Recently, Emily Nagoski mentioned she was looking for ‘good, short introductory reading about BDSM’.
She can’t be the only person who comes across this question in their work. I’m therefore noting some suggestions that occurred to me in a blog post as well. Feel free to add your own text suggestions and criteria.
IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE
Articles in Books
Kleinplatz, Peggy J. and Moser, Charles (2006): Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures. London: Routledge.
Langdridge, Darren and Barker, Meg (2007): Safe, Sane and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
For example: Kleinplatz, Peggy J., and Moser, Charles (2007). Is SM pathological? pp. 55-62.
On the general theme of sexual diversity
Brame, Gloria (2011): The Truth About Sex, A Sex Primer for the 21st Century. Volume I: Sex and the Self. Terrace, B.C.: CCB Publishing.
Introduction: Sex matters, Why we don’t know what we know about sex, Diversity is normal, A universal solution. pp 1-8.
Articles in Journals
Wright, Susan, with contributions from Charles Moser: What is SM?
Brame, Gloria (2005): Types of Consensual Submission.
Henkin, William A. (2005): What is the Nature of Erotic Dominance?
Reiersøl, Odd and Skeid, Svein (2011): The ICD-11 Revision. Scientific and political support for the Revise F65 reform. Second report to the World Health Organization.
An up-to-date look at academic research on BDSM and fetishes, and conclusions.
Reiersøl, Odd and Skeid, Svein (2009): ICD Revision White Paper to WHO from Revise F65. Revise F65′s first report to the World Health Organization.
Brame, Gloria (2000): Five fallacies about SM.
Specifically addressing some prejudices. Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Brame, Gloria (2000): Come Hither. A Commonsense Guide to Kinky Sex. New York: Fireside Book.
A sample text of Chapter 1, including a list of basic sexual rights, can be read on the Library of Congress website.
Miesen, Don (1981): A view on Sadomasochism.
Good non-academic introductory text from an inside perspective. Archived. This text used to be on the Society of Janus website before its redesign.
On fetishes, a separate theme worth discussing as well
Brame, Gloria (2005): Fetishes. History and Practice.
IN GERMAN LANGUAGE
Passig, Kathrin and Strübel, Ira (2000): Die Wahl der Qual. Handbuch für Sadomasochisten und solche, die es werden wollen. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt.
SMJG e.V., BDSM-Jugend online: BDSM – Was ist denn das?
Bundesvereinigung Sadomasochismus e.V.: Textpool der BVSM.
Some criteria for my selection of texts.
In part, these are criteria which I’m happy the collection of texts as a whole meets. In part, these are desiderata which I hope will receive more attention in theoretical introductory texts yet to be written.
1. Theoretical texts about BDSM
Not instructional how-to texts (as specified). Ideally, addressed to readers in general.
Some of the texts above, by Don Miesen, Kathrin Passig and Ira Strübel, Datenschlag and in parts BVSM don’t completely fulfil this criterion, as they address readers as people with, potentially, personal sadomasochistic interests. As their emphasis is on theoretical description rather than practical how-to though, I think they are useful reading for a general audience anyway.
2. Based on a premise of sexual human rights.
Sexual human rights ‘include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, (…) to choose their partner; decide to be sexually active or not; consensual sexual relations (…)’.
3. No profusion of BDSM-specific jargon.
In awareness of past and present discrimination.
5. Specifically addressing some prejudices.
As it is (sadly) likely that readers will have encountered some erroneous assumptions and stereotypes in the past, whether they believed them or not.
6. Discussing consent of all persons involved.
Showing BDSM as ways of relating to each other and interactions which the people involved voluntarily choose to engage in. To complement consent of a person who bottoms/submits, including reference to consent of a person who tops/dominates.
7. Discussing differences between BDSM and abuse.
This is one open question people can have. A differentiated view on intentionality, voluntariness and effects. No reductionist approach, which misunderstandings have been known to change to a distorted ‘abuse + passive acquiescence’ formula. Stating that among sadomasochistic people, just as among non-sadomasochists, people who do commit abuse exist.
8. No emphasis on reclaiming pejorative terms.
Reclaiming can create some amusement for inside groups (‘We are proud perverts!’), but has little to no information value, when concepts such as ‘perversion’, ‘deviance’, ‘aberration’ or ‘degeneration’ were founded on obsolete ideologies in the first place.
9. No re-centering.
No self-aggrandising wishful thinking as backlash against discrimination. (Examples of re-centering: ‘I don’t want to be part of a sexual minority, I want to be like everyone! Therefore I’m going to pretend everyone is really sadomasochistic in some way, if only they admitted it.’ Or ‘I can’t imagine a happy and fulfilled love life for myself without BDSM. I’m going to project this on humanity in general and pretend nobody can have a happy and fulfilled love life without BDSM.’ Or ‘Everyone who does not like what I like is clearly repressed/afraid/boring.’)
