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People get into BDSM because they see it as a way of meeting wants or needs they may have. These reasons can range from the superficial to the extremely profound. There are a couple of important characteristics to this:

  1. BDSM relationships and activities involve a marked inequality or disparity of power between the two people, and
  2. They adopt roles which loosely define the attitudes, behaviour, and activities which they adopt in relation to their partner so as to best satisfy their wants and needs.

Listed below are some of the more common BDSM roles and many of them reflect the power disparity I mentioned above. For example, a master is (or should be) in a position of having more power in some respects than a slave.

Roles in BDSM include:


There are obvious pairings in these roles, such as a master going with a slave, a top with a bottom, and so on. Even though everyone is different, and that the ranges of wants and needs which can be met within a BDSM framework is extensive, it's possible to loosely categorise each role or each pairing by the general attitudes the people involved have with each other and how they interact.

We can say that a top and bottom generally only adopt their roles during scenes and for activities which have a clearly defined start and end, such as a bondage scene, a flogging scene, or a humiliation scene. When not involved in a scene, they're just ordinary folk.

A dominant and submissive might instead have an overarching authority dynamic, with the dominant being deferred to by the submissive both during and outside of scenes (such as in ordinary street life, or at home). They still may engage in the same sorts of activities as a top and bottom when they play BDSM-wise, but they also actively explore and operate within an authority framework during these scenes and at other times as well.

A master and slave may pursue deep and profound surrender. Rather than deferring, there can be actual and complete surrender on the part of the slave, and acceptance of this surrender by the master.

See also