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Terminology for roles varies widely among the subcultures.Top and dominant are widely used for those partner(s) in the relationship or activity who are, respectively, the physically active or controlling participants.Whether it is a public "playspace"—ranging from a party at an established community dungeon to a hosted play "zone" at a nightclub or social event—the parameters of allowance can vary.Some have a policy of panties/nipple tape for women (underwear for men) and some allow full nudity with explicit sexual interaction allowed.Use of the agreed safeword (or occasionally a "safe symbol" such as dropping a ball or ringing a bell, especially when speech is restricted) is seen by some as an explicit withdrawal of consent.Failure to honor a safeword is considered serious misconduct and could even change the sexual consent situation into a crime, depending on the relevant law, since the bottom or top has explicitly revoked his or her consent to any actions that follow the use of the safeword (see Legal status).Bottom and submissive are widely used for those partner(s) in the relationship or activity who are, respectively, the physically receptive or controlled participants.
There are distinct subcultures under this umbrella term.
The abbreviations "sub" and "dom" are frequently used instead of "submissive" and "dominant".
Sometimes the female-specific term "domme" is used to describe a dominant woman, instead of the gender-neutral term "dom"; both terms are pronounced the same.
Activities and relationships within a BDSM context are often characterized by the participants taking on complementary, but unequal roles; thus, the idea of informed consent of both the partners becomes essential.
The terms "submissive" and "dominant" are often used to distinguish these roles: the dominant partner ("dom") takes psychological control over the submissive ("sub").