Glossary of Terms

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This is a partial listing of terms used by members of the BDSM/kink/fetish community.  Some terms use words considered offensive in mainstream (or “vanilla”) society, but in different ways.  An attempt to include synonyms for many terms is also made here.  Words in italics are terms which can be cross-referenced here.

AFTERCARE – Period of rest and discussion after a session or scene of play.

AGE PLAY – Role-play where one partner assumes an adult role (“Daddy”, “Mommy”, schoolteacher, etc.), and another a childlike role (“boy”, “girl”, student, etc.); these roles are generally referred to as “bigs” and “littles” respectively, although they do not always correspond with dominant and submissive.

ALT-SEX – Abbreviation for alternative sexuality, encompassing BDSM/kink/fetish, polyamory, swing, and other “non-mainstream” forms of erotic interest and expression.

ANIMAL PLAY – Role-play where one or more partners assume the identity of an animal.  Furries refer to a subset of this group who often dress in elaborate animal costumes.  Animal play should not in any way be confused with bestiality or zoophilia.

ARCHETYPE – Jungian term for symbolic role which represents an aspect of the human psyche.  BDSM role-play often draws on archetypes in creating role personae.

BDSM – Acronym combining B&D (bondage & discipline), D/s (dominance & submission) and S/M (sadomasochism). A continuum of erotic practice and expression involving the consensual use of restraint, intense sensory stimulation, and fantasy role-play.

BONDAGE – Practice of using physical restraint and/or confinement to produce or enhance erotic arousal.

BONDAGE & DISCIPLINE (B&D) – Use of bondage and other practices to produce or enhance erotic arousal; the term was originally used to indicate a “lighter” form of S/M, but the two are now considered part of the BDSM continuum.

BOTTOM – Person who receives sensation and/or consents to be restrained during play; sometimes used interchangeably with submissive.

BOTTOMING FROM THE TOP – Practice of assuming a top or dominant role, but at the direction of the bottom or submissive.  See dominant masochist, service top, submissive sadist, uppity bottom.

BOTTOM-SPACE – Alternate term for sub-space.

CANE – A slender rod used for impact play; traditionally made of rattan, but there are now canes made of various materials.

COLLARING CEREMONY – Ritual whereby a dominant and a submissive commit to a deeper relationship, often assuming the roles of Master/Mistress and slave respectively.  Along with the slave receiving a collar as a symbol, the partners may also sign a contract spelling out the specific terms of their relationship.

CONTRACT – An agreement spelling out the terms of a relationship between a dominant and a submissive, especially if they commit to a deeper level of relationship (see collaring ceremony, lifestyle, Master/Mistress, slave).

DOMINANCE & SUBMISSION (D&S, D/s) – Consensual empowerment of one person by another to enhance or produce erotic arousal.  Sometimes referred to as “erotic power exchange.”

DOMINANT – A person entrusted with power by a submissive.  Also called: (a) “dom”; (b) “maledom” and “femdom” to distinguish gender; (c) “domme,” “domina” or “dominatrix” by some female dominants.

DOMINANT MASOCHIST – A bottom who enjoys directing a top to deliver erotic pain or other intense sensation.  See also submissive sadist, topping from the bottom, uppity bottom.

DUNGEON – A room arranged for BDSM play, often with special equipment or furniture, and thematic decoration.

ENDORPHIN HIGH – Alternate name for sub-space or bottom-space, especially when induced by intense stimulation; endorphins are created by the central nervous system in response to such stimuli, especially pain.

EROTIC PAIN – Sensation which may be painful, but is enjoyable in an erotic context.

EROTIC POWER EXCHANGE (EPE) – Alternate term for Dominance & submission (see above).

FETISH – Eroticization of an object, body part, style of clothing, etc.; examples of fetishes can be for feet, underwear, latex, leather, and so forth.  “Fetish wear” refers to clothing or fashion indicative of the kink or broader alt-sex community; it can be specific articles of clothing (corsets, stiletto heeled boots or shoes) or styles suited to eroticized roles (biker, schoolgirl, vampire) or clothes made of specific materials (latex, leather, PVC, rubber). Some also use the term “fetish” interchageably with “kink”.

FLAGGING – Wearing a colored or patterned hanky to signify one’s erotic preferences.  See hanky code.

FLOGGER – A multi-tailed whip used for erotic impact play; floggers are made of various materials, and are often referred by the types of sensations they produce: “light” versus “heavy”, “stingy” and/or “thuddy”, and so forth.

FURRIES – Subculture of people interested in animal play, often dressing in elaborate animal costumes.

GENDERFUCK – Practice of transposing different elements of gender for erotic, political and/or cultural reasons.

HANKY CODE – System of colored and patterned hankies worn on the back pocket to signify one’s particular interest, including whether one identifies as a top (left pocket) or bottom (right pocket).  Derived from the gay leather subculture.

IMPACT PLAY – BDSM play involving impact on a bottom or submissive with any of various implements including floggers, canes, straps, paddles, bare hand or gloved hand.

