May/June 2001
What is D/s: Terms We Use
by Lord Wolf

D/s is an acronym for 'Dominance and submission', a term used in the BDSM (bondage & discipline, Sadomasochism) community, it is mostly used by heterosexuals to describe themselves, but finding any term that is accepted on a whole in the BDSM community is rare, and defining that term in a way that all will accept is well nigh impossible. Suffice it to say that it matters little what term you use, as you read on you will have many chances to define yourself, and in my opinion, that is all that matters: how YOU define what YOU do.

D/s is simply what it states, one partner is Dominant, the other submissive, from then on, things get complicated. Gender is one factor, a Dominant is either male or female, the female known as a Domme, Domina, Dominatrix, or Mistress while the male is generally known as Dom or Master. The submissive also encompasses any gender, and in some cases, like cross-dressers, both genders. D/s practitioners also include in their lifestyle bondage and S/m to varying degrees and quite a variety of other 'arts' that are not completely visible in the term D/s.

So first I think a bit of history will help. To my knowledge, and I have looked into this quite well, the first name or term given to what we practice as a consensual art was of course 'Royal Torturer'. Yes, that is way back, and definitely nonconsensual, but it is the most likely name or title given to the first person who in some way enjoyed the giving, maybe even the receiving of pain.

Seriously, non consensual sadism and slavery have been around for centuries and have no connection whatsoever to what the BDSM community practice now, other than a few terms. The first term, in my own opinion, was 'Sadist'. This term was coined in the Victorian era (1830-1860) and named after the quite famous French writer Marquis Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade (b6/2/1740 d12/3/1814), better known as the Marquis de Sade, most famous for writing 'Justine', being imprisoned for maltreating a prostitute and having what most feel is a psychological disorder which carries his name. He is not exactly the man I want to have my pleasures named after, though I, like some, accept and even embrace this term with their own limits binding what they do.

In the Marquis mind the ultimate liberty was the freedom to violate and destroy at will, though by his own admission, he had little or no real experience in sadistic acts other than his fertile imagination. By his philosophy he thought only of the power of inflicting pain for HIS pleasure and would most likely be disgusted by the consensual philosophy of modern practitioners.

Close on the heels of Sadism came the term Masochism which was named after a likewise imprisoned Austrian writer and pornographer, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, author of 'Venus in Furs', among other erotic works. These terms were combined by a German Psychiatrist, Richard von Craft-Ebing in 1907, into the term we know today as sadomasochism, often abbreviated into S/M. He did this because he believed sadists have masochistic traits and visa versa. Like most doctors in the Victorian era he wanted a title to describe what he saw as abhorrent behavior. He at the same time condemned ANY sexual act that did not involve procreation as an abhorrent behavior.

Surely these self titled arts were practiced in those repressed times or a term would not be needed to describe what some saw as a pleasurable pastime, and others felt best described as a disorder that must be cured. It is my belief that this very repression fed the desire for these pleasurable arts. I also feel that today, because of the repressive influence of STDs rampant in our modern world, a revival of sorts is underway.

Those seeking to heighten their pleasure, or for something to keep a relationship alive are looking for new ways to explore their sexuality. Those who before found excitement in multiple partners, are now placed in a position to make the partner they have both more exciting sexually and to keep that partner aroused in the context of their relationship. Still more jaded by the influx of sex and sexual reference in today's society, some are seeking the 'Next level' in human interaction.

BDSM can accomplish all of this to the degree that people apply themselves. The communication and openness that is essential for a successful BDSM relationship causes people to open themselves to the other a bit more than usual. That, combined with the clearly defined power structure of BDSM saves the relationship from the friction often causes by a power struggle.

It is also a belief that Dominants and submissives are born with these inherent traits as part of their makeup, and that finding their opposite in such a relationship makes both parties happier. One belief that I do not agree with, is that people with abusive pasts seek out BDSM relationships because of that past abuse. While there are people who work out these problems within the realm of BDSM they are by no means the norm.

If you look about in mainstream entertainment the last few years, you will see that D/s and S&M references abound. Movies like 'Exit to Eden' show that regular people are a large part of this community, and in doing so, broaden the views of the public. Even main stream action movies such as 'The Crow - City of angels' are flooded with D/s and SM Scenes.

So in this world of changing ideas and ideals it is more important than ever to make clear the concepts we base our 'Lovestyle' on, and the terms we use to define it. At some time in the resent past people in the community addressed the issues of terms, some not liking the negative connotations of 'sadomasochism' nor the connection to nonconsensual acts, redefined themselves and coined new terms. Some of these terms were to include, BDSM, D/s, B/d, M/s (Master/slave) and bondage, there is even a 'Pony' or two tossed in for good measure. Long before the heterosexual community redefined its terms, the Gay community, more specifically the Gay Leather community, came up with terms of their own such as Top and Bottom, Daddy, and Boy.

Now the definitions of all of these terms are relative to the person using them and the personal way each and every one chooses to define themselves. It also depends on their level of 'play', and their personal experience. No two people see any of these terms in the same light, after all, we are all individuals.

For the information of the reader, I will, in short descriptions, explain what each term means, in my opinion.

DOMINANT: One who takes pleasure in assuming the control dynamic in a consensual exchange of power, usually under the terms and limits set forth in negotiation or contract.

