We use a lot of kink terms on this blog, and we’re often asked to help our friends with these terms and their intro into this space. What follows are our definitions and interpretations, sometimes accompanied by links to technical definitions and additional resources. These are roughly laid out “in order” to help you build a vocabulary from the top of this page to the bottom.
BDSM is often used interchangeably with kink, and while it is probably the largest subset of kink, it is, in fact, a subset. BDSM actually encompasses three different, 2-letter terms:
- BD: Bondage & Disciplne
- DS: Domination & Submission
- SM: Sadism & Masochism
There is A LOT to unpack within those three groups, so we’re going to send you over to Kinkly for a good primer on BDSM. It’s also worth noting that we entered the BDSM space thinking we were into D/s (Domination & Submission) but have actually found ourselves more in the Bondage & Discipline space as a couple.
Safe, Sane, Consensual
This is the mantra and basis of all kink play: that everything be Safe, Sane, and Consensual.
Top/Dom & Bottom/sub
While not entirely interchangeable, for our purposes a Dom is a Top and a sub is a bottom. Generally, the bottom dictates the rules of a scene and the top is charged with controlling the scene within those rules.
Scene (or BDSM Scene or Kink Scene)
A scene is a defined kink experience that has at least three stages:
Simply put, partners wishing to engage in kink play will start by negotiating what type of play they would like, where and when, safe words, and anything else required to set a Safe, Sane, and Consensual container for play. The negotiation assures that all predictable variables are considered so the participants can enter the scene in their personas and not deviate from them to discuss terms. When there is a safe and well-defined container for the scene, the Top or Dom can control the scene and “dominate” without ever stepping beyond what the sub or bottom is ready to handle.
When the scene is complete, participants will exit their personas and engage in aftercare. This is highly personalized, but generally has the top providing what the bottom needs to re-enter a normal headspace. It’s also meant to simply ground the bottom back in reality. This can include cuddles, being wrapped in a blanket, hydration, snacks, soft music, words of affirmation, or just about anything that the bottom needs. Experienced bottoms may know precisely what they need, while those newer to this role may not have any idea and the top must be engaged to help guide them through aftercare for safe exit from the scene.
Any method of one partner striking another falls under Impact Play. And, loosely, the top and bottom in an impact scene are a Sadist and a Masochist, each getting arousal from the pain being inflicted for pleasure. Impact can also be loosely divided into “stingy” pain (crops, whips, canes) or “thuddy” pain (open hand, wide paddle, flogger) and bottoms tend to like one over the other; not that they couldn’t enjoy both!
Arguably, all of kink and sexuality is sensory play since, by definition, it’s play that excites the senses. Often sensory play is referring to tactile sensations against the skin (feathers, ice, claws, fur) yet can and should include the other four senses: sight, sound, taste, smell, touch. Sensory deprivation (blindfolds, earplugs) are also a part of sensory play.
OK – this is an important and also delicate topic. Simply put Subspace is when a bottom is so deep in the activities of the scene that there is an altered state of consciousness. For many subs, this is the goal of a kink scene. Subspace for many is a completely relaxed and floaty experience, and it allows the scene to continue with no conscious interaction. This can be blissful! But it can also be dangerous is the top isn’t skilled and respectful. In subspace, some will ask to do things that they already negotiated out of the scene. The top must say no and then discuss this during a post-scene debrief, when the bottom is back to a fully conscious state.
Here’s one short, but good article on subspace. My only issue with that article is that it seems to limit the methods to get to subspace. For example, rope tying can absolutely get a bottom to subspace but is left off that list. Just be open to getting there in other ways.
Shibari / Kinbaku / Japanese Rope Bondage
Shibari is pretty much the favorite activity for Viktor and Jeannie. We experienced it early on this journey and it has blossomed ever since. So what is it and why is it so important to us?
First, let’s get some semantics out of the way… For us Americans in the kink scene, the terms Shibari / Kinbaku / Japanese Rope Bondage are pretty much interchangeable. Even in Japan there is much debate about these terms. And we’re not being disrespectful, but especially at the novice and intermediate levels, Japanese terminology distinctions aren’t necessary. We’ll stick with Shibari here.
Shibari is the art and act of using rope (most often natural fiber like jute or hemp) to tie and bind a partner for both visual aesthetic and physical pleasure. In Samurai times a prisoner would be bound using rope and then presented to the courts. As with everything Japanese, the presentation is a formal act and is meant to be beautiful despite the context. Each Samurai would create their own signature knots and binds. The goal was to present the prisoner beautifully and in a unique visual style while assuring they could not escape. It was also imperative that the ropes spoke on behalf of the Samurai – he was meant to be only in the background of the scene.
I’m sure you can already see where this is going. In modern Shibari the Rigger or Rope Top will tie and bind the Rope Bunny or Bottom for both visual and physical pleasure will the top is as invisible to the scene as possible. All the while showcasing full control over the scene and the bottom. Shibari is also a “long game” activity for a scene – the ties and positions can change endlessly with each evoking a different reaction from the participants. And this is often done at public events to involve an audience as well.
This page will be updated over time to include terms needed to convey kink basics to friends.