KINK – Erotic practice or interest which is outside of the mainstream; also considered by many a form of sexual/affectional orientation.  While the spectrum of BDSM encompasses many kinks, there is no consensus on whether they include all kinks. Also, some people use the term “fetish” interchangeably with “kink.”

KINK-AWARE or KINK-FRIENDLY – Specifically refers to a vanilla person who is informed about and accepting of BDSM and consensual kink.

KINKSTER – A person who is oriented towards kink, especially one who is openly involved in the kink community at some level.

LEATHER – Specific group within the BDSM and fetish community revolving around leather garb generally, especially biker leather, and more precisely the Old Guard and its offshoots.

LIFESTYLE – (a) Generally, can refer to someone with a serious interest in BDSM; this can be confusing, as members of the swing community also frequently refer to themselves as “the lifestyle.” (b) Specifically, the practice of living in D/s roles as a lifestyle, thus also referred to as 24/7 or total power exchange (TPE).

LIMITS – Set of limitations which a bottom or submissive sets during negotiation.  “Hard limits” are those which should never be crossed, but over time a top or dominant may “push limits” to expand the couple’s erotic repertoire within a safe, consensual and nurturing context.

MARKS – Temporary or permanent markings on the skin of a bottom or submissive as a result of consensual play; temporary marks can include bruises, abrasions and cuts; permanent marks can include scarification, tattoos and other body art or body modification.

MASTER/MISTRESS – Both a role and a title frequently assumed by dominants.  A submissive may refer to her/his dominant as “my Mistress” or “my Master,” especially when they have entered a deeper committed relationship.  The titles are also frequently assumed by dominants who have acquired a certain level of expertise and respect within the BDSM community.

MINDFUCK – The practice of making a play partner believe that the course of play is more risky or dangerous than it actually is, as a way of building tension, anticipation and arousal.  Mindfucking requires both great skill on the part of the top or dominant, and considerable trust between the partners involved.

MUNCH – Social gathering of kinksters at a restaurant or food court to meet one another, exchange information, etc.; an excellent opportunity for newbies to learn more about their local BDSM community.

NEGOTIATION – The discussion between prospective play partners as to what forms of play are desired and/or acceptable, so as to assure that the play in question is mutually consensual and enjoyable.

NEWBIE – Novice in the BDSM/kink/fetish community, especially someone not very experienced in kink.

OLD GUARD – A specific group within the BDSM/kink/fetish community, originating from the gay male Leather S/M clubs formed in the 1950’s.  The Old Guard clubs developed strict protocols based on military discipline (many members were veterans of World War II) and insisted that members start as bottoms and work their way into being tops.  A few Old Guard “families” or “tribes” still exist, and there are also offshoots called “New Guard” and “Emerging Guard” which preserve many of the traditions and practices, but within a more flexible and inclusive framework.

ORIENTATION – In the context of the BDSM/kink/fetish community, “orientation” can take many meanings beyond one’s gender-based attraction, such as their preferred role (see bottom, Dominant, submissive, switch, and top). Also, many kinksters regard their BDSM/kink/fetish sexuality to be a sexual/affectional orientation.

PANSEXUAL – Encompassing all gender identities and sexual/affectional orientations.

PERVERT, PERV, PERVIE – Some kinksters deliberately call themselves and their friends “perverts” or “pervs” to reclaim the term, much as gay and lesbian people reclaim words like “faggot” or “dyke”; not every kinkster does this, however.

PLAY – BDSM or kink activity.  Also used to refer to specific interests (age play, animal play, impact play, etc.).

PLAY PARTY – A social gathering where people may engage in BDSM play.

POLYAMORY – Consensual and responsible non-monogamy.  Polyamory is regarded as distinct from swinging, in that the latter focuses mainly on casual sexual activity, while polyamory considers emotional as well as physical intimacy.  Some BDSM people are also polyamorous, and often kinksters will engage in nonsexual play with people other than their primary partners.

PRODOMME – Shorthand term for a professional dominatrix, a woman who provides BDSM sessions for paid clientele.  Prodommes do not provide sex or sexual services for money, and therefore are not technically engaging in prostitution, yet they may still face various legal issues due to the nature of their work.  Many prodommes are also respected educators and activists within the BDSM community.  There are even a handful of male professional dominants.

PROTOCOL – The rules of conduct, ritual and etiquette within (a) a specific D/s relationship, (b) a BDSM play party or club, or (c) the larger BDSM/kink/fetish community.  Protocols originally developed from the Old Guard clubs of the 1950’s and 1960’s, which in turn reflect a military style discipline and code of conduct.  Other groups draw upon BDSM erotic fiction (such as the Gor novels of John Norman).  While there are both regional and subcultural variations, protocol is generally based upon ideas of respect for one another, for people’s property and partners, and for play space.

