Within the BDSM and fetish communities, activities and sexual acts are often referred to as play. For those unfamiliar with the myriad of terms and slang within the fetish world itself, however, it can be a little difficult to grasp the wide variety of terminology often tossed around casually by those in the know. BDSM itself, for example, is a portmanteau encompassing activities including bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism, and masochism. Here’s a look at some of the most common terms you’re likely to encounter as a newbie in the world of BDSM and fetish.
Kink: An easier way to refer to the world of BDSM or non-vanilla sex. Any sex or fetish that has a particularly erotic charge behind it or caters to a niche audience can be considered “kinky.” According to many, just about anything can be called a kink or fetish.
Vanilla: Not kinky. Any sexual activity that falls into the norm or is generally accepted as usual or within the realm of the everyday.
Top: Within the context of a gay relationship, the person penetrating their partner. Within the realm of a Dominant scenario, the doer, or someone in charge.
Bottom: Again, within the context of a gay relationship, this can refer to the recipient of anal sex. It can also mean someone having something done to them, whether hetero or homosexually.
Dom/Domme: Another way to say Master or Mistress. This is the person in charge, the dominant person in a dominant/submissive relationship or play scene.
Sub: The submissive–literally the counterpart to the Dom/Domme within a relationship or scene.
It’s important to note that there is more of a psychological aspect to a Dom/sub relationship than there is to a Top and Bottom. Topping and Bottoming is simply a physical distinction–one person is doing something to someone else. In a D/s scenario, there is a power exchange at play, with one person handing over control of themselves to someone else and putting a large amount of trust in their dominant.
Switch: A person who does not always identify as either Dom/Domme or sub, and can play either role, depending on their mood and the scene.
To “top from the bottom”: To direct or control an otherwise dominant experience from the bottom position. This is generally not permitted or frowned upon in most BDSM circles or serious D/s relationships.
Daddy Dom: A sensual dominant that takes a tough-love approach; often very loving and nurturing with his submissives.
Brat: A submissive who is deliberately uncooperative in order to receive more punishment or goad their Dom/Domme into losing his temper. Can also refer to age play or someone pretending to be a bratty younger person.
Soft Limit: An activity that one party would rather avoid during play, unless the other party absolutely must include it in order to get off. Usually soft limits can be broken, but rarely, and they require negotiation.
Hard Limit: An activity absolutely banned by one or both parties. Hard limits are absolutely off the table, and will result in the immediate termination of a scene.
Sub Space: The meditative, almost out-of-body mental space experienced by submissives when their dom successfully puts them in their role.
Aftercare: The responsibility of a Dom/Domme to bring their sub back down after a session, making sure the person is calm and feeling safe and secure.