BDSM is a compound acronym, which stands for B-Bondage, D-Discipline/Domination, S-Submission/Sadism and M-Masochism. BDSM is often misunderstood by main stream media and vanilla couples as being abusive, non-consensual and violent. IT IS EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE! BDSM is about connection, trust, and vulnerability. It is method of temporarily escaping the burdens of self-hood (Baumeister, 1988). It is an alternative way for you to fulfill some need, whether that need be a psychological or a physiological need. In essence, D/s and BDSM refer to a consensual relationship between a dominant partner (or Top) and a submissive partner (or bottom). Each person understands their place in the relationship, and activities involved can range from casual sexual encounters to intense scenes involving pain and punishment to around the clock live-in committed relationships, and anything in between. Many people have fantasies and never act on them, but BDSM participants develop their fantasies, incorporate them into real-life situations and live them out in scenes.
In most relationships there is a dominant partner and a submissive partner. Their roles are usually vague and not acknowledged, but they are still there. People usually fall into these roles over time and it's often a convenient and practical way for a couple to divide up the responsibilities of their daily lives according to their individual preferences and abilities. One person is usually the sexual aggressor and decision-maker, and the other generally "goes along". Now in D/s relationships, these dominant and submissive roles are defined and agreed upon. These roles may be limited to sexual activities, or the dominant may make all decisions in all areas of the relationship, or anywhere in between. Many people write and sign contracts describing exact expectations and responsibilities of both people. Either person may have limits about things they are not willing to do, and these can be included in the agreement. Physical BDSM and inflicting of pain may be involved, or the agreement may revolve around duties and behavior control, or sexual fetishes, or all the above. Problems arise in a D/s relationship when communication or trust break down, or if one person feels less important than the other, which leads to frustration and self-esteem issues for both. Many people who would never consider themselves "BDSM people" have experimented with sexual bondage, or at least wanted to try it. Often people are hesitant to talk about these feelings with their partners, which can lead to unfulfillment, arguments, and breakups. In a loving, healthy relationship, fantasies should be open to discussion -- even if the other partner isn't willing to act on them -- but if it's out in the open, it will lessen the chance of frustrations and blame being placed where it doesn't belong. BDSM is infinite in what it can involve, and there is no Right or Wrong way to go about it... there is only safe or unsafe.
People exploring BDSM for the first time are often like kids in a candy shop. Someone who has fantasized about control, bondage, humiliation, spanking, whipping, threesomes, group sex, etc. can easily get carried away when first acting on those impulses -- but there is never any substitute for knowledge, caution, common sense, practice, and experience. Have fun, explore, experiment, but be careful: serious physical and psychological harm can result from taking something farther than you or your partner are prepared for.