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Aftercare: A scene doesn’t end when the toys are put away. Aftercare describes a period at the close of a scene when each partner can reaffirm the other as they regain physical and mental control of themselves.

Authority-based relationships: Relationships where one person is clearly the leader and the other is clearly subordinate. Among the more common structures listed here, this book mostly describes D/s relationships.

  • Dominant/submissive (D/s)
  • Master/slave (M/s)
  • Owner/property (O/p)
  • TPE (Total Power Exchange)

BDSM represents a continuum of practices and expressions, both erotic and non-erotic, involving restraint, sensory stimulation, role- playing, and a variety of interpersonal dynamics. The term “BDSM” is an abbreviation of: Bondage/Discipline; Dominance/submission; SadoMasochism.

bottom: the person receiving the action (see also: Top)

Dominant and submissive (Dom and sub or D-type and s-type) are terms that relate to behaviors linked to personality traits; you could as easily substitute the terms leader and follower.

Dom and Domme: the shorthand male and female version of the word dominant. Generally, when I write “Dom” the person can be of either gender. When the topic specifically concerns a female dominant I will use “Domme.” A female dominant is not to be confused with a domineering female. A domineering female (sometimes called a bitch) expects service while a dominant of either gender accepts service in the context of their role as the dominant leader.

D/s play or D/s scenes: play/scenes (terms I use interchangeably) with or without SM toys/tools that involves the power exchange component of dominance and submission: includes physical play, psychological play, and role-play.

D/s scenes with sadistic/masochistic preferences—Combining: A dominant (Dom or D-type) and a submissive (sub or s-type) may have either sadistic or masochistic erotic preferences. Most commonly, those with dominant personalities give strong sensations to others, but every so often you will find a strong D-type who has connected sexual pleasure from receiving those strong (possibly painful) sensations.

Dungeon Monitor (DM): A Dungeon Monitor (sometimes referred to as a Dungeon Master or simply a DM) is a person charged with supervising a playspace (or dungeon) at BDSM events such as play parties and fetish clubs. While on duty they monitor the safety of all participants and their authority is absolute. They can stop your scene; they can have you removed from the party.

Edging: A sexual D/s term meaning the act of bringing a man or woman up to the edge of orgasm and then keeping them there— often as they are begging for release.

Edgeplay: This word is used in two ways: first, to refer to SM play that is on the edge of someone’s personal limits; and second, to refer to SM play that falls into one of two categories:

  • Category one—requires advanced training: “You’d better be well trained before you try this one.”
  • Category two—it’s seriously taboo: “You’d better lower your voice before discussing that one.”

Emotional Triggers (Landmines): Words or situations that cause an unexpected and often emotionally intense reaction in someone that developed from prior (and often suppressed) traumatic experiences.

Extremeaphiles: People who love to play on the edge.

Gor: short for Gorean—a subculture that grew out of the science fiction novels of John Norman based on a belief that in the natural order, all males are inherently dominant over all females. There are communities of people who live according to Gorean customs much as there are communities of people who live according to some aspect of BDSM customs.

Hurt versus harm: For the sake of this book, hurt is “ouch” but harm can last a lifetime. Thus, the sentence: “I will be glad to hurt you if you’d like, but I definitely do not wish to harm you” makes sense. In your mind, you can substitute the phrase intense sensations for “hurt.”

Kinky: slang for people who enjoy adventuresome sex which is, itself, a euphemism for BDSM. (Note: Some BDSM relationships can be mostly about discipline and non-sexual aspects of domination and service submission. This distinguishes such relationships from those in the vanilla world.)

Kinsey scale: The 0-6 Kinsey scale (also called the Heterosexual- Homosexual Rating Scale) attempts to describe a person’s sexual preferences. In this scale, zero means that the person is exclusively heterosexual and six means that the person is exclusively homosexual. Someone who is bisexual would be a 3.

Leather, Leathermen, Leathersex: The Leather subculture is one of many facets of semi-organized alternative sexuality. In recent decades the Leather community has almost come to be viewed as a subset of BDSM culture rather than a descendant of gay culture. Almost anything that is said about Leather and its evolution to present times is subject to challenge.

Limits: Boundaries negotiated between the Top and bottom before a scene. Hard limits represent “do not do these” topics; soft limits represent “I’d rather you not do these” topics.

