Sex
4 min

BDSM for dummies

Some dos and don’ts for beginners

Credit: N Maxwell Lander

First forays into BDSM can be daunting, but not for lack of information. The near-endless stream of websites, chat rooms and online forums available mean a few minutes of Googling can bring rookie players to information overload. Figuring out exactly how to reconcile long-held fantasies with a practical reality isn’t easy. But a few guidelines can ensure the experience is painful only in the right ways.

Though often referred to as an acronym, grammar nerds will know BDSM is technically a “compound initialism,” encompassing bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism. But don’t let the complexity of terms fool you. Essentially, it boils down to sex play where partners take on pre-determined unequal roles. Whatever the activity, understanding principles of consent is the difference between engaging in mutually enjoyable kink play and potentially criminal domestic assault.

The most basic tools of consent are limits and safe words. Limits are the predetermined boundaries for a scene and include hard limits (things that are totally out of the question) and soft limits (things that are unappealing but okay if the situation demands it). Safe words are used to pause or end a scene, yellow and red being the most common. Yellow indicates a physical or psychological limit is about to be reached. Red means the scene stops and a discussion of what happened, if necessary, ensues. Once you’ve established your borders, you’re free to roam within them.

Below are a few of my basic BDSM dos and don’ts.

DO test your boundaries
While consent is paramount in any sexual situation, what makes BDSM thrilling is its ability to open us up to new possibilities. There are a lot of things I enjoy doing that either terrified or disgusted me when I first learned about them. In some cases, it was about partners challenging my soft limits. In other cases it was porn, erotica or online chats that first provided the telltale tingle there might be something new out there that would turn me on. Regardless of your current interests, you owe it to yourself to expand your playbook.

DO plan ahead
In addition to setting physical and psychological boundaries, it’s important to know your partner’s health limitations. Knee, back and shoulder problems can rear up during a scene, as can heart trouble, asthma or other stress-induced conditions. Know what to watch for in yourself and your partner, and give plenty of warning if you think something bad is happening. Have emergency plans in place. For bondage, keep surgical scissors handy for quickly dispatching ropes and extra keys for locks. Don’t insert anything in someone’s body that’s not specifically designed for that purpose and you’re sure you can get out. Most importantly, never play with anyone you don’t completely trust will take the necessary steps to ensure your safety, even if that means accompanying you to the hospital.

DO hire a professional
If you’re a beginner with a particularly heavy or complex scene in mind, it pays to go to a pro. There are plenty of escorts that do BDSM work, so find the one that’s right for you. In general, personality and skills are more important than physical appearance. Your dom might have abs you could grate cheese on, but if he or she can’t tie knots like a Boy Scout, your rope bondage session is going to be a letdown. Treat the process like hiring any other professional. Come to the table with a clear idea of what you want, ask lots of questions and be prepared to learn.

DON’T spend a lot of money
Since my earliest kink forays in my teenaged best friend’s basement, I’ve been a DIY BDSM kind of guy. While some players shell out thousands for specialized equipment, save your cash when you’re first starting out until you’re sure your desires are worth the investment. Skip the fetish store and hit your local Canadian Tire. Chain and rope can be purchased by the metre. For rope, stick with cotton or smooth nylon and burn the ends to keep it from fraying. One bag of wooden clothespins will keep your nipples clamped for a lifetime. Wooden kitchen implements make excellent substitute paddles, as do $1 leather belts from Goodwill. If you want to feel extra naughty, buy them from the Salvation Army.

DON’T go too far, too fast
So you watched a piercing demonstration or a caning video? Great. That doesn’t mean you’re ready to go there right away. These kinds of highly specialized practices can take years of training to get right. Do as much research as you can to learn the ins and outs of a particular activity. In the case of things that break the skin, don’t go there until you’ve studied with someone who has the knowhow and you understand the risks.

DON’T be disappointed if reality doesn’t live up to your fantasies
At the same time you’re working to expand your desires, it’s essential to acknowledge that fantasies don’t always play out as well in practice as they do in our heads. It may take a few tries (and a few partners) to precisely fine-tune things. But it’s also important to know the difference between what’s meant for reality and what should remain wank material. The possibilities of sexuality are near endless. And sometimes learning what you don’t want is just as useful as learning what you do.