BDSM Article from "The Imprint"

(October 31, 1997 issue)

Written by Graham Dunn

The scene: The woman strolled past in thigh-high PVC boots, leading her partner on a leash attached to the collar around his neck. The location? Not a private back-room at some exclusive sex club, but Queen street west on a Saturday night.

Kink, or at least the paraphernalia surrounding it, has become cool. The last few years have seen a surge in the amount of this sort of material on TV, in music and art. This article is a look at some of the terms involved, a few issues in kink, and why people get off on it.

When talking about 'kinky' sex, the term 'BDSM' gets a lot of use. It's a collection of acronyms that encompass 'Bondage - Discipline', 'Sadism - Masochism', and 'Domination - Submission'.

Bondage is probably the most familiar; most people can identify with some degree of restraint in an erotic atmosphere. Discipline involves all manners of punishment from a soft spanking to a full fledged flogging.

Sadism and masochism are traditionally associated with intense physical play, overshadowing the power-based aspect. In sadism, pleasure comes from inflicting pain on others. Masochism is taking pleasure in being subjected to physical pain or abuse.

Domination and submission refers to the mental aspect of the transfer of power. Domination is taking control of the situation and making the decisions. Submission involves surrender of will; taking the orders that one is given.

When describing the people involved in BDSM, the terms 'top' and 'bottom' are often used the areas of Bondage - Discipline and Sadism - Masochism. Both participants are in control, albeit in different ways. While the top controls what is going on, how many lashes to administer, where the clothespins should go, etc., the bottom has control of how far things will go, and can stop the scene if they're uncomfortable. Dom and sub are the obvious abbreviations of dominant and submissive, referring to the partners involved and their roles. All of the above terms mean slightly different things depending on who you ask. Top and dom are often used interchangeably.

Power and Sex

Power and sex are intimately related in our culture, often so closely as to be indistinguishable. Rearranging traditional roles, changing who's on top in a mental sense, can be very erotic. For someone who doesn't normally take a lead role in the relationship, being in control, dictating what happens when, can be tremendously exciting. The reverse is also true: the power transfer involved in submission makes a lot of people very hot. These transfers can take place anywhere from an elaborate setting at a play party with many people and a full selection of toys, to something as simple as at home with your lover and a blindfold. Power, wielded or surrendered to, in an unusual context is very arousing. It crosses over our normal boundaries; the aberrant becomes arousing.


The slogan "Safe, Sane and Consensual" means BDSM play should be enjoyable for all those involved. 'Safe' covers issues from proper rope technique to safewords (to let your partner express that they've reached their limits in a manner that won't be misinterpreted). 'Sane' means avoiding playing under the influence of alcohol or other drugs and respecting your partner's wishes. 'Consensuality' means there's a difference between play and abuse; without consent, BDSM degenerates into the latter.

Why people play

Engaging in BDSM-related play allows you to explore a side of your personality you normally wouldn't. Besides the strong physical and mental sensations arising during play, extreme BDSM situations teach lessons you can apply to the rest of your life. Knowing that you can stand, even enjoy, crawling on your hands and knees, collecting roses in your mouth for your master, makes the mental stress of asking for that raise pale in comparison. Knowing how you react in uncertain situations gives you an immense boost in self-confidence. If you can handle having your hands chained above your head while your top rakes welts into your chest with their fingernails, you realize how your perception of pain affects how much things 'hurt'.

What hurts under normal circumstances can be pleasurable in the midst of S&M play. The physical arousal people feel in S&M play is very similar to a runner's high. The body's response to painful stimuli is the production of natural pain-killers called endorphins. Combined with the adrenaline rush from this sort of play, they can cause a sensation that often goes beyond the purely physical pleasures of orgasm.


Some people find costumes arousing; cross-dressing, PVC or leather are a few of the favourites. As to equipment you can use in S&M play, simple is good: the sensations you can create using only some clothespins, a spatula, and your fingernails are amazing.

This is no way is meant to be a comprehensive how-to, or psychological treatise of why people are into BDSM. If you're curious about finding out more about this sort of eroticism, try The Story of O by Pauline Reage, or Juliette by the Marquis de Sade. Resources on the web include EHBC, a Kitchener group that shares ideas and information about BDSM, at, as well as the AIDS Committee of Toronto's Safer SM Education Project's webpage at