50 Shades of Kink: An Introduction to BDSM by Tristan Taormino

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[This is the text of the book review from episode 69.]

This episode’s book review is 50 Shades of Kink: An Introduction to BDSM by Tristan Taormino. I received it for free from the generous people at Cleis Press, but that’s never stopped me from being honest.

First bit of honesty—with this title, if it hadn’t been by the illustrious Ms Taormino I would have never asked to review it.

Recently, though, another sex blogger, Amy, from Coffee & Kink, wrote about how high quality 50 Shades branded things—toys and such—were important because people new to kink would no doubt be overwhelmed by the quantity of gear out there. A lot of it being non-body safe. And if we scoff at these people due to how they found the scene they’ll go away and practise kink in unsafe ways—ways that probably look like what happens in the trilogy. If we welcome them and say, ‘Here, try this other thing/book/this is how consent actually works in the scene…’ Everyone will have a much better and safer time. Let these people come in in the way they’re most comfortable.

This book is written for beginners—if you’ve read 50 Shades (or know someone who read it) and wants to know more about the basics—it’s excellent. Taormino has been writing and teaching about BDSM for years and knows her stuff. She covers a wide range of topics concisely.

It’s the precursor to a book she edited called The Ultimate Guide to Kink, which is for more experienced practitioners—there probably won’t be a lot of new ground here if you’re not brand new.

Particulars of the book. It’s 140 pages so it’s not dauntingly long. I was surprised how much was covered.

In the introduction the author defines ‘kink’ thusly:

I use kink as a catch-all term that includes BDSM, sadomasochism, kinky sex, dominance and submission, role play, sex games, fantasy and fetish.

She further defines the word:

Kink is an intimate experience, an exchange of power between people that can be physical, erotic, sexual, psychological, spiritual, or, most often, some combination. People who practice kink explore the territory between pleasure and pain, eroticize the exchange of power, experience intense physical sensations and psychological scenarios, and test and push their limits.

That’s a pretty all encompassing definition. I like it.

Something else she said in the intro that is one of my favourite things about BDSM is:

BDSM can be a lifelong learning process and way of getting to know ourselves and our deepest, and sometimes darkest, fantasies and fetishes.

I love, love, love that kink is about being encouraged to play and grow and learn about ourselves rather than stifling creativity and stagnating and being a grown up and behaving and being just one way that is defined by very dull people. I love the entire concept of seeing where certain dark (and light) paths go and being with people who will protect you and celebrate those journeys. Once we’re past a certain age we’re no longer supposed to explore our inner worlds—we’re supposed to focus on what the outer world wants of us all the time. Kink says, ‘Lighten up! You’re no good to anyone if you know nothing about yourself! Put on that Minnie Mouse frock and jump in a vat of applesauce, if you want!’

After the introduction, Taormino starts off with a chapter called Embrace Your Inner Kinkster: Myths, Truths and Communication.

Much like it sounds, it covers a lot of the myths surrounding kink—nothing you haven’t heard before if you’ve been around awhile—and dispels them succinctly. This book would also be good for a vanilla person in your life who was just confused by what it was BDSM was about and would sit and read 140 pages.

The chapter also covers how to have a conversation—whether in person or some form of writing or another way—about your new kinky desires. There’s advice on what to do if that conversation doesn’t go well.

Chapter two is BDSM Basics: Terms, Roles and Principles. It covers all the basics I’ve ever heard of so you should be set for the new people, at least.

In this section there’s consent, as well as a Yes-No-Maybe sample checklist. I read the digital version and it would be easier to make a physical copy of the physical version for you and your partner(s) to make checkmarks on than having to draw out your own version of the spreadsheet. Though with your own version you could add extra activities you had thoughts about.

There’s extensive information on good ways to communicate both before, during and after play and examples of how to incorporate communication into play if you’re doing role play or trying to maintain a certain atmosphere.

She stresses that it’s important for tops to remember to take care of themselves after scenes, as well. The focus is often solely on the person having something done to them, but tops are important, too.

Contracts are discussed in this section and a sample contract is given.

Chapter three is Dominant/submissive Role Play.

