Want to know a little more about kinky sex than what you've seen in Fifty Shades? Here, four anonymous women and one anonymous man open up about their experiences with BDSM.
How old are you?
Woman A: Twenty-two.
Woman B: Thirty-four.
Woman C: Twenty-three.
Woman D: Twenty-four.
Man A: Twenty-six.
What are your favorite BDSM-ish things to do in bed?
Woman A: I like rope bondage, impact play (being struck by an implement or bodily force), role-play,and edge play.
Woman B: Dominance and submission.
Woman C: Erotic asphyxiation is my favorite (choking, being choked), but I also love being slapped in the face and whipped on the ass with a firm hand or a belt (so that it stings). Handcuffing and blindfolding are fun too, but pain is 100% my kink.
Woman D: I love the feeling of feeling controlled, so I'm a big fan of discipline and bondage. Giving up my freedom (consensually!) is the best break from reality and the stress of everyday life. Rope, cuffs, and being physically overpowered give me that thrill of knowing that who I'm playing with could do whatever they want to me, and being told to kneel or crawl is like the best thing ever.
Man A: Broadly speaking, I'm really into playing with control, whether that manifests through bondage, giving or following orders, or other ways. I'm also a rope bondage enthusiast, and spend a bit of time practicing knots and finding people who want to be tied up.
Are you dominant, submissive, or a switch?
Woman A: I'm a switch with submissive tendencies.
Woman B: I'm a slave within a master/slave relationship.
Woman C: Submissive, most often, but hoping to be a switch more often going forward. In the past, men have either not been down for BDSM-y stuff, or haven't wanted to try out the sub position. And to find out what you're into, it's really all about trial and error.
Woman D: I am a submissive-leaning switch. That means I am comfortable and find satisfaction in both roles, but I find the most fulfillment in a submissive role.
Man A: Mostly I take the dominant role at the moment, but several years ago I was in a relationship as a submissive, and I enjoy switching.
How old were you when you first tried BSDM?
Woman A: Sixteen.
Woman B: Thirty-one or thirty-two.
Woman C: I had just turned 20.
Woman D: I was a freshman in college, so I believe 18 years old. It was with a guy I was interested in — it was actually pretty cool because we went through that self-discovery/learning process together.
Man A: I was 18 when I found someone with compatible interests, but I bought myself a pair of cheap bondage cuffs when I was 16. I can't remember a time when my sex life didn't involve BDSM-oriented fantasies.
What made you want to try it?
Woman A: A boyfriend introduced me to it.
Woman B: At first I was horrified that people could do this to themselves but the idea stuck in my mind. When the fantasies started, I ventured online to look into it a bit deeper. I decided I wanted to give BDSM a try and have loved it ever since.
Woman C: It was mostly an accident, honestly. My boyfriend at the time very tentatively put his hand at the base of my neck and I felt something fire up inside me, so I asked him to put his hand higher up around my neck and squeeze gently. He was super worried about hurting me, but I realized right then that I was really into the sensation. So we started experimenting from there and getting rougher from that point on.
Woman D: I believe I first discovered what BDSM was in high school through porn. I instantly became attracted to that world, and the more I read and researched, I had a gut feeling I would love it. And when I was a freshman in college and hooked up with that guy, with his dominant personality and the way he ordered me to take my clothes off the first time we hooked up, I knew there was no going back!
Man A: For something to be hot for me, it needs to involve a power exchange. My sex life and relationships made a lot more sense, and worked much better, once I realized that!
Did it live up to your expectations?
Woman A: Yes. I had very limited exposure [to BDSM] at that point, so I didn't have many expectations. I also happened to be with a very competent partner.
Woman B: It has exceeded my expectations. At first [BDSM] was all about my sex life, now it's become something more. Neither my partner nor I were looking for a dom/sub relationship that went much further than our bedroom door, but that's what we have ended up with. I never expected that I would thrive within a relationship that is as defined and structured as mine.
Woman C: I would say no, if only because I didn't really come into it with expectations; any ideas I had about it were definitely misguided. I didn't even though that what we were doing qualified as BDSM until much later on.
Woman D: Yes! It gives a thrill and satisfaction that "vanilla" sex never has, and I don't think ever will. Of course, sex is always great, but it's a different type of satisfaction — it's like a physical and mental release incomparable to anything else.
Man A: Finding my first partner who had compatible desires was wonderful. We both learned a lot and are still very good friends. Now I'm getting to grips with the public BDSM "scene," and everyone has been extremely welcoming.
What do you like most about BDSM?
Woman A: I'm very independent in everyday life and there is a high expectation for me to succeed. So it is a great relief to exist momentarily in a role-play scenario where I am treated like a child, expected to fail as a result, and punished when I don't behave. Bondage and impact play are both physical forces that are so consuming they help me achieve a sort of "braincation," which is very similar to yoga (which I also practice and have instructed in the past).
Woman B: Aside from the amazing sex and mind-blowing orgasms? To be in a relationship with someone who loves me and who allows me the space to be myself and have my very specific needs met is something that I cherish. When you cut through all the bells and whistles, we are just two people who have created a relationship that satisfies the both of us.
