by Randall S. Frederick
Q: I’m trying to get into BDSM with my boyfriend and have been reading things on the Internet about how to get into it. I love your site(!!!) but it’s really a lot to take in and I’m reading on your site (such good content!!!) but I’m a little confused on what a “scene” is – is that whatever kind of sex you’re having or porn acting or what?
A: Typically, when someone is talking about a “scene”, they are referring to the expression of sexual play that you are participating in. The best way I can explain this is to suggest that you step away from the idea of “sex as sex” as though all sex is the same. It’s not. When you begin to think of sex as a playful activity and a scene as the direction your imagination takes you and your partner(s), then you’ve got the basic idea. A “scene” is where you and your partner play with certain “roles” or versions of yourselves. Most sex educators make these distinctions because, again, sex is not universally experienced in one way. Talking about a “scene” when it comes to sex is an effort to make the sexual experience more playful, even an “act” or fantasy experience between you and your partner(s).
Another way of talking about “scenes” is to talk about the kind of “play” or sexual activity you are participating in. For example, there is bondage play (which involves BDSM), pet play (where you or your partner pretend to be an animal), age play (where you or your partner pretend to be younger/older) and literally hundreds of other types of “play.” Calling it “play” is a way of making the experience more fun – or giving fun language to what is happening and allow you to disassociate from normal, everyday life. It really is not about your normal, everyday relationship. It’s about taking on a new persona, a “character” and playing with this new side of yourself and your partner.
Talking about a “scene” sets down an intentional break from the otherwise normal activities of your relationship. If your “scene” involves you and your partner doing costume play involving Darth Vader having sex with Princess Leia, the “scene” ends when you take the costumes off.
But some types of play are not as easily distinguished. For example, spanking play can bring up all kinds of unwanted anxieties in your relationships – namely, that one of you is physically hitting the other. Many people feel stress after hurting their partner in this way, and many feel victimized afterwards. Exploring a “scene” together helps make those blurry lines more realized, more distinguishable; having boundaries in place helps all partners more readily transition back to their “normal” relationship. “Play” is the kind of sex, “roleplaying” is the personality or character you adopt during your play, and “scene” is the specific way that play is expressed. Just like in the theater, with roleplay there can be a little bit of adlibbing but the staples of the “scene” still need to take place.
I’m really glad you and your boyfriend are trying new things, though, and thanks for the compliments! Positive feedback is always a plus! Would it be alright to make a few suggestions?
Since you’re exploring BDSM, and since you said you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, it might be helpful to break that up a little bit and discuss a couple of common scenes you will hear about or see discussed online. It’s important to discuss these because BDSM can be a very blurry form of sexual interaction. Because it is highly volatile (things can either go really right or really wrong really quickly), most people involved in the BDSM lifestyle will talk about talking. In fact, I often have to stop and laugh because the BDSM players I know taaaaallllkkk soooooo muuuuch! This is good because it means they are looking out for their partner’s safety. If some of these don’t feel right for you and your partner, that’s great! Every relationship is unique. Do not see these as a checklist; see them as ideas to borrow from as you play together and create your own scenes. Just be safe and have fun! I would suggest talking about these scenes before you try them so you and your boyfriend can be on the same page. Some scenes might “trigger” bad feelings or memories for you (especially in cases where one of you is a survivor of sexual violence/assault/rape), but part of the fantasy is knowing things will go in a certain direction and conclude a certain way. For example, if you want to be tied up about mid-way through the “scene” and your partner doesn’t tie you up, on some level, you are probably still waiting for them to tie you up to indicate you’re at the mid-way point. Talking about roleplay is also important – who will take the initiative, how, and whether you will have a safeword. But don’t feel overwhelmed right now. Just know that there’s a world of information out there waiting for you!
- Dominant/submissive or Master/slave
The most common, well-known type of BDSM (which actually falls under “power” play, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves) where one of the partners has control over certain (pre-discussed) aspects of the submissive or “slave.” This label is kind of a catch-all. A lot of stuff falls under this umbrella and it involves a lot of different scenes and roleplaying. Do not confuse this with Bondage Play, which I will discuss in a minute. When in doubt, ask yourself whether the form of play you are participating involves the mind, heart, or the body – dominant/submissive is about the mind and/or heart, not necessarily the body. Bondage is about the body, not necessarily the mind or heart. Keep reading – it will make sense as you go along.
The most common “pet play” scenes you will see discussed are puppy play, pony play, and pig play, but you are only limited by your imagination towards what kind of “pet” you would like to own or be. Puppy play tends to be more silly (puppies jump on their owner, are active, need to be put on leashes, etc) and pet play often involves a butt plug with accessorized tail, or a special pet bed or cage.
- Kinky Roleplay
“Kinky” can refer to most of the mainstream types of play you see on late-night premium stations: doctor/patient, priest/nun, teacher/student, and so on. Like the dominant/submissive category, this is a general one but doesn’t necessarily involve bondage. BDSM elements are usually “soft” (ex: a teacher might swat a student but not spank him/her). This type of play might involve dressing up for the part, or even an accent, but doesn’t reach the point of “costume play” level. In other words, this form of play may or may not involve BDSM, but if they do, are usually very low intensity.
