Words mean things. Unfortunately, some of the things that I discuss here can have … complicated meanings. While many terms have well-established meanings, their application and interpretation may vary.

Don’t believe me?

Have you ever had sex?

You probably answered yes. However, what is your definition of “sex”? Is it penis-in-vagina? What if you’re gay and the only sex you’ve had is with a man? Or you’re a lesbian and your only sex is with another woman. What if you’re a transgender woman who had sex as a man but has not yet had sex as a woman? Does that change if you are pre-op vs. post-op? If you think that I’m splitting hairs, realize that people do often define “sex” as “penis in vagina” (consciously and subconsciously), whether they are a high school sex ed class or friends talking about their sexual experiences.

So when I am talking about things, I want what I mean to be as clear as possible. So, I have created a page of just terminology. Most of these will be familiar to you. I may interpret some things differently than you. That does not make either of us wrong. How we interpret language depends, in part, on our individual experiences.

With that said, let’s get lexical …

BDSM – Bondage/Discipline,Dominance/submission, Sadism/masochism – An umbrella term that defines a wide range of activities. Sometimes I use it interchangeably with Kink. I try not to use it interchangeably with Fetish, which is sometimes related, but not always the same thing. BDSM may involve sex or it may not. It depends on what your kink is.

Kink – When I talk about Kink, I am usually talking about BDSM activities in relation to sexual activity, ie, BDSM in the Bedroom. Warning, though … I sometimes use Kink and BDSM interchangeably. Why? Because ….

Your/My/His/Her/Our Kink – Particular interests in BDSM, Kink, and Fetish, etc … ie, what you like. Hooray for multiple definitions that might be kind of confusing!

Fetish – Sexual stimulation that comes from things that are not themselves sexual in nature. Some people argue whether men are raised to have a “boob fetish”. It depends on if you view “boobs” as sexual organs or not. Most people do not regard feet as sexual objects. People who get a kind of sexual satisfaction from playing with them have a foot fetish.

Power Exchange – (PE) the act of one person handing some negotiated degree of power or control over to another person. Power exchange is pretty broad. It can encompass Dom/sub and Owner/slave dynamics. It also encompasses S&M activities and rope bondage. Basically, if the activity involves giving one person power to act on the other, command the other, or restrict/restrain the other, it is power exchange.

Power exchange is complex. Often people enjoy both Top/Dominant and bottom/submissive roles interchangeably, depending on the mood and the activity. Sometimes people will start out in one role but find themselves drifting to the other. Some people enjoy both sides of a single activity. Because of this fluidity, the terms of PE, Dominant/submissive and Top/bottom, can be confusing.

Dominant – the person receiving power in a PE scene or dynamic.

submissive – the person who gives power in a PE scene or dynamic.

Top – the person who receives power in a PE scene.

bottom – the person who gives power in a PE scene.

Dominant/submissive vs Top/bottom – How you use the terms will depend on your experience with BDSM, how long you’ve been in the lifestyle, and your interests. For some people, Dominant and Top are completely interchangeable. For others, Dominant refers to a person in a specific dynamic, where as Top refers just to a role in a scene or talking about “Top” roles in general.

Here, for simplicity sake, I try to use Dominant and submissive to refer to specific roles in dynamics and Top and bottom to refer to roles in specific scenes. This is not always the case, but when I blend usage, I try to provide some clarity.

Sadism – enjoying inflicting pain on another person. This can be physical, mental, or emotional (or any mix of them).

Masochism – enjoying receiving pain – physical, mental, emotional …

Bondage – restriction of another person. This can be physical restraints such as chains, rope, and chords. It can also be situational restriction (“If you remove your hands from your head, I will stop doing this thing you really enjoy”).

Discipline – discipline is what it sounds like – discipline. This term can refer to punishment and punishment activities for mutual pleasure – spanking and flogging for example. It can refer to punishment to correct a behavior – writing an essay about obedience or kneeling on dry rice. It refers to the rules in place for a scene and dynamic. It also refers to the rituals and behaviors we use to help train desired behavior. The act of your Dominant/Owner inspecting you prior to a scene is a form of discipline because it establishes routine, expectation, and helps to bring the submissive/slave into the proper mindset for the scene.

Punishment – a form of Discipline that involves correcting behaviors or punishing disobedience/bad behavior. Punishment can also refer to mutually satisfying activities like spanking.

Safe Word – This is a word or action (as an alternative for partners who are gagged/cannot speak) that pauses or stops a scene. When the Safe Word is used, the scene always stops. The Dominant/Top always addresses what caused it. Once resolved, the scene can continue or move onto aftercare, depending on the circumstances.

Aftercare – This is the activity that follows a scene. What aftercare entails depends on you and your partner. It is a time to help return your partner from the head space of a scene. It is a time to relax and talk about the scene (it is not the only time to talk, since you both may want to discuss more things later after you have time to reflect on the experience). Because BDSM scenes can be very intense, aftercare is vital. Both partners need aftercare, not just the submissive.

Open (Relationship) – I tend to use “Open” as short-hand for non-monogamous pairings. This is a committed relationship between two people where each agrees that the other may have other romantic and/or sexual relationships. Open relationships may also involve partners seeking out threesomes or other group-sex activities.

Open is not cheating. Partners in an open relationship may not know the details of their partner’s other partners. That depends on the kind of communication they are comfortable with.

Polyamory – a type of open/non-monogamous relationship. There are lots of ways to do Poly. Where Poly differs from Open is that everyone in a Poly grouping tends to be aware of, know, and approve of each other, even when they are not always romantically/sexually involved.

Mary and Peter are husband and wife. Mary has another partner named Steve. Steve and Peter know each other and their mutual relationships with Mary, but are not themselves involved. (Poly “V”)

Mary and Peter are husband and wife. Mary and Peter are also both involved with Steve romantically and sexually. (Poly “Triangle”)

Mary and Peter are husband and wife. Steve and Lisa are husband and wife. Steve and Mary and Peter and Lisa are also partners – or all four of them are involved in relationships across both marriages – pick your combination of two, three, or all four.

Swinging/Swingers – Another type of open relationship where couples will engage in sexual relationships with other people as part of a lifestyle – usually involving clubs, parties, etc. Most people who participate in the Swing lifestyle are couples, but some single men and women partake as well. Swinging usually involves switching off partners.

Mary and Peter are husband and wife. Steve and Lisa are husband and wife. Sometimes they get together for Steve and Mary and Lisa and Peter to have sex together.

Mary and Peter are husband and wife. Once a month, they attend clubs/gatherings of other swingers, where Mary will pair up with other men (or other women). Peter just likes to watch. Conversely, Mary may be the one to watch while Peter enjoys pairing up with others or they may even switch who pairs off from event to event.

Swingers tend to be members of close-knit groups of close (and often protective) friends.

(More to Come)

Do you have thoughts about terms? Feel free to share them. Language is always evolving, so you may even give me food for thought about changing how I refer to something. You can always let me know if I do the same for you or clarify something for you.