Exploring Consensual Kink and BDSM
The leather community that emerged from the gay motorcycle clubs and bars also became the practical and symbolic location for leatherfolk to openly explore consensual and responsible Kink or BDSM. Everything that happens in BDSM activities is consensual, activities are mutually agreed to, people do it voluntarily for fun.
While many leatherfolk enjoy BDSM practices, others do not necessarily associate their leather lifestyle with kink or BDSM.
BDSM is a variety of enjoyable erotic practices and play between consenting adults, expressing love through mixing passion and sex with sensuality, pleasure and sometimes pain, within agreed and logical limits. BDSM typically involves power exchange, role-playing, bondage and other interpersonal dynamics. BDSM may also be referred to as “leathersex,” “kink,” or “fetish” and includes a wide range of practices. BDSM is an acronym of the following terms:
- Bondage and Discipline (B&D) includes a variety of activities typically using restraints, ranging from mild but adventurous explorations sometimes called, “tie and tease” or “slap and tickle”, using blindfolds or feathers, to spanking or other punishment. These activities may be performed for their own sake or as part of foreplay.
- Domination and Submission (DS) encompasses a relationship dynamic wherein one partner (the dominant) assumes various degrees of control over the behavior of the other partner(s) within that relationship. Sometimes the terms “Master/slave” or “Mistress/slave” are also used.
- Sadomasochism (SM) is the combination of sadism and masochism, eponyms derived from work of two writers, Leopold von Sacher Masoch and the Marquis de Sade, (Donatien Alphonse François Sade). The “hurt so good” activities included in SM can range from playful tickling and spanking to whippings, floggings, caning, piercing, and humiliation (both verbal and psychological) and other related behaviors.
Safe, Sane and Consensual: To emphasize the concept of safe, voluntary, and consensual activities, the “Safe, Sane and Consensual” (SSC) credo has emerged. The actual term SSC is attributed to slave David Stein and first appeared in the statement of purpose of the GMSMA (Gay Male S/M Activists) in 1983.
- Safe: Every effort is made to insure that participants are able to play safely regardless of the activity:
- Health safety refers to practicing “safe sex” if sexual play is a component, use of latex gloves if fingers or a hand will be inserted into a partners body cavities, and decontamination of any BDSM gear that might have come in contact with potentially dangerous body fluids.
- Physical safety requires all parties are knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns about the types of play involved to avoid risks and make every effort to insure that no permanent harm or serious injury will result. This also includes ensuring the play space is safe and a first aid kit is available.
- Emotional safety involves observing and being prepared for an emotional reaction to a type of play, pausing or stopping play if needed, and all parties providing loving emotional support for each other.
- Additionally, a “safe word” or a “safe sign” are employed to indicate that a particular activity or the entire scene should be modified or ceased immediately should a safety or personal limits concern arise, if either the bottom or the top need a break, to ask a question, or to end the play session now.
- Sane: Being sane refers being able to distinguish fantasy from reality, being fully capable of understanding and participating in these activities, and using ones best judgement to fully evaluate any/all attendant risk(s). If it doesn’t seem sane avoid doing it. Sane also requires ensuring that none of the participants are under the excess influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Consensual: Informed Mutual Consent, the cardinal rule of responsible BDSM activity, that:
- activities occur voluntarily between consenting adults who also agree to respect the limits defined by the participant(s).
- all the participants have full knowledge of the proposed activities to which they are consenting, including but not limited to the circumstances under which the activity will take place and any possible risks inherent in the activity.
- consent is given of one’s own free will, without the influence of drugs, alcohol, mental/emotional duress, physical stress or anything else that would impede or preclude one’s ability to give informed consent.
- Consent is also an ongoing right and consent can be withdrawn at any time. Everyone has the ability to communicate clearly during play and all communications are heeded. Use of a “safe word” or “safe sign” ensures that either a particular activity or the entire scene can be modified or stopped with a single word or gesture.
Risk-Aware Consensual Kink: Some argue that nothing in life is truly “safe” and prefer the acronym RACK or Risk-Aware Consensual Kink. This acronym is attributed to Gary Switch who posted it online in 1999.
