You thought you’d learned your sex ABCs—or, rather, ACGs (that’s your A-spot, C-spot, and G-spot)—a long time ago. But then, you hear someone talking about cuckolding, queening, or a Wartenberg wheel, and you suddenly feel like you’re learning a new language. The thing is, when it comes to sex terms, you essentially are constantly learning a new language, and that’s okay.
“Of course there’s some confusion on different sex terms,” says Gigi Engle, certified sex coach and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life. “We have so little sex education in this country, and it’s not like the SATs include any of these fun and actually useful words and phrases.”
Furthermore, unlike other choice words and phrases not covered in a traditional school setting, much of the language used to describe the wide spate of sex-related concepts are left out of other public streams of communication completely. “It’s not just the classroom where people aren’t exposed to certain sex terms,” says clinical sexologist Megan Stubbs, EdD. “TV shows, books, and movies aren’t detailing out and explaining a broad range of sexuality, either.”
Because of this, and because, as Engle notes, new terms around sex, gender, and sexuality, are constantly emerging, many are left out of the know. In light of this ever-growing sexicon, educate yourself below with the comprehensive glossary of sex terms, defined by pros.
Scroll down for your comprehensive guide to those not-so-basic sex terms.
Aftercare started in the BDSM scene as a method for transitioning back to reality after experiencing a sexual encounter, says ex educator and sex-toy reviewer Indigo Wolfe. In practice, it’s a way for you and your partner(s) to communicate, debrief, and love on each other after the session is finished in however way feels most fulfilling to your specific needs.
“For some people, this means eating chocolate, for others it means massaging or getting massaged by their partner(s), and for others it means cuddling on the couch and watching a movie,” Wolfe says. There are not standardized rules that guide aftercare, so tailor it to fit your and your partner’s love language and communication styles.
The “B” in BDSM, bondage is a form of restraint used to add “an extra layer of fun and arousal to your sex play,” says Dr. Stubbs. It can involve accessories like handcuffs, rope, under-the-bed restraints, blindfolds, gags, and more. “You can DIY your own bondage gear with things like a tie, sleeping mask, or a (clean) feather duster,” she adds.
Furthermore, know that experimenting with bondage doesn’t require inflicting or receiving any pain. In fact, unless you’re explicitly into pain and know the difference between hurts-so-good and might-be-dangerous types of pain, that should never be present.
So, if you’re new to the idea of exploring bondage, have a “get out of jail” plan set in place, including a safe word and also a pair of safety-edged scissors on the bedside table (to cut you out of extra-tight knots).
While the hope is all people are abundantly clear on what consent is, just in case, Dr. Stubbs is here to remind you: “Consent is the clear agreement between two people to do a certain thing, with the knowledge that this can be revoked at any time,” she says. “It’s an ongoing conversation.”
“Cuckolding is a sexual kink in which one person within a couple is humiliated as their partner has sex with a third-party,” says sex expert Ana Valens. Cuckolding can involve one partner watching the act, or have them leaving the room while their partner has sex with someone else, and then getting told the steamy details after the fact.
The “D” in BDSM stands for domination (and submission). Someone who is a dominant receives pleasure from using tactics like humiliation, name-calling, bondage, and orgasm control (or denial) to dominate and discipline their partner, Dr. Stubbs says. The partner, then, receives pleasure from consensually submitting.
Perhaps you’ve heard of dental dams, but have you used one? “It’s a simple sheet, usually made of latex or nitrile, that is commonly used to perform cunnilingus or analingus, and lays between the mouth and genitals,” says Wolfe. Dental dams are single-use products that keep STIs from spreading between the genitals and mouth.
Edgeplay refers to playing close to—and sometimes consensually pushing—your sexual boundaries, without actually crossing them. Because we all have different boundaries, what constitutes edgeplay will vary from person to person. Whether your edgeplay involves humiliation, handcuffs, or anything else, do be sure to practice it with a partner you trust. (And definitely use a safe word).
Fluid bonding happens when you and your partner make the educated choice to have unprotected sex. “The idea is that everyone is aware of everyone’s current STI status and is making and informed decision,” Dr. Stubbs says. So, an encounter when someone “forgets” to use protection? Does not count. Fluid bonding requires an initial conversation, consent, and intent.
Sometimes referred to as water sports, golden showers involve using urine ways that are intended to be sexual and sensual. That may mean peeing near your partner, or in front of your partner, or on your partner.
