7 Tips For Safe And Happy BDSM Sex

The bondage community knows to be extra-careful about sexual activity to make sure nobody gets hurt. Their advice can be useful to anyone having sex, whether or not that’s your thing.

BDSM has gained mainstream attention lately, thanks in part to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a book with an S&M relationship at its center. Maureen Dowd even devoted her latest column to the book and the criticism it’s garnered from actual practitioners of BDSM (which stands for bondage and domination, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism). And this weekend, safe and consensual BDSM sex was a major topic at MomentumCon, a yearly convention on sexuality, feminism, and relationships. Shift talked to some of the presenters from that conference and other experts about what everyone can learn from bondage and the people who do it.

1. Learn to be okay with “no.”

Kitty Stryker, a sex worker and performer who’s an expert on bondage and kink, among other things, tells Shift that if someone says “no” to you in a sexual context, “it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person,” or that “you’re hideous.” It just means they don’t want to do what you want to do right now. For kinky and non-kinky people alike, says Stryker, learning to be okay with this and not take it personally is key.

2. Make it okay to say no.

This one goes hand in hand with the first tip. Stryker explains that if someone says no to something you want to do (whether it’s kissing or dressing up like superheroes), you shouldn’t say “aww, that’s okay” in a way that sounds “really bummed.” That sends the message that it is not, in fact, okay. Instead, she suggests something like “thank you for taking care of yourself.” The point is not to make your partner feel bad for setting boundaries. Says Stryker, “I think we forget that if someone can’t say no, their yes isn’t really meaningful.”

3. Own up to your mistakes.

Stryker says that in the BDSM community, “we need to make space for [dominants] to say ‘I fucked up.’” She explains that plenty of dominants have “broken consent” in some way over the course of their sex lives — she’s done it — and the important thing is to be honest about it and let your partner be honest too. Specifically, she says, dominants shouldn’t pressure their partners to stay quiet about a breach of consent in order to salvage their own reputations. It’s important to be able to say “my reputation is not worth silencing the victim” — and doms who can say that, Stryker says, are the most respected anyway.

4. Talk about sex after you have it.

S&M writer and activist Clarisse Thorn says it’s common practice in BDSM circles to discuss a scene (a BDSM encounter, which may or may not include intercourse) after it’s over. One reason is that body language is an important gauge of whether someone’s having a good time, but body language in BDSM can be complicated — a partner could be writhing in pain but still enjoying the experience. So it’s important to sit down afterwards and ask questions like, “Did it feel good when I did this?” Thorn says this same kind of conversation can be important for vanilla folks too.

5. Talking, in general, doesn’t make you a loser.

Dr. Ruth Neustifter, a sexuality and relationship expert, says, “Although not everyone in the BDSM community is a great communicator, I find that there is a bigger emphasis on strong communication skills in general.” She adds that communication can be hot: “I love it when I see BDSMers communicating about consent, boundaries and desires in sexy ways throughout their scenes. When I see a couple or group that is playing while constantly communicating like this, I wish that the public could see and appreciate those skills with me.”

That’s because those skills are sometimes underappreciated, she explains: “So often I see vanilla couples that seem to feel that open communication and exploration are undesirable qualities. Giving feedback on desired touch, things they want to hear to say, and even goals for intimate time together can be very challenging and taboo for some vanilla relationships.” So essentially, non-kinky couples can learn from BDSM-ers that communication is a key part of sex and relationships, not something weird or unnecessary.

6. Don’t be too goal-oriented.

Stryker advises everyone, kinky and vanilla alike, to ask the question “where do you want to go” instead of “what do you want to do.” She says sex is “not a goal, it’s a journey” — and instead of talking about specific acts, partners should talk more about how they want to feel.

Thorn agrees — she cautions against the “base system” in which only penis-in-vagina intercourse can be a “home run.” Rather than thinking of sex as a “rigid trajectory” toward P-in-the-V (which obviously leaves out lots of people who don’t do that), she advocates “exploring in an open-ended way.”

7. Do what you want.

Thorn cautions that “BDSM isn’t for everybody — the big lesson is to find your own desires.” It’s not that everyone has to “do everything crazy” — the real takeaway, for Thorn, is that people should explore their own sexualities and do what they want to do, whether it looks like what everyone else is doing or not.

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