Masochism: in psychiatry, the condition in which sexual gratification depends on suffering physical pain or humiliation; gratification gained from pain, deprivation, degradation, etc., inflicted or imposed on oneself, either as a result of one’s own actions or the actions of others, especially the tendency to seek this form of gratification.

Master and slave: usually applied to a 24/7 relationship structure wherein the subordinate person (slave) has surrendered authority over themselves and pledged to serve and to obey their Master who now exerts total control and offers total protection for this person.

Munch: Munches are intended to be non-threatening social gatherings to help those who are curious about BDSM meet others who may be able to help them become more comfortable and better informed. Munches can also be a place to get advice about BDSM experiences.

Negotiating/negotiations: The process of determining what will and will not go on in a play scene—or in a relationship. As some people consider the scene to start with negotiations, this is not a time to be interrupted.

Old Guard: A term used to describe a near-mythical time in gay Leather history when returned GIs from World War II blended some features of their military experiences with their kinky interests to produce a subculture that over time became known as Leather. Some of the distant echoes of their quasi-military rules of protocol, inclusion, and exclusion can still be seen in today’s BDSM society.

Pansexual: accepting of all sexual orientations—generally referring to social clubs (as opposed to clubs that primarily welcome straights, gay males, people who are genetically female, etc).

RACK: Risk Aware Consensual Kink—a standard of play different from SSC that you will run into as you get more experience under your belt.

Sadism: in psychiatry, the condition in which sexual gratification depends on causing pain or degradation to others.

SM: sadomasochism (I use caps for these letters in this book). The psychological tendency or sexual practice characterized by both sadism and masochism.

SM play/scenes: activities between two or more people of any gender that involve giving and receiving sensations such as spanking, flogging, whipping, etc. for their mutual and consensual enjoyment.

SM techniques: methods such as spanking, whipping, bondage, or electro-stimulation that sadists may use to cause masochists to feel the desired sensations.

SSC: Safe, Sane, and Consensual—A slogan used to summarize the minimal physical/psychological conditions most people consider acceptable for SM play to take place.

Safe-call:  a procedure used when meeting someone for the first time (or even when meeting someone that you don’t know well) that ensures that someone else knows what you’re doing, where you’ll be doing it, and that you are safe.

Safewords: words that you and your partner have agreed to use to stop the play entirely (such as, red), or to slow it down a bit (such as, yellow). One uses words such as red because words such as, “No” or “Stop” or “Ouch, no, stop!” may be part of the scene.

Service Top: Someone who has developed the skills to administer SM sensations to a bottom and does so at that person’s request. A service Top’s intent is to fulfill the wishes and desires of the person bottoming for them. Even though a service Top may not dominate the scene in terms of a D/s dynamic, they do control the scene. As the phrase implies, the Top is doing something for the sake of the bottom.

Sex-role stereotyping: The general public stereotype is that Doms are men with sadistic/Top preferences and that submissives are women who have masochistic/bottom preferences. These are stereotypes and are far from the way roles are practiced within this culture. In reality, Dominants can be male or female, masochists or sadists and of any sexual orientation. So can submissives.

Submissive versus slave
Note: Once again, I caution readers that the characteristics listed under submissive and slave are generalizations based on my own research and experiences living within (and studying) the field of BDSM and Master/slave relations since 2001. These descriptions are certainly not intended to be taken as rules. These are my own distinctions and may not be generally accepted by others practicing D/s or M/s structures.

As you, yourself, grow in BDSM experience, what I write in this book generally—and the following points about distinctions between submissive and slave specifically—may make more sense to you.

I’ll begin by proposing that submissive and slave motivations and behaviors aren’t quite the same. While one is certainly not better than the other, one set of behaviors is more likely to fit some people than others.