“Group sex is when you have three or more people engaging in sex together,” says Dr. Stubbs. That may mean a threesome, or foursome, or moresome, she adds. Or that may mean a bunch of couples having sex together, in one space.
“Impact play refers to the kink play in which one partner hits another—or when someone hits themselves,” says Valens. “This ranges from spanking someone on the rear or breasts with a hand to using paddles, whips, and other devices.” Just like with edgeplay, impact play is only recommended with a partner(s) you trust, with whom you can effectively communicate and have an established safe word.
Kink is a broad term used to encompass any non-vanilla sex acts. Sexual-health consultant Francisco Ramirez previously told Well+Good that “kink is anything that falls outside the bounds of culturally defined expectations, which, because of often wildly puritanical societies, could basically be anything that’s not penile-vaginal intercourse.”
Lubricant does for sex what does butter does for most foods: make it better. “Yes, a lot of people make their own natural lubrication, but everyone can benefit from making their sex a little wetter,” says Wolfe. For many, lube can be the difference between friction-filled, dry, painful sex and a pleasurable experience.
There are three main types of lubricant: silicone, oil, and water-based. Silicone-based is generally recommended for anal sex (but it may stain the sheets), and water-based is recommended for other forms of penetration. If you’re using a silicone sex toy, water-based lube is a must because silicone-based lube will break down the toy over time. Oil-based is great for foreplay and massaging, but otherwise consider shelving it since oil degrades latex and thus can make safe-sex tools less effective. (Also, just FYI: CBD lube is also a thing.)
Masochism refers to the “M” of BDSM. “Masochism is a kink term for experiencing pleasure from being in pain, be it physical or emotional,” says Valens. Many submissives and others who enjoy being on the receiving end of impact often identify as masochists, sexually speaking.
Orgasm control describes “when you repeatedly build up to the brink of orgasm, but then back away right before the release,” Dr. Stubbs says. You can do it during partnered or solo sex in order to learn more about your body, pleasure, and (hopefully) to experience a seriously powerful release once you do, finally, come.
“Pegging refers to anal sex that takes place with a strap-on dildo,” says Wolfe, who adds that it usually involves a person with a penis being anally penetrated for pleasure. “If you have a penis, being anally penetrated can stimulate your prostate in a feel-good way.” And if you have a vulva, they add, being pegged can “create a sexy full feeling” that stimulates your A-spot.
No, queening doesn’t require you to wear a crown (though, theoretically, there’s no reason not to). Rather, queening is another term for the oral-sex position best described as face-sitting.
Strap-on sex is sex that involves using a prosthetic phallus for any kind of sex including oral, vaginal, anal, or even dry humping or masturbation, says Wolfe. While strap-ons are usually thought of as being something vulva-owners put on, there are strap-ons available for people of all genders and genitalia. “If someone has a penis, they might wear a strap-on if they have erectile dysfunction,” they say. Or to explore double-penetration with their partner. “There are also strap-on dildos that can be worn on your thighs or lower back,” says Wolfe.
You might know the terms “top” and “bottom” as ways to differentiate between the penetrator and the receiver during anal sex between men. But topping, as a term, can mean much more. “It can also be used by folks of all genders, sexualities, and relationship structures to call out who is taking the less-passive and less-submissive role during sex,” says Dr. Stubbs. Usually, the top is the penetrator, she says, but not always. “The most important thing to know about the top versus bottom distinction is that really, it’s the bottom who has the power,” says Stubbs. “They’re the one green-lighting and mutually giving consent to what sex acts take place.”
If you think “vanilla” is synonymous with “boring,” Wolfe wants you to know something: You’re wrong. “Vanilla is a flavor of sex—a fantastic flavor, not a lack of flavor,” they say. “Vanilla sex is sex that lacks kink,” but that doesn’t mean it lacks potential for pleasure or fun.
“The Wartenberg wheel is a sex toy that looks like a little pinwheel and has little spikes on it,” says Wolfe. IMHO, it looks like a pizza cutter. (To help you visualize it, check out this one, available online). If it looks like a medical device to you, that’s because it is: Neurologist Robert Wartenberg originally created it to test nerve sensitivity. Now, it’s popularly used during sensation play. “It looks more menacing than it actually is,” says Wolfe. “Having it rolled over your skin can feel amazing because it ignites your nerves.”
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