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In BDSM, limits refer to issues that participants in a play scene or dynamic feel strongly about, usually referring to prohibited activities. Participants typically negotiate an outline of what activities will and will not take place. The participants describe what they desire, do not desire, will and will not tolerate, including the determination of limits. For example, it is common to set a safeword and to establish certain types of play as prohibited.
The BDSM usage of the terminology "limits" derives from the concept of "off limits", the idea of limiting a scene to a specific set of activities, and the limitations (in terms of interest, as well as physical and emotional tolerance) of the participants.
Both dominants and submissives can set limits.Limits can be agreed to verbally or they can be incorporated into a formal contract. Sometimes the participants engage in a formal conversation about limits and boundaries; this is referred to as negotiation. Other couples discuss their likes and dislikes in a similar manner to "Vanilla" relationships.
Some partners choose not to set limits. This is commonly seen in total power exchange dynamics, consensual non-consent, and edgeplay. This practice is considered "Risk-aware consensual kink". Those favoring the approach suggest that limits are either wishful thoughts which can never be reliably enforced, or sometimes, just deceptions in order to find acceptance by society.
The terminology varies slightly across different local communities and Internet forums. However, there are general usages recognized across most BDSM populations.
A hard limit is something that must not be done. Violating a hard limit is often considered a just cause for ending a scene or even a relationship. Examples include “scat is a hard limit for me” or “I have a back injury, so striking on the back is a hard limit”.
A soft limit is something that a person hesitates about or places strict conditions on, but for which they may still give informed consent. An action could be prohibited except under specific circumstances or an area of discomfort that someone wishes to avoid. Soft limits can also include actions that require a cautious approach or — while somewhat appealing — still generate an uncomfortable amount of apprehension in one or more partners.
A requirement limit, or must-limit, is something without which one or more partners will not participate in the scene. Examples include “lots of hair pulling is a must-limit for me” or “if you’re going to flog me, I’ll need lots of aftercare.”
A time limit is a set time period for which an activity or temporary relationship takes place. This is most common for scenes and casual play.
Some couples practice time limitations for relationships. They can be used to set time limits on phases of relationships, such as training or consideration.
BDSM is a variety of often erotic practices or roleplaying involving bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism, and other related interpersonal dynamics. Given the wide range of practices, some of which may be engaged in by people who do not consider themselves to be practising BDSM, inclusion in the BDSM community or subculture often is said to depend on self-identification and shared experience.
Human sexual activity, human sexual practice or human sexual behaviour is the manner in which humans experience and express their sexuality. People engage in a variety of sexual acts, ranging from activities done alone to acts with another person in varying patterns of frequency, for a wide variety of reasons. Sexual activity usually results in sexual arousal and physiological changes in the aroused person, some of which are pronounced while others are more subtle. Sexual activity may also include conduct and activities which are intended to arouse the sexual interest of another or enhance the sex life of another, such as strategies to find or attract partners, or personal interactions between individuals. Sexual activity may follow sexual arousal.
A consensual crime is a public-order crime that involves more than one participant, all of whom give their consent as willing participants in an activity that is unlawful. Legislative bodies and interest groups sometimes rationalize the criminalization of consensual activity because they feel it offends cultural norms, or because one of the parties to the activity is considered a "victim" despite their informed consent.
The fundamental principles for the exercise of BDSM require that it be performed with the informed consent of all parties. Since the 1980s, many practitioners and organizations have adopted the motto safe, sane and consensual, commonly abbreviated SSC, which means that everything is based on safe activities, that all participants are of sufficiently sound mind to consent, and that all participants do consent. It is mutual consent that makes a clear legal and ethical distinction between BDSM and such crimes as sexual assault and domestic violence.
Bondage, in the BDSM subculture, is the practice of consensually tying, binding, or restraining a partner for erotic, aesthetic, or somatosensory stimulation. A partner may be physically restrained in a variety of ways, including the use of rope, cuffs, bondage tape, or self-adhering bandage.
Sexual roleplay is roleplay that has a strong erotic element. It may involve two or more people who act out roles in order to bring to life a sexual fantasy and may be a form of foreplay and be sexually arousing. Many people regard sexual roleplay as a means of overcoming sexual inhibitions. It may take place in the real world, or via an internet forum, chat-room, video-game, or email—allowing for physically or virtually impossible erotic interests to be enacted.
