D/s and M/s Relationships: An Annotated Reading List
This is my annotated reading list of books about power dynamics. New reviews are marked with NEW REVIEW. (The books might not be new – my review is.) Note that, with one or two exceptions, I’m exclusively reviewing books that are about conscious, chosen relationship power dynamics. Many other book deal with power dynamics in other situations (the workplace, spiritual paths, etc.) and you can learn tons from them that cross-apply to D/s and M/s, but my purpose here is to focus on the ones that are directly and openly about these kinds of relationships and require no inference. Also, please note that just because a book appears here doesn’t mean I recommend it. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from the reviews themselves.
Also: yep, I’m writing my own. Stay tuned. :) In the meantime I’ve included links to a couple of my blog posts on the topic, and I may add a few more yet.
A general note: The quality of books on the topic of D/s and M/s is on average quite low. I’m not sure what the full deal is, but here’s my best guess: Many of our best *writers* focus on sexual politics more broadly, on fiction, or on writing online rather than in book form, which means their work is harder to pin down for long-term posterity. Many of our best *thinkers* are not top-notch *writers*, and the state of BDSM-focused publishing doesn’t help. While some small presses and self-publishers succeed admirably at producing high-quality work, many don’t seem to have professional-level editors on staff, and the bigger kink-friendly indies don’t seem to go near this kind of specialized material. The results can be dismal. All the more unfortunate in that for the most part, the people writing books of terrible quality actually have genuinely valuable ideas to share. Don’t despair! But do recognize that to find the insights you’re looking for, you might need to work harder, as a reader, than you might expect.
Relationship-based power dynamics
General (for both sides of the slash)
- Partners In Power by Jack Rinella – A wonderful 101-level exploration of the nature of kinky relationships, how to meet people and how to get what you want. This is Rinella at his best – truly one of the highest-quality books he’s ever produced.
- Leading and Supportive Love: The Truth about Dominant and Submissive Relationships by Chris M. Lyon – Lyon avoids all discussion of kink, fetish and BDSM, and eschews Master/slave language in favour of terminology that registers as more classically psychotherapy-ish. But this is all good stuff; it keeps the focus exactly where it needs to be as opposed to muddying the waters as so many resources do. It lays out the basics of how chosen power dynamics work, and describes the general personality types of those who engage in them in a healthy way. (How amazing to see oneself as “typical” for once!) It suggests potential problem areas and gentle solutions for them, and above all, it validates the great potential for these relationships’ strength and durability.
- Building the Team: Cooperative Power Dynamic Relationships by Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny – An excellent overview of how to move away from an adversarial dynamic and into a cooperative one. The idea of an adversarial M/s relationships seems oxymoronic to me, but the book does detail the ways in which they can be useful, or for whom they might be suited. Mostly, though, this book describes how to engage in a mutually beneficial, collaborative partnership that happens to be based in chosen inequality, and it does an excellent job. In some ways it all seems terribly basic, but having the basics laid out in such a clear, practical fashion is useful, and it’s telling that these foundational concepts aren’t easy to find in other books.
- Dear Raven and Joshua: Questions and Answers about Master/Slave Relationships by Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny – The single most down-to-earth tome on full-time M/s relationships that I have ever had the pleasure of devouring. Answers the questions you didn’t know how to ask and in so doing provides an excellent jumping-off point for many a rich discussion.
- Master/slave Relations: Handbook of Theory and Practice by Robert J. Rubel. This is a great book to get you thinking about how to structure your D/s relationship. He’s quirky and some of his personal values may not resonate with you, but he’s extremely clear and logical in his thinking and writing.
- Delving Into Power: The Workbook by Lee Harrington – As this workbook is designed to accompany Harrington’s weekend intensive, it may be best read when you’ve done the intensive, but I think it holds up quite well on its own as well. Primarily a think tool focused on rituals and protocols, it has some useful concepts, especially his use of the classic “love languages” as applied to power relationships, distinctions between process and outcome in task accomplishment, and approaches to apology and reconnection once mistakes have been made.
- At Her Feet: Powering Your Femdom Relationship by TammyJo Eckhart and Fox – A solid walk-through of a female dominant / male submissive relationship. It covers all the requisite ground, and does so competently, with the occasional genuine gem of wisdom thrown in. I particularly like their breakdown of the various types and meanings of love, for instance. And I definitely appreciate their discussion of how illness and disability have impacted their relationship. But oddly, the authors’ focus on the how eclipses a deeper discussion of the why – what is so satisfying, what motivates them, what made them choose this in the first place? I want more.
