CLOSE
MENUCLOSE

A Beginner’s Guide To BDSM

Love

The real ’50 Shades of Grey’

If you're new to BDSM and haven’t already googled those four special letters, I’m going to ask that you don’t. Not because of anything negative you might find, but for those who are BDSM-beginners, it's possible to get confused and even scared by what you might find when you do an unfiltered internet search. As with pretty much all sex-related topics, it's best not to go through your first exploratory stages as if you were fumbling around in the dark; and as with pretty much all things in life, knowledge is power, and it's nice to get guided along your educational path. That's what we want to do here, anyway. Consider this your crash course in all things BDSM.

Let's start at the beginning: What even is BDSM? Unlike essentially every other acronym, the four letters of BDSM actually stand for a combination of phrases: bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism.

Bondage refers to the restraint of a partner to increase sexual pleasure; everything from rope, straps, scarves, leather, or chains (among other things) can be used. Blindfolding is also considered to be a form of bondage. Fuzzy handcuffs? Bondage. Straight jacket with your ankles tied to opposing bed posts? Bondage! It doesn’t even necessarily need to be all that restraining. Bondage can also be tying for stimulation as opposed to purely for restraint, like rope over the nipples.

Discipline is the use of directions or rules to exercise control and offer sexual punishment or reward (which, in some cases, are essentially the same thing). This can be something simple, like setting a plan for the submissive partner to be on the bed waiting naked when the dominant partner gets home, or it could be something, uh, simple, like enduring 10 minutes of consecutive spanking.

Dominance and submission refer to relationships centered on sexual power exchange. Of the three concepts of BDSM, this D/S is known to be the most emotional and can be participated in with little to no physical contact. The roles of a dominant and submissive (dom and sub for short) are usually pretty clearly laid out, indicating that the dominant person is comfortable having control as their partner is submitting to it. If you’ve ever role played during sex before and conceived of a situation wherein one partner is in more control than the other (for example, teacher and student), you’ve dabbled in dominance and submission. 

Sadism and masochism are the most physical of the concepts, and subsequently, probably the most misunderstood by those unfamiliar with the pleasures of BDSM. Similar to all of the aforementioned categories, S&M is consensual infliction or receipt of pain and/or humiliation. It's named after two European writers, Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who practiced and wrote extensively about pain for pleasure. S&M can be as rudimentary as rough sex to something much more advanced like paddling, flogging, choking, or even needle play. 

There is one main commonality in all of BDSM sex, and that is this important motto: safe, sane, consensual. As with anything that pushes at (and pushes past) boundaries, BDSM has a required series of checks and balances. Clearly communicating desires and wishes is instrumental to the negotiating process between all parties involved. Additionally, things like intensity and frequency should be taken into consideration and discussed. Someone may want to be choked, but they may not want it to be to the point of passing out, while others actually might desire that. 

For this particular reason, safe words are important. A common, flexible, and easy to remember safe word is a huge part of BDSM play. The safe word system is modeled after a stoplight. “Green” would indicate everything is going well and to continue, while “yellow” communicates to use caution or check with with the person as they are anxious or hesitant, and “red” would mean to stop.

Another extremely important part of BDSM is aftercare. A sexual encounter within the realm of BDSM is referred to as a scene or session. Aftercare is the time following a scene where participants unwind, discuss the session, and come back to reality. This is essential for those participants who need to feel like they've been released from their roles. Aftercare often includes cuddling, spooning, and verbal and physical affection, but talk with your partner about their specific needs.

Considering there's misinformation about even the simplest, biological aspects of sex (like the location and even existence of G-spots, somehow), there are naturally common misconceptions around BDSM. Sex and relationships educator Kate McCombs says people unfamiliar with kink believe BDSM has to involve pain. 

“Many practices have nothing to do with pain at all,” she explains. “One of the biggest misconceptions people have about BDSM is that it's all hard-core master/slave relationships and elaborate dungeons. Sure, many people are into those aspects of it, but I'd say the majority of practitioners are incorporating things like bondage, sensation, and explorations of power in their sex play.”

McCombs also offered insight on how to start a dialogue about incorporating BDSM into your sex life. This can be more difficult if you don’t talk that openly about sex with your partner. But don't worry, there are some easy ways to begin the conversation.

“If you haven't already started doing it, talk about interesting sex articles you've read, cool sex ed YouTube videos you've seen, or discuss an intriguing sex scene from a show you watch together,” McCombs offers. 

A good conversation starter could be: "Hey, I read this thing about bondage increasing in popularity after 50 Shades [of Grey] hit the stands. What do you think about that?" 

For slightly more advanced and committed couples, McCombs recommends a sex Trello. “Trello is a kind of online bulletin board where multiple users can add items to various lists. Most people use it for productivity and projects, but it's great for building a more varied sex life. For couples exploring BDSM, it's a way of brainstorming scene ideas and consolidating them in one place.”

Whether or not you’re now ready to build your own at-home dungeon, the key to all good sex—BDSM or otherwise—is in remembering that research and communication are crucial. McCombs recommends an online quiz for beginners at MojoUpgrade, the online resource Kink Academy, and Tristan Taormino’s book 50 Shades of Kink

Now, go catch up on your reading and consider staying in for Valentine’s Day this year.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

True

FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.