If we pick apart the initials BDSM there are all kinds of things inside. We use it as a broad umbrella, covering everything from rope bondage to piercing, humiliation, watersports, latex love, service slavery and so much more. It’s all of our erotic desires outside of the missionary position rolled into one neat abbreviation.
It’s not a perfect term, and many prefer “kink”. Where is a foot fetish hidden within the term BDSM? It’s not really, but mostly we see BDSM in contrast to its counterpoint, “vanilla”, and so we widen it out in our minds to be inclusive of anything that our mother would think is weird (and probably sexual).
So, to some extent we kind of make up the meaning in our heads, and that makes terms a bit tricky. Dominance/submission is kink, but kink is not Dominance/submission, a masochist is not necessarily a submissive, a Leatherman is not necessarily a Master or boy, and the list goes on and on.
One term we all do tend to use is “play”. Obviously how we play depends very much on what roles and fetishes you identify with, within that broad BDSM or kink umbrella, but we usually mean the same thing by it. It’s that fulfilling, joyful, connecting practice of doing whatever it is that we do.
In Dominance/submission, we often use “play” to distinguish the exchange of power and control that form the dynamic of our relationship from the exchange of power and control that we enjoy just for the sheer wonderful, sexual, thrilling joy of it. Our sexy time. That delicious space between “get on your knees, slut” and “that was great, could you make me a hot chocolate?”.
Some people don’t like to call it play, and think it trivialises it. They prefer terms like “training” or “practice”. That’s OK, each to their own, but I think there’s some joy in the word “play”, and that adults should really consider doing more of it.
Play is pleasure, and that’s not a bad thing. We’re allowed to have pleasure… in fact, we’re supposed to have pleasure. Isn’t that why we’re in this, doing what we do, in the first place?
If you’re of a more serious nature, and think that everything should have a purpose, then don’t overlook the fact that play also has all kinds of benefits. Anthropologists studying play in animals (and children) talk about how it’s an important part of how we learn. The skills the tiger cub picks up from tumbling with its siblings become the skills it uses as an adult taking down prey. The confidence that the toddler gets from interacting with the equipment in the playground helps them understand their strength and size and vulnerabilities, and prepares them for navigating the obstacles in their world.
And, I think play does that for us in BDSM/kink too. It’s during play that we find ways to go deep inside ourselves and our partners to explore what’s there. And we come out the better for it.