- NEW REVIEW Living M/s: A Book for Masters, slaves and Their Relationships by Dan and Dawn Williams – Written in short, conversational vignettes, Living M/s is part personal narrative and part 101-level M/s conceptual framing. Dan and Dawn own their biases pretty well, and their commitment to each other really shines; they come across as grounded and pleasantly lacking in self-aggrandizement. Though I deeply disagree with some of their approaches (M/s time-outs being a biggie), the book is not without its insights, especially in Dawn’s writing on her experiences of slavery. But considering how it’s more about philosophy than technique or analysis, for the most part I found it too surface-level. For instance the chapter on M/s ethics is barely a page long. I wanted so much more! Also it needs a good edit for structure and style. Still, a rare and worthy insight into the everyday workings of an everyday M/s pair.
- NEW REVIEW Master/slave Relations: Solutions 402: Living in Harmony by Robert J. Rubel – Rubel is a solid writer with a keen mind, and pleasantly quirky. He’s the peanut butter in an M/s sandwich, as master of one woman and slave to another, which lends him a somewhat unusual (and very helpful) perspective. What he’s done here, more or less, is survey a selection of business management, interpersonal communication and self-help literature, and translate the principles into strategies for managing M/s relationships when things start to go badly. It’s practical, logical, systematic advice, and it’s a really great grab bag of tools for folks doing M/s. As well, his approach is wonderfully open and non-prescriptive. He doesn’t get much into the spirituality of things, and his examples are clearly taken from his own family’s experience, as well as reflecting the fairly high level of privilege he carries in the world. And by all that is holy, DO NOT take his advice to read that awful Mars/Venus book which shall not be named here. But overall, this book has plenty going for it. I can see room for several sequels along these lines.
- NEW REVIEW Order for Discipline and Service Handbook by the Order for Discipline and Service – The late Jack McGeorge was a renowned master who put decades of time into the United States’ M/s community despite being someone with a high public profile in his work life. I met him at a workshop he gave many years ago and was impressed with his thinking then. Reading the ODS handbook today – basically the collected mission, goals, values, policies and procedures for his M/s household – confirms my first excellent impression. This brief book is a real gift to anyone who would like to see a clearly written, deeply ethical, highly structured model. You don’t need to adopt it or agree with everything in it – I don’t! – to find it extremely useful as a starting point for articulating your own. This book will help you grasp the mindset and values that can underpin any dedicated lifetime pursuit of M/s – including that of questioning others’ stated mindsets and values.
- Just for fun, here are links to two of my posts related to this topic: 10 Principles for Healthy 24/7 D/s and M/s and Projects, Structure and Protocol: Three Mechanisms for 24/7 D/s (y’know, while I work on my book).
Focus on mastery / dominance
- The Control Book by Peter Masters – Exactly what it sounds like. And therefore, mostly pretty off-putting, at least to me. Masters has lots of well-developed and well-articulated thoughts on the how-tos of control, but very little on the ethics of it, or the motivations for it. In fact he doesn’t discuss consent at all, and some of his recommendations veer heavily into the manipulative. It’s not a useless book – his section on the process of giving over and taking up control is interesting, to be sure – but it’s very narrow in its focus and oddly joyless.
- The Master’s Manual: A Handbook of Erotic Dominance by Jack Rinella – This book is in fact not a manual, nor it is a handbook, nor is it for masters. What it is, in fact, is a collection of 40 of Jack Rinella’s columns about leather and kink from Gay Chicago Magazine, and while it does seem intended for a leather/kink-oriented readership (a gay male one, most particularly), it’s fairly general-interest in scope within that realm. Still, his sections on equality, power and civilization are excellent, and very on-topic for an M/s readership. See my full review here.
- NEW REVIEW My Mentor, My Guide: A Handbook for Daddies and Boys for the New Generation by Blade T. Bannon – I get the impression that Blade T. Bannon is a solid guy with a really good set of personal values that apply very well to Daddy/boy relationships and similar configurations. His thoughts on the types of people that tend to make good daddies are useful, his listing of common pitfalls in such relationships is very sensible, and I really appreciate his thoughtfulness in discussing issues of personal responsibility and sexual ethics in the gay men’s community (drug use, HIV, barebacking and more) as well as his no-nonsense views on the historic impact of AIDS on leathermen. Unfortunately, this book is so mired in errors that the content is hard to absorb. If someone scrubbed out the writing clichés, deleted the dungeon-scene digressions and random ramblings, and cleaned up the unbelievably high number of atrocious spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes (Mahat Magandi? Really?), the book would be reduced to pamphlet length. From there, a great editor would push him to get at some of the deeper underpinnings of his ideas and principles. Now that would be a worthwhile read.
