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The Labels Of BDSM

If you've done research at all into the world of BDSM, you've probably been confronted with a number of terms from a number of quarters that you may or may not be familiar with. This guide seeks to educate people, both newcomers and experienced alike, on the meanings of many of these words.

Which BDSM Terms Will Be Covered

In particular, this guide is concerned with the BDSM terms that people within the lifestyle use to label themselves. Many people will question why the labels need be used at all, but many others find that these labels help to facilitate communication, eliminate confusion, and give them a place where they feel that they "fit in," so to speak.

The terms that we will be discussing include: sadist, masochist, fetishist, Top, Dominant, Master/Mistress, switch, bottom, submissive, slave, and other synonymous terms. Keep in mind that none of these terms are necessarily mutually exclusive of one another, and one need not just pick one single term to describe oneself with.

Sadists, Masochists, And Sadomasochists

When most people think of BDSM, the first thing they think of are sadists and masochists, though all so-called "kinky" people are not sadistic or masochistic. Thus, these are the first terms we're going to discuss in this essay.

A sadist is a person who enjoys inflicting pain upon another person, and a masochist is a person who enjoys having pain inflicted upon himself or herself. One need not choose one or the other; some people are sadomasochists because they enjoy both inflicting pain and having it inflicted upon them. Additionally, sadists, masochists, and sadomasochists can exist completely outside of power exchange; thus, all sadists are not dominants, and all masochists are not submissives.

Generally, though, during a BDSM scene, the sadist is a Top, while the masochist is a bottom--though this is not always true, as sadistic bottoms and masochistic Tops are hardly unheard of. That brings us to our next definition.

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Tops And Bottoms

The terms "Top" and "bottom" are considered to have been appropriated from the gay community. The Top is the active person in a play session, while the bottom is the passive partner. Like "sadist" and "masochist," these two terms do not include any connotation of "dominant" or "submissive," either. A dominant person may bottom for a spanking scene, for example, in order to gain an understanding for the way that his or her submissive feels when he or she is being spanked. Additionally, a submissive person may Top another at the command of his or her dominant. Tops and bottoms need not be sadistic or masochistic, either, because BDSM sessions can be about sensation rather than pain if that's what the people involved desire.

Switches

A switch is a person who can be either a Top or a bottom. Some switches also identify as dominants or submissives, or even, say, Master to one person and slave to another! However, a switch need not be dominant or submissive, either. He or she may just enjoy Topping and bottoming without any sort of power exchange involved.

Fetishists

Fetishists are people who have certain interests (or fetishes) that they like to indulge. Fetishists may not consider themselves sadists, masochists, Tops, bottoms, Dominants, or submissives. Often, they are simply people with needs that they want to get fulfilled, completely outside of the context of most BDSM concepts.

Dominants And Submissives

A Dominant is a person who takes a dominant role in his or her relationships and is generally considered the "leader" in that relationship. A submissive is a person who takes a submissive role and is generally considered the follower in his or her relationship.

Dominants and submissives can be male or female. Male Dominants are often referred to as "Doms," while female Dominants are often referred to as "Dommes" or "Femdoms." Submissives are usually referred to as "subs," though sometimes they are known as "femsubs" for female submissives and "msubs" for male submissives.

Additionally, Dominants are not always sadists, and submissives are not always masochists. It's possible to be in a Dominant/submissive relationship without any hint of sadomasochism. Nor are Dominants always Tops while submissives are always bottoms. Masochistic Dominants might instruct their sadistic submissives to Top them exactly to their specifications!

Masters/Mistresses And Slaves

Finally, we come to Masters/Mistresses and slaves. A Master is a man who has taken complete control of his partner in their relationship. A Mistress is the female version of the same. A slave is a submissive who has agreed to come under complete control of his or her partner. As with other terms, Master/Mistress and slave do not necessarily include other labels. It is, in fact, possible to be a slave--a person under the complete control of another--without having a submissive personality or, thereby, identifying as a submissive.

These terms are a little more nebulous, as they are relationship-specific. It's possible to be a submissive without a Dominant, but it's not possible to be a slave without a Master or Mistress, and vice-versa. Furthermore, in many people's minds, the differences between a submissive and slave or a Master/Mistress and a Dom/Domme are only a matter of degrees, and people can rarely decide exactly where the line is drawn!

Concluding The Lesson

In conclusion, BDSM terms can be rather confusing, but we hope that this little essay has helped to make them at least somewhat less confusing for our readers!

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Andi
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