BDSM and Sensation Play

People engage in BDSM for a variety of reasons. Some are dominant or submissive naturally and find kink as part of their identity from birth, while others discover it later in life—whether because conventional genital sex doesn’t satisfy them or because they’re in a relationship where sex isn’t allowed or possible. Some have even experienced a personal renaissance or found healing through the practice.

Whether BDSM is playful or serious, it is important for partners to take physical and psychological safety seriously from the start. This means discussing what each wants and doesn’t want from a scene, how to communicate “slow down” or “stop” in the heat of the moment, and how they will process the experience afterwards (see below).

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Sensation play can be wildly enjoyable—from exploring fantasies with a trusted partner to experimenting with a new dynamic like impact play or bondage. Many also describe it as consciousness-expanding. “The sensation of pushing past your comfort zone can leave you feeling out of your body and connected to something larger,” writes sexuality educator Barbara Carellas in her book Urban Tantra. Think of the runner’s high, or the sensation you might feel when biting into a super spicy pepper or riding a roller coaster.

Some forms of BDSM are more structured and include a hierarchy with roles such as Top and Bottom. These scenes might also involve discipline, where the dominant sets rules for their submissive—which can be purely sexual (like oral sex at specific times) or less erotic, such as not speaking out of turn. In discipline roleplay, the Top can also punish the Bottom by withholding pleasure or inflicting pain from spanking to flogging.

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