The BDSM symbol was designed to have no obvious symbolism to a person who has no knowledge of the BDSM lifestyle choice. In its current form, the birth origins of the symbol evolved in the 1990's within the online BDSM community. There was a collective outcry to create a way to be recognized by other practitioners, whilst remaining incognito to the non BDSM community or vanillas.  There was a clear emphasis placed on the design. It was to represent no more than an interesting piece of jewelry to a person that did not practice any of the BDSM lifestyle choices. It was to be enigmatic, difficult to interpret or understand. To a person who practiced the lifestyle, it should be rich and full of meanings.

Some have attempted to copyright versions or claim ownership to a particle design, but independent of copyrights and styles the underlying essence remains in most current day designs. Many BDSM practitioners advocate strongly and openly that BDSM symbols represent a lifestyle choice, and those symbols are not for copyright or to be misused as part of the marketing machine. They belong to the wider BDSM community.


First - Some history as to the design

Anyone who knows the 20th century “Story of O”, a French erotic novel written Anne Desclo in 1954. They will clearly identify the similarity of the current day BDSM symbol to that of a ring depicted within the book.  It is a ring that is worn by a female "slave"  (within a BDSM context) after she has finished her training at château of Roissy. This symbol has a long history within the BDSM community that predates the 1990's evolution.                                                                                                                    

Image derivative of AnonMoos  

But what does the current day symbol mean?

The symbol incorporates the Triskele shape.This is a ancient symbol dating back as far as 4400BC. Interestingly its use is littered throughout B.C history, on many different continents with no lines of communication. Then again in the A.D timeline. The Triskele holds various meanings to various groups and should not be confused as a direct symbol of BDSM. In the context of BDSM, what we will want to focus on is the three arms of the Triskele and the number 3, because this is where it gets interesting.


When we break down BDSM it often has three parts that are closely related, but are different.

First lets look at the name BDSM. It can be split into three areas.

  1. B&D - BDSM - Bondage and discipline              
  2. D&S - BDSM - Dominance and submission    
  3. S&M - BDSM  - Sadism and masochism                    

Secondly the BDSM lifestyle has and promotes a three way creed, a statement of faith if you like. Keep it,

  1. Safe
  2. Sane
  3. Consensual

Thirdly the BDSM lifestyle participant can be identified by one of three clearly identifiable groups

  1. A Top        ( A Dominant, Master or Top)
  2. A bottom    ( A submissive, slave or bottom)
  3. A Switch    ( A person who may be a Dominant in one relationship or role play setting and a submissive in another. They are able to switch or serve in both roles)

So now if we look at the three legs, each leg represents one of three things, but at the same time one of many things.

What are the sperm style or Yin Yang shapes?

The shapes are meant to show how one area of B&D, D&S and S&M are separate, but can easily cross the indistinct line into another area, representing how one area begins and another ends. They appear the same but are clearly different. The constituent parts of BDSM  in motion. The blackness represents and celebrates the dark desires of a person and their ability unleash and or control them.

Some symbols use color between the YinYang shapes, bordering the three legs of the Triskele. These colors depict meanings, silver or metallic can represent chains, irons, servitude, ownership. Other colors could represent sexual orientation.

What are the holes or dots in the Yin Yang shapes?

They are not dots, they are meant to represent holes. In this context, think of the black Yin Yang shapes as a person. A Top, a bottom or a switch.  The hole represents the fact that something or someone is missing and that the person or role is incomplete. Each shape/person is playing its part.  BDSM can not be preformed by one person, hence they have a hole within them.  It is a hole that can only be filled by another. A Dominant requires a submissive as much as a submissive requires a dominant. One must have the other to be complete.  

What is the outer Ring?

The ring surrounds the three divisions of the various three's within the BDSM lifestyle. We can think of the circle as a border that represents the oneness of its community. A container of all constituent parts. A border of a community that understands, respects, protects and embraces its own for their lifestyle choice, whilst understanding one part is no more or less than the other. If you stand inside of this circle, you have made a lifestyle choice and become one of the  constituent parts.

What is important to remember with this symbol or BDSM symbols

At the end of the day, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Symbolism carries the same in principle, it is in the eye of the beholder. To one person or one group, a symbol may mean something else. Remember it is the collective agreement that transfers meaning to symbol. Is the collective no more than two people in a relationship? If so, be true, be you and do not forget, keep it safe sane and consensual. Then you will discover on your journey, the true meaning behind the symbol.