Each week, The CSPH answers questions that have been submitted anonymously through our Formspring or other channels. This week’s question is:
Q. Hi! You may have already answered this elsewhere but checking the BDSM tag turned nothing up. I am a young woman who is interested in being a dom(me?) and am unsure as to where to really get started to make sure that everyone is safe. I know that classes are sometimes offered but due to my budget and lack of transportation that is not really an option for me. Do you have any advice to offer? Thank you!
A. Congratulations on your decision to safely try BDSM! Though you don’t say whether this is for personal play or as a profession, I’ll provide you with information on the former here and the latter in Part II (posted later this week). For readers not familiar with what BDSM is, please visit the BDSM Wikipedia page for a quick overview. Be advised: the links provided herein are a great starting point but some may rely on stereotypes, not be inclusive of all genders or orientations, and/or include content with emotional triggers.
Domination on a budget and close to home means relying on sites like the Kink Academy (which we absolutely vouch for as their tutorials are fantastic), having play partners or parties in your area (which sites like Fetlife can help you find) or attending nearby BDSM conferences (of which there are many around the world). Lack of transportation and particular budgets aren’t insurmountable obstacles and everything included here keeps that criteria in mind.
The fact that your focus is on everyone’s safety is a great start, so kudos to you. Playing safe is very important, especially when it comes to BDSM as it can include (but is not limited to) rougher erotic play. Safe, Sane and Consensual (SSC) and Risk Aware Consensual Kink (RACK) are two fundamental beliefs of the BDSM community to keep in mind. BDSM can be used as an outlet for many things, like being submissive in private when your public persona is dominant. However, some people may have sexist, oppressive or violent beliefs that can influence how they play with others. It’s important to think about what your own biases may be before engaging in any power-play. Though punishment can be part of BDSM, abuse is not. Some abusers are kinksters but that doesn’t mean all kinksters are abusers. Be aware of the differences.
With SSC and RACK in mind, knowing what you’re interested in and what the limits are for you and your partner(s) will help facilitate a good time when you play.
Though scenes might involve multiple people, and roles may or may not be fixed, for the ease of grammar and focus, we’ll refer to one dominant and one submissive in our pre-play safety checklist.
Set some ground rules before you start
What sort of play are you both interested in? What acts are on the table? Clearly define what is okay, if there are any exceptions (also known as soft limits), and what’s absolutely not okay (also known as hard limits) and then stick to that list. For example: spanking is encouraged but only using hands, not paddles or other implements. Use the incredibly detailed Want, Will, Won’t Charts and BDSM Checklist as a starting point with your play partner but feel free to add in any acts or kinks that may not be listed there.
Remember, if you didn’t discuss it before your scene, don’t try it even if it wasn’t on your partner’s “No” list. You’re more likely to list the things you love or hate but may forget to include anything you’re unsure of or haven’t tried yet. After your scene is done, discuss what worked for you both, what didn’t, and bring up any ideas you had but didn’t act on to see if it’s something you can try next time.
Don’t forget about dialogue
Your chat about ground rules should also include the way you speak and what terms you use. I knew a professional domme who couldn’t stay in character if a specific word was used as it gave her the giggles. She got around it by giving her sub a list of words they could not say, thus removing the potential problem right away. This is a great way to establish what level of degradation (if any) your sub prefers, and how you’ll interact with each other. More importantly, as some words can be triggers for things far worse than the giggles, going over how you’ll refer to each other and what’s not okay will eliminate some of that risk. You can get creative in how you address this issue to make it as fun as possible within whatever constraints you need.
Choose a safe word
Though “No” or “Stop” are obvious indicators to end vanilla sex, part of the sub/domme’s fantasy may include saying those words, but to no avail. Agreeing on another term as a safe word allows you to indulge in power play scenarios but establishes a way to end the scene immediately. Some play partners have a few words to indicate different things without stopping the scene; e.g. “Red” means stop, “Yellow” means pause or slow down, and “Green” means yes or keep going.
