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Eleven Short Tips for BDSM Novices

Originally posted in the GWNN June 2015 Newsletter

With the recent financial success of a certain book about BDSM and its film adaptation, the veterans in our community have anticipated an influx of eager novices. The editor of the GWNN newsletter asked me to write this short collection of hints for newcomers to our community. Welcome! Here goes.

1. Take your time. It's not a race.

BDSM is fun but it's also risky behavior. Take your time to discover what you want and how to best go about getting it. Don't rush into ill-advised play.

2. Meet lots of people

Attend lots of munches and parties. Join multiple groups. Form a network of friends. Don't single mindedly socialize with only the people you want to play with. You can form rewarding friendships with people of all genders, orientations, and roles. Your new friends can suggest potential play partners or relationships as well as warn you away from charming people with bad reputations.

3. Don't be rushed into identifying with a narrow role before you're ready.

Here's a pet peeve of mine: Nearly everyone you meet will ask you "what are you?" That's not the best question to ask someone who's just beginning to explore BDSM. The blunt question "what are you?" assumes that everyone neatly fits into a narrow category and that they have a clear idea of exactly what they want --- even if they're brand new to this and not quite sure what it is about BDSM that intrigues them. I'd rather people ask a more open ended question like "what interests you about BDSM?" . When someone asks "what are you?" --- and they will ask --- I suggest you reply by explaining what interests you instead. For example "I'm curious about being tied up by a man but I don't want to be tortured or touched in a sexual way." That answer is more informative than simply stating "I'm a bottom."

4. Your fantasies are just as legitimate as anyone else's.

Many experienced scene people --- myself included --- dislike the "50 Shades of Grey" series of books. But in matters of personal taste, there's no proscribed authority. In the area of individual sexual fantasies, the only opinion that matters is the opinion of the individual. The point is that YOU enjoy it. Enjoy your porn or your erotica for what it is. It's fiction. It's fantasy. You don't need to justify what turns you on to anyone.

That said, understand that the "50 Shades of Grey" series of books and movies are not the most accurate illustration of BDSM as accepted by the BDSM community. Neither are books like The Story of O and the "Sleeping Beauty" series by Anne Rice. Or the movie Secretary. They are highly regarded or wildly popular in our community, but they also feature scenes of non-consensual sadomasochism.

(While it can be acceptable to fantasize about non-consensual sadomasochism and sex, the real thing is unacceptable.)

Larry Townsend explains this best in The Leatherman's Handbook: Enjoy what literature you will, but your training will come entirely through experience. Never confuse the two. What you read is somebody else's fantasy -- at best, his idea of how the scene should work. What you do is your reality. (p. 46)

5. Do Your Due Diligence.

Just because you meet someone at a local munch or a play party doesn't mean they know anything about BDSM. They might know less than you do. If you're a bottom, make sure your potential tops knows what the heck he's doing before he ties you up with razor wire and suspends you from the ceiling like he read in his favorite book. You owe it to yourself and to those who love and depend on you to look after yourself.

Alternatively, if you're going to do those things to someone else be sure you know what you're doing --- and that your bottom knows what she's agreeing to. Consent means nothing if it isn't informed consent.

6. Learn as much as you can

Today there are plenty of magazine articles, books, web sites, classes, and conferences about BDSM that are widely available. Take advantage of the resources you have available. In cases of life and death --- of mental and physical health --- there's no excuse for not learning.

One good place it start is my own web site. The annual conferences like the GWNN Birthday Bash is another great opportunity.

7. It's not all one thing.

There's a great deal of variety for what we do. So don't assume that your fantasy of BDSM is the same as everyone else's fantasy of BDSM.

Take for example:

Dominant Denise: A faithfully married 55 year old woman with a vanilla husband who has given her permission to tie up men and spank them --- but nothing more. She's 5 years away from retiring from her job as a public school teacher.

Submissive Sam: A 22 year old college drop out looking to be a kept pleasure slave. Doesn't want to provide any service other than sex, auto repair, and killing spiders.

She's dominant. He's submissive. They’re both heterosexual. So they must be compatible, right?

You might meet someone that you like that has a compatible fantasy but it's most likely that you will need to communicate to each other what you want and need and then make compromises. (That's a lot like vanilla relatioships.)

8. Accept other alternatives.

We're a sexual minority. Despite the financial success of 50 Shades of Grey and the popularity of sadomasochistic images in music videos, we're still sexual outlaws. It makes sense to accept other sexual minorities --- LGBT, transvestite, etc., --- as we would like to be accepted.

I'm a male top who like to play with women but I don't think any less of a man that chooses to bottom to women (or other men.) It's not my thing, but that doesn't make it wrong.

You don't have to engage in play that doesn't appeal with you or play with people you're not attracted to. But respect other kinks and kinky people for what they are.

9. Polyamory is not required.

People in our community are brave souls who explore all sorts of alternatives --- not just BDSM. Swinging and Polyamory are two other popular alternatives to many of us in the BDSM community.

Polyamory is the philosophy or state of being in love or romantically involved with more than one person at the same time with the knowledge and consent of all partners. Unlike swinging which is focused on the sex aspect, polyamory is about love and commitment.

Polyamory is so prevalent in our community that sometimes it almost seems de rigueur. Many people in BDSM are also into Polyamory but not everyone into BDSM is polyamorous. If you want a monogamous relationship that's perfectly acceptable. Don't listen to anyone who will tell you otherwise.

10. BDSM is not a contest.

Some people believe a successful scene is one that forms a crowd of onlookers. That's fine if both of you are exhibitionists. But the only real criteria for a successful scene is that all the players enjoy themselves.

Don't fall into the trap of competitive exhibitionism --- unless you happend to be a competitive exhibitionist.

11. Be discreet.

Your friends, family, and employers might not have a problem with you practicing BDSM. The same cannot be said for all of us. I know of people who have lost their jobs and custody of their children when their sexual proclivities have become known. Please respect the rights of people who want to keep this private.

Thanks for reading. I hope this helps someone.

Published: June 28, 2015
Revised: June 24, 2024

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