This chapter includes this quote:

A power exchange of some kind is nearly always present in human relationships. There are people all around us in power exchange relationships who don’t acknowledge the dynamic or call it anything. Consider a husband who gives his wife an allowance but not credit card in her own name. A woman who controls her coworkers, making them eager to please her even though she’s not their boss. That’s right—there are plenty of people wearing collars and others tugging at their leashes, but the gear is invisible and the dynamic unexamined.

The more I’ve embraced my submissive side, and considered it, the more I’ve noticed how power works in the world in general. I prefer the acknowledgment of unequal power and intentionally playing with it.

In this section the author talks about how Dominants don’t have to be tops—a Dominant could order their submissive to flog them, for example.

Then there was this:

But there could also be a sadistic submissive who enjoys piercing masochist bottoms.

Yes? Hello? Hi. Hellooooo.

People don’t have to be just one thing, basically. Which goes back to being encouraged to play and learn about yourself.

This chapter also addresses how, for some people D/s is role play—people exploring playing with power—and for others their Dominant or submissive side is as ingrained as their sexual orientation or their eye colour.

Chapter four is Sexual Power Games: Pleasure and Orgasm Control.

This covers things like tease and torment, forced masturbation, orgasm control (which AliceinBondageLand taught us all about a few episodes back) and sexual service. What these things are, what’s appealing about them and how to do them safely.

The next chapter is on Sensory Deprivation: Blindfolds, Hoods and Earplugs, which is what it says on the tin.

Chapter Six is Sensation Play: Massage Oil Candles, Nipple Clamps and More. ‘And more’ is right. Feathers, edible body paint, stimulating gels and creams. There was also lots of safety information here. People tend to think that you need to be careful most when using pain or hitting someone, but a too hot candle can involve an explanation at the hospital, which ruins everyone’s good time.

There are two chapters on bondage. The first is Basics and DIY.

This chapter is about what you can use around your house and the author starts off by warning not to use athletic tape or duct tape, as well as zip ties. She then goes into what are good choices and why and how to use them safely.

The second bondage chapter is stuff you purchase: Restraints, Bondage Tape, Gags, and Collars.

In this chapter Taormino discusses the hazards of the classic handcuff (keys get lost, they can close too tightly, they can cut into the wrist) and then covers the other basic types of items out there and how they might be used, as well as makes recommendations for quality manufacturers of said items.

Then we’re onto a chapter called Smack!: Spanking, Paddles and Crops. There are instructions on how to give a spanking, including how to spank genitals, in case that’s something you’d like to try. Then there’s the various implements that can be used and how and why. In this section she recommends trying a slapper if you’ve enjoyed a hand spanking, but:

…crave something more intense or with more of a ‘bite’.

The follow up chapter is Smack Harder!: Floggers and Canes. This covers the array of materials a flogger can be made of and how that effects its sting or thud, as well as how to use a flogger. Taormino always stresses education and safety and urges the reader to learn to flog properly before ever throwing it at a person.

Then we’re onto canes—she doesn’t have a great deal to say about canes outside of what they’re made of, what parts of the body they can be used on and how painful and dangerous they can be if not used properly.

Chapter eleven is Rough Sex. I learned something about myself reading this. Rough sex is triggering as hell for me—big hard limit, so that was useful. I didn’t even know what that phrase meant (it’s not exactly descriptive) and thought it meant someone likes bondage or spankings with their sex. Nope. It’s a whole thing of its own and I have a visceral reaction to it. Okay. So, the author talks about how some people don’t consider rough sex kinky—Taormino says:

Rough sex is another kind of dominant/submissive role play where you can explore power, control, and surrender, and use intense physicality to push limits and break taboos.

She talks about the various acts involved in this activity and how, though it’s incredibly intense, there are still ways to communicate and get consent for the specific ways you want to be roughed up or rough someone else up.

The rest of the book is resources. The Epilogue is Fifty Items for your Toy Bag–not all of which are physical. The first three are consent, communication and honesty, for example. Then there’s an entirely decent reading list comprised of both fiction and non-fiction books. A list of films is back in an earlier chapter, so you’ll finish this book with a nice little syllabus to begin your studies.

Overall, 50 Shades of Kink is a great introduction for complete beginners to BDSM or those who are curious about what it is we do and how we do it. It’s straightforward, inclusive and covers a wide-array of topics. I definitely give this one a 5/5.

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