“I’m sorry but the safe word is not ‘I forgot the safe word.’” – A bit about BDSM in books

“Look, if you want to torture me, spank me, lick me, do it. But if this poetry shit continues just shoot me now please.”
~Lori Petty in Tank Girl

james buchananHey, it’s ManCandy day and I, James Buchanan am butting in. Don’t worry, I’m sure Wave will still give your pre-Halloween candy.   Heck, it’s Halloween, youjames 1 deserve a treat, so I’ll give you half-dressed Twister from this year’s Folsom Street Fair.  

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with me, I write gay male romances oftentimes with a BDSM overtone.  My newest book, Personal Demons  was released this month from MLR Press…and surprisingly has no BDSM, just lots of hot sex, an FBI Agent who falls for a Cuban-American LAPD Detective while they investigate Santeria, Voodoo and ritual murder.  More surprisingly still, I’m not talking about that book today. 

Right now, I’m working on book three of the Taking the Odds  series.  The series features Nicky, the Nevada Gaming Control Agent, and Brandon, of Riverside PD.  Nicky’s a bondage switch and Brandon is the sexual submissive in their relationship.  They’re far more fetish than lifestyle and they don’t play service games.  The other set of obviously BDSM centered books are my JB Hardfallfinal lgeDeputy Joe Novels  with Utah Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Peterson and his boy Kabe.  There is a Sir/boy dynamic to their relationship with heavy S&M elements.  

Just ‘cause I’m a kinky bastage I’ll let you in on a little of my life: I’m a dominant (with some switch tendencies – although I hate pain and I’m not really comfortable being restrained) and my life partner is a sexually submissive masochist.  We don’t have any real service elements in our lifestyle.  We occasionally attend large public events, but other than belonging to National Leather Association-International (mostly for news and such) we don’t socially interact with a lot of the leather community.  We may hang with individual members of it, but not social groups or local scenes. 

And probably a good deal of you reading those last paragraphs had the WTF moment: Isn’t BDSM, just BDSM?

The answer is no

A person, any person, can be as into the scene as they want.  BDSM is a catch-all that covers a wide variety of tastes and levels and lifestyle.  It’s one of the reasons that a lot of us in the life (at whatever level), get really annoyed at books by people not in the life whoJames BDSM_whippingby JereKeys don’t at least try and understand the basics.  Not that you have to be Leather, or Rubber, or Puppy to write those stories, but it’s one of those areas where research really helps.  And not just about the props like how to use a St.   Andrews Cross, but who would use it and why. 

In the less than stellar books you’ll generally find a full blown service submissive masochist who lets a Sadistic DOM control everything.  There is no discussion of limits or boundaries or the big one SAFTEY.  They don’t understand the difference between Domination/submission and Sadism/masochism (you can have both, but you might have one without the other).  Puppy play has a different dynamic than Sir/boy.  Those types of stories are all about the whips and chains and NOT the head-space why the characters form the trust to employ the devices that turn them on.  And may I just say that BDSM is not therapy…it can be therapeutic, but it’s no substitute for professional intervention. 

Seriously. 

james 2Complete lifestyle relationships are fairly rare. Lifestyle D/s relationships breathe, eat and sleep in their roles 24/7.  Syd McGinley’s Dr. Fell  series is one of the better one’s out there for a reasonably accurate picture of that deep a commitment.  By reasonably accurate, I mean Syd doesn’t bore you with the minutia, but does touch on and/or acknowledge the bigger issues.  Same with Claire Thompson and Eden Bradley  (both of them write various “flavors” and I’m just throwing a few names out there – although Eden WOOF!).  Remember, it’s fiction and reasonably accurate is the best authors can mange without readers drifting off to sleep. 

I try to maintain reasonable accuracy as well.  In Cheating Chance  Nicky makes a DOM’s promise to Brandon.  “I promise you that if you say [the safe word] I’ll stop everything and get you undone.   I promise I won’t leave you tied up alone.   I promise I’ll never leave you face down on a bed.   I promise to look out for your safety.   Trust me.”  They negotiate their limits and set boundaries.  Now, Joe and Kabe have never had that discussion…because Joe is learning that this is something he enjoys.  But he does understand consequences: you tie someone’s arms above their head, they’re going to lose circulation, you smack someone’s butt they may walk out on you.  As he says of himself, sometimes he can be a “thick hick.”

This is one of the peeves of the readers/writers/reviewers in the larger community of BDSM.  Rarely do books touch on the issues of Safe, Sane and Consensual.Personal Demonssm  BDSM can be dangerous.  One of the scandals of the Leather Community was a former Ms. Leather was participating in a breath play scene and the sub, who was not being watched properly and was not supported properly, passed out, fell on his face and broke his nose.  There was a great deal of outcry among leather folks and discussions of whether her title should be stripped. 

A case that made national news in the US was the death of Adrian Exley  who liked mummification bondage and suffocated.  The Dom involved committed suicide.  Another death occurred in Wales when a man inhaled chloroform gas through a soviet era mask during a scene.  Each year many people die in Autoerotic (self bondage) accidents. 

james buchanan bikeObviously, I’m not talking about this to be a downer or “scare” people away.   I enjoy BDSM…immensely.  I’m not going to tell people not to do it or write about it.  Yes, it is risky, but so is riding my Harley on the 110.  My only plea is be responsible.  Take safety seriously.   Educate yourself.  If you’re going to write about it, have your work read by people in the scene.  I’m into bondage…I still have other people who have significant involvement in BDSM review my postings and books for accuracy and safety.  If you’re going to get into it, learn about it. 

