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See also: kink, domestic discipline, Slavery, BDSM AU
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The TPM characters Qui-Gon and a submissive Obi-Wan in a drawing by Fuumin.

BDSM is an acronym standing for bondage & discipline, dominance & submission (D/s or d/s), sadism &/or masochism within consensual relationships. Some people also define the SM as Slave & Master. In fandom it is most often used in fic headers as a warning or as an indication of a story's content or genre. BDSM is used by fans as a general umbrella term for any fanwork which includes erotic power exchange, pain play, bondage, sensation play, other sexual kinks and occasionally for slavefic. The stories may be very sexually explicit, or may be more emotional or psychological in nature and contain little or no sexually explicit scenes.

Tropes and Styles of BDSM Fanworks

Some writers try to portray BDSM elements in the story realistically, depicting it as Safe, Sane, and Consensual or Risk-aware Consensual Kink. These fanworks may explore the mechanics of a BDSM relationship -- kink negotiation/exploration, choosing/using a safeword, the experience of subspace or domspace, subdrop and aftercare. Others, seeing their writing as fantasy, leave out elements that don't directly contribute to the kink or use their works to explore situations not possible outside of fiction. lit_gal's website disclaimer contains an extensive note explaining how the BDSM in her stories, especially those with non-human characters, differs from reality.[1]

While fans may have strongly held opinions on the right way to do BDSM in fanfic[2] there are works exploring the topic from many different perspectives.

One common trope is an AU or alternate reality where D/s relationships are the expected norm (BDSM AU). These stories normalize the BDSM desires of the characters and usually portray a 24/7-style relationship between the pairing. Not to be confused with slavefic, these stories are nearly always about fully consensual and societally supported kinky lifestyles.

Slavefic does often contain BDSM elements. In the worlds portrayed where slavery is legalized and enslaved people have no recognized right to consent, the BDSM elements, along with everything else sexual, are considered non-con or dub-con by most fans. Some of these stories take the narrative tack that the relationship is consensual and desired, and that the protagonists are exceptions in their society. The classification of that sort of story is more open to debate. See also slavefic for more details on the intersection of the two genres.

Another popular trope is the secret kink society or club that the characters join, sometimes in the line of duty in a kink take on the Undercover in a Gay Bar trope, and discover their nearly always perfectly matching kinks.

The BDSM variation of first time fic is often about one character discovering their submissive side. There are stories about brand-new Doms learning the ropes as well. These stories may take place in a kink club, an alternate BDSM reality or they may involve only the two characters figuring their kinks out on their own.

The Establishment brought BDSM and kink fic together with a collaborative RPG style of writing. The style, with point of view shifts that give the reader access to both the Dom and the Sub's inner thoughts, has been widely imitated and many players/writers of the Establishment use the style to good effect in their stories.

Some fanworks take canon scenarios with coded BDSM overtones and re-work them into explicitly acknowledged relationships. For example, White Collar fandom has frequent D/s relationships between Peter Burke and Neal Caffrey in both Peter/Neal slash and Peter/Elizabeth/Neal threesomes. The tracking anklet Neal wears is taken as a symbol of submission to Peter like unto being collared.

Example Fanworks

BDSM in Canon

Dragon Age fanart by UkeFox depicting a bound and blindfolded Inquisitor with the shadow of the Iron Bull. The optional in-game romance between the characters involves a BDSM dynamic in which the player character is the sub.

In most mainstream television or films, kink or BDSM is often played for laughs or as a sign of a character being mentally unbalanced.

From the Supernatural scene where Dean Winchester wanders into a fetish club by mistake to the many Law & Order-style shows where a kinky relationship leads to murder, positive, realistic portrayals are rare.

Some notable exceptions may be Castle; at various times, both Rick Castle and Kate Beckett display clear familiarity with various aspects of BDSM culture and practice, and that familiarity is a significant component of their flirtatious onscreen relationship in the show's first few seasons. Another is Irene Adler in Sherlock (BBC), a character that is a broadly positive take on a dominatrix. The pilot episode of Elementary indicated that Sherlock Holmes is a sub ("about six feet high" with a cut to a pair of handcuffs). Phèdre nó Delaunay of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series of novels is an extreme masochist, and the novels are notable for their explicit and predominantly positive portrayal of BDSM.

Due to creator's William Moulton Marston's philosophical investment in a philosophy of female dominance, bondage and discipline were a recurring theme in the early era of Wonder Woman comics. For many contemporary fans these serve as a kind of "old shame" they'd rather disassociate the character from. Some early covers in this vein are collected on

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation explored a nuanced and positive portrayal of a major character relationship which included BDSM sexuality. A professional dominatrix named Heather Kessler, also known as Lady Heather, was a recurring character who appeared in six episodes, as well as the two-hour series finale. CSI Supervisor Gil Grissom became emotionally involved with Lady Heather, played by actress Melinda Clarke. The potential relationship provided some insight into Grissom's developing character, as well as shining a new light on his relationship with co-worker Sara Sidle. The character of Lady Heather was portrayed as someone with heightened sensitivity and a unique understanding of the layers of consciousness that are explored and developed by the exchange of power in a BDSM encounter, as well as the potential for greater trust and intimacy in a relationship based upon BDSM sex.

Another example is the webcomic Sunstone by Stjepan Sejic, noted for its positive and realistic portrayals of BDSM.


Meta/Additional Reading


  1. ^ Main Page, accessed November 30, 2010
  2. ^ On BDSM, Part I by irana, accessed January 13, 2010
  3. ^ A Kept Boy Masterpost, accessed January 13, 2010
  4. ^ A lieutenant colonel is being beaten accessed January 13, 2010
  5. ^ Archive of Our Own, accessed September 13, 2021
  6. ^ Chains of Desire Series by Diana Williams
  7. ^ Dark Shadows Play, accessed March 3, 2021
  8. ^ Let Coulson Take the Wheel, accessed November 19, 2014
  9. ^ Let Your Dreams Run Free, accessed November 30, 2010
  10. ^ Needs must, accessed November 19, 2014
  11. ^ The Intern, accessed May 21,2019