10. No promotion of sexist ideology.
11. No promotion of heteronormativity.
12. Glimpses of the vast diversity within BDSM.
Different interests, experiences, emotions, activities, genders, orientations, relationships, interactions, combinations, variations…
On the subject of diversity, I wish more introductory texts would emphasise, while honouring the work of people who were and are pioneers of empirical research in this field, how little we can know about demographics from surveys undertaken so far. We can know that a great variety of interests and activities exists; all statements on numbers, and quantitative statements such as ‘more’, ‘fewer’ or ‘most’ need to be taken with a large grain of salt. Many open questions still remain for future research.
An empirical study which draws only upon participants in ‘the scene’ produces no findings on people who do sadomasochism in their personal lives, and do not participate in any groups, clubs or events.
A survey which only asks ‘female or male?’ can not show people who identify their own gender as non-binary.
Asexual people don’t show up in surveys when asexuality is not a response option.
Regarding data collected in BDSM groups, these can possibly be skewed, depending on characteristics of each different local group. Groups, clubs and events are not random samples from sadomasochistic portions of a population.
People who have had negative experiences in the group in question (examples: people who have been subjected to role policing; heterosexual, bisexual and pansexual dominant women who have experienced people tokenising them and devaluing their sexuality; men with interests in bottoming and/or submitting encountering sexist prejudices; people who have encountered prejudices against switching) may be reluctant to communicate their personal interests, may only communicate their interests selectively, or may have given up on that group long before the researchers arrived.
Representations of sadomasochism, both in wider cultures and in subcultures, are by no means diverse by default. Genders, orientations, ethnicity, body types and many other factors can contribute to whether media representations and self-portrayals of groups resonate positively with a person or not.
At present, whether groups or private lives are a focus of research, an unknown percentage of women with personal interests in dominance and/or sadism, who are attracted to men, will not even be there to take the survey.
It can depend on a person’s specific interests within the wide scope of ‘BDSM’ whether a person is more likely to encounter exclusionary, erasing and alienating representations, than representations they can relate to and/or are attracted to. This can have a considerable influence on whether people even connect their own inner desires and possibly activities to a concept called ‘BDSM’.
13. Showing BDSM interests as possibilities within the wide field of human interests, activities, sexuality and relationships.
On this theme, a quote from Emily Nagoski.
‘And the problem is built into science as it has been practiced for yonks: measurement of central tendencies, with the assumption that “variation around the mean” is just insignificant noise (…)
With sex, the central tendency is close to meaningless. What’s important is the variability that has been traditionally ignored. (…)
This was Darwin’s genius: the ability to see the underlying meaning in variability. It was Kinsey’s genius too: to (…) see only variety, not deviance. And it is the future of the study of the evolution of human sexuality. Look at the variety, and see the principle underlying it.
When we have the right principle(s), everything will fit, all variety will be accounted for, and no sexual variety – barring the infringement of rights (which gets very complicated very fast but we’ll just leave that alone for now) – will be any better or worse (…)’
14. No erotic/pornographic illustrations.
A criterion that isn’t about texts: I’m not going to send people to a web page illustrated with erotic/pornographic pictures when their intention is to read an educational text for a class or other educational event.
This respects the right of each person to choose whether they want to look at erotic/pornographic images or not, and in case they do want to look at erotic/pornographic images, to choose which genres of erotica/pornography they do want to look at, and which genres they don’t want to look at.
Website that doesn’t meet this criterion: SMJG. The rotating images of some white people in bondage at least don’t show only one gender, and are fairly unobtrusive and symbolic. For the specific purpose described here, my preference would be for no images of people at all.
See also point 12. above on diversity and representations.
Theoretical introductory texts about ‘BDSM in General’, accessible for readers with little or no previous pertinent information, are not easy to write. In some ways, they may be more difficult to write than a text on a specific question, or a text telling about a specific experience.
Theoretical (not instructional) introductions are suited both to readers who have no own interests in BDSM but a thirst for knowledge, as well as to readers who may have personal BDSM interests themselves.
Instructional texts focussing on ‘If you are a beginner, this is what I advise you to do’ are very useful. Very useful as well are texts which don’t presuppose anything at all about the reader except a desire for non-prejudiced information.
Conscientious authors are likely to know that any introduction they write is likely to have some shortcomings. I would like to encourage writers who are thinking about writing such a basic theoretical introduction to go ahead. In non-academic and academic form. Longer and shorter. For interested readers, having a plurality of sources available is a good thing.