Picture this: A woman, bound with rope, her arms twisted painfully behind her back, her legs splayed open. She's gagged. Drool and tears spill down her chin onto her naked chest. A man, clad all in black, stands over her as a flogger heavily lands on bare, unprotected skin, unyielding in delivering pain to his willing victim.

Some of you read that and say that’s exactly what you want. Others are a little turned off and ready to move on. If you think this picture describes most BDSM, think again. The hardcore stuff is great for those who enjoy it, but there's a softer, gentler side to kink too.

BDSM Can Be Sensual

Much of BDSM is about control, giving it up or having it, even if you’re not into Dominance and submission . Whether it’s bondage where someone has to be tied up and someone has to do the tying or a spanking where someone spanks and the other gets to sport a red ass, there’s always a top and a bottom. Sensual BDSM can be anything soft and gentle that ignites passion.

Try this: Use soft scarves or silk ties to bind your partner to the bed (bondage) and use your tongue and soft touches to drive them wild, making them beg permission for an orgasm (orgasm control ). No pain. No force. All pleasure. That’s just one example of sensual BDSM. Use your imagination, and you’ll probably find a million other ways to take control, no pain required.

Not Always About Sex

Plenty of people want to be suspended by rope from hooks in the ceiling, lean over a spanking bench and be whipped until they cry, or simply want to be controlled by another person. But not all kinky encounters end in sex. In a BDSM dungeon or club, you’ll often find two people negotiating a scene in which one is whipped, flogged, dripped with wax, or bound with rope. While both people will enjoy the scene, and may even become sexually aroused by it, neither of them have sex (with each other) at the end. Sex isn’t the point. The act of bondage, masochism, control, or discipline is the point.

On the other end of the spectrum, outside of play, there are entire D/s relationships and families where not all partners have sex with each other. Submissives serve Dominants in different ways: cooking, cleaning, taking care of errands, you name it. It definitely falls within BDSM, but nothing about it is sexual.

You Don't Have to Enjoy Pain

Sadism and masochism are distinct parts of BDSM, but they aren’t requirements. Maybe you simply want to kneel in front of your Master or give up control over your own orgasms. You may enjoy the act of serving, or maybe you’re a rope bunny who craves the tight squeeze and little else. Like every other part of BDSM, you’re free to choose the activities that you enjoy most and reject the ones that do nothing for you. There are no requirements.

Finding What Works for You

As you enter the world of BDSM and begin to try new things, you’ll find that your preferences change over time. You may think you’re simply submissive to your partner and you’re happy to give up control in the bedroom ... until you try a rope harness, and you find that you love being bound. You may believe the only pain you can handle is a spanking until you try a flogger. Your limits will change over time as you learn more, become more comfortable with different activities, and find partners that you can trust. There’s no one-size-fits-all to BDSM. Pick and choose what you like from across the kinky spectrum.

Consent Is the Only Real Rule

Anyone who tells you there’s only one right way to enjoy BDSM either has a lot to learn or is a fool. So many activities can fall into the world of kink. The only rule you need to remember is consent: the informed consent of all parties, an understanding of what to expect, and the willingness to gain consent throughout the scene, and even throughout the relationship.

If the idea of getting a little kinky excites you, but the rougher, more advanced level of BDSM you see in porn and erotica are too much, don’t worry. Consider all of the kinky activities you enjoy, try something new if it intrigues you, and get the consent of your partner (or partners). Be as kinky as you want to be, even if it doesn’t involve an ounce of pain or humiliation. BDSM is a lot bigger and broader than you think. Where you and your desires fit in is up to you.