Intro to Gentle BDSM
Table of Contents
BDSM is an acronym first recorded in a Usenet (precursor to the modern day Internet) post from 1991 [source]. BD stands for Bondage and Discipline, D/s represents Dominance and submission, while SM stands for Sadism and Masochism (or simply sadomasochism).
Bondage refers to the act of tying up or being tied up by someone (either someone else or yourself). The context might be erotic or not (as is the case with most of the practices within BDSM - they're not always necessarily sexual). Movement restriction is at the core of bondage, and it can be achieved in many ways, not only through the use of ropes (handcuffs, for example, are another commonly used prop).
Both discipline and dominance/submission are very broad terms, encompassing a wide variety of kinks which have power dynamics as a common trait. It can be tempting to describe this as "someone having control over their partner", but that's not a desirable definition. Although the dominant side will indeed act as if in control during a scene, it's paramount that soft and hard limits (no-gos) for each side have been previously discussed, and the submissive side must have ways to stop the ongoing scene at any given time. Otherwise, it's just abuse, which we do not support in the slightest. It's extremely important to point out that BDSM is no excuse for abuse. On this website, we will present and discuss safety mechanisms that should be in place for the healthy execution of this type of dynamic.
Sadomasochism can also be broader than one might initally suspect. Although physical pain is the staple of this category, it's not the only possible modality. Things like humiliation and degradation kinks can also be comprehended within the spectrum of sadomasochism, but in this case within a cognitive sphere, rather than purely physical. Some newcomers of gentle BDSM may ask whether or not SM "can be gentle", so let's move on to that discussion.
Gentleness is best described as a scene mindset, not a specific group of practices within BDSM. Trying to determine any given practice as inherently "gentle" or not is a slippery task, given the subjectivity and variability involved (more about kink shaming and gatekeeping, i.e. the failure in understanding that, under "potential issues").
Regarding something as "not gentle" without proper context is more often than not a manifestation of one's ignorance and prejudice. Pegging (anal sex with a strap-on dildo), for example, can be extremely gentle (it doesn't even require a power dynamic, if you think about it), while something as simple as kissing can be very rough and not gentle at all. It all depends on the context: scene mindset and the way in which it is executed.
Gentle BDSM is the notion of applying gentleness to the mindset of a BDSM dynamic. As previously stated, it's a scene mindset, not a specific group of practices within BDSM. Although we do not presume to shame anyone who prefers a non-gentle approach to BDSM, our goal is to focus on it in association with a few key-words: a strong sense of care, consideration and affection, to create a supportive and affirmative environment that brings a feeling of safety to those involved, even when practicing kinks that could be seen as harsher. Proper aftercare for everyone involved in a scene, for example, is a cornerstone of what we see as gentle BDSM.
Some kinks, generally perceived as harsher (like violence, humiliation and degradation), can be sensitive topics to some people within this community - which doesn't mean they are not welcome or can't happen in a gentle context. We believe nearly everything can be done gently, as long as the key-words mentioned here are contemplated.
Types of power exchange and possible titles
In a relationship with power dynamics, certain titles are sometimes used to convey the type of ongoing power exchange. Keep in mind both sides must technically share equal amounts of power and control at all times, making all of this a roleplay, even if kept as a 24/7 dynamic - if one side does not have enough authority to question the ongoing dynamic, it is by definition an abusive relationship, missing the point of what we are talking about here. We do not condone abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.
Dominant/submissive (D/s) is often used as a more generic way of indicating a dynamic of power exchange. The dominant may be called a dom (if male or gender nonconforming) or domme (if female); the term "dominatrix" is seldom used since the last decade (according to Google Trends and anecdotal evidence), although still being recognized by older individuals as an alternative for "domme". Male dominance is known as maledom, while female dominance is called femdom. A gender nonconforming term that can be used is themdom.
About top/bottom: tracing its origins back to the gay community, the title top is usually assigned to someone performing an action or taking the lead during a given section, while bottom is the counterpart receiving the action or following along the scene. Top/bottom does not necessarily imply, however, that the top side is dominant and the bottom one is submissive. The top may just be following previous instructions provided by the bottom.
Master (or mistress) and slave are used to signalize an extreme position in the power exchange spectrum, implying the dominant has complete control and authority over the submissive (keep in mind this is only valid if both sides are in total agreement with this dynamic, otherwise it's a toxic/abusive and potentially illegal scenario). Sometimes, this type of relationship can be called total power exchange (TPE).