Self pimpage: I have a reoccurring feature on my blog called Nicky Says…where Nicky from Taking the odds will answer questions about BDSM (you can email your questions to him at Nicky@james-buchanan.com).  I also have guest bloggers who discuss various issues and/or their take on or involvement in BDSM. 

Then hit the bookshelves.  Start here –Safer Kinky Sex  it’s a free eBook.  Then I recommend anything by Midori or the KnottyBoys about bondage.  The Leatherman’s Handbook by Larry Townsend is iconic.  Even if you’re not a gay leatherman, there is a lot to be learned there.   For basics, try: Jay Wiesman’s SM 101: A Realistic Introduction, Learning the Ropes: A Basic Guide to Safe and Fun S/m Lovemaking by Race Bannon, Consensual Sadomasochism : How to Talk About It and How to Do It Safely by William A. Henkin or more specifically geared toward women The Sexually Dominant Woman: A Workbook for Nervous Beginners by Lady Green.  You can find them on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but you’ll get a good grounding. 

james 3Of course, the best way to learn is hands on.  Instead of going into a scene never having tied someone up…you can take classes.  I don’t particularly endorse any of these classes, well other than Knotty Boys and Society of Janus because I’ve seen them…but there are live classes out there where you can learn the basics of BDSM in a safe non-judgmental environment.  Some are for singles, some for couples.  Most don’t involve sex (if they do, it’ll likely be announced as a play event – although many of those don’t allow sexual contact either), its all about learning the techniques.  

The National Leather Association International  has local chapters throughout the US and Canada and some hold informational seminars.  If you’re in Portland you can check out Nobel Rope , they offer classes on bondage.  In the San Francisco Area  The Knotty Boys give regular seminars, The Society of Janus  holds newbie coffee socials and informative events and Loki teaches various beginner BDSM classes.   Chicago’s Discovery Center  and Seattle’s Center for Sex Positive Culture  both offer a variety of classes.   Midori  gives lectures around the US.   You can find them if you look.  JB CheatingChancePrint

I’m not going to tell people who don’t practice variants of BDSM not to write about them.   I would hope that they understand they need to educate themselves as they would on any topic.   I would also hope that readers who get turned on by BDSM and want to start exploring it, educate themselves with something other than fiction.  If you’re honest with yourself and honest with your partner you can expand your relationships in many ways.  Just learn, play safe and have fun.

47 comments

  • Sorry to have disappeared on you all for a bit. We threw a Halloween bash for the Spawn and their friends tonight. 5 people RSVP’d we had 35 kids. That’s So.Cal for you. Spent the last hour just cleaning up…and we haven’t done dishes yet.
    **
    I’m glad you liked topic, Sloan. Thanks for stopping by.
    **
    Oh, cool, thanks, MRB, for the updated version! It is a great resource.
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    Hey, Claire, you’re reasonably accurate and f*ng sexy…snort.
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    NP, Syd. I think Dr. Fell is pretty damn good.
    **
    Dian, I’m not sure anyone has done a study of the growth of BDSM through literature, but Syd or Lee Benoit would know better than I.

  • Sorry for not being a native speaker but what I meant is that romance stories are unrealistic. So I am glad that one aspect of the story is real.

  • Hi Claire – I was just commenting on how Amazon’s recommendations tool doesn’t always differentiate between romantic BDSM and rape/torture fantasy books because as you pointed out, they are separate genres directed at different audiences. I guess Amazon’s software sees enough overlap between the two genres to encourage it to make cross recommendations – though I suspect a fair number of these crossover purchases are just from dumb folks like me, who click before thinking:) I just visited your website and you do an excellent job of segregating the titles there. And so what if some of your books gave me nightmares – I am big girl, I can handle it *grin*

  • Great article James! And I particularly like the comment “But you’re your mnd is the house is where you live, you don’t need more than a few basic necessities to live there, but the decorations make you happy.”

    I love me some toys, don’t get me wrong, but honestly they’re mostly for the husband. If I’m blindfolded, I won’t see them, will I? 😉

    mrb, you asked why all the spanking? Because it’s fun! Although that’s where I prefer toys, honestly – I’ll take a flogger or a slapper or a crop over a hand ANY day.

    I know a lot of people don’t get the pain thing, so the masochist headspace features in a few of my short stories, particularly “The Princess and Peony.” The appeal is really hard to explain in person, but easier to “show” in fiction.

  • *
    mrb, you asked why all the spanking? Because it’s fun! Although that’s where I prefer toys, honestly – I’ll take a flogger or a slapper or a crop over a hand ANY day.
    *
    Mercy, totally get the spanking, flogging in real life BDSM relationships … spank away. :-) My question was meant for m/m authors that suddenly 3/4 of the way through a vanilla m/m book have one of the charcters spank the other out of the blue, neither fits the characters nor does anything for the plot. BDSM sells, so I guess thats why some authors just throw it in.

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