If you are fairly new to any kind of kink community, or even just beginning to become curious about BDSM and kinky bedroom activities or starting to explore them with your partner, it can be hard to know how where to begin. There are so many different kinds of kinks, levels of power dynamics, and varying concepts of what ‘kinky’ even means, it can be hard to define yourself within this realm. The good news is, you’re completely normal to feel this way, and you’re also not alone.
The need for belonging – to feel like you fit in and have a place, and people who support you – is 100% human and 100% universal. In fact, love & belonging needs are below even self-esteem needs on Maslow’s hierarchy…they’re THAT important. It stands to reason, then, that if you are new to something like the BDSM & kink scene, you would want to establish pretty quickly who you are, what you like, and where you fit in.
For better or for worse, one of the ways we define ourselves is through the use of titles and roles. This can sometimes feel limiting, but labels are at least a jumping-off point for being able to describe your desires and interests when it comes to the intriguing shadowy side of sex. The things that turn you on and/or help you get off come to define your personality within the world of kink, so it’s important to accept and understand that personality. Even if it’s just for the purpose of listing what you like on FetLife or another dating site or fetish community, embracing your chosen kink persona will allow you to explore your deepest desires comfortably and freely, and will also help you find partners compatible with your needs and desired styles of play.
Read on for a quick & dirty, non-comprehensive rundown of some possible subsets or personality types within the realm of kink and BDSM to begin to see how you fit in. Remember not to let these labels pigeonhole you into any one way of being; you can be anywhere on a spectrum of how much you like those things, on a sliding scale of to what degree you include a role in your sex life or day-to-day life (yes, some people live within the confines of their dominant/submissive roles and abide by those rules 24/7), and you can also be a combination of any number of these types. So, what are YOU into, baby?
The BDSM Umbrella
Let’s break these four common letters down first, because they are often the “umbrella” terms that all other types of kinky play fall somewhere underneath. Some letters serve double duty in their meanings, too, which can make it even more confusing. Remember that there is lots of overlap between many of these categories, and also many smaller pockets of interest within each one.
**It’s important to remember that the key to engaging in ANY type of BDSM dynamic or kink & fetish play is full enthusiastic CONSENT from all parties involved. Hitting your partner because you’re unhappy with something they did outside of a negotiated scene isn’t discipline play, it’s abuse. Keep your play safe & sane, negotiate your boundaries and always play within them, and know and be firm on your hard limits. If you join up with a community of kinksters in your area, make sure you do the research to find one that aligns most closely with your interests and values. Other than that, just have fun!**
The B and D in BDSM usually stand together to refer to Bondage & Discipline. Bondage refers to the desire to tie up or restrain a partner or be tied up and restrained by a partner in a sexual context. The D for Discipline refers to an interest in scolding, punishing, or withholding desires as a means of control or training, or having these things done to you.
The D and S paired together stand for Dominance & Submission. These dynamics play with power exchanges and control, with a dominant individual “in charge” and giving orders to or commanding a willingly submissive partner. Some of these dynamics also involve service or humility on the submissive’s part, i.e. taking orders from and serving a Master or Mistress.
The S and M stand for Sadism & Masochism, which are often the most taboo subjects within the BDSM world, but they are also a generally misunderstood undercurrent to many other types of kinky sexual play and dynamics. These types of roleplay involve physical pain, degradation or humiliation, and inflicting fear or other intense emotional reactions.
The Personality Archetypes
Without further ado, here are some quick descriptions of the various titles and power dynamics people may enjoy taking on during their kink scenes and sexual role play. Remember that these are all broad categories; don’t let titles and labels pigeonhole your interests. It’s also possible to be many of these things at once!
Dominant: Dominants like to be in charge; they are the leader of the sexual exchange. Some like their partner to obey them without question, while some prefer a little pushback from their partner while getting them to bend to their will. Unlike the specific ‘top’ roles described below, being dominant is more about being in control of deciding what happens than the actual content of what happens. Being dominant also carries the responsibility for what happens while you’re in charge.
Submissive: Submissives like to follow someone else’s lead. Some like to give control to their dominant partner, while others prefer to have it forcibly taken from them (remember, still within the confines of consent). Again, being submissive is more about deciding who has the control than determining what is actually done to them in a “bottom” role.
Switch: Switches enjoy the best of both worlds. They sometimes like to be dominant and sometimes submissive, sometimes top or sometimes bottom. They are often partnered with other switches so they can negotiate the scene and dynamic exactly how they want that day based on their needs, mood, and desires.