Woman C: You get to know someone in an entirely different way. To have a good BDSM experience you need to be open to experimentation, be communicative, and trust the other person, fully. Those three things will inevitably bring you closer as a pair. There's also something really hot about you and your partner potentially having different roles in the bedroom than you have in real life (who generally makes the decisions, who is the more relaxed one, etc.)
Woman D: I love the deep level of trust that forms between me and the partners I've played with. It's incredibly intimate in such a unique way. And I love the escape from reality — I have a stressful job and also suffer from anxiety, and that feeling of peace after an intense mental and physical scene is the best stress-reliever I've ever experienced.
Man A: I love the intimacy of it. You can run a really intense scene which takes someone across a whole range of emotions from scared to excited to desperately pleading and turned on without removing a single item of clothing or touching any of the usual erogenous areas. Oh, and there's really hot sex.
Is there anything you don't like about it?
Woman A: It is sometimes challenging to be a kinky person around people who are not kinky or have a low tolerance for such behavior — most notably my parents. My close friends are understanding, but only to the extent that they can be as reasonable humans. Imagine finding a deliberate (albeit artistic) knife mark on your best friend's thigh and then being introduced to the person who put it there.
Woman B: I've found myself questioning who I am and what I'm doing based on something I've read or heard. I don't wear much black, I don't feel comfortable naked, I don't have a voyeuristic bone in my body. I have a high sex drive and need to feel sexually satisfied. Challenging the dominant idea of what it is to be a submissive woman in your relationship can be hard work.
Woman C: Nothing I can think of.
Woman D: I don't like the aspects that can come into play when you're a part of the public community. It's easy to compare yourself to others — subs can feel like their pain tolerance isn't high enough, and Doms can feel like they don't fit that serious and authoritative stereotype. That being said, effective communication can often solve those issues, and overall, the BDSM community can be a wonderful and very educational space.
Man A: Having strong BDSM preferences can be very challenging for dating as it adds an extra dimension to find compatibility for. Awesome person, check. Likes me, check. Fairly attractive, check. Has no obnoxious habits or political opinions, check. Compatible kinks... dammit. The BDSM subculture can also be a bit of a minefield — there are lovely people, but sometimes the off-putting or dangerous fringe elements are loudest.
How do you negotiate consent with BDSM stuff?
Woman A: I have only ever played with people I've been in long-term relationships with, but I use safe words within all of them. I'll often break the parameters of a scene to make my partner aware of a sensation I'm experiencing. For some, dismissing a top or Dom(me)'s command and addressing them directly might take away from the heat of that moment, but I know that if I inform my partner of a mistake on their end early on, that the next time we play it likely won't have to be addressed again.
Woman B: For us it is pretty simple: We talk. I know that no matter what, if I say no, he will stop and figure out what is going on. While we do have a "he says, I do" relationship, I know that if I have a problem with something, I can say, "Hey, wait a second," and let him know what I'm thinking.
Woman C: Safewords all the way. I make sure whomever I'm with knows when I need to stop, and that I know when he needs to. And really, I don't tend to do any intense roleplaying (i.e., mimicking rape, or massive power dynamics) so if I say "stop" or "that's too much," those do the trick. Be sure that you and your partner are on the same page before getting into it.
Woman D: Very clearly and explicitly. Explicit and ongoing consent — even if you know you'll be playing with the same person/people for a long time — is extremely vital. I personally subscribe to the RACK approach; it stands for Risk Aware Consensual Kink. It acknowledges the inherent risks in undertaking a BDSM dynamic and that explicit consent is involved. Before even playing with someone, I like to outline our soft and hard limits. Soft limits are things that aren't necessarily off the table, but require a deeper level of trust and negotiation. Hard limits are things that are absolutely off the table. They can be extreme or not — for example, I love getting slapped, but getting both sides of my face slapped at the same time is a hard limit for me. It really depends on the person and their pain tolerance, potential past traumas, turn-ons and offs, etc. I just do verbal negotiations, but I know people who do anything from making a simple list to a full-on contract.
Man A: It depends on the situation. As a prepared kind of person, I have a list of limits (and a list of turn-ons, because I like to be helpful like that) and I've had discussions with my partner about what kind of things I can do with other people. Personally, I often like to fight and resist, so I use the traffic light safe words. That means I can fight or say "stop" and "no" as much as I like, but my partner knows I'm having fun and everything is fine unless I say "red."
How important is BDSM to your sex life?
Woman A: Very. I don't enjoy vanilla sex acts if they are not paired with some form of kinky play.
Woman B: Very important. In the confines of my relationship, BDSM is so much more than the props and words that we use. It's a commitment to being who you are and seeking what it is you need in a way that is mutually satisfying, involves conscious decisions with an understanding of the possible risks, undertaken by adults who get the difference between real life and the porn fantasy.
Woman C: It's pretty important to my sex life with regular or long-term partners. As far as more one-time flings go, I don't feel it necessary (or safe) to mention that I like BDSM; usually the rough play comes into effect with partners after we've had a discussion or two about it, and that's rarely a conversation I feel comfortable having if someone is clearly only going to be a one-night stand, or if I don't know them well.
