The BDSM community can be regarded as a subculture within mainstream society.
Being involved in a local BDSM community is referred to as being "in the
lifestyle." There are BDSM communities with varying degrees of organization in
all parts of the world. Large cities and small towns alike have organizations
where BDSM participants meet to learn, share and practice. These groups are
often underground and can be hard to find, but as society becomes more and more
accepting, the groups are coming out of the closet. In the United States, some
of these communities have even applied for and been granted 501C status as
educational and community support groups.
A 1990 Kinsey Institute report stated that 5% to 10% of Americans occasionally
engage in sexual activities related to BDSM. This was based on the 1983 "Playboy
Readers Sex Survey" by Walter Lowe. There has been an explosive growth in the
BDSM community since the 1983 study, which raises the possibility that the 1983
figures are unrepresentative of current behavior.
In some kinds of BDSM play, the "top" (usually a dominant partner) applies
sensation to the "bottom" (usually a submissive partner) by spanking, slapping,
pinching, stroking or scratching with fingernails, or using implements like
straps, whips, paddles, canes, knives, hot wax, ice, clothespins, bamboo
skewers, etc. The sensation of being bound with rope, chains, straps, cling
wrap, handcuffs or other materials can also be part of the experience. The tools
of BDSM play encompass a wide variety of items from specifically designed
implements to ordinary household items, known as "pervertibles."
A pleasurable BDSM experience is thought to depend greatly upon a competent top
and the bottom attaining the correct state of mind. Trust and sexual arousal
help a person prepare for the intense sensation. Some have even gone so far as
to compare adept BDSM play to musical composition and performance, each
sensation like a musical note. Likewise, different sensations are combined in
different ways to produce the total experience.
Some sensations may be equated to different levels of bodywork and may have the
same end result of causing emotional releases and other physical and
psychological experiences. This experience is the motivation for many in the
BDSM community but is not the only motivating factor. Indeed, a strong minority
of BDSM participants (especially "submissives") may well participate in a scene
that they do not derive any physical pleasure from. This is done in order to
provide their dominant master or mistress with an opportunity to indulge their
desires or fetishes.