Exploring Kink and BDSM

The leather community that emerged from the motorcycle clubs also became the practical and symbolic location for gay men’s open exploration of kink and responsible BDSM. While many enjoy BDSM practices, others do not necessarily associate their leather lifestyle with kink or BDSM and simply enjoy the sensory experience of leather.

BDSM is a variety of erotic practices or activities between consenting adults, typically involving power exchange, role-playing, bondage and other interpersonal dynamics. BDSM is an amalgam of other terms: bondage and discipline (BD), dominance and submission (DS) and sadomasochism (SM). BDSM may also be referred to as “leathersex,” “kink,” or “fetish” and includes a wide range of practices.

  • Bondage and Discipline (B&D) includes a variety of activities ranging from mild but adventurous explorations sometimes called, “tie and tease” or “slap and tickle” using of silk scarves used as restraints, blindfolds or feathers, to spanking and tickling or more involved forms. These activities may be performed for their own sake or as part of foreplay.
  • Domination and Submission (DS) encompasses a relationship dynamic wherein one partner (the dominant) assumes various degrees of control over the behavior of the other partner(s) within that relationship. Sometimes the terms “Master/slave” or “Mistress/slave” are also used.
  • Sadomasochism (SM) is the combination of sadism and masochism, eponyms derived from work of two writers, Leopold von Sacher Masoch and the Marquis de Sade, (Donatien Alphonse François Sade). Activities included in SM can range from playful tickling and spanking to whippings, floggings, caning, piercing, and humiliation (both verbal and psychological) as well as other related behaviors.

Everything that happens in BDSM activities is consensual, activities are mutually agreed to, people do it voluntarily for fun. BDSM activities often take place during a specific period of time agreed to by both parties, referred to as “play”, “a session” or “a scene”. Scenes may involve acting out a fantasy with participants playing specific roles.

A Dominant is the partner(s) in the relationship or activity who is the physically active or controlling participant in a power exchange relationship. The Dominant creates a setting where the fantasies can be explored. A submissive is the partner(s) in the relationship or activity who consents to submit to control, allowing another person to take control over them. The submissive sets the limits and has the ability to call a halt to the scene if needed.

Power exchange refers to a relationship of mutual consent in which one person gives their submission in exchange for another person giving their dominance. A power exchange is based on trust, the submissive expresses his will then surrenders it. The Dominant accepts the responsibility represented by the surrender and promises to treat the surrender within the terms of the agreement between them. Both parties must be equally dedicated to delivering themselves and each other into the best possible fulfillment the scene permits. Power exchange can be applied to individual scenes or may govern the way those involved relate to one another on an ongoing basis.

In situations where a power exchange is excluded, a Top agrees to administers some form of stimulation, such as spankings, floggings, etc. on another person but does not have psychological control or power over that person. A bottom receives the stimulation but does not give up authority and in some cases may control exactly how and to what degree the stimulation is received.

Danny named Mr. Leather CMEN 2009Guidelines for BDSM Activity:

The fundamental principles for the exercise of BDSM require that it should be performed with the informed consent of all involved parties. The very broad range of BDSM “toys” and physical and psychological control techniques requires knowledge of details and the requirements of the individual session and activity. Participants must recognize that BDSM sessions often require a wide array of safety precautions and care, otherwise parts of the body can be injured.

Negotiation – BDSM activities, often called a “scene” or a “session” are described, discussed and agreed to by all participants, before any activity ensues. This is often called “negotiating a scene” and it should be a comprehensive honest discussion. At this time, all participants:

  • discuss who will take part.
  • disclose their level of experience, fears about bondage, etc.
  • discuss dominant and submissive roles,
  • discuss the type of scene, length of the scene, kinds of play and what they would like to experience.
  • discuss their “limits” or ground rules for those activities in which they will not participate.
  • agree to a “safe word” or a “safe sign” to indicate that a particular activity or the entire scene should be modified or stopped immediately should a safety or personal limits concern arise, if either the bottom or the top need a break, to ask a question, or to end the play session now. For example, some clubs use: green – all is well, yellow – caution, go slower/easier, and red – stop now, the scene is OVER.
  • communicate needs, and health or medical concerns.
  • discuss requirements or boundaries of aftercare on both sides.

For example, if both agree that bondage is to be part of a scene, use of a blindfold could be discussed as an option and if not mutually agreed to, the use of a blindfold would be a limit and unacceptable to use within the context of that specific scene.

Informed Mutual Consent is the cardinal rule of responsible BDSM activity.

