S&M, Bondage. Rough sex. Blindfolds. Whips. Ball gags. If any of those words are starting to make you squirm a little in your seat – in a good way – you might be interested in S&M, or sadism and masochism. Perhaps you read 50 Shades of Grey and enjoyed it. Maybe you read it and thought it was more akin to an abusive relationship. Whatever your thoughts on that series of books, you’re reading this because you’re curious.

In spite of what mainstream and popular media force-feeds us about S&M, it’s not all whips and chains and latex bodysuits. It can be those things, if you want, but it’s so much more than that. Here are some of the most popular questions, and the answers, about getting into S&M.

What does S&M mean anyway?

It stands for bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism. Usually, people are interested in one or two of those, but not all – and certainly not all at once!

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What’s a safe word?

A safe word is used between a dominant and submissive partner in case things get too rough. For example, if your safe word is “banana,” and your dom is doing something you’re not comfortable with, as a sub you can shout “banana,” and the dom will ease up, or stop altogether.

So, S&M isn’t about inflicting pain?

Not at all! I mean, unless that’s what you want. Those who participate in S&M aren’t into abuse. You’ve likely heard there’s a thin line between pain and pleasure, and that’s sort of where S&M resides. People who practice S&M aren’t damaged, so it isn’t a way to deal with unspoken abuse.

Why do people enjoy S&M?

Simply put, it’s a way to act out a fantasy. Whether you’ve fantasized about being tied up, or you get off on a slight tug to your hair when you’re having sex, these both fall under the S&M category.

What is aftercare?

An intense BDSM session, or scene, as they’re called, requires a cool-down period. The partners take time to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and it’s a good time for the couple to bond.

Those who enjoy BDSM activities are not necessarily more promiscuous. Many couples are strictly monogamous, and some BDSM scenes don’t involve sex at all. Like any relationship, yours with BDSM will be unique. The best thing you can do if you want to get started in BDSM is to educate yourself, seek like-minded people, and explore to find what works for you.

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