A N OT E O N T E R M I N O L O G Y
In bdsm, terminology matters. The community recognizes itself—its
practices, its desires—in and through a shared, yet contested, language.
In this note, I do not attempt to pin down this complex and proliferating
terminology with formalized deﬁnitions, but rather to give the reader a
few conceptual signposts—some bearings—within the shifting discur-
sive ﬁeld that constitutes contemporary bdsm.
The terms sm and bdsm are used interchangeably to denote a di-
verse community that includes aﬁcionados of bondage, domination/
submission, pain or sensation play, power exchange, leathersex, role-
playing, and fetishes. The community embraces a wide range of prac-
tices, relationship types, and roles, ranging from the more common (for
instance, rope bondage or flogging) to the less so (playing with incest
themes or playing at being a pony), yet all of these variations ﬁt under
the umbrella term bdsm.
bdsm is of relatively recent (and, many suggest, Internet) coinage. It
is an amalgamation of three acronyms: b&d (bondage and discipline),
D/s (domination/submission), and sm (sadomasochism). The use of sm
(sometimes s/m or s&m) as the inclusive term predates bdsm, but
bdsm is fast becoming the acronym of choice, especially in the pan-
sexual community—the mixed bdsm community, made up of practi-
tioners of various gender and sexual orientations. Leather, on the other