- Risk-aware: Both or all partners are well-informed of the risks involved in the proposed activity.
- Consensual: In light of those risks, both or all partners have, of sound mind, offered preliminary consent to engage in said activity.
- Kink: Activity that can be classified as BDSM or alternative sex.
Switch compared BDSM to the sport of mountain climbing. In both, risk is an essential part of the thrill, and that risk is minimized through study, training, technique, and practice.
Committed Compassionate Consensual: In some old guard circles the term “Committed Compassionate Consensual” is used as the core guideline.
A BDSM Scene is an erotic encounter where BDSM activities take place during a specific period of time agreed to by all parties, may also be referred to as “play” or “a session.” A scene is defined as a combination of mental, physical and/or environmental components, with an exchange of power as a key element, that mix in such a way as to produce a satisfying erotic experience for all participants. Scenes may involve acting out a fantasy with participants playing specific roles.
A Dominant is the partner(s) who is the physically active or controlling participant in a power exchange relationship. The Dominant creates a setting where the fantasies can be explored. Dominants approach BDSM differently, some may be sadistic (at varying levels), while others are not.
A submissive is the partner(s) who consents to submit to another person taking control over them. Not all submissives are masochistic. The submissive sets the limits and has the ability to call a halt to the scene if needed.
Power exchange refers to a relationship of mutual consent in which one person gives their submission in exchange for another person giving their dominance. A power exchange is based on trust, the submissive expresses his will then surrenders it. The Dominant accepts the responsibility represented by the surrender and promises to treat the surrender within the terms of the agreement between them. Both parties must be equally dedicated to delivering themselves and each other into the best possible fulfillment the scene permits. Power exchange can be applied to individual scenes or may govern the way those involved relate to one another on an ongoing basis.
In situations where a power exchange is excluded, a Top agrees to administers some form of stimulation, such as spankings, floggings, etc. on another person but does not have psychological control or power over that person. A bottom receives the stimulation but does not give up authority and in some cases may control exactly how and to what degree the stimulation is received.
Guidelines for BDSM Activity:
The fundamental principles for the exercise of BDSM require that it should be performed with the informed consent of all involved parties. The very broad range of BDSM “toys” and physical and psychological control techniques requires knowledge of details and the requirements of the individual session and activity. Participants must recognize that BDSM sessions often require a wide array of safety precautions and care, otherwise parts of the body can be injured.
Negotiation – BDSM play, a “scene” or a “session” are described, discussed and agreed to by all participants, before any activity ensues. This is often called “negotiating a scene” and it should be a comprehensive honest discussion. At this time, all participants:
- discuss who will take part.
- discuss each others fantasies and what they would like to experience, the type of scene, length of the scene.
- disclose their level of experience, fears about bondage, etc.
- discuss dominant and submissive roles, what will be the level of control each person has.
- discuss their “limits” or ground rules for those activities in which they will participate.
- discuss whether sex will be part of the scene, if so what do you consider safe and what are the limits.
- agree to a “safe word” or a “safe sign” to indicate that a particular activity or the entire scene should be modified or stopped immediately should a safety or personal limits concern arise, if either the bottom or the top need a break, to ask a question, or to end the play session now. For example, some clubs use: green – all is well, yellow – caution, go slower/easier, and red – stop now, the scene is OVER.
- discuss where the scene will take place.
- communicate needs, and health or medical considerations.
- discuss requirements or boundaries of aftercare on both sides.
For example, if both agree that bondage is to be part of a scene, use of a blindfold could be discussed as an option and if not mutually agreed to, the use of a blindfold would be a limit and unacceptable to use within the context of that specific scene.
Feedback lets others know how the action feels and whether it is within the range of things that are acceptable. The use of a safe word or safe sign (agreed to during negotiation) can be used to adjust or stop the scene. For example a submissive that feels they cannot go on or is having a problem with a restraint that is too tight may say “Please, halt sir” or Please, check … sir.” Additionally the submissive’s body language, physiological responses and changing attitude provide non-verbal feedback to the dominant to continue, accelerate, slow down or end the activity.
