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What is BDSM. Definition of Submissive and Dominant

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You may have nothing in common with BDSM-culture and sexual practices of domination and submission. But even in this case there might be some feeling of inconsistency about the concept of BDSM occurring to you.

This practice is often associated with causing pain and humiliation. Actually, this is the way BDSM is defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary:

BDSM: sexual activity involving such practices as the use of physical restraints, the granting and relinquishing of control, and the infliction of pain.

But you can also come across other definitions of BDSM:

BDSM is a variety of often erotic practices or roleplaying involving bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism, and other related interpersonal dynamics.

A physical, psychological and usually sexual power-role-play with consensual participants.

The phrases “role-playing” and “consensual participants” that we find in the last definition imply the process happens on a consensual basis. So in fact it is not the case of humiliation. The issue of pain also remains open: when sexually aroused, one feels pain differently, not the way they do it in the absence of sexual excitement.

The same thing is there with definitions of submissive and dominant. They are also quite dissonant:

“The top is the instigator of an action while the bottom is the receiver of the action” (Wiki)

Some other definitions are:

A dominant:

“a person who exercises control — contrast with submissive” (Wiki);

”having power and influence” (Urban Dictionary);

commanding, controlling, or prevailing over all others (Merriam Webster).

A submissive:

“one who gives over their rights, their desires, and themselves to another. As a gift” (Urban Dictionary);

willing to obey someone else (Merriam Webster).

However there is a nuance in everything given above: they miss erotic, sexual constituent of the process. Thus we suggest you take a look at the way BDSM is referred to in media-culture and by people who practice it.

Sources of BDSM knowledge

My inquiry into the subject of BDSM has been grounded on books, movies, stories of shibari art and my first-hand talks to active practitioners: professionals who earn their living by BDSM-practices and amateurs who live the BDSM lifestyle in the 24/7 mode.

I was once keeping a short company with a mistress who told me that “The more pain, the better a sub feels. No need to care about their comfort”. These words did not ignite my fire; I’d rather say they scared me away from the idea of delivering myself up to her hands. But it made me curious and filled with desire to learn better what BDMS is and what it there to excite a dominant, a sub and other participants.

BDSM-culture background material

I started with primary sources. But neither Marquis de Sade nor Leopold von Sacher-Masoch managed to give in their books a detailed insight into the essence of dominant and submissive roles. Their texts instantiate individual cases of sadism and masochism arranged within the reality of the previous centuries. Their books are definitely brilliant for having introduced the ideas of domination and submission as a sexual game, but they don’t explain where their kernel lies.

Sexologists on the issue of BDSM

My next stage was talking to sexologists. They explained to me the phenomenon of early eroticizing of everything that’s been put under a ban. They also said people tend to eroticize moments of their childhood that were imbued with negative emotions, strong emotional distress and shock. This sheds light upon many things but for the issues of the culture definition and the nature of the BDSM pleasure – i.e., what is it that the process participants enjoy.

First-hand opinion: BDSMers speak out

So I proceeded to take my pleasure in addressing my cautious queries to practitioners. For instance, people of the kinbaku community elucidated the essence of their art to lie in eroticism, the excitement of the one who does the roping and the bonded one. They said the act of bondage gives a model a chance to let things go, live through the experience of safe helplessness.

At this moment I recalled the ideas of sexologists and everything fell into line. The XXI century has turned helplessness into a totally improper thing. Moreover, failing to hit a home run and to slide on the top of the wave may cause a feeling of shame. While using force or slapping someone for the sake of solving an issue is condemned. Thus the two most strong restrictions – violence and inactivity – come to underlie one of the most popular fantasy.

BDSM definition in media

A dominant role introduced in The Story of O and Secretary definitely differs from those of de Sade and Masoch. In these films the dominant deals with teaching, training, modifying the character of the sub. While the sub takes pleasure in serving to the master, matching their style and changing the self to the master’s taste. Nothing of the relaxed position that a shibari model takes.

And there is a third aspect in the dominant’s role that I’ve found in the Maitresse. The dominatrix from the movie says her task is to fulfil sexual wishes of the subs. In fact, she serves to her subs. This film is not an exceptional case in describing dominant role from this perspective. Some professional dominants who’ve shared the specifics of their experience told me the key aspect of their job was not inflicting pain, creating discomfort to subs or changing their character. It implied fulfilling sexual fantasy of the “passive” participant of the process.

And by the way, what are other participants?

BDSM roles: what are they?

Someone observing BDSM from a distance may see it to have two roles only: a dominants and a submissive. A sadist and a masochist. A top and a bottom. Even those calling themselves switches in terms of every certain game must define whether they are on the hard or soft side of the force. But obviously the number of participant roles does not come down to two only.

Even books and movies in addition to principal characters involved in inflicting and taking tortures give room to another two: a narrator and a reader. I assume the two last mentioned are turned on by the action as well. And let me notice here: we usually don’t suffer in the process of watching BDSM-movies or reading books about the same. Well, at least I don’t. Sometimes they make me astonished; sometimes they make me horny or indignant. But there’s no suffering in it. While excitement that occurs tells a BDSM-fantasy to have been designed for me as well. In this game I play a role of the audience.

There are BDSM scenarios that introduce a triad by complementing top and bottom with a process organizer. Say, Sir Stephen of The Story of O was not personally engaged in whipping the girl; but he arranged for others to do it.

Some other BDSM-fantasies feature the role of a scriptwriter (an instigator). These are, for instance, De Sade’s characters telling a fantasy that someone else dares to act out.

Maybe there are other roles you know? Will you share them with us?

But finally, who are submissive and dominant?

The confusion about definition and ideas of domination and submission is obviously a large-scale issue, so “correct” interpreting seems to be is a mission that’s almost impossible.

A dominant is an umbrella term for:

“the one who plays active role (unlike a sub)”;

“the one who fulfills desires of the sub”;

“the one who ignites excitement by inflicting pain”;

“the one who teaches me”;

“the one who corrupts me”;

“the one who has their way with me”;

“the one who cares about the bottom”;

“the one who helps living out a sophisticated fantasy of a sub in a safe and liable manner”.

You can define submissive as:

“the one totally entrusting one’s self to the top”;

“the one ordering to the top the fulfillment of their fantasy”;

“the one who entrusts to the dominant the process of their training, changing, transforming”;

“the one modifying the self in compliance with desires of the top”;

“the one who serves and obeys”;

“the one who lets other take care of the self”.

We can definitely say that one and only definition of BDSM that suits any kind of situation does not exist. What can we then do? As for me, I arrange a BDSM-hookup and interview my contacts about the way they see the process key points and roles. After all, fantasies differ.

See more about the issues of perversion and healthy sexuality in the article Perversion Or Evolvement: What Is A Sexual Fantasy.

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