BDSM Relationships Explained In 12 Simple (And Sexy!) Pictures

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As BDSM gains popularity and piques more public curiosity, many people are happily coming to learn there is no one-size-fits-all model for this kind of kinky play. There are, if you will, many more than 50 shades of grey (#sorrynotsorry #illbehereallnight).

What is BDSM?

While power exchange dynamics have been part of relationships since the dawn of time, BDSM is an acronym meant to serve as a catch-all term for the spectrum of kink (i.e., non-normative) relationships in one which one person is acknowledged as the Dominant partner and the other as the submissive.

In any given BDSM relationship, there may or may not be a total power exchange known as a TPE. Partners may choose to interact according these roles all the time in what's known 24/7 relationships, or only in the bedroom.

What do the letters in BDSM stand for?

The BDSM acronym stands for Bondage and Discipline (BD), Dominance and submission (D/s), and sadism and masochism (S & M).

RELATED: 21 BDSM Love Quotes That Will Make You Purr

To set the stage for understanding the variety of relationships — and to know whether or not you might want to experiment a bit in this realm of kink yourself — it's important to first get a sense of the types of roles available to try on for size.

BDSM participants generally fall into three basic categories, but any one role or dynamic may be either fluid and changeable or clearly and consciously set as static for the duration of a particular relationship.

The 3 types of BDSM roles include:

Dominants: Those who take external control in the relationship.

Submissives: Those who submit themselves to the external control of their Dominant.

Switches: Those who are comfortable in either role, and who often prefer not to feel tied to either one at all times (pun absolutely intended).

The following images explain each of the four sub-types of Dominants, along with the sub-types of submissives they may engage in some sexy play. (I said "sub" types — get it?)

Five important things to know about BDSM before diving in:

1. All of these roles and relationships are entirely interchangeable in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation.

2. There are no hard and fast rules beyond those a couple sets for themselves. While these are general concepts, one person who identifies as a Dom may do so in the way another identifies as Daddy or as Master.

3. All of these relationships are contingent on the mutual consent and satisfaction of both partners. Although the role of submissive in particular may feel demeaning to someone peeking in from the outside, if an adult who is mentally capable of consent finds it most satisfying to service the needs of another, that is their own personal business. Their choices may not be for you, but then, your life isn’t for them.

4. These roles and relationships involve an exchange of power, not a surrendering of power. In the vast majority of cases, submission is considered something that must be earned — generally through his or her Dominant's respect, honesty, and general character. As a Dom I know once said, "The sub really holds the power. If I screw up and lose her trust just once, it's over." So please keep this in mind.

5. All of this is supposed to be fun! That's why people in the BDSM community refer to what they do as play.

RELATED: The Counterintuitive Reason BDSM Is The Best Way To Explain Sexual Consent

Now, let's move on to the 12 types of Dominants and submissives you find in the BDSM lifestyle.

Types of Dominants

1. Top

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Within the context of BDSM, "top" is a catchall phrase for the dominant partner — the one doing the tying, taking charge, giving orders and the like.

In some circumstances, a person may be a "service top," which is someone who enjoys taking control of their partner primarily as an essentially submissive way of pleasing them or because they've been instructed to do so.

2. Dom or Domme

The main difference between a Dom (male-identifying) or Domme (female-identifying) and a top is that neither will follow instructions given by someone else.

Where a top may perform an act like oral sex on a bottom at the bottom's command, a true Dominant will "give orders to a submissive, or otherwise employ physical or psychological techniques of control ... [in order to] instruct the submissive to perform the act on them."

3. Master or Mistress

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While some believe that "service and obedience are often the core values in Master/slave structures," there are others who consider this relationship structure to be more spiritual.

The primary distinction between this BDSM relationship type and others is that a Master (male or male-identifying) or Mistress (female or female-identifying) holds "ownership rights to their slave's body, as property or chattel."

4. Daddy or Mommy

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A Daddy Dom is "a slight variation from a traditional dominant ... in that they must consider their subs inner child dynamic." In these cases, "Daddy Doms are usually in full control ... but also have to take care of the social and emotional well being of their baby girl since their sub is in a slightly different mind space than traditional subs."

Daddies and Mommies get pleasure from spoiling, rewarding, disciplining and punishing their "little" as they see fit, and consider themselves to be protectors. These relationships tend be loving and long-term, and may or may not include some level of age play.

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Types of Submissives

5. Bottom

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Similarly, "bottom" is the generic term for a submissive partner — the one being tied, spanked, commanded, and the like. A bottom may also be someone who enjoys submitting temporarily, and in limited ways.

Additionally, "a bottom in BDSM does not have to be the receptive partner; for example, a female dominant may command her submissive to penetrate her."

6. Sub

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According to the folks at Pervette, "The main difference between a submissive and a bottom is that the submissive ostensibly does not give instructions, although they do set limits on what the dominant can do."

It is a submissive's choice and role to follow the orders, cues and commands they are given by their Dominant.

7. Slave

Photo by Endla / Shutterstock

A slave within the BDSM lifestyle is someone who consents to surrender themselves as property of their owner.

Duties, expectations, acceptable types of sexual activity, clothing, diet, routines, and more may be contained within a slave contract, "a document that outlines the desires, limits, and expectations of [both] parties."

In addition, these contracts often outline "clear expectations of whether the couple will be monogamous or polyamorous, and if there would be permission or expectation of sexual interaction with other people." The contract can be declared void by either party at at any time.

8. Domestic Servant

Photo by Razoomanet / Shutterstock

According to BDSM blog The Power Exchange, "The Domestic servant lives to serve and fulfill the needs of the household. This form of submission includes taking care of all household chores and tasks."

9. Pet

Photo by Tereshchenko Dmitry / Shutterstock

Pets are submissives who enjoy playing the role of an animal — often a puppy or kitten — to their Master or Owner. "Entry-level animal play may involve imitating the sounds of animals, crawling about on all fours, being hand fed or petted, or wearing a collar," says Kinkly.

Additionally, when taken to a more extreme level, "Masters might restrict their pet's movements by keeping them in a cage or off the furniture or force them to use a litter box rather than a human toilet."

10. Good Girl or Good Boy

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Typically referred to as a little or babygirl, "the little girl submissive worships her Daddy Dom."

"She will do anything to please him because she knows that he makes it his mission to care for her and to protect her," explains Normandie Alleman. "Since she is secure in his feelings for her she trusts her Daddy and submits to him completely."

She continues, "The little girl puts her Daddy’s needs first and pleasing him is of the utmost importance to her. In return he fulfills her needs and disciplines her when she needs it."

11. Princess

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A princess differs slightly from other subs in that she is willing to serve and submit, but only if what she is going to get is what she really wants.

A princess loves "being spoiled and pampered all day ... [but] There is another side to the princess role, and that is Princess by Day, Slut By Night ..."

"This is when the woman loves to be completely cared for and treated like royalty by her Dom, but at night to thank him, she becomes the dirtiest slut she can imagine and she loves every second of it."

12. Brat

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Another one of Daddy's subs, a Brat is a submissive who enjoys taling back, misbehaving, and generally being difficult in order to get attention or have their needs met.

As Kinkly explains, brats are people who "enjoy being 'put in their place' rather than submitting easily. Likewise, some Dominants enjoy the challenge of getting a brat under control." Additionally, "Some brats use talking back, or phrases such as 'Is that all you've got?' as a way to goad their top into heavier play."

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Deputy Editor Arianna Jeret, MA/MSW, has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, MSN, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Find her on Twitter and Instagram for more.