BDSM represents a continuum of practices and expressions, both erotic and non-erotic, involving restraint, sensory stimulation, role-playing, and a variety of interpersonal dynamics. Given the wide range of practices, some of which may be engaged in by people who don't consider themselves as practicing BDSM, inclusion in the BDSM community and/or subculture is usually dependent on self-identification and shared experience. Interest in BDSM can range from one-time experimentation to a lifestyle, and there is debate over whether a BDSM or kink sexual identity also constitutes a form of sexual orientation.
The term BDSM is believed to have been coined as a compound initialism in the 1990s to combine communities and practices that had a significant amount of crossover – bondage and discipline (B&D or B/D), dominance and submission (D&S or D/s), and sadomasochism or sadism and masochism (S&M or S/M). BDSM is currently frequently used as a catch-all phrase to includes a wide range of activities, forms of interpersonal relationships, and distinct subcultures which may or may not fit well into the original three intended categories. With an ethos of "your kink is OK!" many BDSM communities welcome anyone with a non-normative streak who identifies with the community; this may include cross-dressers, extreme body mod enthusiasts, animal players, latex or rubber aficionados, and others.