BDSM stands for "bondage and discipline[?], domination and submission[?], and sadism and masochism" (see below for fuller explanation), and describes a form of human sexual behaviour involving amongst other things sexual sado-masochism in a context that is sometimes referred to as SSC (safe, sane and consensual) though others prefer Risk Aware Consensual Kink.
That is to say, BDSM is not sexual abuse, which is non-consensual.
In the past, most sado-masochistic activities and fantasies were regarded by psychiatrists as resulting from mental disorder. Recently, most psychiatrists have decided that BDSM activities and fantasies are not normally symptomatic of mental disorder. For example, the DSM-IV says that "The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors" must "cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning" in order for sexual sadism or masochism to be considered a disorder. Sado-masochists do not, in general, view their activities as disordered.
BDSM activities are practiced by individuals of all sexualities: male and female, gay or straight. Many practice their BDSM activities exclusively in private, and do not share their predilections with others. Others socialize with other BDSM practitioners. The BDSM community can be regarded as a subculture within mainstream society.
Some sources estimate the prevalence of BDSM behavior in countries such as the United States at around 5 to 10% of the adult population. While the stereotype of heterosexual BDSM is a male dominant and female submissive, the reality is almost evenly split between "maledom" and "femdom" couples.
It is one of the most popular 'free time' activities in Japan. It has been claimed (dubiously) that over 40% of the Japanese population partake in this sexual behaviour.
Traditional attitudes to BDSM activities regarded it as deviant behaviour indulged in only by sexual psychopaths. Given the popularity of BDSM, this is far from the truth. However, there are a very small minority of people who are sexual abusers using BDSM as a cover for their activities. For these reasons, caution should be exercised by people starting BDSM relationships.
Some BDSM activities may be potentially dangerous if appropriate precautions are not taken. This is particularly true of activities involving bodily fluids, where hygienic precautions should be taken to avoid the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
On a physical level, BDSM "sensation play" often involves applying controlled' stimulus to the human body so that it reacts as if it were actually hurt. This releases pleasurable endorphins, creating a sensation somewhat like runner's high or the afterglow of orgasm, sometimes called "flying". The sensation is related to but distinct from pain. Some writers use the term "body stress". This feeling is the motivation for many in the BDSM community but is not the only motivating factor; a strong minority of BDSM participants (especially bottoms) may well participate in a scene they do not derive any physical pleasure from in order to provide their top with an opportunity to indulge their desires or fetishes.
In some kinds of BDSM play, the 'top' (usually a dominant partner) applies sensation to the 'bottom' (usually a submissive partner) by spanking, slapping, pinching, stroking or scratching with fingernails, or using implements like straps, whips, paddles, canes, knives, hot wax, ice, clothespins, bamboo skewers, etc. The sensation of being bound with rope, chains, straps, cling wrap, handcuffs or other materials can also be part of the experience.
The tools of BDSM play encompass a wide variety of items from specifically designed implements to ordinary household items, known as "pervertables".
Creating a pleasurable BDSM experience has a lot to do with a competent top and the bottom being in the right state of mind. Trust and sexual arousal help a person prepare for the intense sensation. For some, BDSM play can be compared to music, with each sensation like a note. Different sensations are combined in different ways to produce the total experience.
On a psychological level, much BDSM play involves power and dominance, in particular exchange (BDSM)">power exchange of various forms. One person may willingly and consciously hand over personal autonomy or the power dynamic may arise between the parties in the relationship as an spontaneous result of their interpersonal chemistry in which case no conscious decision is made. This power can manifest in an endless variety of relationship dynamics. Some of the variations include:
For a majority of those who engage in BDSM the power exchange is always negotiated. Before play, the participants discuss their physical and psychological limitations, establish safewords and work out what will happen. There is also an active minority in the BDSM community who does not engage in extensive negotiation and eschews the use of safewords preferring instead to accept heightened risk in exchange for what for them is a more natural interaction with their partner. The distance between these philosophies lies at the heart of the SSC and RACK controversies.
A submissive person usually enjoys being controlled by a dominant. Reasons for this may include relief from responsibility, being the object of attention and affection, gaining a sense of security, showing off endurance or working through issues of shame. For others it is simply a 'natural' feeling when they are in the presence of their partner with no specific reward. What are known as service oriented submissive may also have a deep seated desire to be 'of use'.
A dominant person enjoys being in control of a submissive person. Reasons for this include demonstrating skill and power, having ownership of another person, being the object of affection and devotion. This may be the fashion in which the dominant feels most comfortable expressing and/or receiving affection. Service oriented dominants would add that it is obviously useful to have the resources and abilities of another human at their disposal.
BDSM activities are described as "play" in BDSM terminology. The BDSM term is a portmanteau acronym intended to take in all of the following activities:
Some BDSM terminology:
Note that it's common to begin dominant terms with an upper case, for example: Top, Master, Dom etc'.
The historical origins of BDSM are obscure. Some sources claim that BDSM, as a distinct form of sexual behaviour, originated at the beginnings of the nineteenth century, when Western civilization began medically and legally categorizing sexual behaviour. Other sources say that BDSM-like behaviour occurs in many other societies, such as the medieval flagellants or the physical ordeal rituals[?] of some Native American societies.
The medieval phenomenon of courtly love have been suggested by some writers to be a precursor of BDSM.
Although the names of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch are attached to the terms sadism and masochism respectively, their lives are now regarded as examples of sexual and mental dysfunction, rather than precursors of modern consensual BDSM.
Much of the BDSM ethos can be traced back to gay male leather culture, which grew out of post-WWII biker culture. This subculture is epitomized by the Leatherman's Handbook by Larry Townsend, published in 1972, which essentially defined the "Old Guard leather[?]" culture. This code emphasized strict formality and fixed roles (i.e. no switching), and did not really include lesbian women or heterosexuals.
In the mid-nineties, the Internet provided a way of finding people with specialized interests around the world and communicating with them anonymously. This brought about an explosion of interest and knowledge of BDSM, particularly on the usenet group alt.sex.bondage. When that group became too choked with spam, the focus moved to soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm[?].
New Guard leather subculture appeared around this time, as a reaction to the restrictions of Old Guard style. New Guard, or new leather, embraced switching and often combined spirituality with their play.
The expansion of BDSM also coincided with the spread of AIDS. Some writers have suggested that one of the appeals of BDSM is it's a form of sexuality that does not (necessarily) involve body fluids and therefore has reduced risk of disease.
BDSM and fetish imagery has spread out into the mainstream of Western culture through avant-garde fashion, the gothic subculture, rap, hip-hop and heavy metal video clips, and science fiction television and movies.
The modern BDSM subculture is widespread. Most major cities in North America and western Europe have clubs and play parties, as well as informal, low-pressure gatherings called munches. There are also conventions like Living in Leather[?] and Black Rose.
Notable authors (fiction and non-fiction):
The legal situation of sadomasochists varies greatly between countries. In Japan, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, consensual BDSM is legal. In other countries it is an example of a consensual crime.
At least in the western, industrialized countries and Japan, since the 1980s sadomasochists have begun to form information exchange and support groups to counter the discriminatory image held by orthodox science and parts of the public. This has happened independently in the USA and in several European countries. With the advent of the web, international cooperation has started to develop - for example Datenschlag is a joint effort of sadomasochists in the three major German-speaking countries.