Find words that work for you both and allow you to communicate during your session. If your sub is unable to speak, establish a non verbal cue instead. Whether it’s a thumbs down, tapping their foot in a specific way or dropping a handkerchief they’ve held the entire session, make sure there’s a way for your sub to end a scene no matter what position they’re in. Safe words or cues also apply to the domme, so use them if you become uncomfortable at any point. There should always be a way for everyone involved to end a scene.
Start off simple
Walk before you run. Be honest with yourself and your partner about your BDSM experience and limits. Playing safely and smartly is the key to having great sessions, and that’s more important than being perceived as a BDSM expert. Start off with a simple scene that involves kinks you’re more comfortable with and then slowly build up to more advanced acts. For example, if you’re interested in bondage, start off binding your partner’s wrists to the bed with scarves (with safety shears nearby) during your first scene. Next time, try ropes and bind their hands and feet. After that, you can move on to more advanced manacles or full body rope binding. Taking time to learn both of your limits, researching techniques/safety precautions and talking to other people in the community will help you to avoid going too far too quickly.
Be aware of your partner’s reactions (and your own)
With time and communication, a dominant can become very good at telling the difference between squeals of joy, discomfort, or pain. Though a lot of this comes from experience being a dominant and/or playing with that partner, if you’re not sure what your sub is thinking, ask. Before you start your scene, set up a way for you to communicate how you’re both feeling, that fits within your scenes’ parameters and doesn’t snap you both out of the moment. As a domme, you can simply demand a response from them but make sure they can question your reactions too, especially if you’re indulging something they enjoy but you’re not as familiar with.
For example, the sub could ask “Is Mistress pleased with _______?” to check your reaction. If you’re feeling hesitant but still comfortable continuing the scene, your response could include your “Slow Down” word (e.g. Yellow), without breaking the dominant role : “No I’m not, don’t make me see yellow.” Even though you’re saying No to stay in the role, by using Yellow, you’ve communicated your thoughts to continue the scene.
Practice makes perfect
Domination is as much about performance as it is about eroticism. Though there are some similarities in how a domme might approach BDSM, everyone is different and your personal style will come through in time. There are lots of approaches you can try, from firmly polite demands to consensual yet completely degrading commands. Whether you’re a chatty but stern domme or almost indifferent to your sub, the more you play, the more comfortable you’ll be and the easier “performing” will be. You may also find your style changes depending on the person you’re playing with. Though technically submissive, the sub is an equal partner in BDSM and their approach will influence yours greatly.
Watching BDSM pornography can be helpful from a technique point of view but at the same time, note how the doms and subs interact with each other. The dynamic between partners is unique, but there may be some aspects you can model your own domme persona after. (And as usual, remember that pornography is not necessarily depicting all pieces of a scene, and should not be taken as the bulk of one’s sexual BDSM education!)
Though you may be more interested in being the dominant in your scenes, trying the submissive role can help you understand their experience better. Try switching with your partner or finding another dominant who can show you the ropes. Being submissive may not appeal to you and definitely isn’t a requirement to being a good domme, though! However, having an experienced mentor can help you learn dominant tips and tricks more quickly than you would otherwise.
There are lots of kink resources online to help bring out your inner domme cheaply and in the comfort of your own home:
- The Kink Academy – An excellent resource for educational kink videos and information, and the only on-demand video library about these subjects. Though there is a membership fee, they do offer a good selection of free videos!
- The CSPH’s Tumblr – BDSM guides from our tumblr
- Sexuality.org’s Advice to a Novice Dominant – Great pointers for those new to the domme role
- EduKink – Wide variety of articles including advice for beginners and detailed information about all sorts of kinks
- The CSPH Impact Play Q&A – Great overview of impact play and BDSM basics
- Arena Blaze – Several step by step guides on How to Become a Dominatrix
If you want to observe BDSM play in a live environment, check Fetlife for some meetups near you. You don’t need to participate to attend, but be respectful and abide by Play Party Etiquette. Another option is to attend “munches” to meet other people and get a sense of what is going on in your area, BDSM-wise!
Always do your research when you’re trying out a new kink, and take things slowly. There are lots of BDSM related books at The CSPH library so feel free to pop by and take a look!