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Now, don’t fret. I’m not going to start nanny-blogging about safety and consent issues, nor am I about to launch into a jealousy-riddled tirade against 50 Shades of Gray’s success, which is usually what you get when someone combines “BDSM” and “problem” in the same sentence.

Instead, I’m going to nit-pick about words, which readers of my various blogs know is much more in my normal line.

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Let’s start with a basic observation: “BDSM” is generally treated as a single category, both in the cataloging of erotica/porn and in personal ads. There are exceptions, but most people will simply use the four letters in one lump, or sometimes with a single slash to make it BD/SM.

I have some problems with this.

Anyone reading this blog probably already knows that the acronym stands for Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism. The list is rendered in various ways, such as “Bondage & Discipline, Sadism & Masochism” or “Bondage/Discipline and Sadism/Masochism,” which should already give you a hint at the problem: people divide those four separate interests up in different ways.

That’s because they’re not as inherently related as the acronym implies. Even if you accept the sometimes-but-not-always division between “BD” and “SM,” you’re still talking about things that may or may not overlap in any given “scene.”

Someone who likes to be tied up, for example, is pretty clearly into “B,” but not necessarily going to love it if you start issuing commands and spanking him/her for disobeying (which would be “D,” and a smattering of “S” on your part). And if that person also likes being gently bitten or slapped, but not in the context of punishment, that makes them a “B” and “M” sort of person, and not a “D” sort of person (which gives you “BM,” a whole ‘nother fetish entirely that you don’t want to spring on anyone by surprise).

To make matters worse, usages have given some but not all of the letters multiple meanings: “BD” is generally taken to mean “bondage and discipline,” and “SM” is “sadism and masochism,” but some people will also take the two middle letters and come up with “DS”…for “domination and submission,” two brand-new aspects that aren’t quite the same as any of the other four. It’s a muddle!

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To really involve all four unique fetishes in a scene (or all six, if you add the D/S interpretation), you need both a person who wants to be tied up and controlled/disciplined with physical pain, and a person who is enjoying administering that bondage and pain. That’s a pretty small and specific population, even if you assume you’re only considering people with an openness to kink in general.

I’m all too aware of the power of keywords and SEO, so it’s hard to resist the “BDSM” tag. But when speaking about it in anything longer than a keyword listing, I try very hard to use specific words to describe each scene or text (“rope bondage,” “playful spanking,” etc.), rather than simply calling it “a BDSM scene.”

And, obviously, I encourage you to do likewise, if you happen to be in the position of tagging erotic works!