BDSM Terminology

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Terms commonly used in the BDSM Fetish Community

Brat
Bottom
Dominant
Edge Play
Dungeon Monitor
Master
Mind Fuck
Mistress
Primary and Secondary
Safe Word
SAM
Slave
Submissive
Switch
Top

Brat

A brat wants to live the lifestyle of a submissive and a slave. To feel like one they will from time to time test the limits imposed by their owners by intentionally misbehaving. They are most compatible with sadistic owners who in enjoy an occasional reason to punish.

Bottom

1. The receiver of play action during an SM play session.
2. Someone who enjoys being on the receiving end of SM play.

The complimentary role to a bottom is a "Top."

Being a "bottom" does not mean or imply the person is a submissive. A person who is normally a Dominant and a Top may sometimes bottom just to find out what a new play equipment feels like.

Dominant

1. A person who takes the controlling role in a relationship.
2. A person whose natural desire is to take a controlling role in a relationship.

Often abbreviated in speech and print as "Dom."

The opposite and complimentary role to a Dominant is a submissive.

Dungeon Monitor

This was once called "Dungeon Master" but now, to be gender neutral, they are generally called a "Dungeon Monitor." It is very often abbreviated "DM." This is a person knowledgeable and experienced in BDSM play who has been charged with the responsibility for the safety of players at a dungeon party by the event organizers. The DM has authority given by the event organizers to make modifications to play in progress or stop play when a dangerous situation is recognized. The DM also has authority to remove people from the event who refuse to follow the event's rules.

Edge Play

Play that requires more than usual amount of knowledge and skill to avoid injury.

Master

1. A person, usually male, who is skilled in the arts of dominance and SM play.
2. A title preceding the name of such a person.
3. An owner, especially of a living being.

There is a very common mistaken belief that to use this title when addressing someone is to acknowledge a Master/slave relationship between the addresser and the addressee. It can mean that but not always. Whether it does depends on the context with which it is spoken. The word "Master" is a a title just like the word "Captain" is. When people speak of "Captain Cook," "Captain Bligh," or "Captain Hazelwood" they do not mean to say that they are or were a member of their crews. Whether they mean to say this of these captains once again depends on the context of the situation in which it is spoken.

The title "Captain" is a legally protected title. Only those who have been licensed by the Coast Guard are able to use it legally. But a person who uses it anyway will generally not get in trouble. That is unless that person gets any kind of compensation for taking passengers out on the water. Any unlicensed person caught doing that is in big trouble.

The title "Master" is very often used by people new to the BDSM who have few or no skills but use it to indicate their natural desire to dominate. This is resented by many people who want it used only by people who are sufficiently skilled. Some of the resentful are that way I think mostly because they want to differentiate themselves from others to improve their prospects at getting play partners. But BDSM skill acquisition is a continuous life long process. There is not enough time in one's lifetime to know it all and advancements are made all the time just as in any field of study and science. At what point is a person skilled enough to deserve this title? Unlike the title "Captain" there are no nationally or world recognized governing bodies that license or certify Masters. Who then is to decide where that point should be? After learning to tie his first knot? After his first flogging lesson? After reading an SM book? After several years of experience? How many years? After reading all twenty-six Gor novels? In the absence of such a certifying body I would not raise the issue with anyone who claims this title no matter the skill level.

When is the best time to start using the Master (or Mistress) Title? There seem to be unofficial and informal local community standards. When people recognize you as such they will start using it to address you. To get along it is best to wait for this to happen before you start using it yourself. Many Dominants will never use this or any other title in spite of generally being recognized as deserving it.

There are a few who have adopted english titles of nobility such as "Sir" or "Lord" and a few that have adopted the religious title of "Saint." The use if these titles do not necessarily mean those using them have been knighted by the Queen of England, or are a member of the British House of Lords, or have been granted sainthood by the Catholic Church.

The Master title is usually used by males. There are a few female Dominants who also use it. One of the definitions given by the standard english dictionaries is "A male head of household." But an additional definition also given is "An owner, especially of an animal or slave," a definition does not specify gender. The female equivalent to the Master title as used in the BDSM community is Mistress. My own feeling is that since females have their own counterpart title, "Mistress," which is exclusively female males should also have their own exclusively male title. But given the dictionary definition and common usage I will not make an issue of it with any female using the title "Master." We do not live in an entirely symmetric universe as any quantum physicist will tell you.

The opposite and complimentary role to a Master is a slave.

Mind Fuck

Tricking a someone into believing either themselves or someone else is in some serious danger when no danger exists. Usually that someone is a bottom being played with. An example of such a tactic is to negotiate that a bondage session is to end at a certain time, after which the bottom is to be done for the day and is to go home. Then when the bottom is in secure bondage the bottom has a view of a clock seemingly there by coincidence. The clock is set an hour or two ahead of true time to cause the bottom to panic after perceiving falsely the captivity isn't ending at the negotiated time.