- Age Play
This is where we really start to see a difference in the degree of kink as it becomes more psychologically involved. You will begin seeing talk about “head space” and this is actually a more involved topic for another time. “Littles” are generally submissives who regress to a particular age (known as “little space”) and who enjoy being taken care of in a parental way by their Daddy/Mommy. In this way, age play is typically more about the submissive partner, the “little”, than it is about the dominant partner, the Daddy/Mommy. Littles are typically identified by childish “play” like coloring, watching cartoons, being given a bath, but this really depends on the age they regress to; some littles are bratty teenagers. In my opinion, ageplay is the least sexual of the kinds of play discussed here – a statement that would be highly contested. I tend to categorize it instead as either a long-form of roleplay, foreplay, or relational behavior. For example, you might hear about ABDP or “adult baby diaper players.” These are individuals who enjoy wearing diapers and participating in infantilism. This can involve a lactation fetish, bottles, even – yes – cleanup after “accidents.” This is a hard limit for me (more on that in a minute) but, to be fair, I want to emphasize that this is a variation of ageplay and not the norm. Again, the focus is on the little. Sex is not the primary concern with ageplay. However, there can certainly be very strong sexual elements to it – the daddy/mommy fantasy is often complemented when the little plays an older age than infancy.
- Sensation play
Sensation play is usually a bit softer – say, feathers or beads, anything that involves touching a partner with an object. It can also involve pain – say, needles or Whartenberg wheel. Ice is another form of sensation play, as would be warm or chilled foods on the body. Even dripping wax on your partner. It’s whatever creates an intense sensation.
This is what I was talking about a moment ago with the dominant/submissive play. Bondage is a physical activity, not necessarily a head or heart one. However, like the dominant/submissive form, “bondage” is an umbrella term that includes a lot of activities. It can involve ropes, handcuffs, blindfolds, spreader bars, nipple clamps, and so on. In other words, if you are restraining or inhibiting movement and have tools and toys to help you do it? You’re probably doing a form of bondage play. This form of play can also involve specialty furniture – cages, crossbars, spanking benches, pulleys and suspension devices, beams, stretchers, restraints, etc. in addition to the everyday furniture you have in your home or apartment that you can be creative with. If the furniture you or your partner are restrained by has to be bolted to a wall or requires a key, again, it can fall under the “bondage” umbrella. At an advanced level, you might have an entire room (ex: the Red Room in Fifty Shades of Grey) devoted entirely to these devices and fixtures that you would call a “dungeon.” Please be sure and do your research and slowly build towards these levels of play. They are not for everyone, they are not for the new, and they certainly come with risks to your physical, mental, emotional, and relational health.
- Impact play
Involves any kind of impact on a person’s body. Spanking, caning, punching, these are more aggressive and – as always – need to be discussed ahead of time so that you can ensure everyone is safe and healthy.
- Humiliation play
This takes many forms as well. I know a couple in Oklahoma where the husband affectionately calls his wife “fatty” and they (apparently) have a very active sex life together. The more provocative degrees of humiliation play involve “sissification” of a male partner (supposedly “forcing” him to take on effeminate qualities and wear female clothing, degrading his masculinity, etc), namecalling and degradation/dehumanization and so on. The average form of this kind of play involves wearing a buttplug, chastity device or special underwear, or totem on the body to remind the partner of something throughout the day. As you might already suspect, the well-known forms of humiliation play are male-centered (small penis humiliation, chastity devices, emasculation, etc) especially when they involve gear or toys of some kind. Female-directed humiliation is more often psychological and verbal in nature (ex: namecalling). Personally, I suggest a strong level of relational involvement and emotional security before you even attempt this kind of play. Especially if it involves another partner (ex: making your primary partner watch while you have sex with someone else).
Some final thoughts: Coming to the offramp of this discussion, sadism and masochism have been hinted at in all of the other forms of play listed here, but I want to be very explicit about this. A sadist is someone who derives pleasure from the suffering of others, a masochist derives pleasure from suffering. Virtually all of the forms of play discussed here involve a dominant and submissive, and will also involve a sadist and a masochist. Again, BDSM can go really right or really wrong really quickly because of confusion and misunderstandings. Some form of sadism/masochism are more pronounced than others. Knowing who will “play” the role of a sadist and who will “play” the masochist does not mean you have to be “100% sadist” with intense beatings and malicious activities. When I was first introduced to this world, I was deeply concerned for the well-being of my partner. The first time I spanked her, it was hardly a smack but I still asked after every spank if she was okay. I realize now how terribly unexciting that must have been for her! But my concern came from strong reservations over hitting a woman and, to be direct, being a sadist. I had to “warm up” to that role. I know that I’ve emphasized talking about all of this with your partner, but the reason I suggest that so strongly is so that it doesn’t have to happen in your scene (like it did the first time I tried BDSM with my partner!). And it’s okay if you’re not 100% on board with it the first time you try something new. That’s totally normal! Like any performance, you have to play with it for a while until you really embody the role.
Hope this helps! I would also encourage having a couple of comfort items handy for when you have ended the scene and both of you are coming down from the high you just experienced. Bottles of water, blankets, “stuffies” (stuffed animals or pillows), lotion, towels, and so on will help you and your partner to resume the everyday relationship, deal with the emotions, and transition into a mutually satisfying conversation about what just happened. Again, I want to emphasize that I strongly encourage this. All forms and variations of BDSM play should involve a warm up, the scene itself, aftercare (hydration and comfort) and an emergency plan.