SUBMISSIVE: One who takes pleasure from giving of the control dynamic to a Dominant.

TOP: Sometimes used as another word for Dominant, but mostly describes the control dynamic in an SM relationship, e.g., Sadist, one who enjoys the giving of pain.

BOTTOM: Also sometimes used to describe a Submissive, but mostly used to describe the receiver in a SM. relationship, e.g., Masochist, one who enjoys receiving pain.

The terms Top and Bottom are also used quite often in MOSS (Member of same sex) relationships. S/M is an abbreviation for sadist/masochist or sadomasochism. A sadist takes pleasure in giving pain, this can be consensual or nonconsensual (the difference between a 'play' sadist and a criminal). A masochist derives pleasure from receiving pain, this pain can be physical, mental, or sexual. Though some say humiliation belongs in this category, I leave this question to the individual.

D/s is an abbreviation for Dominance and submission. This art involves consensual power exchange. The Dominant enjoys having dominion over the body, mind and spirit of a submissive, the submissive enjoys the giving or the 'Gift' of that dominion to another. This control can be sexual (the control of orgasmic response), mental (Mental Bondage or demanding set tasks) and physical (bondage). D/s often has a spiritual context as well, the guiding of the submissive to a 'Higher Self.'

D/s is also, in my opinion, the most ritualized art having the most set ritual behavior. The submissive learning certain rules in regards their behavior, and the Dominants usually having a title such as 'Lord' or 'Master.' There are as many forms of D/s as there are practitioners. Some base their ideals of D/s on works of fiction of such as the books of 'Gor' hence the name Gorean D/s.

All and all, books such as, 'The story of O', written By Pauline Reggae or the Beauty series written by Anne Rice, (who also wrote 'Exit to Eden'), and the Gor books written by John Norman, are just that, fiction. They are not the best guide to what D/s or the community really is. On the other hand they are entertaining, and if you wish to base your 'Ideals' on them (with, of course, consensual guidelines), it is your choice. But fiction works in fiction, real life is a lot more complicated than the writers imagination.

SUBSPACE: D/s can involve the use of sensation (pain) to produce a state of what is referred to as 'subspace' or 'bottom space'. It is a mild form of hypnotism produced by the bodies reaction to sensation. The production of endorphins, which produce a dreamy state or a feeling of well-being that is similar to the effects of morphine and other opiates. This state can be used to increase the submissives pleasure in the sexual act which, for most, either follows a 'session' or can be performed during a 'scene', though a 'sensation session' can be a pleasure in and of itself.

This is by no means the only the only definition of 'subspace.' To some it is the feeling of submission, to still others it involves a gamut of submission and being owned by another. Neither of these dynamics involve sensation but are wholly intense in their own right.

B/D is an abbreviation for bondage and discipline which describes the mutual pleasure of binding and sensation. Usually the persons enjoying this art also think of themselves as being involved in one or more of the other arts, but it is practiced in and of itself. Most of the consensual arts include binding of some kind, be it rope play or collars and cuffs. Physical restraint is one of the main dynamics to achieve that feeling of 'helplessness' and is a main component of most 'Play.'

Some who practice bondage find it a spiritual act in and of itself and no sensation (pain) is involved. Bondage sessions can last for hours if the practitioner is skilled and the partner in good shape. Japanese rope bondage is highly ritualized and great care is taken in the final artistic appearance of the bondage.

SWITCH: is a term used to describe one who is comfortable with both dynamics of a Dom/sub relationship, in other words a Dominant who can be submissive in the right situation and a submissive who is, at times, Dominant. The dynamic can be expressed in other ways also, such as a Dominant with 'Bottom' characteristics. E.g.: a Dominant who enjoys receiving the sensation of pain. This also applies to the Top/bottom dynamic.

I feel that each must chose their own definitions of self. For example, I call myself a 'Consensual Sensation Artist' which, in reality, is just a politically correct term to describe a modern sadist, but one I feel fully describes 'MY' pleasure. Each of us can do the same coining of whatever terms we feel comfortable with, be it known terms such as 'Dominant', 'Top', 'Master', 'submissive', 'Masochist', 'Bottom', 'Boy', 'Pony', or any other.

We in this lifestyle are nonconformists for the most part though one of my sayings, which I came up with for the 'biker' community years ago, also fits us in the BDSM community. 'The problem with nonconformity is we are human, and as humans we feel we must be nonconformists who conform to some form of nonconformity.' We are more comfortable being different with others who are different like us.

In terms we can be true nonconformists. Make up your own term that describes YOU. It is not only your right but a great way to define your tastes. Some I Have heard are:

Active Role: 'Power Master, Erotic Sadist, Strict Dominant, Loving SadoController, Japanese WebWeaver, Sadistic Binder, Sensual SadoDisciplinarian , S/M Switch-On', and my pet refers to me at times as 'A life support device for a whip'. Reactive Role: 'Pet, Binding slave, Spiritual Masochist, Lustful Submissive, Loving Masokissive, Ecstatic WebWoven, Flexible Bindee, Sensuous Discipline Seeker and S/M Switched-On'.

So these are some ways we in the BDSM, D/s, M/s and Leather communities describe ourselves. I await the day when terms, descriptions and sexual preferences do not separate us but unite us in what is common among us. Until that day arrives be content to define yourself and show respect and courtesy to those who define themselves differently.