BDSM collar back.jpg
B&D, B/D, or BD Bondage and Discipline
D&s, D/s, or Ds Dominance and submission
S&M, S/M, or SM Sadism and masochism
Top/Dominant partner who carries out the activity
Bottom/Submissive partner who receives the activity
Switch switches between roles
Participation/tendencies 5 - 25% of general population[citation needed]

BDSM is an erotic preference and a form of sexual expression involving the consensual use of restraint, intense sensory stimulation, and fantasy power role-play. The compound acronym BDSM is derived from the terms bondage and discipline (B&D or B/D), dominance and submission (D&S or D/s), and sadism and masochism (S&M or S/M). BDSM includes a wide spectrum of activities, forms of interpersonal relationships, and distinct subcultures.

Activities and relationships within a BDSM context are characterized by the participants usually taking on complementary, but unequal roles, thus the idea of consent of both the partners becomes essential. Typically participants who are active – applying the activity or exercising control over others – are known as tops or dominants. Those participants who are recipients of the activities, or who are controlled by their partners are typically known as bottoms or submissives. Individuals who alternate between top/dominant and bottom/submissive roles — whether from relationship to relationship or within a given relationship — are known as switches.[1]



A woman is chained to the wall in bondage.
A man handcuffed to a bed and blindfolded.

The term BDSM has become a broad term for eroticized behavior between consenting adults. There is little that unites all the disparate subcultures which are grouped under the umbrella term BDSM. Interpersonal relationships which are based on the social conventions of one of the BDSM subcultures, exist in marked contrast with the current Western ideology.

While the terminology for roles varies widely within the various BDSM subcultures, Top and Dominant are widely recognized terms for those partner(s) in the relationship or activity which are respectively the physically active or controlling participants, and Bottom and Submissive are widely recognized terms for those partner(s) in the relationship or activity which are respectively the physically receptive or controlled participants. The interaction between Tops and Bottoms, where physical and/or mental control of the Bottom is surrendered to the Top – whether in the context of a short term encounter typically referred to as a scene, or in the context of a longer-term relationship – is sometime known as power exchange.

BDSM actions can often take place during a specific period of time agreed to by both parties, referred to as "play", "a scene" or "a session". Parties involved usually derive pleasure from this, even though many of the practices that are performed, such as inflicting pain, humiliation or being restrained would be considered unpleasant under normal circumstances. Sexual intercourse, be it oral, anal or vaginal, may occur within a session, but is not essential.[2] Such explicit sexual interaction is seen only extremely rarely in public play spaces, and is often a violation of the standing rules in most spaces.

The fundamental principles for the exercise of BDSM require that it should be performed by responsible partners, of their own volition, and in a safe way. Since the 1980s these basic principles have been condensed into the motto "Safe, sane and consensual", abbreviated as SSC, which means that everything is based on safe, sane and consenting behavior of all involved parties.[3] This mutual consent makes a clear legal and ethical distinction between BDSM and crimes such as sexual assault or domestic violence.[4]

Some BDSM practitioners prefer a code of behavior that differs from "SSC" and described as "Risk Aware Consensual Kink" (RACK), indicating a preference of a style in which the individual responsibility of the involved parties is emphasized more strongly, with each participant being responsible for his or her own well-being. RACK focuses primarily upon awareness and informed consent, rather than accepted safe practices.[5] Consent is the most important criterion here. The consent and compliance for a sadomasochistic situation can be granted only by people who are able to judge the potential results. For their consent, they must have relevant information (extent to which the scene will go, potential risks, if a safeword will be used, what that is, and so on.) at hand and the necessary mental capacity to judge. The resulting consent and understanding can often be summarized in a written "contract"; an agreement of what can and cannot take place.[6]

In general, it must be possible for the consenting partner to withdraw his or her consent;[7] for example, by using a safeword that was agreed on in advance.[8][9] Failure to honor a safeword is considered serious misconduct and could even change the sexual consent situation into a crime, depending on the relevant law,[8] since the bottom has explicitly revoked his or her consent to any actions which follow the use of the safeword (see Legal status).


Aside from the general advice related to safe sex, BDSM sessions often require a wider array of safety precautions than typical vanilla sex (sexual behavior without BDSM elements).[8]

To ensure consensus related to BDSM activity, pre-play negotiations are commonplace, especially among partners who do not know each other very well. These negotiations concern the interests and fantasies of each partner and establish a framework.[10] This kind of discussion is a typical "unique selling proposition" of BDSM sessions and quite commonplace.[11] Additionally, safewords are often arranged to provide for an immediate stop of any activity if any participant should so desire.[12] Safewords are, by definition, not commonly used words during any kind of play. Words such as "no", "stop", and "don't", are often not appropriate as a safeword if the roleplaying aspect includes the illusion of non-consent. A safeword needs to be something one can remember and call to mind when things are either not going as planned or have crossed a threshold one cannot handle. The most common used form of safewords are "green", "yellow", and "red". "Red" meaning to stop and there would be no further play. "Yellow" being, "This is getting too intense". "Green" meaning that everything is okay.[citation needed]

Participants of BDSM understand practical safety aspects; for instance they recognize which parts of the human body have a risk of damage to nerves and blood vessels by contusion or have a high risk of scar development. Using crops, whips, or floggers, the top's fine motor skills and anatomical knowledge can make the difference between a satisfying session for the bottom, and a highly unpleasant experience that may even entail severe physical harm.[13] The very broad range of different BDSM "toys" and physical and psychological control techniques often requires a far-reaching knowledge of details related to the requirements of the individual session, such as anatomy, physics, and psychology.[14][15][16] Despite these risks, BDSM activities usually result in far less severe injuries than sports like boxing and football, and BDSM practitioners do not visit emergency rooms more often than the general population.[17]

It is necessary to be able to identify each person's psychological squicks or "freakouts" in advance in order to avoid them. Such losses of emotional balance due to sensory or emotional overload are a fairly common issue. It is important to follow their reactions empathetically and continue or stop accordingly.[8][18]


The initialism BDSM includes psychological and physiological facets:

  • Bondage & Discipline (B&D)
  • Dominance & Submission (D&s)
  • Sadism & Masochism (or Sadomasochism) (S&M)
  • Types of Play

This model for differentiating among these three aspects of BDSM is increasingly used in literature today.[1] Nevertheless, it is only an attempt at phenomenological differentiation. Individual tastes and preferences in the area of sexuality may overlap among these areas, which are discussed separately here.

Bondage and discipline

Two women tapegagged and cuffed to iron bars

Bondage and Discipline are two aspects of BDSM that do not seem to relate to one another because of the type of the activities involved, but they have conceptual similarities, and that is why they appear jointly. Contrary to the other two types, B/D does not define the Tops and Bottoms itself, and is used to describe the general activities with either partner being the receiver and the giver.[19]

The term "Bondage" describes the practice of Physical restraining. Bondage is usually, but not always, a sexual practice.[20] While bondage is a very popular variation within the larger field of BDSM, it is nevertheless sometimes differentiated from the rest of this field.[21] Studies among BDSM practitioners in the US have shown that about half of all men find the idea of bondage to be erotic; many women do as well. Strictly speaking, bondage means binding the partner by tying their appendages together; for example, by the use of handcuffs or by lashing their arms to an object. Bondage can also be achieved by spreading the appendages and fastening them with chains to a St. Andrews cross or spreader bars.[22]

The term "Discipline" describes the Psychological restraining, with the use of rules and punishment to control overt behavior.[19] Punishment can be pain caused physically (such as caning), humiliation caused psychologically (such as a public flagellation) or loss of freedom caused physically (for example, chaining the Bottom to the foot of a bed). Another aspect is the structured training of the Bottom.[23]

Dominance and submission

"Dominance and submission" (also known as D&s, Ds or D/s) is a set of behaviors, customs and rituals relating to the giving and accepting of control of one individual over another in an erotic or lifestyle context. It explores the more mental aspect of BDSM. This is also the case in many relationships not considering themselves as sadomasochistic; it is considered to be a part of BDSM if it is practiced purposefully. The range of its individual characteristics is thereby wide.[24]

Strappado with rope and a spreader bar. This practice has a distinct effect of immobilization and pain.

Examples of mentally oriented practices are education games, during which the dominant requires certain forms of behavior from the submissive. Special forms include erotic roleplay like ageplay, in which a difference in age, either real or enacted, formulates the background; or petplay. Concerted deployed sexual rejection exercised on the partner can be an aspect of Dominance and Submission as well. The most established and probably most cliché set form of dominance and submission is Dominance and slavery. These can be administered for the short duration of a session among otherwise-emancipated partners, but also can be integrated into everyday life indefinitely. In a few relationships, it leads as far as total submission of one partner in the truest sense of the phrase total power exchange. Compensating elements of the total dominance and submission are care and devotion complementing one another, thus facilitating stable relationships. The consensual submission of the sub is sometimes demonstrated to others by symbols indicating his/her belonging to the dom, such as wearing a collar, special tattoos, piercings, a very short haircut or a bald head.