  • Consent means that activities occur voluntarily between consenting adults and given of one’s own free will.
  • Consent is valid and meaningful only if it is informed, all the participants have full knowledge of the proposed activities to which they are consenting, including but not limited to the circumstances under which the activity will take place and the possible risks, if any, inherent in the activity.
  • It is not considered BDSM if the consent is given under the influence of drugs, alcohol, mental/emotional duress or physical stress or anything else that would impede or preclude one’s ability to give informed consent.
  • It is not a consensual activity if consent is the result of any form of coercion, exploitation, or fear of reprisal that may have been utilized to obtain consent.
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time and for any reason.

Safe, Sane and Consensual: To emphasize the concept of safe, voluntary, and consensual activities, the idea of SSC or “Safe, Sane and Consensual” has emerged. The actual term SSC is attributed to slave David Stein and first appeared in the statement of purpose of the GMSMA (Gay Male S/M Activists) in 1983.

  • Safe: Regardless of the activity, every effort is made to insure that participants are knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns involved, and every effort is made to insure that no permanent injury or harm will result. Safety also refers to practicing “safe sex” if sexual play is a component. Additionally, a “safe word” or a “safe sign” are employed to indicate that a particular activity or the entire scene should be ceased immediately should a safety or personal limits concern arise, if either the bottom or the top need a break, to ask a question, or to end the play session now.
  • Sane: This refers being able to distinguish fantasy from reality, being fully capable of understanding and participating in these activities, being able to fully evaluate any/all attendant risk(s) and ensuring that none of the participants are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Consensual: Consent is the cardinal rule of BDSM. Consent means that all parties involved agree to the activities and also agree to respect the limits defined by the participant(s). Consent is also an ongoing right, and can be withdrawn at any time. One of the most easily recognized ways to maintain limits is through a “safe word” or “safe sign” that ensures that either a particular activity or the entire scene can be modified or stopped with a single word or gesture.

Risk-Aware Consensual Kink: Some argue that nothing in life is truly “safe” and prefer the acronym RACK or Risk-Aware Consensual Kink, the acronym is attributed to Gary Switch who posted it online in 1999.

  • Risk-aware: Both or all partners are well-informed of the risks involved in the proposed activity.
  • Consensual: In light of those risks, both or all partners have, of sound mind, offered preliminary consent to engage in said activity.
  • Kink: Activity that can be classified as BDSM or alternative sex.

Switch compared BDSM to the sport of mountain climbing. In both, risk is an essential part of the thrill, and that risk is minimized through study, training, technique, and practice.

Committed Compassionate Consensual: In some old guard circles the term “Committed Compassionate Consensual” is used as the core guideline.

Feedback lets others know how the action feels and whether it is within the range of things that are acceptable. The use of a safe word or safe sign (agreed to during negotiation) can be used to adjust or stop the scene. For example a submissive that feels they cannot go on or is having a problem with a restraint that is too tight may say “Please, halt sir” or Please, check … sir.” Additionally the submissive’s body language, physiological responses and changing attitude provide non-verbal feedback to the dominant to continue, accelerate, slow down or end the activity.

Aftercare is period of time after intense BDSM activity in which the dominant partner cares for the submissive partner’s needs. This typically includes a safe space to unwind and recover.

BDSM Activities or Fetishes:

BDSM encompasses many activities or fetishes, many people have at least one fetish, something that turns them on. Different people have different interests, something that works for one person doesn’t apply to another. Traditionally the list of fetishes associated with BDSM includes:

  • Bondage – consensual tying, binding, or restraining of a person for the erotic, aesthetic, and/or psychological pleasure of the parties involved. Scarves, rope, cuffs, or tape may be used. Bondage can range from lightly tying hands together to creating elaborate rope harnesses and suspension.
  • Role play – consensual acting out of predefined roles in scenarios or fantasies such as teacher/student, slave/master, captor/prisoner or animal play. Puppy play, where one person takes on the role of a pup or dog, down on all fours and barking, is a popular form of role play. Another player takes that of the handler or trainer. Puppy play has been described as form of group relaxation where a pup can empty their mind of all cares, forget responsibilities, lower defenses, and bypass small talk forever. Puppy play has become increasingly popular in recent years.
  • Discipline – consensual activity such as punishment, loss of privileges or being told to do a task in response to a ‘rule’ being broken.
  • Domination and Submission – a consensual set of behaviors, customs and rituals involving the giving by one individual to another individual of control over them in an erotic episode or as a lifestyle.
  • Sensory limitation or deprivation – typically involves use an object such as a blindfold or hood to limit or restrict vision or one of the other senses.
  • Sensation play – activity involving creating unusual sensations on a person, as with ice cubes, soft fur or cloth, coarse materials, clothes pins, Wartenberg wheel, etc.
  • Spanking -refers to the act of striking the buttocks of another person with an open hand or paddle to cause temporary pain (as an aphrodisiac) without producing physical injury. Spanking can range from very light to more intense.
  • Flogging – In the BDSM context is the act of methodically whipping the human body with a flogging instrument to cause temporary sensation or pain (as an aphrodisiac) without producing physical injury. The sensation produced can be mild stimulation with light whipping and a soft flogging instrument to more intense.
  • Genital play or “torture” or “CBT” – may involve mild to moderately painful activities such as wax play, genital spanking, bondage, squeezing, stretching, flogging, urethral play, or tickle torture.
  • Body art – is art made on, with, or consisting of, the human body. The most common forms of body art are tattoos and body piercing, but other types include scarification, or branding in more involved scenes.
  • Slavery – a consensual set of behaviors more involved than domination and submission where a slave desires total ownership and requires that almost all things are decided for them.
  • Humiliation – depriving one of self-esteem, leading to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It can be brought about through bullying, intimidation, or by embarrassment.
  • Public Display – a form of humiliation based on centuries old public discipline for violation of rules.