Mistress

1. A female head of household
2. A female owner of a living being.

Mistress is the exclusively female counterpart of Master.

Primary and Secondary

These words are used to describe the status of a submissive, slave, or bottom in an on going relationship. For example a Master might have two regular play partners. One is his primary slave who he plays with most of the time, might live with, and might even be his wife, who is his primary. Another female he plays who might be another live in slave in his harem, or someone living apart from him and who he plays with less often, will be the secondary. BDSM play often creates strong emotional bonds. Generally the secondary is never satisfied with secondary status and will try to become the primary. If the secondary is much younger and much more physically attractive the secondary usually succeeds.

Safeword

Words or signals a bottom uses to give freedback to a Top during BDSM play about the intensity of the sensations provided. They are arbitrary and agreed upon during negotiation in advance of play. These need not be actual words and can be gestures as well. Gestures, such as hand signals or other body language, are most often used when words cannot be heard over background music or noise. The most often used words are green, yellow, red, and mercy.
Green: Give it to me stronger.
Yellow: Getting to strong, I need you to lighten it.
Red: Stop immediatley. My consent to play is withdrawn.
Mercy: Means the same as yellow. Mercy is used most often in consensual nonconsuality types of relationships. See the definition of slave for more information.

SAM

An acronym for Smart Ass Masochist. A SAM is a submissive or slave who tries goad their Dominant or owner into SM play by intentionally misbehaving to get punished. They will do this at the most inconvenient times in the expectation this will worsen punishment, which to them is better play. They are degree worse than Brat, whose goal is only to test limits. Behavior used to goad includes smart or insolent remarks, grumpiness, and outright refusals to obey, sometimes at times chosen to be the most inconvenient for their owner.

They enjoy and pursue negative attention, including verbal abuse.

SAMs are regarded as undesirable property and have to be retrained. Not all owners are willing to put up with the retraining and prefer not to own them. Retraining requires patience. It is a lengthy process that can take a year or two.

Slave

A slave is a submissive who has an owner.

In the BDSM context a slave is responsible to carry out an owner's will, is answerable to the owner as to how well owner's will has been done, and is subject to an owner's discipline. A slave is just another set of hands, arms, legs, eyes, and ears for use by the owner just as the owner would use those attached to him or herself. Everything a slave does is done by the owner by means of the slave. There are many who define a slave as one who has no self will.

In a BDSM relationship ownership of the slave is always by consent of the slave and the slave has the right to end that ownership at any time. There are degrees of slavery. A relationship may progress to ever higher degrees or it may remain permanently at some level according to the needs and desires of slave and owner. It can be limited to a regular sessions lasting hours or days. Or it can be a live in relationship in which case it is called 24/7 (24 hours a day, seven days a week.) There are usually limits and safe words.

Some relationships become trusting enough to the point the slave consents to nonconsentuality. These relationships have no safewords (a coded message indicating something is or is begining to be intolerable that requires the owner to stop) the owner must respond to. The slave can impose no limits, must do anything the owner orders, and endure anything the owner does. These kinds of relationships require the highest degree of trust that what is and will be required of the slave will be feasible for the slave. There is in reality no relationship without limits. What consentual nonconsentuality really means is the slave has accepted the owner's limits.

It often happens a slave will form an emotional bond to the owner strong enough that the slave is incapable of the self will to end the relationship. Once this happens the slave can be considered to be the property of the owner in the fullest sense of the word. A sign this has happened is when it is time to part ways until the next meeting the slave's inability to leave the presence of the owner by self will requiring the owner to send the slave off under orders.

Sometimes a deed or title will be created and possessed by the owner granting ownership of the slave. These are not legally enforceable and have symbolic meaning only. Nevertheless such meaning can be of great emotional importance to the slave.

Sometimes a contract between slave and owner will be created. These benefit the relationship by making clear to both what is to be expected of the relationship. These contracts are not legally enforceable.

At BDSM social events anyone wearing a collar is someone's slave. The slavery is a specific to one owner and they take orders from no one else.

Opposite and complimentary role to a slave is a Mistress or Master.

Submissive

Someone with a natural need and desire to serve others and live under the discipline of a higher authority.

This word is often abbreviated "sub."

The opposite and complimentary role to a submissive is Dominant.

Switch

A person who enjoys either role of Top or bottom, Dominant or submissive.

Top

The giver of SM play. A Top is not necessarily a Dominant or Master.

The compliment role to a Top is a bottom.

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