How to Safely Try BDSM For the First Time

·6 min read
what-is-bdsm
what-is-bdsm

Vincent Besnault, Getty Images

Chances are you've heard of, seen, or even sang about BDSM at one point of your life—Alexa, play "S&M" by Rihanna. Jokes aside, if chains and whips excite you, too, then you've likely been interested in trying BDSM, which is pretty common. One 2014 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found out of the 1,516 adults that were surveyed, 65% of women and 53% of men fantasized about being sexually dominated, and 47% of women and 60% of men fantasized about dominating someone else.

If you're someone who lies in these percentages, then first, know that it's completely normal, and second, before trying BDSM, it's really important to know exactly what you're getting into. Because the kinks involved in this sexual play can involve pain and intense sensations, you and your partner will want to be fully informed and safe. To help you do just that, we spoke with two sexologists to break down everything beginners need to know about BDSM.

What is BDSM?

BDSM is an acronym that describes sexual practices including bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism, and masochism. According to sexologist Rebecca Alvarez Story, BDSM is all about allowing people to explore power dynamics within their relationship with consent. "BDSM is a broad term for a variety of sexual activities, such as role-play and restraint, where there is a consensual power exchange," she says.

When performing BDSM, there are different roles that a person can take on. These roles are typically split into three major categories known as dominants, submissives, and switches, sexologist Marla Renee Stewart and sex expert for Lovers, a sexual wellness brand, tells HelloGiggles. "Dominant-types (also known as D-types) are usually the ones who are inflicting the pain, punishment, and reward, whether it's physical, mental, or emotional," she says. They prefer to have roles where they are tops, recreating scenarios where they're called daddy, sir, dominant, dommes, or master.

"Submissive-types have roles such as bottoms, little/little girl/boy/child, pets, slaves, submissives, and other tops of service roles which are on the receiving end," explains Stewart, whereas switches are comfortable in either role.

Why would someone be interested in BDSM?

There can be many reasons why people like BDSM. "Some people want to dive deeper and participate in more bondage and domination acts as a means of exploring their perception of control," says Alvarez-Story. "While others may use it as a way to introduce more novelty into their sex life, or build connection and trust within their relationship."

There's also the psychological aspect of BDSM, explains Stewart. "People like BDSM and kink because giving or receiving pain and punishment tap the same hormone receptors that interpret pleasure," she says. "There is a surge of dopamine, serotonin, and other happy hormones that make you feel good and give you a natural high when you engage in BDSM."

Research looking into BDSM shows that both dominants and submissives reported increases in relationship closeness and decreases in psychological stress from before to after their sexual play. Studies also show that both parties enter a pleasurable altered state of consciousness when engaging in BDSM. Bottoms entered an altered state called transient hypofrontality, which was associated with reductions in pain, feelings of floating, feelings of peacefulness, feelings of living in the moment, and time distortions. Tops, in contrast, entered a state of flow, which is associated with focused attention, a loss of self-consciousness, and optimal performance of a task. Ultimately, however, everyone's reason for why they like BDSM and kink is unique to them.

How can you safely practice BDSM?

When it comes to BDSM, the name of the game is all about consent and open communication. "It is important to understand what you like and don't like so BDSM can be a gratifying sexual experience," says Alvarez-Story. To help you discover what you'd like to engage in, do your research. There are plenty of educational online resources and workshops that can help you know your boundaries in BDSM. For example, Bloomi, an online marketplace to learn and shop all things sexual wellness, has a "Yes, No, Maybe List" that shares 69 sex and intimacy acts for you to think through and discuss with your partner(s).

Stewart says you can also attend a munch, which is a casual lunch gathering to learn about BDSM and network with other kinksters. "You can attend kink workshops and conferences to help you get more education and exploration," says Stewart.

Once you've done your research, it's helpful to set some ground rules with your partner so that boundaries are established and respected. "For example, you can create a contract that lists the activities you'd like to explore, acts that are off-limits, and things that are a potential possibility," says Alvarez-Story.

Establishing a safeword is also an important part of BDSM. A safeword is an agreed-upon word or phrase that anyone, especially a submissive, can say to immediately stop the activity or session. You can also experiment by adding toys into your sexual sessions, such as The Round Double-Paddle from LoversStores.com, which Stewart says has the perfect softness that allows you to experiment on your own body before hitting someone else.

And finally, Alvarez-Story says what you do after sex (also known as after play) is just as essential in BDSM. "Taking time to care for and connect emotionally and physically is especially important following BDSM activities," she explains.

How can you talk to your partner about trying BDSM?

So you want to try BDSM but aren't exactly sure how to bring it up to your partner? The best approach is to be open, honest, casual, and to have the conversation before you begin having sex. You can also introduce it to your partner by watching The Secretary or 50 Shades of Grey with them as a conversation starter to see how they feel about it and have a chance to talk about what you like about the films, says Stewart. "Introducing it this way takes the responsibility off of you just in case they feel some type of way about it," she says.

Some other conversation starter questions that Alvarez-Story recommends asking are:

"Hey, what do you think about trying __ or __ together?"

"I love when we have sex and your dominant side comes out. How about next time we try a blindfold or cuffs?"

"I was reading about ___, and I think it could be really exciting to try this together on our next date night. What do you think?"

At the end of the day, as we previously mentioned, consent, setting clear guidelines, and doing your research are key. BDSM is unique to everyone, so it's all about doing what feels good for you and your partner. "Remember BDSM is a judgment-free practice that provides a safe way to communicate about and act out your fantasies and desires," says Alvarez-Story. "It doesn't require you to engage in extreme sexual activities, even small acts can bring more play into your relationships and heighten sensation and satisfaction."

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