Common Words to get you Started

BDSM: represents a continuum of practices and expressions, both erotic and non-erotic, involving restraint, sensory stimulation, role-playing, and a variety of interpersonal dynamics. The term BDSM is an abbreviation of: Bondage/Discipline; SadoMasochism.

Dominant and submissive: (Dom and sub or D-type and s-type) are terms that relate to behaviors linked to personality traits; you could as easily substitute the terms leader and follower.

Dom and Domme: the shorthand male and female version of the word dominant. Generally, Dom can be of either gender. When the topic specifically concerns a female dominant use Domme. “Fet” as it is called, is the go-to source for just about anything these days. It is the “Facebook” for kinksters. There are discussion groups for just about any topic you can think of and an extensive worldwide event listing by city.

Gor: short for Gorean—a subculture that grew out of the science fiction novels of John Norman based on a belief that in the natural order of things, males are inherently dominant over females.

Hard Limit: Something you won’t do during a scene.

Soft Limit: Something you are on the fence on, you may like it, you may not, but you are willing to give it a try

Kinky: slang for people who enjoy adventuresome sex, which is, itself, a euphemism for BDSM.

Leather, Leathermen, Leathersex: The Leather subculture is one of many facets of semi-organized alternative sexuality. In recent decades the Leather community has almost come to be viewed as a subset of BDSM culture rather than a descendant of gay culture.

Master and slave: usually applied to a 24/7 relationship structure wherein the subordinate person (slave) has surrendered authority over themselves and pledged to serve and to obey their Master who now exerts total control and offers total protection for this person.

Munch: Munches are intended to be non-threatening social gatherings, often held in a vanilla space with food, to help those who are curious about BDSM meet others who may be able to help them become more comfortable and better informed. Munches can also be a place to get advice about BDSM experiences.

Negotiating/negotiations: The process of determining what will and will not go on in a play scene—or in a relationship. As some people consider the scene to start with negotiations, this is not a time to be interrupted.

Old Guard: A term used to describe a near-mythical time in gay Leather history when returned soldiers from World War II blended some features of their military experiences with their kinky interests to produce a subculture that over time became known as Leather. Some of the echoes of their rules of protocol, inclusion, and exclusion can still be seen in today’s BDSM society.

Power Exchange or Authority Exchange relationships: Relationships where one person is clearly the leader and the other is clearly subordinate.

  • Dominant/submissive (D/s)
  • Caregiver/little (CG/l)
  • Master/slave (M/s)
  • Owner/property (O/p)
  • TPE (Total Power Exchange).

Sadism: in psychiatry, the condition in which sexual gratification depends on causing pain or degradation to others.

Sadomasochism (SM): The psychological tendency or sexual practice characterized by both sadism and masochism.

SM play/scenes: activities between two or more people of any gender that involve giving and receiving sensations such as spanking, flogging, whipping, etc. for their mutual and consensual enjoyment.

SM techniques: methods such as spanking, whipping, bondage, or electro-stimulation that sadists may use to cause masochists to feel the desired sensations.

Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC): A slogan used to summarize the minimal physical/psychological conditions most people consider acceptable for SM play to take place.

Safe-call: a procedure used when meeting someone for the first time (or even when meeting someone that you don’t know well) that ensures that someone else knows what you’re doing, where you’ll be doing it, and that you are safely.

Safe words: Words play participants will use in order to keep things safe, sane, and consensual.

An example of safe words used by many in the BDSM community include:

  • Green – The scene is going well.
  • Yellow – Keep doing what you are doing, but ease up a little on the intensity.
  • Orange – We need to move into another activity. This activity is not working. (Not a common safe word)
  • Red – We need to stop the scene now

Sex-role stereotyping: The general public stereotype is that Doms are men with sadistic/Top preferences and that submissives are women who have masochistic/bottom preferences. These are stereotypes and are far from the way roles are practiced within this culture. In reality, Dominants can be male or female, masochists or sadists and of any sexual orientation. So can submissives.

Switch—common use: someone who enjoys being either the Top or the bottom; enjoys giving or receiving physical SM stimulation. Among Leathermen, activity switches are sometimes referred to as versatile.

Switch—less common usesomeone who is willing to take either the leadership or subordinate role in a relationship depending upon the chemistry or connection within that particular partner—dominant in one relationship and subordinate (not necessarily submissive) with the other. This is often an advanced and controversial topic.

Top: the person doing the action.

Top/bottom: sensation play with SM toys/tools—no psychological dynamic, no power exchange. Top and bottom are terms that relate to physical action only. The Top spanks the bottom. The Top or the bottom may be a dominant person or a submissive person of either gender. Top and bottom only describe scene specific roles while dominant and submissive describe relationship behaviors. The decision to Top or to bottom is only a decision of which person wishes to receive sensations that the tools/toys produce when handled by someone who has been properly trained.

Vanilla: The term used by those of us who practice BDSM for those who do not practice BDSM or activities outside of the scope of BDSM. It’s not a pejorative term, simply a descriptor. Typical uses: vanilla sex, vanilla relationship, etc.