Aftercare is period of time after intense BDSM activity in which the dominant partner cares for the submissive partner’s needs. This typically includes a safe space to unwind and recover.
Types of BDSM Play:
There are a variety of types of BDSM play, these may also be referred to as fetishes. Different people have different interests, something what turns one person on doesn’t apply to another. Traditionally the list of types of play associated with BDSM includes:
- Bondage – consensual tying, binding, or restraining of a person for erotic, aesthetic, and/or psychological pleasure. Scarves, rope, cuffs, or tape may be used. Bondage can range from lightly tying hands together to creating elaborate rope harnesses and suspension.
- Discipline – consensual activity such as punishment, loss of privileges or being told to do a task in response to a ‘rule’ being broken.
- Domination and Submission – a consensual set of behaviors, customs and rituals involving the giving by one individual to another individual of control over them in an erotic episode or as a lifestyle.
- Role play – consensual acting out of predefined roles in scenarios or fantasies such as teacher/student, slave/master, captor/prisoner or animal play. Puppy play, where one person takes on the role of a pup or dog, down on all fours, is a popular form of role play. Another player takes that of the handler or trainer. Puppy play has been described as form of group relaxation where a pup can empty their mind of all cares, forget responsibilities, lower defenses, and bypass small talk forever. Puppy play has become increasingly popular in recent years.
- Sensory limitation or deprivation – typically involves use an object such as a blindfold or hood to limit or restrict vision or one of the other senses.
- Skin Sensation – activity involving creating unusual sensations on a person, as with ice cubes, soft fur or cloth, coarse materials, shaving, lightly scratching, use of a Wartenberg wheel, etc.
- Clothespins – standard laundry clothespins can be applied to various skin areas by pinching the skin and applying a clothespin, then playing with it for an erotic effect.
- Hot Wax – dripping of hot wax from a candle onto the body for an erotic effect (do not use beeswax candles as they melt at a temperature that can leave blisters).
- Spanking -refers to the act of striking the buttocks of another person with an open hand or paddle to cause temporary pain (as an aphrodisiac) without producing physical injury. Spanking can range from very light to more intense.
- Flogging – In the BDSM context is the act of methodically whipping the human body with a flogging instrument to cause temporary sensation or pain (as an aphrodisiac) without producing physical injury. The sensation produced can be mild stimulation with light whipping and a soft flogging instrument to more intense.
- Genital play or “torture” or “CBT” – may involve mild to moderately painful activities such as wax play, genital spanking, bondage, squeezing, stretching, flogging, tickle torture or use of a chastity cage.
- Urethral Play inserting a sterile medical catheter or a urethral sound into the urethra.
- Nipple Play – soft to firmer squeezing, pressing, twisting or brushing of a partners nipples, may also be done with clothespins or specially designed clamps.
- Ass Play – erotic play with the anal area, may involve inserting of fingers or a hand in the anal cavity.
- Body art – is art made on, with, or consisting of, the human body. The most common forms of body art are tattoos and body piercing, but other types include scarification, or branding in more involved scenes.
- Slavery – a consensual set of behaviors more involved than domination and submission where a slave desires total ownership and requires that almost all things are decided for them.
- Humiliation – depriving one of self-esteem, leading to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It can be brought about through bullying, intimidation, or by embarrassment.
- Public Display – a form of humiliation based on centuries old public discipline for violation of rules.
- Electric Play or E-stimulation – advanced play using of electrical toys and a medical TENS or similar controller box for massage or stimulation. An ultra violet wand can also be used for electric play. Electric toys can only be used safely one type or toy at a time.
Each individual or couple may be interested in different aspects of these types of play. For example, there is a difference between a slave and a submissive, a submissive generally desired to be dominated in BDSM or sexual activities and remains free to make their own decisions about most other things, whereas a slave desires total ownership and requires that almost all things are decided for them.