Woman D: It's extremely important. It fulfills a need that goes way deeper than vanilla sex, and isn't even necessarily sexual sometimes. If I go too long without playing, it really feels like there's something missing.
Man A: Very — I consider it part of my sexual orientation and I'm not sure I could have a romantic or sexual relationship without it.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about BDSM? Other than that it's all just like Fifty Shades of Grey.
Woman A: Where do I begin? There's a misconception that BDSM or kinky sex is a type of lowly human behavior. Sex is primitive, but the way in which we enjoy it has evolved tremendously, and I consider BDSM to be on the very latter end of that evolution. When I bring curious vanilla friends (a few of whom are now kinky) to their first kink events, their immediate response is always, "This is just a bunch of nerdy people geeking out over sex." It's a pretty accurate reaction.
Woman B: That because I am in a master/slave relationship that he makes all the decisions and controls everything. That submissive equates promiscuous. That BDSM is all about the whips and chains, kneeling, and being fucked 24/7. That BDSM is abuse or that because I'm submissive I can't be abused. There is also a misconception that the rules of dating stop at the BDSM doorstep. If a guy would be seen as a jerk by your friends, chances are he is still a jerk — he just calls himself a Dom.
Woman C: A really big one is the misconception I've heard from people that "liking it rough" is the same thing as non-consent. Oh man. I can't stress this enough. My liking to be thrown around a little bit does not mean you can do whatever you want to me. BDSM is not always a rape fantasy. Do I like being bossed around and stimulated by pain? Yes. But if I use my safe word, or say stop, that's it. Boundaries DO exist in BDSM.
Woman D: If you're interested in BDSM in any way, please do not look to Fifty Shades as an example. It is horribly misrepresentative of what BDSM is. An actual Dominant would never stalk you, violate your consent, or force you to become their submissive. Another misconception is that it's not feminist to be into BDSM. I proudly call myself a feminist, and so many people I've met through the community are feminists. We believe women owning their sexuality and expressing their kinks and desires is an awesome thing, and that women and female-identifying people should always support others who choose to partake in the BDSM world.
Man A: That it is super-serious, and must involve pain or suffering. If things are going on that the participants really don't want to happen on any level, that's not BDSM. Some people want to devote their lives to developing an intense master and slave relationship, and others want to be restrained or hurt. Others might want to be pampered, and some really enjoy causing pain. None of these is better or more "authentic" than any other and just because you are interested in one thing doesn't mean you have to try others.
Do you have any advice for Cosmo readers who want to try BDSM?
Woman A: FetLife is a great social network to join, even if you're not looking to find an immediate partner. It's got tons of very active user-run forums for beginners with all interests. If you're looking for introductory events in a major city in the U.S., The Wink is a great place to find them, from parties to educational workshops to support and discussion groups.
Woman B: Have a go! But please remember that you are still a whole person and that being submissive, dominant, or getting your kink on in the bedroom doesn't mean you have to forget who you really are. You can be you and be kinky. Understand what you're asking for: If you say you are a no-limits slave, then trust me, there will be someone out there who will take that literally. You don't have to do everything and anything to be kinky.
Woman C: Start off gentle, and ramp up. Don't go all in on the first try — it may be too much for you and you'll miss out on realizing that you actually love some more lowkey aspects to BDSM. If you want to try slapping: be sure that you're hitting someone's cheek (not their jaw or ear!). Cheek gives them a stinging sensation, and jaw or ear gives them a ringing headache. Again, start gently, and ramp up as long as you're both cool. Most importantly, make sure you trust the person you're with to treat you respectfully and to be honest with you. And make sure you trust yourself enough to know what you like and to tell your partner what you don't. Open communication, guys. So essential!
Woman D: My biggest piece of advice is that open communication is the cornerstone of a healthy BDSM dynamic. It may not be sexy, but laying down soft limits, hard limits, and likes and dislikes is so important. And finding someone who respects your limits, takes consent seriously, and doesn't rush a beginner into more "advanced" play right off the bat is essential. A healthy BDSM dynamic can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling types of relationships, so make sure you play with someone you trust! So, my biggest takeaways: always communicate, play with someone you trust, do your research, and even look to your local community for guidance and education. Fetlife is a great resource for finding local play parties and casual, educational meet-ups.
Man A: Take the time to sit down and figure out what you want. It's OK if the answer is that you don't know and you want to explore, but even then it really helps to have a direction. It also helps to have an idea of what you really don't want. Then talk to your partner (or hookup, or fuck buddy, etc.) about it. It doesn't need to be a clinical planning session — you can discuss hypothetical scenarios for other people, share porn that you find particularly hot, or plot fantasies out together. This might seem like very basic advice, but I know I still find it difficult at times to actually use words to express what I want, and miscommunication, or one partner going ahead with a grand kinky plan and the other person not being prepared for it seems to be one of the biggest problems people run into when starting to try some BDSM.
This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.
Follow Rachel on Twitter.