Often, "slave contracts" are set out in writing to record the formal consent of the parties to the power exchange, stating their common vision of the relationship dynamic. The purpose of this kind of agreement is primarily to encourage discussion and negotiation in advance, and then to document that understanding for the benefit of all parties. Such documents have not been recognized as being legally binding, nor are they intended to be. These agreements are binding in the sense that the parties have the expectation that the negotiated rules will be followed. Often other friends and community members may witness the signing of such a document in a ceremony, and so parties violating their agreement can result in loss of face, respect or status with their friends in the community.

In general as compared to conventional relationships, BDSM participants go to great lengths to negotiate the important aspects of their relationships in advance, and to take great care in learning about and following safe practices.


Erotic spanking on a male Bottom.

The term sadomasochism is derived from the words sadism and masochism (see Etymology). In the context of consensual sexual activities, sadism and masochism are not strictly accurate terms; there is a significant difference from the medical or psychological usage of both terms. Sadomasochism refers to the physical aspects of BDSM. Sadism describes sexual pleasure derived by inflicting pain, degradation, or humiliation on another person. On the other hand, the masochist enjoys being bound, spanked or suffering within the consensual scenario. Sadomasochism does not imply enjoyment through causing or receiving pain in other situations (for example, accidental injury, medical procedures). Discipline often incorporates sadomasochistic aspects. Sadomasochism is practiced in isolation relatively rarely, although certain practices BDSM can be performed solo, such as self-bondage and autoerotic asphyxia, but such practices can be dangerous, at times resulting in injury or death.[25]

In D/S the Dominant is the Top and the submissive is the Bottom. In S/M the Sadist is usually the Top and the Masochist the Bottom, but not always so (as in the case of Dominant Masochists who may arrange for their submissive to carry out s/m activities on them). Sadomasochists may also play without any Power Exchange at all, with both partners equally in control of the play. Likewise in B/D the declaration of the Top/Bottom is also required.[19]

Physical aspects

A woman's back covered with different colored waxes.
Use of hand and thumbcuffs on the feet with a Wartenberg wheel

On a physical level BDSM is commonly misconceived to be "all about pain".[26] Most often though BDSM practitioners are primarily concerned with power, humiliation, and pleasure.[26] Of the three categories of BDSM only sadomasochism specifically requires pain, but this is typically a vehicle for feelings of humiliation, dominance, etc. The aspects of D/S and B/D may not include physical suffering at all, but include the sensations inherited by different emotions of the mind.[26] Dominance & Submission of power is an entirely different experience, and is not always psychologically associated with physical pain. Many BDSM activities might not involve any kind of pain or humiliation, but just the exchange of Powers (Power Exchange).[19][26] During the activities, the practitioners may feel endorphins comparable to the so-called "runner's high" or to the afterglow of orgasm.[27] The corresponding trance-like mental state is also known as "subspace" for the submissive, or "topspace" for the dominant. Some use the term "body stress" to describe this physiological sensation.[28] This experience of algolagnia is important, but is not the only motivation for many BDSM practitioners. The philosopher Edmund Burke defines this sensation of pleasure derived from pain by the word sublime.[29] There is a wide array of BDSM practitioners who take part in sessions for which they do not receive any personal gratification. They enter such situations solely with the intention to allow their partners to fulfill their own needs and/or fetishes. They do this in exchange of money for the session activities.[19]

In some BDSM sessions, the Top exposes the Bottom to a wide range of sensual impressions, for example: pinching, biting, scratching with fingernails, spanking or the use of various objects such as crops, whips, liquid wax, icecubes, Wartenberg wheels, erotic electrostimulation or others.[30] Fixation by handcuffs, ropes or chains may be used as well. The repertoire of possible "toys" is limited only by the imagination of both partners. To some extent, everyday items like clothes-pins, wooden spoons or plastic wrap are used as pervertibles.[31] It is commonly considered that a pleasurable BDSM experience during a session is very strongly dependent upon the top's competence and experience and the bottom's physical and mental state at the time of the session. Trust and sexual arousal help the partners enter a shared mindset.[32][33] Some BDSM practitioners compare related sensations with musical compositions and representation, in which single sensual impressions are the musical notes of the situation. From this point of view, different sensuous impressions are combined to create a total experience leaving a lasting impression.

Some types of play



Top and bottom

A typical slave collar with ring for possible attachment of a leash. Such or comparable models are sometimes used by bottoms as a symbol of ownership to their tops.

In a BDSM relationship the partner who has the active (i.e. controlling) role in a session or in the entire relationship is described as the "top", a role that often involves inflicting pain, degradation or subjugation. The partner referred to as the "bottom", or more frequently as the sub (short for submissive), submits voluntarily to the actions of the top. Although the top usually is the dominant and the bottom the submissive partner, it is not inevitably so. In some cases the top follows instructions, i.e., he "tops" the bottom according to the bottom's desires and in a way the bottom expressly requires. A top only having apparent control, while in reality conforming to the instructions given by the bottom, is referred to as a service top. In contrast a dominant top controls their submissive partner by using physical or psychological techniques. If desired the top can even instruct the submissive partner to exercise temporary control. The Japanese words 'Seme' and 'Uke' can respectively be used to describe the 'top' or 'bottom' within a BDSM relationship, or in yaoi to refer to the partner that is penetrating, and the partner that is being penetrated.[citation needed]

A similar distinction also may apply to bottoms. At one end of the spectrum are those who are indifferent to, or even reject physical stimulation. At the other end of the spectrum are bottoms who enjoy physical and psychological stimulation but are not willing to be subordinate to the person who applies it. The bottom is frequently the partner who specifies the basic conditions of the session and gives instructions, directly or indirectly, in the prelude to the session, while the top often respects this guidance. Other bottoms try to incur punishment from their top by provoking them or "misbehaving". Nevertheless a small, very puristic "school"[34] exists within the BDSM community, which regards such "topping from the bottom" as incompatible with the standards of BDSM relations.


BDSM practitioners may also be a "switch", meaning they play either or both roles, top or bottom, depending on the actual session's setting. They may practice this within one specific session or take these different roles in different sessions with the same or different partners. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes a switch lives in a relationship with a partner of the same primary preference (for example, two tops), so switching represents the only possibility of being able to fulfill all of his or her BDSM needs within the relationship. Some people change roles without regarding themselves as switches since they do it very irregularly, or only under certain circumstances.

Types of relationships


A typical BDSM "sling" .

BDSM practitioners sometimes regard the practice of BDSM in their sex life as role playing and so often use the terms "Play" and "Playing" to describe activities where they're in their perspective roles. Play of this sort for a specified period of time is often called a "Session", and the contents and the circumstances of play are often referred to as the "Scene". It is also common in personal relationships to use the term "Kink Play" for BDSM activities, or more specific terms for the type of activity. The relationships can be of varied types.

Long term

Early writings on BDSM both by the academic and BDSM community spoke little of long-term relationships with some in the Gay Leather community suggesting short-term play relationships to be the only feasible relationship models, and recommending people to get married and "play" with BDSM outside of marriage. In recent times though writers of BDSM and sites for BDSM have been more focused on long-term relationships.

A 2003 study, the first to look at these relationships, fully demonstrated that "quality long-term functioning relationships" exist among practitioners of BDSM, with either sex being the top or bottom (homosexual couples were not looked at).[35] Respondents in the study expressed their BDSM orientation to be built into who they are, but considered exploring their BDSM interests an ongoing task, and showed flexibility and adaptability in order to match their interests with their partners.[36] The "perfect match" where both in the relationship shared the same tastes and desires was rare, and most relationships required both partners to take up or put away some of their desires.[36] The BDSM activities that the couples partook in varied in sexual to nonsexual significance for the partners who reported doing certain BDSM activities for "couple bonding, stress release, and spiritual quests".[37] The most reported issue amongst respondents was not finding enough time to be in role with most adopting a 24/7 lifestyle wherein both partners maintain their dominant or submissive role throughout the day.[38]

Amongst the respondents it was typically the bottoms who wanted to play harder, and be more restricted into their roles when there was a difference in desire to play in the relationship.[38][39] The author of the study, Bert Cutler, speculated that tops may be less often in the mood to play due to the increased demand for responsibility on their part: being aware of the safety of the situation and prepared to remove the bottom from a dangerous scenario, being conscious of the desires and limits of the bottom, and so on.[39] The author of the study stressed that successful long-term BDSM relationships came after "early and thorough disclosure" from both parties of their BDSM interests.[39]

Many of those engaged in long-term BDSM relationships learned their skills from larger BDSM organizations and communities[40] There was a lot of discussion by the respondents on the amount of control the top possessed in the relationships with almost non-existent discussion of the top "being better, or smarter, or of more value" than the bottom.[41] Couples were generally of the same mind of whether or not they were in 24/7 relationship, but noted that in such cases the bottom is not locked up 24/7, but that their role in the context of the relationship was always present, even when the top is doing non-dominant activities such as household chores: cleaning, taking out the trash, and so on., or the bottom being in a more dominant position.[41] In its conclusion the study states:

The respondents valued themselves, their partners, and their relationships. All couples expressed considerable good will toward their partners. The power exchange between the cohorts appears to be serving purposes beyond any sexual satisfaction, including experiencing a sense of being taken care of and bonding with a partner.[42]

The study further goes on to list three aspects that made the successful relationships work: early disclosure of interests and continued transparency, a commitment to personal growth, and the use of the dominant/submissive roles as a tool to maintain the relationship.[43] In his closing remarks the author of the study theorizes that due to the serious potential for harm that couples in BDSM relationships develop increased communication that may be higher than in mainstream relationships[44]

24/7 lifestyle
Demonstration of Shibari bondage techniques at the Folsom 2003 street fair.

