BDSM is a variety of erotic practices that in short, involve power exchange, role-playing, bondage, and other interpersonal dynamics. Given the wide range of practices, some of which may be engaged in by people who do not consider themselves as practicing BDSM, inclusion in the BDSM community or sub-cultures is usually dependent on self-identification and shared experience. Interest in BDSM can range from one-time experimentation to a lifestyle, and is sometimes referred to as a sexual identity/orientation.
The term BDSM dates back to 1991; however, the exact origin of the term BDSM is unclear, though the associated practices of it's components have been clearly dated back to Mesopotamia at the earliest records, sometime between 4000 and 3000 BC and is consistently present throughout the rest of human history. It is often interpreted as a compound initialism from B&D (bondage and discipline), D&S (dominance and submission), and S&M (sadism and masochism). Regardless of its origin, BDSM is used as a catch-all phrase to include a wide range of activities, forms of interpersonal relationships, and distinct subcultures.
BDSM covers a broad spectrum of activities and identity aspects and it can take a while even to understand the basics of BDSM Theory.
Jokingly, BDSM is sometimes referred to as standing for "Badly Dressed Social Misfits".
Most common misconceptions about BDSM form when limited understanding become intertwined with prejudices, clichés, stereotypes and a poor understanding of the concept of personal responsibility and consent. Misunderstandings may arise from general lack of knowledge concerning sexuality and sexual practices as well as misconceptions on how one's personal life and public persona can vary greatly. For example, it is sometimes assumed that a submissive would prefer to experience pain and degradation in their everyday life, or conversely, that they would prefer to have exactly the opposite. There is no clear correlation between the position in everyday life and BDSM preferences. Another misconception is the idea of women generally being the dominant party in BDSM relationships. Quite often the picture of BDSM is reduced to the idea of crude corporal punishment, neglecting the broad spectrum of behaviors within the culture. Along with the whip-swinging dominatrix, the sadomasochist in full leather regalia is another common cliché. While overlaps between different kinds of fetishism can exist, there is no inevitable connection between BDSM and fetishism (for example: latex, PVC or leather). The frequent occurrence of such clothing can be partly explained by its function as a quasi-formalized dress code that is observed by some and completely ignored by others.
Common misconceptions about BDSM
- BDSM is mostly about the "dominant" partner getting his/her way with a passive, exploited "submissive" – BDSM community emphasizes on negotiation and creation of scripts. This view fails to recognize that submissive individuals consent for pleasure. It also fails to recognize the simple metaphysics that 'fulfilling the masochists needs" is central to finding and keeping the submissive partner. Frequently one hears of Topping from the Bottom, where the submissive partner manipulates the relationship, while appearing passive, submissive and obedient.
- BDSM is about physical pain – Kinky preferences are highly variable and not all forms induce pain. Although pain can be involved, it is in a sexual nature. Pain is experienced in the context of love, trust, and arousal.
- BDSM activities inevitably escalate to extremes and/or become addictive – Often there is "making up for lost time" phenomenon with some individuals who are late in coming out. However, this high level of activity usually levels off, though this level may be "occasional" for some and "24 / 7" for others.
- BDSM is self-destructive – this is simply inaccurate and not supported by any evidence. Self-destructive behaviors are experienced no more frequently by BDSM practitioners than the general public. On that note, anything pleasurable is subject to abuse and BDSM is no exception.
- BDSM stems from childhood abuse – There is no evidence for this claim, and it has been disproven by various articles.
- BDSM is an avoidance of intimacy – BDSM is no more or less prone to intimacy amplification or aversion than more standard sexual practices.
- BDSM is separate from "vanilla" sex – for most practitioners, BDSM activities and "regular" intercourse are often combined or intertwined in one way or another.
- BDSM is inherently safe and anyone can do it - BDSM always involves some level of mitigated risk and can in some cases reasonably lead to accident, injury, hurt feelings, and otherwise uncomfortable scenarios making excellent communication, a willingness to take personal responsibility for one's choices, crisis management skills, and a strong and healthy understanding of consent paramount in all BDSM interactions. BDSM is not for the feint of heart and not everyone will enjoy and appreciate all aspects of it.
Since the term BDSM covers a broad range of human behavior, the arising spectrum of individual interests and personalities is large and extremely diverse. Due to the lack of information in the total population and the reluctance with many to come out about matters of an extremely personal nature leads to situations in which actions and statements of individual BDSM practitioners are accredited to the community at large just as the larger LGBT community has been characterized by drag queens and other minority communities similarly mischaracterized.
At least in the western, industrialized countries and Japan, since the 1980s sadomasochists have begun to form information exchange and support groups to counter discriminatory images. This has happened independently in the United States 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, and the mailing list Schlagworte uses the model of a news agency to connect six countries. Some credit highly publicized events like Operation Spanner and the International leather contests with fostering international cooperation and collaboration.