pslc_smartBelieve it or not, at one time I was just like you. Well, maybe not exactly like you, especially if you have a penis (despite what some of my friends in San Francisco would like to believe, a strap-on isn’t “the same thing”), but at one time I was someone who watched porn and never thought I’d be making it.

My interest in BDSM isn’t much different. But I often get emails asking about BDSM. They’re letters from people who have very little or no experience with any kind of fetish and they’re nervously dipping their toes in the water. It’s easy to understand why they’re intimidated. People who are heavy into BDSM call it a “lifestyle,” which brings up connotations of sexuality or belonging to a yacht club… or a very kinky yacht club.

So, for those of you who are afraid to ask, here is BDSM for Beginners, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and How I Became Kinky (in 5 Steps).

1. Be healthy in your sexuality. There was a time when I was more concerned with how well I performed with my oboe than how well I performed with electrosex toys. Most people who are into BDSM, and most other kinks, started out much where you are. Kinksters are not born, they’re brought around on their own (more on this in a bit). As intimidating as the “lifestyle” is and as over the top as some of the people are, remember that like anything else it’s just one facet of their personality. Balance is important.

2. Be curious. Chances are, curiosity is why you’re showing an interest in BDSM. I know that was the case for me — remember that person who was more worried about her oboe than the Violet Wand? I had a boyfriend who worked for Kink, and when he showed me what he did, I was curious. I wanted to learn more. Ultimately, it got to the point where I didn’t just want to read about it, I wanted to do it. I’m sure this is where you are too. Take it slow. Read everything you can. Talk to people who are experienced — if there’s one thing people in the BDSM scene like to do, it’s talk about it. You’ll know when the time is right.

3. Do your research and keep an open mind. Once you dive into kinks and fetishes, you discover that there’s things you’ve probably never thought of that other people find sexy. One of the strange things about sexuality is that people have the things they’re interested in and anything outside of that bubble is “weird” or “strange.” BDSM events bring together all kinds of people. Gay, straight, cross dressers… you get the idea. This are not the place to judge. Also, when you take that step into doing it, know your role in scenario you’re playing out. Don’t worry about being overwhelmed your first time out, but know what’s proper etiquette for a sub or a Dom — though I strongly suggest being a sub for a very long time before Domming anyone.

4. Know your limits. Not everyone is ok with being tied up. Some people just can’t do electrical play. Still others — and don’t feel too bad if you’re not one of these people, as it does take a strong mind to get through it — are not fit for sensory depravation. It’s important to take stock of why you’re getting into the fetish scene and what turns you on. By all means, explore, but you might not be ready for some things and some things you might never be ready for. Establish a safeword for every encounter, so you can tell your Dom when it really, honestly does hurt. Most importantly, use it. Finally, why do I strongly suggest you sub before you Dom? Good Doms know when something’s going too far and they know when to pull back. They not only need to know their limits, but the limits of their sub as well.

5. Have fun. This is why you got into it, right? Like anything that’s new, it’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of BDSM. Should I wear leather or vinyl? Ropes or cuffs? Spankings or anal plugs? If dwell on these things too much, you’ll be too worried about everything else and never get around to enjoying yourself. While there are a lot of elements in the BDSM scene that are about roleplay and dressing up, ultimately it’s about fulfilling your desire. Never forget that.