I have been asked to write a little guide to writing BDSM for the Primeval Denial Writers and Readers Club. This is less of an instructional piece, but instead outlines some basics of BDSM that might be useful if you are considering writing BDSM at some point, and a couple of pointers to help along the way.
I thought I'd post here too in case anyone outside that fandom is at all interested in my thoughts on the matter as it's not fandom specific.
“You’re doing it wrong”
This is something that people that like to think they know a lot about BDSM, but don’t, like to say when they are critiquing your work. There is no ‘doing it wrong’, or right or wrong when writing BDSM. BDSM is a hugely broad term that covers a multitude of sexual practices, kinks and fetishes. What is extreme to some, is vanilla to others. Everyone likes different things and there are no hard and fast rules about what does and doesn’t constitute BDSM and you can’t do it wrong. What works for some, doesn’t work for everyone. Trying to apply rules to a non-mainstream, alternative sexual sub-culture is impossible and counterproductive. A bit like trying to catch lube in a fish-net stocking.
For example, a Dom/sub relationship doesn’t have to involve pain, and an S&M relationship doesn’t have to involve a fixed Dom and sub.
The big contradiction
To completely go against what I have said above there is actual one very important rule in any BDSM environment which I would strongly argue should be considered in fic. All BDSM should be safe, sane and consensual. (The contradiction to this is risk aware consensual kink - RACK - wherein the players know that the risks involved go past most people’s concepts of safe and many people’s idea of sane. These include knife play, loaded gun play, asphyxiation to the point breathing stops, etc.)
Kinda as it says on the tin, the idea being that BDSM should always take place in a safe environment with precautions taken, which include safe words, not leaving someone alone in a premises and tied up (unless they have a safety for releasing themselves), creams for broken skin, allowing muscles to stretch/be shaken out periodically.
However…sometimes there isn’t always time, space, or appropriate places in fic to put these references in without them looking really shoehorned. My theory usually is, is that if you have made the rest of the fic sound convincing and as if you are looking after your characters, you don’t need to specify safe words and other precautions, especially if you are dealing with an established relationship. If it is a new relationship you are dabbling in and constructing, then there is a bigger argument for showing your reader that both you and your characters have thought about these considerations.
Ultimately a Dom or top has full responsibility for their sub and their safety. As long as it is made clear your Dom is doing this, then full explanations aren’t always needed.
Another thing to note is that in the UK it is illegal to break someone’s skin during BDSM practice. In real terms this means that theoretically blood play, or drawing blood during some sort of whipping, caning etc, is illegal. But, fic-wise, if the action is taking place in a private premises then anything goes, but if you are setting your fic in a club then you have to be a bit more careful. You also have the issue of the potential spread of infection through bloodied equipment.
Again, fairly self explanatory. A Dom or top should be sane enough that they don’t lose control, and a sub/bottom should be sane enough to give their consent to all activities. Which leads neatly onto…
Personally the consent is the issue I find the most interesting, and often the one that can lead to the most confusion.
Consent is vital in BDSM, but can take many forms.
Theoretically a sub can be made to do whatever their Dom wants, whenever the Dom wants, whether the sub likes it or not; consent is not requested and not expected to be given. But, their position of sub in a BDSM environment – be it established relationship, new relationship, or club scene – means that they have given their consent to be used this way. They have given their consent to have consent taken away from them. Contracts, formal and informal can be entered into, or agreements of boundaries made, and it’s easy to make references to agreements existing to imply consent without going into detail.
This gives great scope within fic to play with non-consent and dubious-consent themes. For example, it gives a safe environment to play with rape-fantasies and other dub-con themes. True rape fic or non-con is not BDSM, even it contains other BDSM themes.
If there is no contract or long term agreement, boundaries and consent can be set in each individual scene. This is probably of most use if you are writing the first time between characters, switch characters (those who alternate between being Dom and subs), or a scene set in a club for instance.
In BDSM, collaring, handing over control (full or partial) and being dominated is done by choice. I would argue that slave fic is different, and completely valid, genre entirely – and I’m referring here to fic set in slave universes or non-consensual slaves – even if it contains BDSM themes. Consent is not given or required from a slave. BDSM slavery is again different as BDSM slaves choose to be there.
At the end of the day the person with the real power in a Dom/sub relationship is the sub. The rules are set by them and there is nothing more powerful than handing the power over your and your actions to another person.
Can that really bend that way?
If you want information on specific practices and equipment, then that is why the internet was invented. Info sites, equipment specialists, fics and original fictions can also be really informative. Or ask someone that writes BDSM or is involved in the scene. If they are open about their alt tendencies, then most kinksters are happy to answer intelligent and respectful questions. But I urge you again to remember that there are no hard and fast rules about how you have to do something. For example, what works as a collaring ceremony for one couple, may be wholly inappropriate for the characters you are writing. Here is a pretty big glossary of BDSM terms, though it is not exactly exhaustive.
Google image search is also your friend when it comes to equipment and positions. If you have the image clear in your head, then the description will write itself and is more likely to be convincing to the reader.
McGyver had sex too
Sadly not everyone has a completely stocked dungeon or nicely sound-proofed punishment room. But improvisation is a wonderful thing. Mislaid your spanking paddle? Thank god for wooden spoons. Are your silk bondage ropes at the cleaners? Belts, ties, stockings, scarves etc will all do as well. Is your ball-gag lost in the post? Well, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Spanking horses, bondage tables and all the rest are expensive bits of kits, but most people have chairs. Chairs are wonderful things; sturdy, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, height and comfort. And they are versatile, for example, they don’t have to be kept in a sitting up position…
Imagination is limitless; use it, enjoy it and have fun doing very mean things to your characters.
Big thanks to angelkitty for her beta job on this and for finding these links for further info: