BDSM 101 Exam

Torrance Grey

Image: James Lightbown / Cu;tura / GettyImages

About This Quiz

BDSM: It's a fascinating and complex area of human sexuality. Though people frequently refer to a BDSM "community," it's debatable whether a subset of the population who enjoy the same kind of sex really qualifies as a community. For that matter, calling it "the same kind of sex" is also flawed: There's a broad spectrum of practices that fall under the umbrella of BDSM. Some of them are overtly sexual, while a few have very little to do with sex ... Consider a master-slave agreement that sets out rules for how a slave dresses or acts in public, for example. 

Similarly, is it accurate to call BDSM a "lifestyle?" Granted, some people enjoy BDSM clubs or street fairs (the largest festival is held annually in San Francisco), but for many others, this expression of their sexuality is deeply private and only to be shared with a trusted partner. 

Are you ready to explore this sexual subculture? In this quiz, we'll discuss some basics, like common terminology, but we'll also ask some questions about important figures in its history and how it's been dealt with in literature and film. Please also note that this quiz is NSFW and uses explicit language. If you're okay with that ... right this way!

The "D" in BDSM does not always stand for "discipline." What other word can be used here?

The alternate word here is "domination." A Word to the Wise: "Defenestration" refers to throwing somebody out a window (the root word is the Latin "fenestra," for "window"). This seems harsh and certainly not very erotic.

Likewise, sometimes the "S" in "BDSM" stands for "sadism" and other times for what?

"BDSM" is an unusual initialism, in that its four letters expand into six words: Bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism. The initialism itself isn't thought to be very old, dating back to approximately the early 1990s. The term "S&M" is considerably older.

Which of these is an important, and very common, safeguard in BDSM practices?

The almost-universal safeguard in BDSM is the "safeword," a word chosen in advance to signal that the submissive is in genuine pain or otherwise needs to stop. The word is usually something different than words like "Don't" or "Stop," which might be used as part of the role-play and can be ignored by the dominant.

Many, perhaps most, BDSM practices can be considered a form of what?

In BDSM practices, both parties take on a role that might be quite different from who they are in everyday life. This is highlighted when one invokes the safeword, which brings about a distinct break in the action and a resumption of their normal power relations.

What is the opposite of "dom"?

These terms are short for "dominant" and "submissive." While these two words are usually adjectives, here they're nouns, referring to the partners in a dominant/submissive relationship. If nothing else, the abbreviations probably save money on personal ads!

A dominant and submissive might also be referred to by which "directional" terms?

These terms are commonly used to refer to literal sexual positioning, especially among gay men. But in the realm of BDSM, they are less literal; often they refer to one person being psychologically in charge of the relationship and the other not.

True or false: A dominant/submissive relationship might involve a written and signed contract.

Though unlikely to hold up in court (or even be at the center of legal action), a contract delineating the relationship between a dominant and submissive indicates that neither party is entering into the relationship lightly and that the submissive's boundaries, in particular, will be respected.

What suffix is often applied to different types of BDSM practices?

"Play" can either be a suffix or a separate word in two-word constructions. For example, consider the term "edgeplay," which refers to practices that are high-risk or psychologically intense. (A few people use "edgeplay" to refer to the use of blades in BDSM practice, but this is a less-common definition).

What must a "session" or "scene" include to properly be considered BDSM?

A wide array of practices falls under this umbrella, and there's no real yardstick for what qualifies a practice as BDSM; many people simply self-identify. Some sessions might not involve any expressly sexual contact at all, e.g., penetration, touching of genitals, etc.

According to many practitioners, the central element of a BDSM relationship is _____.

We know, it's always tempting to choose "love" as the right answer ... But time and again, people who practice BDSM identify trust as the number-one thing that makes the relationship work. They may love each other or they might not. Hey, it's the 21st century ... No need to be puritanical about that.

If the term "dom" is spelled "domme," what does this imply?

Actually, "French" isn't a bad guess, as that's where the spelling derives from (think of "femme," the French word for woman). The term "dominatrix," which is also French-derived, has fallen out of favor among practitioners.

What color might a sub use as a safeword, to imply things are getting too serious?

The analogy is to traffic lights, where a yellow light means "slow down, be ready to stop" and a red one just means "stop." Again, it's these are terms unlikely to be mistaken for feigned resistance that is part of a fictional scenario.

Other than a slender tree branch used as a whip, what is a "switch"?

The word implies the changing-up of roles, and this is actually the case. Though many people have a strong inclination toward only one role, some people alternate between them. In some cases, finding a new partner might introduce a different power dynamic, prompting the change.

Can pain or harm inflicted during a session rise to the level of a crime?

Obviously, to tie someone up who is unwilling from the get-go is a crime; it's assault (and possibly kidnapping). However, if during bondage or S&M activities consent is clearly revoked, and the dominant partner doesn't stop, the activity could be considered criminal. There is no special protection for a sexual practice.

In the early days of psychology, the practice of bondage or S&M was considered a what?

"Paraphilia" is the psychologist's term for an unnatural pleasure or desire, and it covers far more than bondage, discipline or sadomasochism. As the French might say, chacun a son gout (to each their own!).

What term is often used for sex without BDSM (or kink overall)?

Within BDSM cultures, "vanilla" is the common term for non-BDSM sex. More broadly, people use it to describe anything mainstream or bland. Frankly, we think this is an insult to the subtle-but-exotic flavoring agent born in the tropical regions and enjoyed around the world!

Probably the most common type of gag used in bondage is the _____ gag.

If you're only used to seeing people gagged in movies, where it usually involves tape over the mouth, you'll be shocked to know how many different types there are! The names listed above are all types you'll see discussed on BDSM forums. Among these, the ball gag features most prominently in S&M shops, in bondage-themed art and so on.

We derive the word "sadism" from which European figure?

Donatien Alphonse Francois is much better known by his title, the Marquis de Sade. He is famous (or notorious) as a writer of explicitly sexual literature, but he was also a political thinker and philosopher who believed in absolute freedom and who expressed ideas counter to France's dominant religion, Catholicism.

In earlier times, which of these magazines allowed for bondage imagery on the newsstands?

By making the bondage part of a crime story, detective magazines could put a curvaceous, sexily-dressed, bound-and-gagged woman on their covers and not get into legal trouble. These magazines could be sold on regular newsstands, instead of adult bookstores, but most proprietors knew the score: Such detective magazines were usually shelved towards the back and out of view.

What was the name of de Sade's famous, uh, "heroine"?

It's hard to look at either of these women as "heroines" in the classic sense. Poor Justine tries to live a virtuous life but is subjected to endless degradation. Her sister Juliette lives a completely amoral life, up to an including murder, and happily gets away with everything. That's made clear in the title of the book about her: "Juliette, or Vice Amply Rewarded."

"Piquerism" is a form of kink that involves what?

Piquerism can be a form of edgeplay or it can be a paraphilia, depending on several factors. These include whether the piquerism is consensual, the size of the penetrating object and whether it causes lasting damage. People with this fetish might want to be stabbed and poked themselves or to do it other people. Several notorious murderers are believed to be acting out this desire, most notoriously Jack the Ripper.

We get the word "masochism" from which figure?

In an interesting bit of parallelism, Sacher-Masoch was a nobleman, like de Sade. He was an Austrian political theorist and writer who never liked the use of his name to mean "the deriving of pleasure from pain or abuse." The term "masochism" was coined by a psychologist who knew of the nobleman's tendencies.

What is the name of Sacher-Masoch's famous book?

"Venus in Furs" was about the relationship between a man named Severin and his lover, Wanda von Dunajew. Severin was a clear stand-in for Sacher-Masoch, and the story explored his desire to be dominated and abused by a woman wearing fur. (Because you just can't effectively dominate someone in vegan leather!)

True or false: Neither de Sade nor Sacher-Masoch ever lived out the fantasies they wrote about.

Both men practiced their sexual preferences. This was more problematic in de Sade's case, as his partners were often not consensual. His wealthy family made some attempts to buy off his accusers and keep him out of prison, but they weren't very successful, as his time in prison attests to.

While it's "rope play" within the community, in psychological terms, a preference for rope bondage is called ... ?

Psychology employs this term to describe arousal derived from being bound, and sometimes suspended, with ropes. Like most unusual sexual preferences, today it's only considered a psychological problem if it causes the patient/practitioner emotional distress or physical injury.

According the the handkerchief code, what color kerchief signals an interest in bondage?

The "handkerchief code" got its start in the 1970s among gay men and isn't widespread; people outside large cities may respond with bafflement to this idea. Still, it's established enough that gray is agreed-on as the color that signals an interest in bondage.

Which of these is most likely to entail a long-term agreement?

We certainly hope suspension bondage would not be a long-term situation! Rather, a master-slave relationship can last for months or years and might require a signed contract. In such a relationship, the slave might commit to the master's control over things which are not generally considered sexual nor sadomasochistic: for example, diet or choices in clothing.

What's the most common fashion item used to connote slave status?

Someone in an established master-slave relationship might wear a collar, leather or otherwise, to symbolize this status. In long-term, stable relationships, the collar is analogous to a wedding ring, and a ceremony might include the master's putting it on for the first time.

The physical setting where BDSM activities take place is sometimes called what?

For some people, the medieval term "dungeon" is a bit too dramatic, not to mention its propensity to frighten off people who are new to BDSM. In contrast, "playroom" is a very innocent, innocuous term. Either way, a special venue is certainly not necessary: Many people simply carry out sessions in the privacy of their bedrooms.

True or false: The famous French novel "The Story of O" was actually written by a man.

"The Story of O" was written by Anne Desclos to titillate her lover, who was an admirer of the Marquis de Sade. After publication under a pen name, it became fantastically successful, printed in many languages, adapted to film and even made into a comic.

Which article of clothing is most likely to be the subject of "worship"?

Shoes, overall, are famously the subject of sexual fetishization, so it's no surprise that in the world of BDSM, boots are the subject of worship. This worship can take the form of licking or polishing the boots, being trampled by them or the use of the heel as a substitute phallus, for shallow penetration. It puts the Nancy Sinatra song in a whole new light!

Ask someone to think of a famous BDSM model, and they'll most likely think of ... ?

Bettie Page, with her statuesque figure, raven hair and geometric bangs, was THE pinup girl of the 1950s. In addition to her straightforward glamour work, Page fearlessly explored S&M themes, both as a crop-wielding domme and a bound, "helpless" sub. (Helpless, really? As if!)

Which of these publishers specialized in bondage themes and worked with Bettie Page?

Klaw is sometimes misidentified as a photographer, which he never was. He was a publisher and promoter whose name has become synonymous with mid-century American fetish art, especially that featuring pin-up and bondage model Page. Sadly, a great deal of the photography produced under his auspices has been destroyed.

The bondage-themed "Sleeping Beauty" trilogy was written by what well-known fantasy author under a pseudonym?

Rice is well-known for her vampire novels, most famously "Interview with the Vampire," which introduced her anti-hero Lestat. The novellas "The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty," "Beauty's Punishment" and "Beauty's Release" were all written under the name "A.N. Roquelaure," a shield which didn't last very long.

The S&M-themed "Fifty Shades of Grey" was criticized for which of these?

Author E.L. James came under fire from readers and critics for a variety of reasons, and many who engage in BDSM consider her books poor representation and believe they don't illustrate practitioners' emphasis on Safe, Sane and Consensual play.

About two decades before "Fifty Shades of Grey," Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke brought S&M to the big screen in which film?

The film (along with the book it was based on) takes its name from the length of the protagonist's sadomasochistic relationship. Elizabeth McNeill (a pseudonym), wrote about a (purportedly) real dom-sub relationship that included bondage, cross-dressing and a series of dares that included stealing a stranger's wallet. Hey, that last one isn't "kinky," it's a felony!

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