A subset of long-term BDSM relationships are relationships in which everyday life is clearly framed by the concept of BDSM even outside of sexual activities.[8] The partners involved maintain in their daily life an appropriate balance of power and accordingly make aspects of BDSM a consistent part of their lifestyle. Here, BDSM cannot be designated a merely sexual phenomenon. The term "24/7 relationship" is derived from 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Another term for such behavior is "D/s", derived from "Dominant/submissive". The dominant partner controls most aspects of the submissive's life. Particular areas of life such as work, family, or friends can be excluded from the D/s relationship and not be placed under control of the dominant partner. Some D/s relationships, however, cover all areas of life; such constellations are designated as a "Total Power Exchange" (TPE). In D/s, and especially in TPE relationships, changes in the balance of power (so-called "Switching") only rarely take place. TPE relationships probably represent the least common role behavior within the BDSM spectrum.

Professional services

A professional dominatrix or professional dominant, often referred to within the culture as a "pro-domme", offers services encompassing the range of bondage, discipline, and dominance in exchange for money. Such professional services might not include sexual intercourse, and may and may not include masturbation or ejaculation of semen by other means. In many cases, the gratification or climax of the client does not include direct orgasm, and is dealt respectively. It is common among dominatrices to separate themselves from prostitutes, though there are plenty of prostitutes who also work as professional dominatrices.[19]

The term "Dominatrix" is little-used within the non-professional BDSM scene. A non-professional dominant woman is more commonly referred to simply as a "Domme", "Dominant", or "Femdom". There are also services provided by professional female submissives ("pro-subs"). A professional submissive consents to her client's dominant behavior within negotiated limits, and often works within a professional dungeon. Although far more rare professional submissives do exist.[45] Most of the people who work as subs normally have tendencies towards such activities, especially when sadomasochism is involved.[citation needed] Males also work as professional "Tops" in BDSM, and are called "Doms" or "Maledoms". However it is much more rare to find a male in this profession. (It should also be noted that a male "pro-dom" typically only works with male clientele)[19]

Scene: subculture and public

Spanking with a paddle in a BDSM dungeon in New York City.

Today the BDSM culture exists in most western countries.[46] This offers BDSM practitioners the opportunity to discuss BDSM relevant topics and problems with like-minded people. This culture is often viewed as a subculture, mainly because BDSM is often still regarded as "unusual" by some of the public. Many people hide their leaning from society since they are afraid of the incomprehension and of social exclusion. It is commonly known in the BDSM culture that there are practitioners living on all continents, but there is no documented evidence for many countries (due to restrictive laws and censorship motivated by politics or religion) except their presence in online BDSM communities and dating sites.

This scene appears particularly on the Internet, in publications, and in meetings such as SM parties, gatherings called munches, and erotic fairs. The annual Folsom Street Fair is the world's largest BDSM event.[47] It has its roots in the gay leather movement. There are also conventions like Living in Leather, TESfest, Shibaricon, Spankfest, and Black Rose. North American cities that have large BDSM communities include New York City, Atlanta, Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas, Minneapolis, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. European cities with large BDSM communities include London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Munich, Cologne, Hamburg and Rome.


The Leather Pride flag, a symbol of the BDSM and Fetish subculture.
Triskelion-type BDSM emblem.

BDSM and fetish items and styles have been spread widely in western societies' everyday life by different factors, such as avant-garde fashion, heavy metal, goth subculture, and science fiction TV series,[48] and are often not consciously connected with their BDSM roots by many people. While it was mainly confined to the Punk and BDSM subcultures in the 1990s, it has since spread into wider parts of western societies.

The Leather Pride flag is a symbol for the Leather subculture and also widely used within BDSM. In continental Europe the Ring of O is widespread among BDSM practitioners. The Triskelion, is common in English-speaking communities.

BDSM Rights Flag colour BDSM Rights Flag Black and White

The BDSM Rights Flag intended to represent the belief that people whose sexuality or relationship preferences include Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, or Sadism and Masochism ("BDSM") deserve the same human rights as everyone else, and should not be discriminated against for pursuing BDSM with consenting adults.

The flag is inspired by the Leather Pride Flag and Quagmyr's BDSM Emblem, but is specifically intended to represent the concept of BDSM Rights and to be without the other symbols' restrictions against commercial use. It's designed to be recognisable by people familiar with either the Leather Pride Flag or BDSM Triskelion (or Triskele) as "something to do with BDSM"; and to be distinctive whether reproduced in full colour, or in black and white (or another pair of colours.)[49]


Exhibition of a male sub in Zentai and chains at the Cologne Gay Pride festival, 2006.

Understanding of BDSM culture and practices remains intertwined with prejudices, clichés and stereotypes. Misunderstandings may arise from general lack of knowledge concerning sexuality and sexual practices as well as misconceptions on how one's personal life and public persona can vary greatly. For example, it is sometimes assumed that a submissive would prefer to experience pain and degradation in their everyday life, or conversely, that they would prefer to have exactly the opposite. There is no clear correlation between the position in everyday life and BDSM preferences. A further misunderstanding is that members of BDSM communities want only to be hurt or to inflict physical, psychological and mental pain, which diminishes and disparages the emotional and spiritual relationships that develop.[50]

Another misconception is the idea of women generally being the dominant party in BDSM relationships. Quite often the picture of BDSM is reduced to the idea of crude corporal punishment, neglecting the broad spectrum of behaviors within the culture. Along with the whip-swinging dominatrix, the sadomasochist in full leather regalia is another common cliché. While overlaps between different kinds of fetishism can exist, there is no inevitable connection between BDSM and fetishism (for example,: latex, PVC or leather). The frequent occurrence of such clothing can be partly explained by its function as a quasi-formalized dress code.

Since the term BDSM covers a broad range of human behavior, the arising spectrum of individual interests and personalities is large and extremely diverse. Due to the lack of information in the total population and the reluctance with many to come out about matters of an extremely personal nature leads to situations in which actions and statements of individual BDSM practitioners are accredited to the community at large just as the larger LGBT community has been characterized by drag queens and other minority communities similarly mischaracterized.

At least in the western, industrialized countries and Japan, since the 1980s sadomasochists have begun to form information exchange and support groups to counter discriminatory images. This has happened independently in the United States and in several European countries. With the advent of the web, international cooperation has started to develop—for example Datenschlag is a joint effort of sadomasochists in the three major German-speaking countries, and the mailing list Schlagworte uses the model of a news agency to connect six countries. Some credit highly publicized events like Operation Spanner and the International leather contests with fostering international cooperation and collaboration.

Coming out

BDSM Activists at Taiwan Pride 2005, Taipei
Carriage drawn by a Pony-Girl, Petplay at the Folsom Parade 2005.

Some people who feel attracted by the situations usually compiled under the term BDSM reach a point where they decide to come out of the closet, though many sadomasochists keep themselves closeted. Even so, depending upon a survey's participants, about 5 to 25 percent of the US-American population show affinity to the subject.[51][52] Other than a few artists, practically no celebrities are publicly known as sadomasochists.

Public knowledge of one's BDSM lifestyle can have devastating vocational and social effects (Persona non grata) for sadomasochists. The reason for this is seen by some authors as primarily a lack of public educational advertising, exacerbated by overly lurid and sensationalized media coverage.

Within feminist circles the discussion has been split roughly into two camps: some who see BDSM as an aspect or reflection of oppression (for example, Alice Schwarzer) and, on the other side, pro-BDSM feminists, often grouped under the banner of sex-positive feminism (see Samois); both of them can be traced back to the 1970s.[53]

Some feminists have criticized BDSM for eroticizing power and violence, and for reinforcing misogyny. They argue that women who engage in BDSM are making a choice that is ultimately bad for women.[54] Feminist defenders of BDSM argue that consensual BDSM activities are enjoyed by many women and validate the sexual inclinations of these women.[55] They argue that feminists should not attack other woman's sexual desires as being "anti-feminist", and point out that there is no connection between consensual kinky activities and sex crimes. The main point of feminism is giving an individual woman free choices in her life; that includes her sexual desire. While some radical feminists suggest connections between consensual BDSM scenes and non-consensual rape and sexual assault, sex-positive feminists may tend to find this insulting to women.[56][57]

It is often mentioned that in BDSM, roles are not fixed to gender, but personal preferences. Several studies on the correlation of BDSM pornography and the violence against women recapitulate that there is no correlation. Japan is a useful example: a country which has the lowest rate of sexual crimes of all industrialized nations while being well known for its comprehensive BDSM and bondage pornography (see Pornography in Japan).[58] In 1991 a lateral survey came to the conclusion that between 1964 and 1984, despite the increase in amount and availability of sadomasochistic pornography in the US, Germany, Denmark and Sweden there is no correlation with the national number of rapes to be found.[59]