In BDSM, edgeplay is a subjective term for activity that may challenge the conventional S.S.C. scheme; if one is aware of the risks and consequences and is willing to accept them, then the activity is considered RACK.
Sex and the law deals with the regulation by law of human sexual activity. Sex laws vary from one place or jurisdiction to another, and have varied over time, and unlawful sexual acts are also called sex crimes.
Risk-aware consensual kink is an acronym used by some of the BDSM community to describe a philosophical view that is generally permissive of certain risky sexual behaviors, as long as the participants are fully aware of the risks. This is often viewed in contrast to safe, sane, and consensual which generally holds that only activities that are considered safe, sane, and consensual are permitted.
This glossary of BDSM terms defines terms commonly used in the BDSM community.
Dominance and submission is a set of behaviours, customs, and rituals involving the submission of one person to another in an erotic episode or lifestyle. It is a subset of BDSM. This form of sexual contact and pleasure has been shown to please a minority of people.
Erotic humiliation is consensual psychological humiliation performed in order to produce erotic excitement or sexual arousal. This can be for either the person(s) being humiliated and demeaned or the person(s) humiliating, or both. It is sometimes performed before spectators, including pornography and webcam viewers. It may be part of BDSM and other sexual roleplay, or accompanied by the sexual stimulation of the genitals of one or both parties in the activity.
Play, within BDSM circles, is any of the wide variety of "kinky" activities. This includes both physical and mental activities, covering a wide range of intensities and levels of social acceptability. The term originated in the BDSM club and party communities, indicating the activities taking place within a scene. It has since extended to the full range of BDSM activities.
Erotic sensation play is a class of activities meant to impart physical sensations upon a partner, as opposed to mental forms of erotic play such as power exchange or sexual roleplaying.
Consent within BDSM is when a participant gives their permission for certain acts or types of relationships. It bears much in common with the concept of informed consent and is simultaneously a personal, ethical and social issue. It is an issue that attracts much attention within BDSM, resulting in competing models of consent such as Safe, sane and consensual and Risk-aware consensual kink. Observers from outside the BDSM community have also commented on the issue of consent in BDSM, sometimes referring to legal consent which is a separate and largely unrelated matter. However, the presence of explicit consent within BDSM can often have implications for BDSM and the law and, depending on the country the participants are in, may make the differences between being prosecuted or not.
Animal roleplay is a form of roleplay where at least one participant plays the part of a non-human animal. As with most forms of roleplay, its uses include play and psychodrama.
In BDSM, Master/slave, M/s or sexual slavery is a relationship in which one individual serves another in a consensual authority-exchange structured relationship. Unlike Dominant/submissive structures found in BDSM in which love is often the core value, service and obedience are often the core values in Master/slave structures. The participants may be of any gender or sexual orientation. The relationship uses the term "slave" because of the association of the term with ownership rights of a master to their slave's body, as property or chattel. While male "masters" will usually be referred to as "Master", whether or not female Masters are referred to as "Master" or "Mistress" may depend upon whether they identify as following the leather subculture or BDSM path, or simply preference.
Sexual consent is consent to engage in sexual activity. Sexual activity without consent is considered rape or other sexual assault. In the late 1980s, academic Lois Pineau argued that society must move towards a more communicative model of sexuality so that consent becomes more explicit and clear, objective and layered, with a more comprehensive model than "no means no" or "yes means yes". Many universities have instituted campaigns about consent. Creative campaigns with attention-grabbing slogans and images that market consent can be effective tools to raise awareness of campus sexual assault and related issues.
The terms top, bottom, and switch are used to describe roles for the duration of a sometimes-sexual act, or may be used more broadly as a psychological, social, and sexual identity, as well as indicating one's usual preference. The terms top, bottom, and switch are also used in BDSM, with slightly different meanings. In both contexts, the terms top and bottom refer to dominant or submissive, or active and passive roles, not to who is physically on top in a particular sexual act. The older term "versatile" is sometimes used instead of "switch".
The relationship between BDSM and the law changes significantly from nation to nation. 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 not clear, while in Switzerland some BDSM practices can be considered criminal. Spectacular incidents like the US 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. It is very important to learn the legal status of the right of consent in the judicial statue of the country of resident for the practitioners of BDSM.