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The Changing Tides: Old Guard vs. New Guard in BDSM



The BDSM community, like any other, is ever-evolving. Over time, it has seen the emergence of new norms, etiquettes, and philosophies that have shaped its identity. One such instance is the shift from the 'Old Guard' to the 'New Guard'.


The Old Guard refers to the traditional BDSM subculture that originated in the post-WWII gay male community. This subculture was rooted firmly in a rigid hierarchical structure, strict codes of conduct, and a military-like discipline. In contrast, the New Guard represents a more contemporary, inclusive, and flexible approach to BDSM practices. Let's delve into the differences between the two, shedding light on the evolution of BDSM culture.


The Old Guard, sometimes also referred to as the 'Leather Culture', developed in the 1950s and 60s, primarily among gay men in the USA. The Old Guard followed a stringent hierarchy, where dominance and submission roles were fixed. One was either a ‘Top’ (dominant) or a ‘Bottom’ (submissive), with no scope for fluidity or interchangeability.

The Old Guard was also characterized by a rigid code of conduct. Protocols, rules, and rituals were strictly adhered to, with a heavy emphasis on respect, discipline, and obedience. The Old Guard was not just about sexual practices; it was a complete lifestyle, often involving a long process of mentorship and learning.



The New Guard emerged in the late 80s and 90s, coinciding with the rise of the internet and the subsequent accessibility of information. This global connectivity led to a broader, more diverse group of people becoming interested in and involved with BDSM.


The New Guard brings a more flexible approach to BDSM practices. Roles are not fixed and can be fluid or interchangeable. This means that individuals can choose to switch between dominant and submissive roles, depending on their comfort and preferences. The New Guard also embraces a broader spectrum of identities and orientations, making the BDSM community more inclusive.


The strict protocols of the Old Guard have been relaxed in the New Guard, with a greater emphasis on individual consent, negotiation, and communication. While respect and discipline are still valued, there is a stronger focus on personal freedom and exploration.


The New Guard is also more accepting of casual or recreational BDSM, something that would have been unthinkable in the Old Guard era. Many people now engage in BDSM activities without it being a complete lifestyle.


The shift from Old Guard to New Guard in BDSM reflects societal changes at large. While the Old Guard was built on a foundation of rigid structure and discipline, the New Guard embraces flexibility, inclusivity, and personal freedom.


However, it is essential to note that these terms are not universally agreed upon or used in the BDSM community. Some people may identify with elements from both 'guards', and that's perfectly okay. The key principle in BDSM, whether Old Guard or New Guard, remains the same: Safe, Sane, and Consensual. Both approaches strive for respect, trust, and consent, ensuring that BDSM practices are safe and enjoyable for all involved.

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