Operation Spanner in the UK proves that BDSM practitioners still run the risk of being stigmatized as criminals. In 2003, the media coverage of Jack McGeorge showed that simply participating and working in BDSM support groups poses risks to one's job, even in countries where no law restricts it.[60] Here a clear difference can be seen to the situation of homosexuals.[clarification needed] The psychological strain appearing in some individual cases is normally neither articulated nor acknowledged in public. Nevertheless it leads to a difficult psychological situation in which the person concerned can be exposed to high levels of emotional stress.[61]

In the stages of "self awareness", he or she realizes their desires related to BDSM scenarios and/or decides to be open for such. Some authors call this internal coming-out. Two separate surveys on this topic independently came to the conclusion that 58 percent and 67 percent of the sample respectively, had realized their disposition before their 19th birthday. Other surveys on this topic show comparable results.[62][63] Independent of age, coming-out can potentially result in a difficult life crisis, sometimes leading to thoughts or acts of suicide. While homosexuals have created support networks in the last decades, sadomasochistic support networks are just starting to develop in most countries. In German speaking countries they are only moderately more developed.[64] The internet is the prime contact point for support groups today, allowing for local and international networking. In the US Kink Aware Professionals (KAP) a privately funded, non-profit service provides the community with referrals to psychotherapeutic, medical, and legal professionals who are knowledgeable about and sensitive to the BDSM, fetish, and leather community.[65] In the US and the UK, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation & Federation, National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) and Sexual Freedom Coalition (SFC) have emerged to represent the interests of sadomasochists. The German Bundesvereinigung Sadomasochismus e.V. is committed to the same aim of providing information and driving press relations. In 1996 the website and mailing list Datenschlag went online in German and English providing the largest bibliography, as well as one of the most extensive historical collections of sources related to BDSM.

Parties and clubs

A female Bottom on a St. Andrew's cross.

BDSM parties are events on which BDSM practitioners and other similarly interested people meet in order to communicate, share experiences and knowledge, and to "play" in an erotic atmosphere. The parties show similarities with ones in the dark culture, being based on a more or less strictly enforced dress code; most often clothing made of latex, leather or vinyl/PVC, lycra and so on., emphasizing the body's shape and the primary and secondary sexual characteristic. The requirement for such dress codes differ. While some events have none, others have a policy in order to create a more coherent atmosphere and to prevent voyeurs from taking part.[66]

At these parties, BDSM can be publicly performed on a stage, or more privately in separate "dungeons".[67] A reason for the relatively fast spread of this kind of event is the opportunity to use a wide range of "playing equipment", which in most apartments or houses is unavailable. Slings, St. Andrews crosses (or similar restraining constructs), spanking benches, and punishing supports or cages are often made available. The problem of noise disturbance is also lessened at these events, while in the home setting many BDSM activities can be limited by this factor. In addition, such parties offer both exhibitionists and voyeurs a forum to indulge their inclinations without social opprobrium. Sexual intercourse is taboo within most public BDSM play spaces or not often seen in others, because it is not the emphasis of this kind of play. In order to ensure the maximum safety and comfort for the participants certain standards of behavior have evolved, these include aspects of courtesy, privacy, respect and safewords among others.[8] Today BDSM parties are taking place in most of the larger cities in the western world.

In some cities there are specialized BDSM clubs with a more or less structured program schedule, in which theme parties alternate with topic-free "play evenings", similar to the business concepts of more conventional nightclubs. Social control of these parties and/or in the clubs is far higher than in a normal discothèque. Consensuality in the public BDSM sessions is strictly monitored and enforced. Apart from commercial events there are also privately organized or only moderately profit-oriented parties, which are organized by BDSM groups and individuals. Minors are not allowed at parties or clubs, even though intercourse and drinking are usually not found in these parties.



Flogging-demonstration at the 2004 Folsom Street Fair event for the leather, kink and GLBT communities held in San Francisco.

BDSM is practiced in all social strata and is common in both heterosexual and homosexual men and women in varied occurrences and intensities.[68][69] The spectrum ranges from couples with no connections to the subculture in their homes, without any awareness of the concept of BDSM, playing "tie-me-up-games", to public scenes on St. Andrew's crosses at large events, for example the Folsom Fairs in several American and European cities. The percentage of women is significantly higher than that of most behavior patterns formally considered to be paraphilias. Estimation on the overall percentage of BDSM related sexual behavior in the general population range from 5 to 25 percent, depending on the scientific objectives.

Two professional dominatrixes interviewed by David Shankbone about the psychological aspects of some of their stranger request.[70]

A non-representative survey on the sexual behavior of American students published in 1997 and based on questionnaires had a response rate of about 8–9%. It results showed 15% of openly homosexual males, 21% of openly lesbian and female bisexual students, 11% of heterosexual males and 9% of female heterosexual students committed to BDSM related fantasies.[52] In all groups the level of practical BDSM experiences varied about 6%. Within the group of openly female bisexuals and lesbians the quote was significantly higher, at 21%. Independent of their sexual orientation, about 12% of all questioned students, 16% of the outed female lesbians and bisexuals and 8% of the male heterosexuals articulated an interest in spanking. Experience with this sexual behavior was indicated by 30% of male heterosexuals, 33% of female bisexuals and lesbians, and 24% of the male gay and bisexual men and female heterosexual women.[52] Even if this study were not considered representative, other surveys indicate similar dimensions in a differing target groups.[71][72][73]

In a representative study published in 1999 by the German Institut für rationale Psychologie, about two thirds of the interviewed women stated a desire to be at the mercy of their sexual partners from time to time. 69% admitted to fantasies dealing with sexual submissiveness, 42% stated interest in explicit BDSM techniques, 25% in bondage.[74] A 1976 study in the general US population suggests three percent have had positive experiences with Bondage or master-slave role playing. Overall 12% of the interviewed females and 18% of the males were willing to try it.[75][76] A 1990 Kinsey Institute report stated that 5% to 10% of Americans occasionally engage in sexual activities related to BDSM. 11% of men and 17% of women reported trying bondage.[77][78] Some elements of BDSM have been popularized through increased media coverage since the middle 1990s. Thus both black leather clothing, sexual jewellery such as chains and dominance role play appear increasingly outside of BDSM contexts.

The Ring of O as a finger ring.

According to a 2005 survey of 317,000 people in 41 countries, about 20% of the surveyed people have at least once used masks, blindfolds or other bondage utilities, and 5% explicitly connected themselves with BDSM.[79] In 2004, 19% mentioned spanking as one of their practices and 22% confirmed the use of blindfolds and/or handcuffs.[79] Some BDSM accessories, like the Ring of O, have been integrated into the jewelry collections of internationally well known designers like Calvin Klein.

Psychological categorization

In the past, many activities and fantasies related to BDSM were generally attributed to sadism or masochism and were regarded by psychiatrists as an illness. Following the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) sadomasochism is categorized a "Disorder of sexual preference" (F65.5) and described as follows: "A preference for sexual activity which involves the infliction of pain or humiliation, or bondage. If the subject prefers to be the recipient of such stimulation this is called masochism; if the provider, sadism. Often an individual obtains sexual excitement from both sadistic and masochistic activities."[80]

With the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994 new criteria of diagnosis were available describing BDSM clearly not as disorders of sexual preferences. They are no longer regarded as illnesses in and of themselves. The DSM-IV asserts that "The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors" must "cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning" in order for sexual sadism or masochism to be considered a disorder. In an AASECT article providing guidelines for therapists working with BDSM clients, sexologists Charles Allen Moser and Peggy Kleinplatz highlight that distress can occur in BDSM patients due to stigma and discrimination surrounding BDSM, and that in these circumstances the role of the therapist is to "validate the distress rather than to "cure" the BDSM desires."[81] The DSM-IVs' latest edition (DSM-IV-TR) further requires that the activity must be the sole means of sexual gratification for a period of six (6) months, and either cause "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning" or involve a violation of "consent" to be diagnosed as a paraphilia.[82]

Overlays of sexual preference disorders and the practice of BDSM practices can occur, however.

In Europe, an organization called ReviseF65 has worked towards this purpose in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10).[83] In 1995, Denmark became the first European Union country to have completely removed sadomasochism from its national classification of diseases. This was followed by Sweden in 2009, Norway in 2010 and Finland 2011.[84][85][86] Recent surveys on the spread of BDSM fantasies and practices show strong variations in the range of their results.[87] Nevertheless it can be stated that the vast majority of the researchers assume 5 to 25 percent of the population showing sexual behavior related to joyfully experienced pain or dominance and submission. The population with related fantasies is considered even higher.[87]

There are only a few studies researching the psychological aspects of BDSM using modern scientific standards. A pivotal survey on the subject was published by US-American psychotherapist Charles Moser in 1988 in the Journal of Social Work and Human Sexuality.[61] His conclusion was that while there is a general lack of data on the psychological problems of BDSM practitioners, some fundamental results are obvious. He emphasizes that there is no evidence for the theory that BDSM has common symptoms or any common psychopathology; Clinical literature, though does not give a consistent picture of BDSM practitioners. Moser emphasizes that there is no evidence at all supporting the theory of BDSM practitioners having any special psychiatric problems or even problems based solely on their preferences.

