If gay life was a giant ballroom (and it kind of is), kinky leathermen have been lingering in the back, in the shadows, for generations...
But thanks to the internet, fetish play has stepped onto the main floor over the last decade. Regardless if you’re kinky or vanilla, knowing some basic terminology will help you navigate hook-up app profiles and boost your confidence at your local leather bar. And who knows? You might stumble across a term you didn’t know existed — and something you really want to try.
Here are 33 terms to either help you get started or further your education.
1. Kink and Fetish
These are the broadest terms on this list because, colloquially, they have become synonymous for most people. But since some kinksters (kinky people) stress their difference, we will define them separately. A kink is an unconventional sexual interest — that’s it. A fetish is a bit more particular. Fetishes are generally considered nonhuman objects that enhance sexual arousal, and for some people, they may be required for sexual arousal. Simply put: A fetish is a particular stimulus (feet, gas masks, certain items of clothing), while a kink is just something you’re into (bondage, spanking, etc.).
2. S&M (also written as S/M)
This stands for sadism and masochism. Sadism is sexual arousal that arises from inflicting pain on others. Masochism is sexual arousal from experiencing painful sensory stimulation. Guys into flogging (see #22) are sadists. Guys who enjoy getting flogged are masochists.
Similar to the leather community, the latex rubber fetish encourages a desire for rubber latex items as opposed to leather. This is usually in the form of apparel and accessories, and those with the fetish can either prefer wearing the latex themselves, others wearing it, or any mixture in between.
4. Rope Play
Rope play is a type of bondage specifically involving ropes, being tied up and restrained to either restrict movement or suspend someone in the air. Also known as Shibari, this sexual play can help you get into plenty of positions you wouldn’t normally be able to, which will allow you to explore yours and your partner’s bodies in ways you couldn’t have thought of otherwise.
5. Knife Play
Knife play is a form of consensual BDSM that involves knives, daggers, swords, and other sharp and pointy objects used as edge play. The idea is to create fear or invoke different feelings on the skin, and the tip of the blade usually enhances the sexual experience for those who enjoy it.
This acronym stands for bondage, domination/discipline, submission/sadism and, masochism, and is sometimes used as an umbrella term for kink. This can be misleading, however, because someone may have kinks that do not fall under these terms. For instance, a guy may be exclusively into fisting (see #13) or forced tickling. This guy is kinky — he has “unconventional” sexual tastes, at least by vanilla people’s standards — but he is not into BDSM.
Most kinks are enjoyed via a dominant-submissive sexual dynamic between two (or more) people. Someone takes charge and the other person submits. The take-charge person is the Dom, or Dominant. Male Dominants usually go by Sir, and may be called Mister, Daddy, Handler, Coach, etc. Female Dominants (also called Dommes and Dominatrixes) may go by Mistress or Lady. Don’t forget to capitalize the first letter!
Every particular Dom-sub (typically shortened to D/s) relationship has a slightly different power dynamic, but the sub/submissive is always the one who relinquishes control to the Dominant. Note: sub guys are not exclusively bottom, but this is definitely more common.
A switch is a guy (or girl) who enjoys both domination and submission — the kink version of the ever-elusive, 50/50 versatile bedmate. Naturally, switches pair up best with other switches.
This is a somewhat debated term in the world of kink, but most kinksters agree that a “scene” is one particular kink, the culture surrounding it, and its community of practitioners. For instance, watersports (see #17) is a scene that many people are into. Debate occurs because the term is also used to mean the actual playtime between a Dom and sub. By this second definition, a scene begins when a sub and Dom start to play. While the length of time that scenes last vary based on pre-established limits, scenes typically have defined beginning and end points. (This writer does not encourage beginners to jump immediately into extreme 24/7 scenes, which can be emotionally and psychologically damaging without ample discussion and experience beforehand.)
Limits are important, and every submissive guy’s limits are different. A limit is the point beyond which you do not allow Dominants to go. “Soft limits” are things that you’re mostly against, but in certain circumstances may try. For instance, drinking urine is a soft limit for this writer — an act not done in most circumstances, but perhaps for special occasions (like this year's Folsom Street Fair). Soft limits may change over time. A “hard limit,” by contrast, is nonnegotiable. This writer's hard limits are the presence of blood and/or feces. If either one of these appear during a scene, I’m finished, and playtime stops.
12. Safe Word
Safe words are vital for beginners and experienced kinksters alike. A safe word is a word or phrase that submissives use to stop a scene. Like hard limits, safe words are nonnegotiable. If a Dom ignores a safe word, they are considered “unsafe” and will not be welcomed in the kink community. We don’t like unsafe Doms because they can really hurt people. In kink porn, the industry standard safe word is “red,” so that’s what most kinksters use. Since being gagged is one of this writer's biggest turn-ons, the “safe word” is not a word at all. In this case, a snap of the fingers or a slap on the thigh means “stop right now.”
Leather is the most popular fetishized material, with rubber as a close second. Many guys get excited by the look and feel of leather clothing, boots, harnesses, and other gear. Leather is so commonly fetishized and has been closely linked to BDSM for so many years that many people now see the “leather community” — guys all over the world who enjoy wearing leather and attend leather events and competitions — as synonymous with kink and BDSM.
Bondage is probably the most basic and widely known feature of BDSM. And it's unfailingly one of the most erotic. Bondage involves making a submissive helpless and immobilized. This can be done with rope, handcuffs, leather cuffs, chains, stocks, and mummification (see #25).