Sadist: Sadists enjoy inflicting certain types of pain, physical or emotional, on their partners. Being the giver of spankings or floggings in impact play is just one example of sadism. This is usually done in a sexual context, and causing their partner this pain is an erotic turn-on. (top)
Masochist: Masochists enjoy receiving certain kinds of pain, physical or emotional, from their partner. Accepting spankings in an impact play dynamic is just one common place you see this. Pain tolerance notwithstanding, a masochist simply must be able to enjoy and derive pleasure and sexual satisfaction from pain. (bottom)
Rigger: Riggers like to tie up or physically restrain their partner. The restraint can be accomplished with beautiful, intricate rope ties and knots, or with cuffs and hogties, bed straps, or other restraints. If the idea of seeing your partner bound in ropes or chains and completely at the mercy of your whims, you are considered a rigger. (top)
Rope Bunny: Rope bunnies enjoy being tied up, bound, or restrained using rope or other props and restraints. Whether for sexual enhancement or just for fun, they enjoy being at the mercy of their dominant partner who is restraining them (the rigger). Despite the somewhat feminine and diminutive connotation of the world “bunny”, rope bunnies can be any gender. If you like your partner to tie you up and have their way with you, you might be a rope bunny! (bottom)
Degrader: Degraders like to degrade, belittle, or humiliate their play partner(s) in a sexual context, either by treating them in a degrading way or by forcing them to do things they consider degrading. This is one of those controversial archetypes, in that if it’s not done consensually and correctly, it can veer into emotional or verbal abuse. (top)
Degradee: Degradees like to be degraded or humiliated by their play partner. It is a sexual turn-on for their partner to act degradingly upon them or to force them to do humiliating or embarrassing things to please their degrader. (bottom)
Brat Tamer: Brat tamers are dominant players that tolerate, nay, enjoy a bit of disobedience or pushback from their bratty partner. The brattiness is considered playful and not willfully rude, but they will still not hesitate to punish their brat for the attitude to teach the submissive a well-earned and desired lesson. (top)
Brat: Brats are basically naughty submissives. They playfully disobey or ignore their dominant as a way of turning them on, not letting them down. Compatibility is important in this dynamic, because it’s important for a brat to accept the lessons their dominant doles out, while both players understand that this punishment may not necessarily alter their future bratty behavior…because that’s part of the fun! (bottom)
Daddy/Mommy: Daddy or Mommy dominants take on a sort of caregiver role in the exchange. Instead of using brute force to dominate their partner, they use subtle psychological techniques to nurture and care their precious “little” into submission. Sexuality is not always involved in this power dynamic, and there is no link whatsoever with pedophilia, which is simply NOT on the BDSM spectrum. Daddy or Mommy doms are soft and cuddly on the outside but still firm and unyielding in their desires on the inside, and they have ways to make their littles obey. (top)
Boy/Girl: Littles/Little Boys/Little Girls are submissive players with a gentle spirit and a flair of childlike innocence. They submit to the demands and desires of their dominant because they make them feel cared for and nurtured. They require a softer approach, but those levels of submission can be just as deep as those of slaves or submissives in other dynamics. It is important for the Little to treat their dominant with as much gentle affection as they receive while still doing what they demand. Big/Little dynamics do not necessarily involve actually pretending to be different ages; that’s ageplay, which is its own thing. This dynamic is about caring and being cared for as a means of sexual or emotional control. (bottom)
Owner: Pet play is another common kink, and owners are the ones who control the pets. While pet play is often done in individual bedrooms scenes, sometimes it is a full-time dynamic, with owners taking full responsibility for their pet 24/7, including caring for them, training them, and providing for their needs, sexually or otherwise. (top)
Pet: While it may only be part of an occasional scene, pets are often considered the property of their owner throughout daily life. Their owner takes care of them while they return the attention with undying love, affection, and playfulness. Props like cages, leashes, collars, or tails may be used, especially to enhance the realism in the bedroom. Pet play dynamics have nothing to do with sex with animals, which is again NOT anywhere on the BDSM spectrum. Many pets don’t even feel like they play an animal, rather they just enjoy the rewards of a typical relationship between an owner and a pet. (bottom)
Exhibitionist: Exhibitionists are those who enjoy showing their naked body or their sexual activity to other people, consensually of course. While not always considered part of the BDSM umbrella, exhibitionism is still considered a “sexually deviant” activity which arouses the individual who engages in it, so it is definitely a kink. There is no top/bottom aspect to exhibitionism or voyeurism.
Voyeur: Voyeurs enjoy watching the nakedness or sexual activity of other people, again, consensually. The trope of the creepy old man across the street with binoculars is NOT a voyeur. Those with exhibitionism or voyeur kinks who wish to expand their audience can often find like-minded individuals at events and fetish parties in their area, or even resorts that cater to their deepest desires to see and be seen.