Moser's results were supported by data presented to the 2007 World Congress of Sexology by Juliet Richters, Richard De Visser, Andrew Grulich, and Christopher Rissel. The researchers found that BDSM practitioners were no more likely to have experienced sexual assault than the control group, and were not more likely to feel unhappy or anxious. The BDSM males reported higher levels of psychological well-being than the controls. It was concluded that "BDSM is simply a sexual interest attractive to a minority, not a pathological symptom of past abuse or difficulty with normal sex."[88]

Problems do sometimes occur in the area of self classification by the person concerned. During the phase of the "coming-out", self questioning related to one's own "normality" is quite common. According to Moser, the discovery of BDSM preferences can result in fear of the current non-BDSM relationship's destruction. This, combined with the fear of discrimination in everyday life, leads in some cases to a double life which can be highly burdensome. At the same time, the denial of BDSM preferences can induce stress and dissatisfaction with one's own "vanilla"-lifestyle, feeding the apprehension of finding no partner. Moser states that BDSM practitioners having problems finding BDSM partners would probably have problems in finding a non-BDSM partner as well. The wish to remove BDSM preferences is another possible reason for psychological problems since it is not possible in most cases. Finally, the scientist states that BDSM practitioners seldom commit violent crimes. From his point of view, crimes of BDSM practitioners usually have no connection with the BDSM components existing in their life. Moser's study comes to the conclusion that there is no scientific evidence, which could give reason to refuse members of this group work- or safety certificates, adoption possibilities, custody or other social rights or privileges. The Swiss psychoanalyst Fritz Morgenthaler shares a similar perspective in his book, Homosexuality, Heterosexuality, Perversion (1988). He states that possible problems result not necessarily from the non-normative behavior, but in most cases primarily from the real or feared reactions of the social environment towards the own preferences.[89] In 1940 psychoanalyst Theodor Reik reached implicitly the same conclusion in his standard work Aus Leiden Freuden. Masochismus und Gesellschaft.[90]


For many people, BDSM practices can lead to profound transcendental experiences, reminiscent of shamanic ordeals. Additionally, many have turned to various spiritual traditions to guide them ethically. BDSM spirituality groups have formed within local groups and on the Internet; there have also been BDSM support groups for members of particular religions, such as Defenders (a subgroup of the Roman Catholic DignityUSA), People of Leather Among You (connected with the Metropolitan Community Church), Black Leather Wings (for Neopagans) and Leather & Grace (for Unitarian Universalists).



Tomba della Fustigazione (Tomb of Flogging), latter sixth century b.c..
Copper engraving, about 1780.
Flagellation scene, illustration to Fanny Hill by Édouard-Henri Avril.

The historical origins of BDSM are obscure. During the ninth century BC, ritual flagellations were performed in Artemis Orthia, one of the most important religious areas of ancient Sparta, where the Cult of Orthia, a preolympic religion, was practiced. Here ritual flagellation called diamastigosis took place on a regular basis. One of the oldest graphical proofs of sadomasochistic activities is found in an Etruscan burial site in Tarquinia. Inside the Tomba della Fustigazione (Tomb of Flogging), in the latter sixth century B.C., two men are portrayed flagellating a woman with a cane and a hand during an erotic situation.[91] Another reference related to flagellation is to be found in the sixth book of the Satires of the ancient Roman Poet Juvenal (1st–2nd century A.D.),[92] further reference can be found in Petronius's Satyricon where a delinquent is whipped for sexual arousal.[93] Anecdotal narratives related to humans who have had themselves voluntary bound, flagellated or whipped as a substitute for sex or as part of foreplay reach back to the third and fourth century.

The Kama Sutra describes four different kinds of hitting during lovemaking, the allowed regions of the human body to target and different kinds of joyful "cries of pain" practiced by bottoms. The collection of historic texts related to sensuous experiences explicitly emphasizes that impact play, biting and pinching during sexual activities should only be performed consensually since only some women consider such behavior to be joyful. From this perspective the Kama Sutra can be considered as one of the first written resources dealing with sadomasochistic activities and safety rules. Further texts with sadomasochistic connotation appear worldwide during the following centuries on a regular basis.[94]

There are anecdotal reports of people willingly being bound or whipped, as a prelude to or substitute for sex, during the 14th century. The medieval phenomenon of courtly love in all of its slavish devotion and ambivalence has been suggested by some writers to be a precursor of BDSM.[95][96] Some sources claim that BDSM as a distinct form of sexual behavior originated at the beginning of the 18th century when Western civilization began medically and legally categorizing sexual behavior (see Etymology). There are reports of brothels specializing in flagellation as early as 1769, and John Cleland's novel Fanny Hill, published in 1749, mentions a flagellation scene.[97] Other sources give a broader definition, citing BDSM-like behavior in earlier times and other cultures, such as the medieval flagellates and the physical ordeal rituals of some Native American societies.[98]

Although the names of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch are attached to the terms sadism and masochism respectively, the scenes described in Sade's works do not meet modern BDSM standards of informed consent.[99] BDSM is solely based on consensual activities, and based on its system and laws, the concepts presented by Marquis de Sade are not agreed upon the BDSM culture, even though they are sadistic in nature.[19] BDSM ideas and imagery have existed on the fringes of Western culture throughout the twentieth century. Robert Bienvenu attributes the origins of modern BDSM to three sources, which he names as "European Fetish" (from 1928), "American Fetish" (from 1934), and "Gay Leather" (from 1950).[100] Another source are the sexual games played in brothels, which go back into the 19th century if not earlier. Irving Klaw, during the 1950s and 1960s, produced some of the first commercial film and photography with a BDSM theme (most notably with Bettie Page) and published comics by the now-iconic bondage artists John Willie and Eric Stanton.

Stanton's model Bettie Page became at the same time one of the first successful models in the area of fetish photography and one of the most famous pin-up girls of American mainstream culture. Italian author and designer Guido Crepax was deeply influenced by him, coining the style and development of European adult comics in the second half of the twentieth century. The artists Helmut Newton and Robert Mapplethorpe are the most prominent examples of the increasing use of BDSM-related motives in modern photography and the public discussions still resulting from this.[101]

Leather movement

Start of the Leather contingent at the 2004 San Francisco gay pride parade.

Much of the BDSM ethos can be traced back to the gay male leather culture, which formalized itself out of the group of men who were soldiers returning home after World War II (1939–1945).[102] This subculture is epitomized by the Leatherman's Handbook by Larry Townsend, published in 1972, which describes in detail the practices and culture of gay male sadomasochists in the late 1960s and early 1970s.[103][104] In 1981, however, the publication of Coming to Power by lesbian-feminist group Samois led to a greater knowledge and acceptance of BDSM in the lesbian community.[105] They got into conflict with fundamentalist part of the feminist movement which considered BDSM to be the base of misogyny and violent porn.

Today the Leather Movement is generally seen as a part of the BDSM-culture instead as a development deriving from gay subculture, even if a huge part of the BDSM-subculture was gay in the past. In the 1990s the so called New Guard leather subculture evolved. This new orientation started to integrate psychological aspects into their play.


In the late-eighties, the Internet provided a way of finding people with specialized interests around the world as well as on a local level, and communicating with them anonymously.[8][106] This brought about an explosion of interest and knowledge of BDSM, particularly on the usenet group When that group became too cluttered with spam, the focus moved to soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm.

In addition to traditional sex shops, which sell sex paraphernalia, there has also been an explosive growth of online adult toy companies that specialize in leather/latex gear and BDSM toys. Once a very niche market, there are now very few sex toy companies that do not offer some sort of BDSM or fetish gear in their catalog. Kinky elements seem to have worked their way into "vanilla" markets. The former niche expanded to an important pillar of the business with adult accessories.[107] Today practically all suppliers of sex toys do offer items which originally found usage in the BDSM subculture. Padded handcuffs, latex and leather garments, as well as more exotic items like soft whips for fondling and TENS for erotic electro stimulation can be found in catalog aiming on classical vanilla target groups, indicating that former boundaries increasingly seem to shift.

During the last years the Internet also provides a central platform for networking among individuals who are interested in the subject. Besides countless private and commercial choices there is an increasing number of local networks and support groups emerging. These groups often offer comprehensive background and health related information for people who have been unwillingly outed as well as contact lists with information on psychologists, physicians and lawyers who are familiar with BDSM related topics.[108]


Portrait of Marquis de Sade by Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo (1761)

The terms "Sadism" and "Masochism" are derived from the names of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, based on the content of the authors' works. In 1843 the Hungarian physician Heinrich Kaan published Psychopathia sexualis ("Psychopathy of Sex"), a writing in which he converts the sin conceptions of Christianity into medical diagnoses. With his work the originally theological terms "perversion", "aberration" and "deviation" became part of the scientific terminology for the first time.[dubious ] The German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft Ebing introduced the terms "Sadism" and "Masochism" to the medical community in his work Neue Forschungen auf dem Gebiet der Psychopathia sexualis ("New research in the area of Psychopathy of Sex") in 1890.[109]

In 1905 Sigmund Freud described "Sadism" and "Masochism" in his Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie ("Three papers on Sexual theory") as diseases developing from an incorrect development of the child psyche and laid the groundwork for the scientific perspective on the subject in the following decades. This led to the first time use of the compound term Sado-Masochism (German "Sado-Masochismus")) by the Viennese Psychoanalytic Isidor Isaak Sadger in its work Über den sado-masochistischen Komplex ("Regarding the sadomasochistic complex") in 1913.[110]

In the past BDSM activists turned repeatedly against these conceptual models, originally deriving from singular historical figures and implying a clear pathological connotation. They argued that there is no common sense in attributing a phenomenon as complex as BDSM to two individual humans, as well one might speak of "Leonardism" instead of Homosexuality. The BDSM scene tried to distinguish themselves with the expression "B&D" for bondage and discipline from the sometimes pejorative connotations of the term "S&M". The abbreviation BDSM itself was probably coined in the early 1990s in the subculture connected with the Usenet newsgroup The earliest posting with the term which is now preserved in Google Groups dates from June 1991. Later the dominance and submission dimension was integrated into the connotation of BDSM, creating the compound acronym common today.

