It's not a simple as you'd think...
One of the many challenges upon entering the realm of alternative lifestyles is finding out what works for you. Labels are restrictive, and yet human beings tend to exhibit a natural pull to classify life, including people.
Yes, it makes conversation faster, like any industry-specific jargon, but in a domain where there are SO many variables and SO many crossovers, it can be a challenge to find the terms that best suit you. That is, of course, on top of the challenge of determining what works for you — which regularly includes failure.
It often takes something not working to shine the light on what would have worked or will in the future. Those who cannot learn from failure are not well suited to these lifestyles.
Accordingly, let me take a moment to share some of the Lifestyle distinctions as I have come to know them, and some of the experiences that have illuminated the differences for me.
Note: For my purposes, "the Lifestyle" includes all alternative sexuality lifestyles — polyamory, swinging, BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/submission, Sadomasochism) and others of which I may not be aware.
Does physical pain excite you sexually? Does a partner with an evil grin and the willingness — or rather, the desire — to hurt you make you hot?
If so, you may be a masochist.
Those inflicting the pain are sadistic, and they are a wonderful breed of creative evil-doers. I know a particularly evil sadist out in the Northwest who will find out how you enjoy being hurt and then do it in ways you won't enjoy.
Needles, knives, canes, whips … heck, hands, pressure points, and kitchen implements … sadists are wickedly wonderful fun if you enjoy feeling the pain.
I am not a masochist, nor a sadist. I don't get excited by pain, nor do I enjoy inflicting it, but I love to watch those who do. I suspect that it's very important for sadists to have a rather good understanding of human biology, as they need to know how to hurt you without damaging you.
Chew on THAT one for a while!
Okay, so maybe pain isn't your thing, but you'd love to be on the receiving end of the implement anyway. Does the thought of being tied up and spanked send you into La La Land? If it's not spanking, insert the delivery method of your choice. Flogging, punching, wax play, electrical play, sharp things, bondage, etc… all are available to she/he who wants them.
If this sounds like fun, you may be a bottom.
Tops wield the instruments with the intention of helping their bottoms to achieve an altered state of consciousness, sometimes referred to as "flying" or "subspace." A bottom responds to the physicality of the play as well as their connection with the Top.
Maybe you enjoy the implements, or maybe you don't, but what really drives you nuts is being controlled … restrictions on your actions (don't move, don't make a sound), being restrained or teased, being directed or commanded … whatever allows you to know that your partner is absolutely in control.
If this is the case, you may be a submissive.
In my personal situation, if we wrestle and you cannot completely restrain me, forget it. Dominants are the ones who want to be in charge and in control, to varying degrees and the practice is known by the acronym D/s.
4. Service bottoms and service submissives.
If you want to serve your partner — be the maid, do chores for him/her, take on given responsibilities for the pleasure of knowing that you are contributing to his/her life — you may be a service bottom or service submissive. This is D/s that you can take in a highly mundane direction, make into a kink-fest, or combine in whatever way suits you.
D/s is the dynamic that's most easily taken into public unobtrusively.
Many a hot scene can occur when a Dom/Domme has a sub securely under their control. Heck, partner dancing (swing, salsa, ballroom, tango, etc.), given the leading and following aspect, is an excellent example of public D/s. Even remotely controlled vibrating panties, while certainly a fun sex-toy, can fall under the category of D/s, as one party is in control of the other's physical sensation.
And bedtime curfews are a common D/s form. Think about it ...
Of course, submission must be given willingly, and all of these lifestyles fall into the domain of safe, sane, and consensual (SSC) or risk-aware consensual kink (RACK). But what if you like… both?
That's called switching, or being switchy.
Switches go both ways (not necessarily sexually). They top sometimes and bottom others, or they dominate some people and submit to others. Couples who are both switches sometimes have to negotiate who's going to be in which position at which time!
Switches aren't the only ones who play both sides. Some submissives also bottom, some top, and some tops are also sadistic.
There are as many varieties, definitions, and degrees as there are people to experience them.
I am submissive and I can bottom, but bottoming isn't going to get me hot. The hottest scene I ever had involved being tied up and restrained in public, spanked and flogged — all of which is bottoming. What worked for me though was the physical proximity of my partner while spanking me, and the knowledge that I had disappointed him (by disrespecting my curfew). THAT is D/s.
I eventually broke down and cried, giving up the last bit of my resistance (which takes a lot for me), and it was the hottest, most emotionally fulfilling scene I've ever had. Who knew?
In all of these dynamics, negotiation is very important.
You cannot get upset at someone for crossing a boundary about which you did not inform them. (Well, you can, but it'll get you nowhere good.) It is therefore of utmost importance to share with a potential partner what turns you on, what turns you off, hard limits they must not test, things you've never done but are willing to try out.
This level of communication is one of the most attractive aspects of the Lifestyle.
Nonetheless, situations are sure to arise that you didn't anticipate, and boundaries will show up about which you were unaware.
Most players use a system of safe words — often green for go, yellow for caution, and red for a full and immediate stop — that allows the receiver to communicate his/her comfort level in a completely clear manner. Let's face it, in these kinds of scenes, screaming "No!" and "Stop!" loses its meaning.
The willingness to forgive mistakes, and to look deeply into your own physical, mental and emotional workings is imperative. I find that aspect of these lifestyles to be the most interesting and rewarding.
I will say that, given the variety of kink, fetish, and alternate proclivity in the Lifestyle, the people I've met there are some of the most accepting people ever.
Your thing may not work for me (the term "squick" specifically means some activity or preference that creeps you out big time (as an example: "needles squick me"), but given MY methods, who am I to judge yours?
It's all about self-discovery and expression, people. So go find out what suits you, and have at it!
This article was originally published at Relātive Creātive. Reprinted with permission from the author.