Training is highly recommended before engaging in any type of play to ensure everything is done safely. Leather and BDSM clubs in major urban areas throughout the country offer classes that provide instruction on these types of play, and may also include the opportunity to experience them. Information may also be available online from manufactures.
Group dungeon events are a great opportunity to meet other leather guys or gals and learn more about Kink or BDSM play. Most group dungeon events require rules be followed and provide a Dungeon Monitor (DM) who helps ensure that all play is safe, sane and consensual. The dungeon monitor always has final say on safety issues and can stop a scene when necessary. A dungeon can also be a space for classes, instruction and play.
CMEN Dungeon House Rules: Safe, Sane and Consensual Play
- Do not enter the dungeon when it is closed. Play is only allowed when a Dungeon Monitor (DM) is present.
- All Play must be Consensual. Do not touch anyone without asking permission first. “NO” means “NO” if asking someone to play. Consent can be withdrawn at any time during a scene.
- All parties must negotiate and agree to all the details of a scene including who is involved, roles and what can be included.
- Play Safely and Use Common Sense – fire play, knife play and breath play are not allowed. We are in a dry brush area miles from the closest hospital.
- Safe word “RED” means “STOP”, NO EXCEPTIONS.
- Anyone in any form of restraints cannot be left unattended.
- Keep it Sane ‐ know what you are doing, understand any risks, avoid impairment by drugs or alcohol. If you aren’t sure ask.
- Proper Dungeon Etiquette required. Do not disrupt someone else’s scene.
- Show courtesy to everyone in attendance.
- Do not touch other people’s property without permission.
- Completely clean the area when you are finished.
- Photography is generally not allowed unless arrangements have been made with the Dungeon Monitor in advance.
- Dungeon Monitors have final say on safety issue.
- All Play is done at YOUR OWN RISK.
- Baldwin, Guy. The Leather Contest Guide; A Handbook for Promoters, Contestants, Judges and Titleholders. 2nd Edition. 2004, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-08-9.
- Baldwin, Guy. Ties that Bind; SM / Leather / Fetish Erotic Style; Issues, Commentaries and Advice. 2nd Edition, 2003, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-09-7.
- Bannon, Race. Learning the Ropes; A Basic Guide to Safe and Fun S/M Lovemaking, 1992, Daedalus Publishing Company, San Francisco. ISBN 1-881943-07-0.
- Bean, Joseph W. Leathersex; A Guide for the Curious Outsider and the Serious Player, 1994, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-05-4.
- Davolt, Robert. Painfully Obvious; An Irreverent & Unauthorized Manual for Leather/SM. 2003, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-19-4.
- Mains, Geoff. Urban Aboriginals. Third edition 2002, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-06 (Original 1984, Gay Sunshine Press).
- Thompson, Mark. Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics and Practice. Third edition 2004, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-20-8 (Original 1991, Alyson Books, Boston).
- Townsend, Larry. The Leatherman’s Handbook. Silver Jubilee Edition, 2000, L.T. Publications, Beverly Hills, CA ISBN 1-881684-19-9 (Original 1972, Olympia Press)
- Weal, John D. The Leatherman’s Protocol Handbook; A Handbook on “Old Guard” Rituals, Traditions and Protocols. 2010 Nazca Plains Corporation, Las Vegas, NV. ISBN 978-1-935509-76-9.
Online Information Resources:
- The Leather Journal
- Leatherati: Leather People, Events and News
- Los Angeles Leather History
- BDSM Wiki
- Leather and Roses
- Southwest Leather Conference
- SM Safety
- Tom of Finland Foundation
- Gay Leather Community Events and Information
- Exploring the Gay Leather Community
- Wearing Leather
- Leather Care
- Leather Shops
- Handkerchief Codes
- Exploring Kink
- Mr. CMEN Leather
Trust, Honor and Respect
Information on this page is from the Leather 101 workshop at the West Coast Gathering, September 2016 – 2019, presented by Rick B. Mr CMEN Leather 2015.
Information on this page is provided for educational purposes and does not imply endorsement by CMEN. Please note that CMEN does not control the content of linked web sites, the organizations who own these web sites accept sole responsibility for their content.