissive, especially early in your BDSM exploration, Jean says to express, explicitly, what you do and don’t want early in the game. Saying "no" helps develop not only a surface understanding of what you’re into or not into in a given scene, but also trust.

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Remember that if you tell your partner "no" for whatever reason, it shouldn’t put an end to the experimentation as a whole. It will likely just make you both feel secure and confident moving forward. In establishing boundaries, you begin to realize, “Oh, I can say 'no,' and it’s fine; it’s respected and it’s not the end of the world,” Jean says.

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