It seems no matter where you go there are always labels. Some labels you may find worth embracing, some labels may be too restrictive. But no matter what there are labels. I am a woman, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a dork, a bookworm. I’m also a submissive, a bottom, and a tiny bit of a masochist.


That second series of labels may be a bit confusing to some, they are labels that help others in the BDSM/kink world know some of what I am or am interested in. In my last article we discussed some of the basic terminology used in the BDSM community. This week I want to go into some of the labels used, what they mean, and perhaps other common variations. (Keep in mind that the meaning of any label is subjective to the person who is identifying with it, but these are some general definitions. )


Top: “Top” is a term used to describe the person who is performing the act in a scene.  Generally “Top” is used when there is no power exchange, just the play involved in the scene. A person can be a Top to Person A and be the Dominant to Person B. They could even be a Top to Person A and be the Submissive of Person B.


Bottom: “Bottom” is a term used to describe the person who is having an act performed on/to them in a scene. As with “Top,” when “Bottom” is used it usually means there is no power exchange, just the play involved in the scene. A person can be a Bottom as well as being uninterested in power exchange, or they can be either the Dominant or Submissive person in a power exchange dynamic.


Switch: “Switch” is the term used to describe someone who both tops and bottoms in different scenes. Switch can also be used to describe someone who is submissive to Person X and the Dominant of Person Y.


Play Partners: “Play partners” is the term used to describe a relationship between two people when they do scenes together, but are not in a romantic or power exchange relationship with one another. A person could have one play partner or many, or they may only play with their Dominant of submissive.


Dominant/Sir/Ma’am/Mistress/Master: These are all different terms used to describe the person holding the control and power in a power exchange dynamic. This role is usually described as being the “Dominant,” however “Domina” is a more feminine version that is also used. Many Dominants have a title they prefer their submissives to call them, like Sir, Ma’am, Mistress, Master, my Lord/Lady, etc. I have heard a differentiation between Dominant and Master is that  the level of control and power exchanged in the Master/slave dynamic is more total and complete than that of the Dominant/submissive. The differentiation can also just be a matter of preference.


Submissive/Slave: These are both terms used to describe the person giving over control and power in a power exchange dynamic. The general consensus on “submissive” versus “slave” is that the level of control and power exchanged in a Dominant/submissive dynamic is not as complete/total/far-reaching as the level in a Master/slave dynamic. Again, this can be a matter of personal preference.


Collar/Collared: In the BDSM community collars can have different levels of significance. A collar can be a symbol of commitment in a relationship, or it can merely be used as something fun to wear in a scene or out to the dungeon. There can be levels of meaning for collars. Consideration collar: where the Dominant and submissive are spending time seeing if they are compatible for each other in a longer term relationship. Training collar: where the Dominant and submissive are committed to the relationship, and the submissive is being trained to do things in the way the Dominant prefers (day to day things like how they take their coffee, or kink things like how they prefer the submissive to kneel, etc.) Formal collar: where the Dominant and submissive are committing to a long term relationship with one another. A formal collar is usually thought to have the same significance as a wedding ring. However, there are some people who don’t give collars this amount of significance and give and/or accept them without as much meaning attached to them.


Kinkster: This is a term some people use to describe themselves when they don’t feel they fit neatly into a label, or when they haven’t figured out which label best fits them. Some people have such a broad range of interests, fetishes/kinks, etc. that they prefer to call themselves a Kinkster for simplicity’s sake.


These are the most commonly used labels I have seen in my journey into the world of BDSM. Whether someone strongly identifies with a label, uses it as a way to convey their interests, or doesn’t use these labels because they don’t feel they fit, they can be useful in understanding the roles of different people in the community.