Defining BDSM

Elizabeth Williams is the Senior Managing Editor at ALAREON MEDIA. She is a voracious reader of all genres, and has been active in the BDSM lifestyle community. She brings a unique perspective to literature that chooses to explore this culture, and in writing Lizzie’s Whipping Post hopes to bring clarity to storytelling about the BDSM lifestyle to educate as well as entertain.

 B   D   S    M


Those four little letters have caused a huge wave within the indie author community ever since the day the book, Fifty Shades of Grey showed up.  Within the reader community, because most of us had never actually been exposed to anything even remotely related to BDSM, we accepted the assertion that Christian Grey was a dominant and that Anastasia was submissive.  Having nothing else to teach us, we just knew this had to be fact.

Today, I’m going to briefly go over what those four letters mean and explain each facet of BDSM, which by the way, doesn’t contain ANYTHING about Domination and Submission.

B is for bondage.

Bondage also includes rope practices such as Shibari, which is a Japanese form of rope bondage that makes the receiver into Rope Art, for lack of a better term.  Your characters can play with handcuffs and scarves in the bedroom, but please don’t call it BDSM, because it isn’t anywhere close.  Yes, bondage can be something simple, such as handcuffs, but to a practitioner of BDSM, it means to totally control your partner through ropes, chains, cuffs, leather thongs or rope, or jute (and there are many other materials used for bondage, too many to list here).

D is for Discipline.

To control your partner’s actions by disciplining them if they deviate from your instruction.  As you can tell, a D/s lifestyle would fall partially under this heading, but D/s stands alone because it is so much more than the sum of its parts.  Discipline, as contained in BDSM, can be something as simple as a punishment spanking for disobeying a command, or as complex as humiliation of your partner in front of friends or acquaintances.  The level to which a couple uses Discipline in their pursuit of the lifestyle depends upon both personalities.

 S is for Sadism.

Interesting word and if you want the best definition I can give you, just look at Christian Grey.  Sadism’s definition would be wanting to forcibly bend people to your will, with the outcome being real pain for the partner.  In order for this relationship to work, the receiving partner must certainly be partly a masochist….and so we move to our last letter so this relationship can be explained.

M is for Masochism.

A masochist needs pain, just as they need food and water, in order to survive. If asked, they will tell you that the pain focuses them, centers them, and that by concentrating on the pain, they are able to temporarily forget their worries. More importantly, to a person, they will tell you that after the session, they are able to focus much better on those problems and work to solve them, where before, they may have been overwhelmed by them.

When you write about BDSM, you are writing about the practices above.  BDSM is not bedroom play with handcuffs. BDSM is not a spanking given as “funishment”, unless those two people are an active, practicing D/s couple.

When a woman (and I’m using a woman for an example here since most contemporary “romance” uses a female as the less dominant partner), visits a BDSM club and is immediately found by a Dom who takes her to a room, ties her up and spanks her, every practitioner of BDSM cringes. Even those of us who are no longer practicing will cringe. Why? Because no one in their right mind gives up that type of control to a stranger and no one trusts on sight. If you have a character that trusts someone to flog them, without a contract or without understanding of safe words, then you are reading a true fantasy.

All Dominants are Alphas, but not all Alphas are Dominants.

Dominant, with a capital “D”, refers to a mindset that can inhabit both male and female. The Dominants want to control their surroundings. In my experience they do this usually because in their past that control has been lost to them, sometimes temporarily and sometimes for a long length of time.  If you ever get close enough to a Dominant to learn his/hers innermost secrets, you’ll find that they’ve felt the loss of control far deeper than you or I would have experienced it, and so have vowed to control their lives after that point.

The Submissive who is in an active D/s relationship with a Dominant has told him/her their most basic thoughts and secrets.  All those hidden thoughts that they’ve never shared with anyone else, MUST be shared with the Dominant.  In exchange the Dominant does the same.  From that sharing comes trust, and within that trust is built the D/s relationship.

A D/s relationship may start with dating, plain and vanilla.  The trust that has to live within the Dom and Sub must start at the beginning, just the same way a vanilla relationship begins.  The sub and the Dom are both put into a position where they must begin to trust the other with their innermost secrets.

I’ve found that the trust is what is missing in most D/s relationships written about in Contemporary Romance – either Erotic, Steamy, or whatever you want to call it. Through the trust, you’ll find the romance that readers crave.

Until next time,





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