Legal status

A bit gag used in BDSM made of leather, steel and wood

It is entirely dependent on the legal situation in individual countries whether the practice of BDSM has any criminal relevance or legal consequences. Criminalization of consensually implemented BDSM practices is usually not with explicit reference to BDSM, but results from the fact that such behavior as spanking or cuffing someone could be considered a breach of personal rights, which in principle constitutes a criminal offense.

In Germany, Netherlands, Japan and Scandinavia such behavior is legal in principle. In Austria the legal status is unclear, while in Switzerland certain BDSM practices can be considered criminal. Spectacular incidents like the US-American scandal of People v. Jovanovic and the British Operation Spanner demonstrate the degree to which difficult grey areas can pose a problem for the individuals and authorities involved. For these reasons it is important for practitioners of BDSM to learn the legal status concerning BDSM activities in the country they reside in.


The practice of BDSM is not generally penalized in Germany if it is conducted with the mutual consent of the partners involved. To fulfill the charge of coercion the use of violence, or the threat of a "severe mistreatment" must involve an endangerment to life and limb. In cases where the continued application of the treatment could be ended through the use of a safeword, neither coercion nor sexual coercion may be charged. Similar principles apply for charges of sexual abuse of people incapable of resistance. In such cases taking advantage of a person's inability to resist in order to perform sexual acts on that person would be clearly punishable. The potential use of the safeword is considered to be sufficient possibility for resistance since this would lead to the cessation of the act, so a true inability to resist is not considered to be in effect.

According to §194 the charge of insult (slander) can only be prosecuted if the defamed person chooses to press charges. False imprisonment can be charged if the victim—when applying an objective view—can be considered to be impaired in his or her rights of free movement. According to §228 of the German criminal code a person inflicting a bodily injury on another person with that person's permission violates the law only in cases where the act can be considered to have violated good morals in spite of permission having been given. On 26 May 2004 the Criminal Panel #2 of the Bundesgerichtshof (German Federal Court) ruled that sado-masochistically motivated physical injuries are not per se indecent and thus subject to §228.[111]

Still, this ruling makes the question of indecency dependent on the degree to which the bodily injury might be likely to impair the health of the receiving party. According to the BGH, the line of indecency is definitively crossed when "under an objectively prescient consideration of all relevant circumstances the party granting consent could be brought into concrete danger of death by the act of bodily injury." In its ruling the court overturned a verdict by the Provincial Court of Kassel, according to which a man who had accidentally strangled his partner to death had been sentenced to probation for negligent manslaughter. The court had rejected a conviction on charges of bodily injury leading to death on the grounds that the victim had, in its opinion, consented to the act.

Following cases in which sado-masochistic practices had been repeatedly used as pressure tactics against former partners in custody cases, the Appeals Court of Hamm ruled in February 2006 that sexual inclinations toward sado-masochism are no indication of a lack of capabilities for successful child-raising.[112]

United Kingdom

British law does not recognize the possibility of consenting to bodily injury. Such acts are illegal, even between consenting adults, and these laws are enforced (R v Brown being the leading case).[113] Accordingly consensual activities in the UK may not constitute "assault occasioning actual or grievous bodily harm" in law. The Spanner Trust states that this is defined as activities which have caused injury "of a lasting nature" but that only a slight duration or injury might be considered "lasting" in law.[114] The decision contrasts with the later case of R v Wilson in which conviction for non-sexual consensual branding within a marriage was overturned, the appeal court ruling that R v Brown was not an authority in all cases of consensual injury and criticizing the decision to prosecute.[115]

Following Operation Spanner the European Court of Human Rights ruled in January 1999 in Laskey, Jaggard and Brown v. United Kingdom that no violation of Article 8 occurred because the amount of physical or psychological harm that the law allows between any two people, even consenting adults, is to be determined by the jurisdiction the individuals live in, as it is the State's responsibility to balance the concerns of public health and well-being with the amount of control a State should be allowed to exercise over its citizens. In the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill 2007, the British Government cited the Spanner case as justification for criminalizing images of consensual acts, as part of its proposed criminalization of possession of "extreme pornography".[116]


In Italian law BDSM is right on the border between crime and legality, and everything lies in the interpretation of the legal code by the judge. This concept is that anyone willingly causing "injury" to another person is to be punished. In this context though "injury" is legally defined as "anything causing a condition of illness", and "illness" is ill-defined itself in two different legal ways. The first is "any anatomical or functional alteration of the organism" (thus technically including little scratches and bruises too); The second is "a significant worsening of a previous condition relevant to organic and relational processes, requiring any kind of therapy". This could make it somewhat risky to play with someone as later the "victim" may call foul play citing even an insignificant mark as evidence against the partner. Also any injury requiring over 20 days of medical care must be denounced by the professional medic who discovers it, leading to automatic indictment of the person who caused it.[117]


§90 of the criminal code declares bodily injury (§§ 83, 84) or the endangerment of physical security (§89) to not be subject to penalty in cases in which the "victim" has consented and the injury or endangerment does not offend moral sensibilities. Case law from the Austrian Supreme Court has consistently shown that bodily injury is only offensive to moral sensibilities, thus it is only punishable when a "serious injury" (a damage to health or an employment disability lasting more than 24 days) or the death of the "victim" results. A light injury is generally considered permissible when the "victim" has consented to it. In cases of threats to bodily well-being the standard depends on the probability that an injury will actually occur. If serious injury or even death would be a likely result of a threat being carried out, then even the threat itself is considered punishable.[citation needed]


The age of consent in Switzerland is 16 years which also applies for BDSM play. Minors (i.e. those under 16) are not subject to punishment for BDSM play as long as the age difference between them is less than three years. Certain practices however require granting consent for light injuries with only those over 18 permitted to give consent. On 1 April 2002 Articles 135 and 197 of the Swiss Criminal Code were tightened to make ownership of "objects or demonstrations [...] which depict sexual acts with violent content" a punishable offense. This law amounts to a general criminalization of sado-masochism since nearly every sado-masochist will have some kind of media which fulfills this criterion. Critics also object to the wording of the law which puts sado-masochists in the same category as pedophiles and pederasts.[118][119]

Nordic countries

In September 2010 a Swedish court acquitted a 32 year old man of assault for engaging in consensual BDSM play with a 16 year old woman (the age of consent in Sweden is 15).[120] Norway's legal system has likewise taken a similar position,[121] that safe and consensual BDSM play should not be subject to criminal prosecution. This parallels the stance of the mental health professions in the Nordic countries which have removed sadomasochism from their respective lists of psychiatric illnesses.

BDSM and culture


Although it would be possible to establish certain elements related to BDSM in classical theater, not until the emergence of contemporary theatre could you see such topics as the main theme in the performing arts. Exemplifying this are two works: one Austrian, one German, in which BDSM is not only incorporated, but integral to the storyline of the play.

Worauf sich Körper kaprizieren, Austria. Peter Kern directs and writes the script for this comedy which is a present day adaption of Jean Genet's 1950 film, A chant d'amour. A marriage in which the wife (film veteran Miriam Goldschmidt) submits her husband (Heinrich Herkie) and the butler (Günter Bubbnik) to her sadistic treatment, until two new characters take their places.[122]

Ach, Hilde (Oh, Hilda), Germany. A play by Anna Schwemmer that premiered in Berlin. A young Hilde becomes pregnant, and after being abandoned by her boyfriend she decides to become a professional dominatrix to earn money. The play carefully crafts a playful and frivolous picture of the field of professional dominatrices.[123]


With film, the human being reaches the fullness of their status as voyeur. The film almost needs not mention it, an indivisible part of the human condition since the beginning of the century and millennium.[124]

Apart from films that are part of the commercial pornography circuit, cinema has been treated since its inception with in depth BDSM relationships, from 1909 to the present decade. The current decade in particular has an abundance of examples: Sade, Quills, The Piano Teacher, Beyond Vanilla, Secretary, Wir leben, among others.

Naturally, there are thousands of movies that touch on or contain accents of BDSM or generic sadomasocism, or contain scenes of BDSM scenarios: Last Tango in Paris, Emmanuelle, Personal Services, Basic Instinct, Eyes Wide Shut, not to mention many others, but these are not seen as part of the filmography of BDSM.