Cock and ball torture. This includes ball-stretching (stretching the scrotal sac so that it hangs lower by using weights and other devices to pull on it) and ball-bashing, which is exactly what it sounds like: hitting the balls with small paddles and similiar blunt objects. E-stimulation (see #14) is also commonly used for CBT — especially for cock torture.
Fisting/fist fucking. This is the practice of slowly stretching open the anus with fingers until the whole hand is inserted. With practice, skilled fisters (guys who give fists) and fistees (guys who take them) can go all the way to the elbow and even the shoulder — or get double-fisted. Novices generally start with toys and dildos and work their way up. Fisting is not for beginners. When done incorrectly, fisting can cause severe injury. If this is something you want to try, go slowly and use lots of lube. You can’t use too much lube in fisting — lube should be everywhere by the time you’re done. While it may sound extreme, fisting is one of the most erotic and intense experiences you can have with someone (and can produce the most mind-blowing orgasms) when done correctly.
17. E-Stimulation/Electrical Play
E-stim involves using electrodes and electric shock during BDSM play. This is another kink that is not for beginners. Professionally made electrical units have to be used.
18. Puppy Play
Puppy play is one scene in the world of kink that is growing rapidly in popularity. Puppy play is part of a group of scenes that fall under the umbrella of Animal Training or Animal Play, in which submissives act like animals. Pony play and kitty play also fall into this category. In puppy play, the Dominant is called the Owner or Handler, and the submissive is called the pup. During the scene, pups stereotypically act like dogs — they bark, walk on all fours, and come when called (when they feel obedient). Handlers give pups “treats” (sexual or otherwise) and discipline them when they misbehave. While there is no standard way to do puppy play, most pups and handlers agree that the power dynamic is very relaxed and playful.
If pups and handlers have a relaxed power dynamic, Master-slave relationships are the opposite. This scene typically involves very hardcore BDSM and domestic service from the slave, with lengthy playtimes — some slaves and Masters practice live-in, 24-7 scenes.
20. Piss Play
Also called watersports, piss play fetishizes urine. Guys into this scene enjoy getting peed on or drinking piss. Since actual (canine) pups pee on everything, a lot of guys into puppy play are also into piss play.
21. Candle Play
Candle play is hardly a scene of its own, but we're sure that somewhere out there is a sadistic guy exclusively into using candles to drip hot wax on submissives to create a painful sensation that typically does not leave long-lasting marks or long-term damage. Typically, though, candles are used alongside other S&M practices during BDSM scenes.
Flogging is an S&M practice in which a Dominant whips a submissive with a flogger, which is a multi-tailed whip that is typically made out of leather. Depending on the severity, flogging can feel like anything from a back massage to an extremely painful experience. Beyond floggers, other devices commonly used are bull whips and cat o’ nine tails (see #26).
Edging or edge play involves dominant guys withholding orgasm from a submissive. You’ve probably done this to yourself while watching porn: masturbating and barely reaching the point of cumming and then abruptly stopping. This is one of the hottest and most intense “tortures” to experience as a submissive, especially when you are allowed to play for hours and with a skilled Dominant.
24. Nipple Torture
Nipple torture typically involves using devices like nipple clamps, suction clamps, clothespins, needles, and mousetraps on the nipples in order to create a painful sensation, but using hands and teeth work fine too. Chew and suck for hours of enjoyment.
Who doesn't love a good spank now and then?
Some kinky guys get aroused watching those hot scenes in war movies and spy movies where someone is kidnapped, blindfolded, tied to a chair, and interrogated — so it’s no surprise that interrogation has become a popular practice in BDSM, and one that requires extensive amounts of creativity, imagination, and role play. Remember, however, that everything in kink is consensual. All scenes — even intense and long-lasting interrogation ones — are eroticized pretend games that Doms and subs enjoy together.
You’ve no doubt seen cock cages and male chastity devices somewhere on the Internet. These devices keep a penis from getting hard, so by extension they keep you from achieving orgasm or pleasing yourself. It’s a form of control that Doms exert over their subs. Some cock cages can only be opened with a key — which naturally belongs on a chain around Sir’s neck.
This is a particular form of bondage in which the whole body is wrapped in some kind of material – typically plastic wrap. Since this form of bondage is completely immobilizing, it is not for beginners.
29. Cat O’ Nine Tails
This whip — a favorite among old-school S&M practitioners — has nine strands and is known to pack an especially nasty sting.
30. Age Play
Age play is a broad term for any kinky practice that involves the submissive acting younger than they really are or pretending to be a “son,” “baby,” etc. The fetishes of diapers and children’s toys are typically involved.
31. Hanky Code
The hanky code is a longstanding sexual color code that has been around since the 1970s. Long before hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff, gay and bisexual men seeking casual sex wore colored handkerchiefs in their pant pockets indicating what kind of sex they were seeking and whether they were a dominant/top or submissive/bottom. The color code is pretty extensive and includes various kinks and fetishes, and is still used today by gay clothing brands like Nasty Pig and CellBlock 13 — and, obviously, by kinky gay men.
When you meet a kinky guy that you are interested in, it is important for you two to talk honestly and clearly discuss what kinks you both enjoy, what you are both looking to do, what limits must be adhered to, and what safe words will be used. This period of discussion is called “negotiation.” For beginners, it is recommended that you do extensive negotiation before your first play session.
Thanks to the cringe-worthy series Fifty Shades of Grey, which thoroughly misrepresents the kink community, many people mistakenly believe that contracts are only used for 24/7, slave-and-master style D/s relationships. This is false. Contracts cannot be legally enforced, and will not hold up in court. They are simply written documents outlining and clarifying the parameters of the relationship, and typically list what safe words and limits will be adhered to.