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Given that BDSM exists in the form of a relationship or engagement between two people, communication---in one form or another---is what makes the "magic" happen between them.

While words and sentences are obvious forms of communication, the following table lists some of the less obvious communications which can occur between two BDSMers.

Communication from the top, dominant, or master   Communication from the bottom, submissive, or slave
  • How they handle the flogger, knife, needles, or rope---e.g., rough, gentle, quick, indifferent, empathic, etc.
  • The words they say: their choice of words
  • The intonation and rhythm with which they speak
  • The gestures they make
  • Sexual response
  • Scents and pheromones released in response to arousal or excitement
  • Physical attitude or behaviour---e.g., physical proximity, leaning over their partner, intense, etc.
  • Grunts, groans, gasping, laboured breathing, etc.
  • The words they say: their choice of words, the ease or difficulty with which they speak (the latter can indicate the onset of sub-space)
  • The intonation and rhythm with which they speak
  • Any physical reactions to the actions of their partner---writhing, wincing, becoming tense, becoming relaxed, etc.
  • Sexual response
  • Scents and pheromones released in response to arousal, excitement, or fear
  • Physical attitude or behaviour---e.g., submissive, cowering, receptive, physically lowering themselves in relation to their partner, etc.

We can perhaps split the different types of communication into three groups:

  1. Verbal
  2. Gestures
  3. Physical
  4. Physiological

Verbal communication

Verbal communication is the use of spoken words. Telling your partner to, "Sit up!", or "Put your hands behind your back!", or, "I really like the feeling of those needles", are all forms of verbal communication.

Beyond the words themselves, the intonation used, the rhythm, the loudness, and the specific choice of some words over others, all communicate part of the message.

Gesture communication

Communication with gestures is using your hands or facial expression to send a message. A dominant might use a hand signal to tell his submissive to kneel or stand. A top might use a nod of his head to indicate he wants his partner to lift her arm up to where he can tie it to an anchor point on the wall.

Safewords sometimes need to become safe gestures when a submissive or bottom can't speak (maybe they have a gag in their mouth, or maybe they tend to go deep into sub-space and can't speak).

Gestures can also include physical attitude or posture, such as legs apart or together, leaning forward, head forward or back, etc.

Physical communication

Communication when the physical actions are the message can include messages of tenderness (caresses, stroking, etc.), or something more intense (heavy handling or roughness indicating ownership, or pushing and shoving to indicate aggressive control-taking). The rate and intensity of a flogging are also messages.

Our physical attitude towards our partner also communicates with our partner. When a submissive lowers her head or places herself in a position underneath or below us (such as by kneeling) this tells us something. Similarly, when a dominant comes up close and leans over us this also tells us of his desire and intent to control or dominate.

And, of course, sexually mounting someone is an act of dominance which is common throughout the animal world, even where males use it to assert dominance over other males in their group or herd.

Physiological communication

Sometimes our bodies send messages of their own, including:

  • Scents and pheromones
  • Signs of sexual arousal---e.g., erect penis, erect nipples, enlarged labia
  • Sweat
  • Physical tension, muscle contractions
  • Reaction to pain---e.g., writhing, grunting, etc.

Intentional communication

Many of the signals we send are intentional. This may seem obvious and of course they're intentional. Things like the commands a dominant gives to his submissive are intentional. Gestures, too, are frequently intentional. They are messages we consciously decide to send to our partner.

Unintentional communication

On the other hand, there are many message we send which are not intentional. They are not things we consciously decide to "say". For example, the scent of sweat and sexual arousal are not things we can decide to express consciously. They happen without us making a conscious choice to do so. They are unconscious, though we may know they are imminent.

Some messages we don't even know we're sending. Physical tension can show up in how we stand or move, and nervousness or fear can appear in the intonations or the way we breathe when we speak.