  • D/s relationship is based on power exchange (meaning that the submissive who normally has personal authority over what they, themselves, may or may not do or have done to them can give or exchange that power to the Dom/me for a prescribed period)
  • submissives have a strong desire to serve—but under certain negotiated conditions.
  • Typically, the negotiated area include the submissive’s terms of service, the length of that service, the hard and soft limits, and the safewords.
  • The submissive will also negotiate those aspects of their life that the Dom doesn’t control. These aspects often include the submissive’s biological family and children, work, education and religious observance.
  • The conditions under which the submissive is willing to serve can be renegotiated. (This is a major issue: the submissive retains the personal authority to ask their Dominant to renegotiate their terms of service, but the Dominant is under no obligation to accept the newly proposed conditions.)
  • If the Dom breaks the submissives hard limits, the scene would end and—in the case of a breach of a relationship trust—the relationship could end.
  • The Dom may be permitted to break soft limits (things the submissive has said they really aren’t interested in) after discussing it with the submissive and obtaining their permission.
  • In many/most cases, submissives cross back and forth between retaining and surrendering control over some aspect of their lives and continue to make decisions in the areas that are off- limits for their Dom
  • A submissive re-submits to the Dom at the start of any scene or activity over which the Dom has negotiated authority. Importantly, the submissive retains the choice as to whether or not to submit to the Dom.

Consensual slave

  • M/s relationship is based on authority transfer (This means that once the person who is to become the slave has, in fact, surrendered personal authority over him/herself to their Master/Owner, they no longer have the personal power to make decisions for him/herself. Thus, a slave would not have the authority to enter into a D/s scene with someone other than their Master/Owner without that Master/Owner’s specifically transferring THEIR authority over their own slave to another person.)
  • At least in theory, the slave gives up all rights to make personal decisions and becomes the property of a Master or Owner.
  • The core values are service and obedience.
  • The slave loses the right to say “No” to Master: in its place, slave may say, “Sir, if it pleases you, Sir” to mean: “Master, I really rather would not do that.” or “Sir, only if it pleases you, Sir” which is as close to “No” as slave is permitted. (Note: Master has an ethical obligation only to push through an “only if” reply so long as Master thinks that doing so remains in the slave’s best interest. Requiring a slave to proceed through an “only if” command on Master’s whim violates the basic Master/ slave pact on Master’s part and represents a contract violation.)
  • As slave cannot red out, slave thus has accepted their Master’s limits and does what is asked of them regardless of their feelings about it. (“What does liking it have to do with it?”)
  • In many cases, a slave will give up their rights to personal property and will continue to work for the benefit of Master’s household or business.
  • A slave’s purpose is to make Master’s life easier. In that regard, a slave is expected to know Master’s wants and likes to the extent that the slave can take independent action on Master’s behalf (proactive rather than reactive; to show initiative as a thinking person)
  • If a slave removes their own collar it constitutes withdrawal from the relationship
  • May be more interested in taking care of others (service heart) than in being taken care of (sorts by others in psychology- speak)
  • May very well be a dominant in most other aspects of their life, but have chosen to be submissive to (or simply to serve) one single person

Subspace: Similar to runner’s high, this is an altered state of mind/ body dissociation, detached from worldly cares that is often obtained by bottoms during and SM play scene. (See also: Top-space)

Switch—common use: someone who enjoys being either the Top or the bottom; enjoys giving or receiving physical SM stimulation. Among Leathermen, activity switches are sometimes referred to as versatile.

Switch—less common use: someone who is willing to take either the leadership or subordinate role in a relationship depending upon the chemistry or connection within that particular partner. When used this way, a person is referred to as a psychological switch. (Note: while physical switches can easily switch within their relationship, psychological switches do not. Psychological switches would have relationships wherein their roles are different—dominant in one relationship and subordinate (not necessarily submissive) with the other. This is an advanced and controversial topic and I only touch on it in this book.)

Top: the person doing the action.

Top/bottom play: sensation play with SM toys/tools—no psychological dynamic, no power exchange. Top and bottom are terms that relate to physical action only. The Top spanks the bottom. The Top or the bottom may be a dominant person or a submissive person of either gender. Top and bottom only describe roles while dominant and submissive describe how people interact in relationships. The decision to Top or to bottom is only a decision of which person wishes to receive sensations that the tools/toys produce when handled by someone who has been properly trained.

Top-space: A state of intense focus and concentration sometimes attained by a Top during particularly intense scenes.

Toys/tools: The implements or equipment used in a BDSM scene. By some tradition or other, the Leather community generally refers to this equipment as tools while the BDSM community seems to use the term toys.

Vanilla: The term used by those of us who practice BDSM sex for those who do not practice BDSM sex. It’s not a pejorative term, simply a descriptor. Typical uses: vanilla sex, land of vanillas, etc.

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