RISK-AWARE CONSENSUAL KINK (RACK) – An alternate formulation for BDSM’s ethos, considered a more realistic and/or inclusive maxim compared to Safe, Sane and Consensual (SSC).

ROLE-PLAY – Adopting roles (characters, personae, different gender identities, dominant or submissive stances) within an erotic context, to enhance arousal, give context to specific forms of play (i.e., caning and other punishment within a “teacher/student” role-play) and/or added fun.

SADOMASOCHISM (S&M, S/M, SM) – The practice of deriving sexual pleasure from inflicting and/or receiving pain or other intense stimuli.

SAFE-CALL – Arrangement for assuring a person’s safety when meeting someone for BDSM play; the person arranges to call a “safe-call buddy” at a prearranged time, and if the buddy does not receive the call, she or he then contacts the police or makes other arrangements to protect the person.

SAFE, SANE AND CONSENSUAL (SSC) – Maxim within the BDSM/kink/fetish community, delineating acceptable forms of play.  While the expanded meaning of these terms is still discussed and disputed within the Scene, the general consensus is: (a) “Safe” means not causing injury which would require professional intervention to heal; (b) “Sane” means being able to distinguish fantasy from reality; (c) “Consensual” means that all that is being done is understood and agreed to by all who are involved.

SAFEWORDS – Code words or signals by which a partner may call for a scene to end, or otherwise communicate distress.  This allows for bottoms and submissives to feign resistance in a scene, or to signal the top or dominant when gagged or otherwise unable to speak.

SCENE – A session of BDSM/kink/fetish erotic play.  “The Scene” is also used to refer to the BDSM/kink/fetish community, or a specific subgroup within it (i.e., “the Gorean Scene”).

SENSATION PLAY – Erotic play involving the use of various techniques of sensory stimulation and/or deprivation.

SEX RADICAL – Term for politically active members of the alt-sex community, especially those who seek to challenge laws and cultural norms which discriminate against sexual minorities.

SEXUAL MINORITY – Used variously to refer to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, polyamorous and/or BDSM/kink/fetish people, among others.

SERVICE TOP – A top who engages in play at the direction of the bottom.  See also submissive sadist.

SINGLE-TAIL – The classic snakelike whip, shorter ones being called signal whips and longer ones bullwhips.  Within BDSM, they are used more as symbols and noisemakers; using them on bottoms or submissives requires considerable skill and practice.

SLUT and WHORE – Terms reclaimed within the BDSM, polyamory and broader alt-sex communities to mean: (a) anyone, especially a woman, who openly enjoys sex; (b) a polyamorous individual; (c) a person who openly enjoys a certain erotic practice and/or sensation (i.e., “pain slut” or “bondage whore”).  Whore is also reclaimed by some activists within the sex workers’ rights movement.

SQUICK – To make one feel uncomfortable at some level, as in: “That scene really squicked me.”

SUBMISSIVE – A person who entrusts power to a dominant.  Also called: (a) “sub”; (b) “malesub” and “femsub” to distinguish gender.

SUBMISSIVE SADIST – A top who enjoys delivering erotic pain or other intense sensation at the direction of the bottom.  See also bottoming from the top, dominant masochist, service top.

SUB-SPACE – A euphoric state experienced by some submissives and bottoms during play scenes, caused either by (a) physiological response to intense stimulation, or (b) deeply identifying with their submissive role.  Also referred to as bottom-space or endorphin high.

SUSPENSION – Form of bondage where the bottom or submissive is literally suspended off the floor.  Suspension is an advanced practice requiring specialized equipment and knowledgeable attention by the top or dominant.

SWITCH – A person who can alternate between top and bottom, and/or dominant and submissive, depending upon various contexts (play partners, types of play, etc.).

TOP – Person who delivers sensation and/or restrains a consenting bottom during play; sometimes used interchangeably with dominant.

TOPPING FROM THE BOTTOM – Practice of assuming a bottom or submissive role, but directing the top or dominant.  Once seen negatively, but now recognized as a legitimate form of play in some circumstances, such as when a seasoned bottom guides a novice top.  See also dominant masochist, service top, submissive sadist, uppity bottom.

TOTAL POWER EXCHANGE (TPE) – Alternate term for lifestyle D/s; also sometimes referred to as 24/7.

TOY – Any piece of equipment used during BDSM play: floggers, bondage equipment, vibrators, etc. Sometimes submissives may playfully refer to themselves as the “toy” of their respective dominant.

24/7 – Common term for lifestyle D/s or total power exchange (TPE); describes the ideal of living in dominant and submissive roles “twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week”; in reality, such relationships show a more fluid shifting of roles.

UPPITY BOTTOM – A bottom who tends to take charge in BDSM play.  See also dominant masochist.

VANILLA – Refers specifically to sex without BDSM elements; more generally can refer to non-BDSM people, places and things.  This should not be misinterpreted as derogatory.

WHORE – See above SLUT and WHORE

WIITWD – Acronym for “What It Is That We Do”; an alternative term for BDSM, most often used online.


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