Switches are people who enjoy alternating between dominant and submissive roles. This may or may not include the concept of power struggling, meaning the roleplay of fighting for control and potentially switching sides during a single scene - people who enjoy doing that as a submissive are often called brats, while dominants who enjoy that play are tamers. Keep in mind not every switch is (or enjoys being with) a brat, although those concepts can sometimes be mistaken for each other. Some brats, on the other hand, only like to be submissive (they are not actually looking to be in control when trying to "resist"). Thus someone can be just a switch (alternating roles for different scenes or moments), just a brat (just pretending to struggle) or both. Suffering from some degree of prejudice in more conservative BDSM circles, switches are deeply respected and celebrated in our community. We reject the notion preached by older folks that a switch "does not know if they want to be dominant or submissive". If you like both, go for both and enjoy! As the saying goes: "Both. Both. Both. Both is good". Though once again, a reminder to communicate things priorly with your partner: they might not be into switching roles, and that's okay too.
Dommy switches are switches with a preference to assume the dominant role, while subby switches have a preference for the submissive side.
Daddy doms/little girls (DD/lg) and Mommy dommes/little boys (MD/lb) are sometimes controversial terms. That is because some people see them as implying an age play dynamic, but not everyone will agree with that. Some describe it (jointly called Caregiver/little or CG/l) as simply another type of power dynamic that focuses on intimacy and vulnerability, without necessarily involving age play.
Other common acronyms
CNC: Consensual Non-Consent. When it is previously agreed upon that the submissive will pretend not to give consent during a given scene, but just as a part of the play itself. Clear safewords and proper signaling mechanisms, as well as a deep trust in one another, are essential for this practice. It is considered an advanced BDSM practice, and one of the most popular (and controversial) examples of its applications is rape-play. That is not to say every type of CNC involves rape-play, considering that implies forced penetration. A CNC scene might involve any sort of coercion roleplay. In terms of artistic depictions, it can sometimes become difficult to distinguish CNC from portrayals of an actual lack of consent (meaning abuse and assault) if there is not enough context surrounding it, making this an extremely sensitive topic to properly portray.
CGL (or CG/l): Caregiver/little. It implies that one side takes care of and oversees the activities of the other, usually either in a Daddy dom/little girl (DD/lg) or a Mommy domme/little boy (MD/lb) dynamic. Although it can sometimes be associated with ageplay (pretending to be of a different age, eg. younger) , it does not always mean ageplay. That means the "little" is not necessarily going to roleplay a younger version of themselves, but rather a type of submission in which they are somewhat reliant on the dominant side for tasks, decisions or emotional support in general.
Potential issues in BDSM communities
We actively advocate against some behaviors that are sometimes present among certain BDSM circles: gatekeeping, kink shaming and reliance on pseudoscience.
Gatekeeping is defined as taking it upon yourself to subjectively decide and enforce what should be allowed or not in this community and context. It is a form of censorship based on nothing but personal preference. Trying to shut down someone's kink because "it is not BDSM", "it is too vanilla" or "it is not gentle" are examples of gatekeeping. Everyone is welcome to hold their opinions on such arbitrary matters, of course - but one should not attempt to come up with defining rules for slippery topics, as they are dependent on variables such as context and perspective.
Kink shaming is when someone attacks a kink, trying to ridicule or devalue it, once again based on nothing but personal preference. As long as something is not illegal or objectively harming someone, there's no need to throw destructive criticism at it. This is childish, polarizing and counterproductive. Respect each other's differences - your kinks may not be someone else's and vice-versa. If you don't like something in terms of kink, just ignore it and move on to what does interest you. There's no point in trying to convince others about why you should like it or not, and just going about it to create drama is an awfully toxic behavior.
Pseudoscience is any attempt of trying to claim the scientific method has been applied to something, when it has actually not. This is not a branch of epistemology (the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from arbitrary opinion); this is not "having faith". It's just a form of deception. When someone says "studies show..." without referencing actual scientific (ie. evidence-based) content, they are trying to borrow from the perceived notion that the scientific method is trustworthy. They are not trying to have a different epistemological approach. They are just lying.
Why is this relevant to BDSM? Because having a true evidence-based approach to kink knowledge is essential to guaranteeing (or, at the very least, properly assessing) the safety of some riskier practices, like choking. Knowing what you know and what you don't, while also being humble enough to admit that, is crucial. As Carl Sagan would say, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".
We enforce the Sagan standard about requesting scientific evidence to back up potentially harmful, kink-related claims. Approaching possibly dangerous kink practices with a disregard for evidence-based information can be extremely problematic. That is not to say every claim needs to be backed by peer-reviewed data. We are all very aware that sexuality in general is still a lacking field in terms of evidence, since it's historically seen as a taboo. We do ask for a careful approach, though, when extraordinary claims are made. If all you have are anecdotal evidences, just admit you are not sure about it. It's okay to not know something. It's not okay to pretend you do. Statements like "if you choke someone like this, it is going to be totally safe - my neighbor's cousin does it all the time" are a no-no.