The hidden world of power exchange in sexuality and relationships exploded in the spotlight through the book and movie 'Fifty Shades of Grey.' While BDSM (Bondage-Discipline-Sadomasochism) is far from mainstream, it's practiced in the context of sexual relations, emotional connections and long-term relationships all over the world.
I've witnessed the broad appeal to alternative lifestyles firsthand, as I've helped many individuals, couples and polyamorous families process their desire to explore dominant or submissive tendencies with like-minded people. Some are interested in bringing 'spice' to the bedroom, others enjoy TPE, or total power exchange, as Master/slave (M/s), and others participate somewhere in the middle with a D/s, or Dominant/submissive dynamic.
Everyone's interest in kink is unique in how they combine sexual fetishes with added elements of power exchange. BDSMers like to expand the traditional boundaries of 'vanilla' sex into worlds of domination and submission, where sex toys, rituals and protocols reinforce a power dynamic negotiated between 'play partners'.
Sadomasochism focuses on the physical aspects of sensation and pain in BDSM. The psychological aspects of BDSM include domination and control for a dominant, while service, obedience and pleasing someone are cornerstones for submissives. Individuals who like to be both dominant and submissive at different times are referred to as 'switches.' Polyamory (multiple relationships) is common in the leather lifestyle.
Concepts such as consent, negotiation, hard limits and self-awareness are paramount to safe and healthy practices living in an alternative lifestyle. There is a distinct line between healthy BDSM and abuse. All power exchange should be between adults who have negotiated those activities that are permissible, and where explicit, informed consent is fully given by everyone involved.