Although examples of literature catering to BDSM and fetishistic taste was created in earlier periods, BDSM literature as it exists today cannot be found much earlier than World War II.

A central work in BDSM literature is undoubtedly the Story of O(1954) by Anne Desclos (under the pseudonym Pauline Réage) in addition to: 9 ½ weeks(1978) by Elizabeth McNeill, Dezemberkind(2003, 2004) by Leander Sukov, works by Mitchell Joyce, The Third Secret of Fatima (2010), A Breed Apart (2010), and the Master Slave Encyclopaedia (2011), some works of the writer Anne Rice (Exit to Eden, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty (1983), Beauty's Punishment (1984) and Beauty's Release (1985)), Jeanne de Berg (L'Image(1956) dedicated to Pauline Réage), and the novel Topping from Below(1999) by Laura Reese. More recently, the novels of Marthe Blau: Submission and Between Your Hands(2005). Works from the GOR series by John Norman, and naturally all the works of Patrick Califia, Gloria Brame, the group Samois and many of the writer Georges Bataille (Histoire de l'oeil-Story of the Eye, "Madame Edwarda, 1937), as well as Bob Flanagan: Slave Sonnets (1986), Fuck Journal (1987), A Taste of Honey (1990). A common part of many of the poems of Pablo Neruda is a reflection on feelings and sensations arising from the relations of EPE or erotic exchange of power.

A new subgenre: BDSM romance

The exponential increase in the BDSM community in the last 10 years has led to the emergence of a literary subgenre that previously did not exist: BDSM romance. There have always been stories of bondage, sadomasochism, and so on.., observable since at least the 14th century, and earlier in mediums that poorly explored the area in this regard (see the Cantar de Mio Cid), but this as a genre emerged in the twenty-first century.

In 2005 there were many authors dedicated to write prolifically, at least half a dozen novels per year, and in some cases based on own experience as practitioners of BDSM, or in other cases entering from an outside genre, and established BDSM writers becoming more frequent in authoring works.[125]


As in the case of literature a list of BDSM art should not include works of the early history depicting sadomasochism, flogging, fetishism, and so on., but should start when the integrative aspects of BDSM become visible. In this sense figures such as those from Venus de Kostienki, Russia (3000 BC) or engraved on the tomb and the sarcophagus of the Egyptian aristocrat Bastret (1376 BC) are not considered BDSM art(as depicting BDSM was not their primary purpose). For art which is undeniably BDSM art, it follows that the artist has spent most or part of their work dealing with BDSM, so an image of flogging by an artist who does many BDSM works is probably depicting BDSM, while the same image done by a historic maritime artist depicting life aboard a British vessel would probably not be considered BDSM art(although context, and the work itself would usually ultimately determine what the subject matter is discussing). Examples include:

  • In Photography: Eric Kroll and Irving Klaw (with Bettie Page, the first bondage model), and Japanese photographer Araki Nobuyoshi, whose works are exhibited in several major art museums, galleries and private collections, such as the Baroness Marion Lambert, the world's largest holder of contemporary photographic art. Also Robert Mapplethorpe who has dealt with BDSM themes in many of his works.
  • Comic book drawings: Guido Crepax with Histoire d'O (1975), Justine (1979) and Venere in Pelliccia (1984); inspired by the work of Pauline Réage, Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. John Willie and the Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline(1984) which was the basis for the film Gwendolyn.
  • In graphic design: Eric Stanton and his work on dominance and female bondage, as well as Hajime Sorayama, Robert Bishop and Dolcetto.
  • Manga : a series called Nana to Kaoru, with artwork by Ryuta Amazume who specialises in romantic stories based on sexual fetishes

