Consensual Sadomasochism front cover

Consensual Sadomasochism front cover

By William A. Henkin and Sybil Holiday
Published in 1996 by Daedalus Publishing Company

This book’s table of contents left me wary because it devotes 150 pages to what the authors refer to as a “safety manual”. I am firmly of the opinion that if you think BDSM has to be “safe” you probably should find a different sexual outlet. That isn’t to say that I think it is okay to be reckless when you play. Far from it. we all have to recognize that BDSM is an inherently risky activity that demands we each take personal responsibility for when we play.

Usually, when we think of risk and BDSM, we think of physical risk, but the physical risks are the least severe. It is the emotional risks that we take when we play that are the most extreme. These risks aren’t the sole purview of bottoms (or submissives or bottoms or whatever the Hell it is someone chooses to call themselves. I could write a lengthy rant about how silly we can be about terminology. Someday I just may…) Indeed, tops (or dominants…same rant…) also take just as much emotional risk when we play.

Luckily despite my initial worries the discussions of playing safely aren’t heavy handed. Instead, they serve as brief introductions to the sorts of play they describe. Sometimes, these discussions seem too brief. However if these types of play were all covered in the depth they demand, the book would be so long it would be too intimidating for all but the most dedicated reader to pick up.

Also important to remember that BDSM is ultimately not something that one learns from a book but instead is only learned from practice and experience. (I should add that this process of learning is ongoing. The most dangerous sorts of people are those that maintain they have nothing left to learn.) This is a point the authors make more than once by cautioning anyone interested in such play to learn from someone with lots of experience.
Another refreshing thing about this book is the total absence of fictional fantasy sequences from its pages. I have no idea why such fantasy scenes take up so much of the space of most BDSM how-to books as their inclusion detracts rather than enhances.

Unfortunately, even though this book avoids the annoying fantasy sequences it does include another flaw that rears its head all too often in BDSM books: new age spirituality. Even though I don’t personally have much use for spirituality I recognize that there is a time and a place for it; I’m just dumbfounded why anyone believes that time and place to be inside a book about how to beat people.

BDSM spirituality almost invariably manifests itself in one of two ways, Wicca/paganism or Indian mysticism (Tantra). Most published BDSM books come from California and do little to contradict the the hippie-dippy California stereotype. Locally, most “spiritual” practitioners I know seem to be of the Wicca/Pagan/mother earth/bridge troll persuasion. Just once I would love to hear someone report that while they were “flying” in the middle of a scene they felt closer to, oh I dunno, Isis. Shoot, I’d settle for a report of an out of body experience where someone tongued Satan’s asshole. Alas, I suspect that I will remain forever disappointed.

But I digress, despite the predictable embrace of spirituality, Consensual Sadomasochism is an excellent introductory book for those wanting to explore BDSM and those interested in learning more would be well served by reading it.

P.S. Some of you poor misguided souls out there are under the impression that activities involving consent are “consentual.” Those of you who are sticklers for spelling and grammatical accuracy (like me) are already well aware that there is no such word as “consentual” and cringe upon seeing it. The word is properly spelled consensual. Learn it, love it, live it.