BDSM is a variety of erotic practices involving dominance and submission, role-playing, restraint, 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 and/or subculture is usually dependent on self-identification and shared experience. Interest in BDSM can range from one-time experimentation to a lifestyle, and there is debate over whether a BDSM or kink sexual identity also constitutes a form of sexual orientation.
The term BDSM dates back to 1969; however, the origin of the term BDSM is unclear and is believed to have been formed either from joining the term B&D (bondage and discipline) with S&M (sadomasochism or sadism and masochism), or as a compound initialism from B&D, D&S (dominance and submission), and S&M. 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 communities generally welcome anyone with a non-normative streak who identifies with the community; this may include cross-dressers, extreme body mod enthusiasts, animal players, latex or rubber aficionados, and others.
Unlike the usual "power neutral" relationships and play styles commonly followed by couples, activities and relationships within a BDSM context are often characterized by the participants' taking on complementary, but unequal roles; thus, the idea of informed consent of both the partners becomes essential. Participants who exert sexual control over their partners are known as dominants or tops while participants who take the passive, receiving, or obedient role are known as submissives or bottoms.
Individuals are also sometimes abbreviated when referred to in writing, so a dominant person may be referred to as a Dom for a man, and a Domme for a woman. Individuals who alternate between top/dominant and bottom/submissive roles – whether from relationship to relationship or within a given relationship – are known as switches, though the term switch in this context is occasionally seen as derogatory and is rejected by many who might simplistically fit the definition. The precise definition of roles and self-identification is a common subject of debate, reflection, and discussion within the community.
In BDSM, a scene is the stage or setting where BDSM activity takes place, as well as the activity itself. The physical place where a BDSM activity takes place is usually called a dungeon, though some prefer less dramatic terms, including "playspace", or "club". A BDSM activity can, but need not, involve sexual activity or sexual roleplay. A characteristic of many BDSM relationships is the power exchange from the bottom to the dominant partner, and bondage features prominently in BDSM scenes and sexual roleplay.
The term is also used in the BDSM community to refer to the BDSM community as a whole.
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A scene can take place in private between two or more people, and can involve a domestic arrangement, such as servitude or a casual or committed lifestyle master/slave relationship. BDSM elements may involve settings of slave training or punishment for breaches of instructions.
A scene can also take place in a club, where the play can be viewed by others. When a scene takes place in a public setting, it may be because the participants enjoy being watched by others, or because of the equipment available, or because having third parties present adds safety for play partners who have only recently met.
A scene takes place within the general conventions and etiquette of BDSM, such as requirements for mutual consent and agreement as to the limits of any BDSM activity. This agreement can be incorporated into a formal contract. In addition, most clubs have additional rules which regulate how onlookers may interact with the actual participants in a scene.
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