See also

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  1. ^ a b Grau, Johnson (1995,`1997). "What do B&D, S&M, D&S, "top", "bottom" mean". Leather Roses. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  2. ^ Phillip Miller, Molly Devon, William A. Granzig : Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism., page 55, Mystic Rose Books 1995, ISBN 978-0-9645960-0-9
  3. ^ Bill Henkin, Sybil Holiday: Consensual Sadomasochism : How to Talk About It and How to Do It Safely, Page 64, Publisher: Daedalus Publishing Company 2006, ISBN 978-1-881943-12-9
  4. ^ "VICSS / Difference between Abuse and Power Exchange by the NLA, Dutch SM Media Information Center and Powerrotics". Retrieved 2007-12-10. 
  5. ^ "Rack vs. SSC". Within Reality. 2003. Retrieved 2006-11-13. 
  6. ^ Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy: The New Topping Book, Greenery Press (CA) 2002, ISBN 978-1-890159-36-8
  7. ^ Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy: The New Topping Book. Page 72, Greenery Press (CA) 2002, ISBN 978-1-890159-36-8
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Wiseman, Jay (1998). SM 101: A Realistic Introduction. California: Greenery Press. ISBN 978-0-9639763-8-3 
  9. ^ Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy: The New Topping Book. Page 71, Greenery Press (CA) 2002,
  10. ^ David Stein: S/M's Copernican Revolution:From a Closed World to the Infinite Universe and Safe Sane Consensual: The Evolution of a Shibboleth available at s/m-leather history[dead link]
  11. ^ Bill Henkin, Sybil Holiday: Consensual Sadomasochism : How to Talk About It and How to Do It Safely, pages 80–94, Daedalus Publishing Company 1996, ISBN 978-1-881943-12-9
  12. ^ Deborah Cameron, Don Kulick: Language and Sexuality, Page 24, Cambridge University Press 2003, ISBN 978-0-521-00969-0
  13. ^ Joseph W. Bean: Flogging, Greenery Press (CA), 2000, ISBN 978-1-890159-27-6
  14. ^ Jack Rinella: The Toybag Guide Series, Greenery Press (CA), e.g. The Toybag Guide to Hot Wax and Temperature Play, ISBN 978-1-890159-57-3
  15. ^ Arne Hoffmann, Das Lexikon des Sadomasochismus. Der Inside-Führer zur dunklen Erotik: Praktiken und Instrumente, Personen und Institutionen, Literatur und Film, Politik und Philosophie., Page 42, Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf 2000, ISBN 978-3-89602-290-5 (German)
  16. ^ Phillip Miller, Molly Devon, William A. Granzig : Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism., PP. 95, Mystic Rose Books 1995, ISBN 978-0-9645960-0-9
  17. ^ Barker, Iantaffi & Gupta 2007, pp. 6
  18. ^ Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy: The New Topping Book. Page 111
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h Zakfar, A Professional Dominatrix, 2010,, ISBN 978-0-557-64184-0.
  20. ^ Matthias T. J. Grimme: Das Bondage-Handbuch. Anleitung zum erotischen Fesseln. Charon-Verlag, Hamburg 1999, ISBN 978-3-931406-16-5. (German)
  21. ^ Lee "Bridgett"Harrington: Shibari You Can Use: Japanese Rope Bondage and Erotic Macramé, Mystic Productions 2007, ISBN 978-0-615-14490-0.
  22. ^ Wiseman, Jay (2000). Jay Wiseman's Erotic Bondage Handbook. CA: Greenery Press. ISBN 978-1-890159-13-9 
  23. ^ Bill Henkin, Sybil Holiday: Consensual Sadomasochism: How to Talk About It and How to Do It Safely, Page 71. Daedalus Publishing Company, 1996, ISBN 978-1-881943-12-9.
  24. ^ "Face to face: Dominatrix and submissive". BBC News. 22 September 2005. 
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  26. ^ a b c d Barker, Iantaffi & Gupta 2007, pp. 13
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  29. ^ Burke, Edmund (1909). On Taste: On the Sublime and Beautiful; Reflections on the French Revolution; A Letter to a Noble Lord; with Introduction, Notes and Illustrations. P. F. Collier & son 
  30. ^ William Brame, Gloria Brame: Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission (Paperback), Villard, 1996, ISBN 978-0-679-76956-9
  31. ^ Claudia Varrin: The Art Of Sensual Female Dominance: A Guide for Women, Citadel, 2000, ISBN 978-0-8065-2089-6
  32. ^ John Warren, Ph. D: The Loving Dominant, Greenery Press (CA), 2nd Rev Ed, ISBN 978-1-890159-20-7
  33. ^ Bill Henkin, Sybil Holiday: Consensual Sadomasochism : How to Talk About It and How to Do It Safely, Daedalus Publishing Company 1996, ISBN 978-1-881943-12-9
  34. ^ 5 Ways to Recognize Topping from the Bottom
  35. ^ Cutler 2003, pp. 99
  36. ^ a b Cutler 2003, pp. 102
  37. ^ Cutler 2003, pp. 103
  38. ^ a b Cutler 2003, pp. 104
  39. ^ a b c Cutler 2003, pp. 107
  40. ^ Cutler 2003, pp. 108
  41. ^ a b Cutler 2003, pp. 109
  42. ^ Cutler 2003, pp. 110
  43. ^ Cutler 2003, pp. 111
  44. ^ Cutler 2003, pp. 112
  45. ^ Directory of Professional Submssives
  46. ^ "Worldwide Club and Munch Directory". Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  47. ^ "Folsom Street Fair". Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  48. ^ Fuentes Rodríguez, César: Mundo Gótico. (Quarentena Ediciones, 2007, ISBN 978-84-933891-6-1)
  49. ^ "". 
  50. ^ "BCCLA Position Paper Sexuality and Civil Rights" (PDF). Cases involving prejudices against BDSM practitioners. Retrieved 2007-12-10. 
  51. ^ Janus, Samuel S. / Janus, Cynthia L., 1994 The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior, Wiley, New York, ISBN 978-0-471-01614-4
  52. ^ a b c Elliott, Leland / Brantley, Cynthia, Sex on Campus, 1997, Random House, New York
  53. ^ Alice Schwarzer: "Weiblicher Masochismus ist Kollaboration!" from EMMA Heft 2, 1991
  54. ^ Alice Schwarzer, Emma Heft 2, 1991
  55. ^ BDSM and Feminism: An Insider's View by Tammy Jo Eckhart[dead link]
  56. ^ Gayle Rubin: Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. In Carole S. Vance (Ed.), Pleasure and Danger: exploring female sexuality, pp. 267–319. Routledge & Kegan Paul, Boston 1984. ISBN 978-0-04-440867-3
  57. ^ Wendy McElroy: A Woman's Right to Pornography. Saint Martin's Press 1997, ISBN 978-0-312-15245-1
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  60. ^ "Pleasure, Pain, and Saddam Hussein". 3 December 2002. Retrieved 2008-11-09 
  61. ^ a b Charles Moser, in Journal of Social Work and Human Sexuality 1988, (7;1, S.43–56)
  62. ^ Spengler, Andreas: Sadomasochisten und ihre Subkulturen, Campus Verlag, 1979, Frankfurt am Main / New York (German)
  63. ^ Datenschlag survey (German)
  64. ^ Eva Daschek und Axel Konrad: Empirische Untersuchung über den Zusammenhang zwischen ausgewählten Faktoren und inklinierendem sexuellem Sadomasochismus, online sm-study (German)
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  67. ^ Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy: The New Topping Book. Page 163
  68. ^ Breslow et al. On the Prevalence and Roles of Females in the Sadomasochistic Subculture: Report of an Empirical Study. Archives of Sexual Behavior 14/1985, P. 303–17. In Thomas S. Weinberg: S&M: Studies in Dominance and Submission, (Ed.), Prometheus Books, New York, 1995 ISBN 978-0-87975-978-0
  69. ^ Gloria G. Brame, BDSM/Fetish Sex: Overview and Study. Retrieved on 2008-11-09.
  70. ^ Wikinews:BDSM as business: Interviews with Dominatrixes - full transcript.
  71. ^ Brokmann, Angela: Macht und Erotik, 1996, Sexologisches Institut e. V. Hamburg, Hamburg (German)
  72. ^ Person, Ethel S. / Terestman, Nettie / Myers, Wayne A. / Goldberg, Eugene L. / Salvadori, Carol: Gender differences in sexual behaviors and fantasies in a college population, 1989, in: Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, Bd. 15, No. 3, 1989, P. 187–198
  73. ^ Breslow, Norman: SM Research Report, v1.1, 1999
  74. ^ Arne Hoffmann, Lexikon der Tabubrüche, Schwarzkopf&Schwarzkopf, 2003, ISBN 978-3-89602-517-3 (German)
  75. ^ "What's Really Happening on Campus", Playboy October 1976, S. 128–131, 160–164, 169. (see Charles Moser / Eugene E. Levitt: An Exploratory-Descriptive Study of a Sadomasochistically Oriented Sample, in Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 23, 1987, P. 322-337.)
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  77. ^ Walter Lowe: The Playboy Readers' Sex Survey. 1983.
  78. ^ Based on the 1983 "Playboy Readers Sex Survey" by Walter Lowe.
  79. ^ a b Durex Global Sex Survey 2005, P.15 Online Durex Global Sex Survey 2005[dead link]
  80. ^ ICD-10 2007
  81. ^ Kleinplatz, Peggy, and Charles Moser. "Toward Clinical Guidelines for Working with BDSM Clients." Contemporary Sexuality 38.6 (2004): 1-4. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 2 Jan. 2011.
  82. ^ Letter to the Editor of The American Journal of Psychiatry: Change in Criterion for Paraphilias in DSM-IV-TR. Russell B. Hilliard, Robert L. Spitzer. 2002. Retrieved: 23 November 2007.
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  84. ^ "Fetish and SM diagnoses deleted in Sweden". ReviseF65. 17 November 2008. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  85. ^ "SM and fetish off the Norwegian sick list". ReviseF65. 6 February 2010. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  86. ^ "Finland joins Nordic sexual reform". ReviseF65. 13 May 2011. Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
  87. ^ a b "Nackte Fakten – Statistik für Zahlenfetischisten" (in German). Retrieved 2008-11-09 
  88. ^ Richters, Juliet; Visser, Richard De; Grulich, Andrew; and Rissel, Chris (2008). "Selected Abstracts of Presentations During the World Congress of Sexology, 2007: Demographic and Psychosocial Features of Participants in BDSM Sex: Data From a National Survey", Journal of Sex Research, 45(2), pp. 90–117.
  89. ^ Fritz Morgenthaler: Homosexuality, Heterosexuality, Perversion, Analytic, April 1988, ISBN 978-0-88163-060-2
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  91. ^ Mario Moretti/Leonard von Matt: Etruskische Malerei in Tarquinia. Cologne 1974, Page 90, figs. 762-63, ISBN 978-3-7701-0541-0
  92. ^ Juvenal: Satires 6, Lines 474–511
  93. ^ Petronius: Satyricon (lat.)
  94. ^ Kamasutra by Mallanaga Vatsyayana, translated by Wendy Doniger, Oxford University Press 2003, ISBN 978-0-19-283982-4 Book II: Chapters 4,5,7,8, Pages 45–64.
  95. ^ Denis de Rougemont (1956), Love in the Western World: Describing the ideal of chast love influenced by the Cathar doctrines
  96. ^ Arne Hoffmann: In Leder gebunden. Der Sadomasochismus in der Weltliteratur, Page 11, Ubooks 2007, ISBN 978-3-86608-078-2 (German)
  97. ^ John Cleland: Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, Penguin Classics, (January 7, 1986), ISBN 978-0-14-043249-7 Page 180 ff
  98. ^ European medieval ordeals
  99. ^ cp: Marquis de Sade: The 120 Days of Sodom, Pbl. ReadHowYouWant, (December 1, 2006), ISBN 978-1-4250-3448-1, pages 407–409 "'You'll have no further use for these,' he muttered, casting each article into a large grate. 'No further need for this mantelet, this dress, these stockings, this bodice, no,' said he when all had been consumed, 'all you'll need now is a coffin.'"
  100. ^ Robert Bienvenu: Doctoral Dissertation – The Development of Sadomasochism as a Cultural Style in the Twentieth-Century United States[dead link]
  101. ^ University of Central England in Birmingham: Attempted Confiscation of Mapplethorn book by Officials in 1997 for being obscene.
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  103. ^ Townsend, Larry The Leatherman's Handbook 1972 Olympia Press, seventh edition 2004 available from L.T. Publications P.O. Box 302, Beverly Hills, California 90213-0302
  104. ^ compare Patrick Califia (Edit.), Robin Sweeney (Edit.): The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader. Alyson Pubns, 1996, ISBN 978-1-55583-281-0
  105. ^ Gayle Rubin: Samois, Leather Times, 21:3–7., 2004, available from:
  106. ^ Roy D'Silva, Published 17 September 2007: Alternate Lifestyles: What they had to do with MSN-chat
  107. ^ Birch, Dr Robert W.. "Adult Sex Toys". Leather Roses. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  108. ^ "Implements/Toys". Leather Roses. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  109. ^ Details describing the development of the theoretical construct "Perversion" by Krafft-Ebing and his relation to this terms, see Andrea Beckmann, Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 8(2) (2001) 66–95 online at Deconstructing Myths
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  111. ^ Decision of the Bundesgerichtshof, 26 May 2004, 2 StR 505/03, which may be found at: BGHSt 49, 166 (
  112. ^ Appeals Court of Hamm in its judgement of 1 February 2006, case number 10 UF 147/04, available online at the Portal of the North Rhine-Westfalian Ministry of Justice (German)
  113. ^ "Spanner Trust submission to the Home Office Review Board on Sexual Offences". The Spanner Trust. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  114. ^ "The History of the Spanner Case". Spanner Trust. Retrieved 2011-02-08. 
  115. ^ R v Wilson (1996). Text of ruling online at: "R v Wilson (1996) 2 Cr App Rep 241". Retrieved 2011-02-08. 
  116. ^ House of Commons: Criminal Justice And Immigration Bill
  117. ^ Ayzad, BDSM – Guida per esploratori dell'erotismo estremo, Castelvecchi, 2004 ISBN 978-88-7615-025-8
  118. ^ 2001) (German)[dead link]
  119. ^ Interessengemeinschaft BDSM Schweiz (German)
  120. ^ Man freed in landmark S&M case
  121. ^ SM og loven (Norwegian)
  122. ^ Der Standard, edición del 03.09.2006
  123. ^ BILD-Zeitung, Berlín, 15 de marzo de 1998
  124. ^ Revista Cinefagia, noviembre 2003
  125. ^ BISAM, 2005

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