BDSM Explained: Acronyms Abound

 Posted by on July 11, 2011
Jul 112011
 

By Sea

This article is first of a three-series article that explains what BDSM is, and why people enjoy it. It would be helpful to those with or without an interest in BDSM who wish to know more about the terms and origins of interest, and those into BDSM who are looking for ideas for how to explain it to others.

I was once having dinner with business colleagues and we were discussing District Sales Managers (DSMs) and Regional Sales Managers (RSMs). With a few beers hindering my judgment, I blurted out that it would be funny if a Regional Sales Manager was instead called Bigger District Sales Manager. And then there was silence.

“BDSM?” asked one of my colleagues in a confused tone.

I quickly downplayed it as a silly joke and changed the subject. My colleagues did not know what BDSM meant. I am about to arm you with information so that if ever one of your colleagues makes such a joke you can say, “Aha! I know what that means! I am onto you, you perv!”

BDSM is an acronym of acronyms which encompasses B&D, D&S, and S&M. The “&” in the latter two is uncommonly used today. Instead a forward slash is used, or the symbol is omitted altogether (to mirror how the acronym is spoken) and I deliberately use different forms of these acronyms below to illustrate this point.

B&D stands for bondage and discipline. D/s stands for Dominance and submission. SM stands for sadism and masochism. The terms sadism and masochism were coined in late 1800s by Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, an Austro-German Psychiatrist. Sadism is named after Marquise De Sade who authored books such as Justine. Masochism is named after Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote Venus in Furs.

I see B&D to be a bit of an oddball and this term is uncommonly used outside describing what the acronym BDSM represents. Bondage and discipline are not complementary as are the other two sets, and discipline related activities are covered under D/s and SM. Therefore, history of terms aside, I interpret BDSM to mean Bondage, D/s, and SM.

Dominance and submission involves an authority imbalance, which may be conveyed by any combination of acts that can be described as obedient, deferential, appeasing, and/or capitulating.

While technically one can be bound by items such as metal or leather cuffs, bondage generally implies use of rope. Neither bondage nor SM necessarily imply dominance or submission; each can be about the sensation and altered states of minds which either activity has potential to induce. For emphasis, a person who identifies as dominant may choose to be bound or spanked for the sensation while retaining a role of greater authority. More commonly, however, bondage and SM do accompany D/s. To illustrate their relationship graphically, we can think of them as three circles with overlapping areas.

A related set of activities which is often associated with BDSM but is not described by the acronym is encompassed by the term fetish. This term itself requires explanation; fetish can refer to a sexual fetish or fixation for an object or body part (sometimes called partialism in the mental health community), or fetish can refer to a subculture related to the BDSM subculture. While there is overlap between what falls under BDSM and fetish, one may have a fetish (e.g. a foot fetish) and/or identify with the fetish subculture but not have an interest in the activities described above as part of BDSM. Still, the overlap is great enough for fetish to be considered a related term, for which reason I sometimes use the term BDSMF.

Wait. What? Fetish culture? BDSM culture? They are not the same?

Correct, they are not the same. By fetish culture I mean a subculture that is based primarily on the sensuality or underground sex appeal of attire that is associated with BDSM: clothing made of latex, leather, PVC, etc. This culture also has elements of nightclub culture. Some people who identify with the fetish culture simply like the clothing and nightclub events with the underground atmosphere; they do not identify as BDSM enthusiasts or participate in BDSM activities described above.

There also exist people who enjoy BDSM activities, but do not have an interest in attire commonly associated with BDSM, or in the nightclub culture. And then there exist people, like myself, who like each the activities associated with BDSM, and the clothing and type of nightlife described above.

Thus, the number of circles with overlapping areas increases by one. The figure below simply illustrates the concept and there is no significance about the sizes or location of circles, or the degrees of overlap.

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