Each individual or couple may be interested in different aspects of these fetishes. For example, there is a difference between a slave and a submissive, a submissive generally desired to be dominated in BDSM or sexual activities and remains free to make their own decisions about most other things, a slave desires total ownership and requires that almost all things are decided for them.

Dungeon Events

Group dungeon events are an opportunity to meet other leather guys and learn more about Kink or BDSM play.  Most group dungeon events require rules be followed and provide a Dungeon Monitor (DM) who helps ensure that all play is safe, sane and consensual. The dungeon monitor always has final say on safety issues and can stop a scene that is not safe, sane and consensual. A dungeon can also be a space for classes, instruction and play.

CMEN Dungeon House Rules: Safe, Sane and Consensual Play

  • Do not enter the dungeon when it is closed. Play is only allowed when a Dungeon Monitor (DM) is present.
  • All Play must be Consensual. Do not touch anyone without asking permission first. “NO” means “NO” if asking someone to play. Consent can be withdrawn at any time during a scene.
  • All parties must negotiate and agree to all the details of a scene including who is involved, roles and what can be included.
  • Play Safely and Use Common Sense – fire play, knife play and breath play are not allowed. We are in a dry brush area miles from the closest hospital.
  • Safe word “RED” means “STOP”, NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • Anyone in any form of restraints cannot be left unattended.
  • Keep it Sane ‐ know what you are doing, understand any risks, avoid impairment by drugs or alcohol. If you aren’t sure ask.
  • Proper Dungeon Etiquette required. Do not disrupt someone else’s scene.
  • Show courtesy to everyone in attendance.
  • Do not touch other people’s property without permission.
  • Completely clean the area when you are finished.
  • Photography is generally not allowed unless arrangements have been made with the Dungeon Monitor in advance.
  • Dungeon Monitors have final say on safety issue.
  • All Play is done at YOUR OWN RISK.

Additional Reading:

  • Baldwin, Guy. The Leather Contest Guide; A Handbook for Promoters, Contestants, Judges and Titleholders. 2nd Edition. 2004, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-08-9.
  • Baldwin, Guy. Ties that Bind; SM / Leather / Fetish Erotic Style; Issues, Commentaries and Advice. 2nd Edition, 2003, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-09-7.
  • Bannon, Race. Learning the Ropes; A Basic Guide to Safe and Fun S/M Lovemaking, 1992, Daedalus Publishing Company, San Francisco. ISBN 1-881943-07-0.
  • Bean, Joseph W. Leathersex; A Guide for the Curious Outsider and the Serious Player, 1994, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-05-4.
  • Davolt, Robert. Painfully Obvious; An Irreverent & Unauthorized Manual for Leather/SM. 2003, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-19-4.
  • Mains, Geoff. Urban Aboriginals. Third edition 2002, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-06 (Original 1984, Gay Sunshine Press).
  • Thompson, Mark. Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics and Practice.  Third edition 2004, Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles. ISBN 1-881943-20-8 (Original 1991, Alyson Books, Boston).
  • Townsend, Larry. The Leatherman’s Handbook. Silver Jubilee Edition, 2000, L.T. Publications, Beverly Hills, CA ISBN 1-881684-19-9 (Original 1972, Olympia Press)
  • Weal, John D.  The Leatherman’s Protocol Handbook; A Handbook on “Old Guard” Rituals, Traditions and Protocols. 2010 Nazca Plains Corporation, Las Vegas, NV.  ISBN 978-1-935509-76-9.

Online Information Resources:

Additional Information:


Trust, Honor and Respect

Information on this page is from the Leather 101 workshop at the West Coast Gathering, September 2016 – 2019, presented by Rick B. Mr CMEN Leather 2015.
Information on this page is provided for educational purposes and does not imply endorsement by CMEN. Please note that CMEN does not control the content of linked web sites, the organizations who own these web sites accept sole responsibility for their content.