Focus on submission / slavery
- Slavecraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude – Principles, Skills and Tools by a grateful slave with Guy Baldwin – This book is written from the perspective of a gay male slave who occasionally says things in a way that betrays a certain amount of misogyny, and the copy editing is enough to make me gnash my teeth (Daedelus argh! Hire an editor!). Nonetheless I strongly recommend it. It’s extremely insightful when it comes to mindset and emotional dimensions of submission, and presents a number of very useful concepts.
- NEW REVIEW Conquer Me: Girl-to-Girl Wisdom about Fulfilling Your Submissive Desires by Kacie Cunningham – Highly recommended. One of the things I like about this book is how little of it is really “girl-to-girl” and how much of it is simply human-to-human. The title was pretty off-putting to me, but in truth it’s one of the books I’ve read on the topic of D/s and M/s that’s least mired conventionally gendered assumptions. By-and-for submission advice is hard to come by, too, so it’s a standout for that alone. Mostly, though, she does away with the fantasy crap and cuts to the chase of what day-to-day living is like when you’re in a full-time power relationship. She packs a lot of powerful questions and concepts into every page. Cunningham is a clear, precise writer; she tackles a wide range of common M/s pitfalls and challenges and offers the solutions she’s found along her journey without ever coming across as prescriptive. In so doing, she emerges as a warm, sensible voice, both powerful and humble. I hope to see more from her.
- NEW REVIEW Becoming a Slave: The Theory and Practice of Voluntary Servitude by Jack Rinella with Reflections by his Slave Patrick – *sigh* Okay, I’m gonna just say this. Jack Rinella needs an editor. Like, badly. He has a lot of wisdom to share, and is one of the rare masters who writes in a way that’s also fully and openly informed by the time he’s spent as a slave. This book, like others he’s written, has many excellent insights. He’s been at this forever and he’s a tireless seeker of slaves so he has a ton of highly varied experience to draw on. But the man repeats himself and goes in circles enough to make you dizzy, and he burdens even the simplest of topics with verbal padding so thick it obscures the shape of the message within. I had to relegate this book to the bathroom, because it was such a slog that I couldn’t manage read more than two pages at a sitting – perfect for a long piss. When I finish it – should take another four or five months – I’ll amend this review, but I’m halfway through and it’s not improving. I’d give up entirely if it weren’t for the maddening fact that he’s really got intriguing, sensible stuff to say! Highlights include some great deflating of common porno-fantasy ideas, and helpful journaling and other exercises for slave wannabes. Anyway. Enter at your own risk.
- How to Capture a Mistress by Karen Martin. Sage (and sorely needed) advice for gentlemen who are looking for a mistress, and while it’s fairly gender-specific in its target audience, it could be quite useful for any gender combination. A very enjoyable glimpse into the mind of a mistress, minus all the posing and preening one sometimes finds in such manuals. Practical, down-to-earth, and funny, if not hugely groundbreaking – definitely worth a read.
- Real Service by Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny – Tightly focused on service and the mindsets and concepts that underpin service-based relationships, this book skips over fantasy-style rhapsodizing about “fetishy” service and goes straight to a pragmatic discussion of the everyday, all-the-time kind. So useful! I personally find the sections on the qualities of a good master and a good servant to be absolute gems, and I think they should have been placed at the very top of the book to set the tone for the rest. The authors’ concepts of styles of dominance and submission are also classics, and I love the detailed lists of types of service that can be offered, neatly divided by category and then by skill level. You may or may not want to use them directly, but the structure lends itself well to adaptation, so take them as a starting point for writing up your own.
- Butlers & Household Managers: 21st Century Professionals by Steven Ferry. This book is intended for professional butlers, but is very useful in establishing the “butler mindset” in an everyday way for people who wish to serve as part of a D/s relationship.
- Lessons in Service from Charlie Trotter and Lessons in Wine Service from Charlie Trotter by Edmund Lawler. Two great books on the art of service based on the renowned service of restaurantier Charlie Trotter. They take a business-oriented tack on things but the lessons are valuable for personal relationships too.
- This awesome article about service on kinki_wiki, complete with embedded video clips from various TV shows featuring service dynamics – really fun.
- Two of my own posts about service: Service Beneath the Surface, which explores a range of ideas about service, and The Many Facets of Thanks, about how to acknowledge and receive service.
- Protocol Handbook for the Leather Slave: Theory and Practice by Robert J. Rubel. An excellent practical follow-up to the Relations handbook. It was originally written with female submissives in mind, and even though he has taken pains to alter it to suit any gender combination, the female-sub focus still shows. Still, well worth a read.
- The essay “Ritual, Ceremony and Protocol in SM” in Midori’s book Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink. It provides some helpful concepts to frame your approach to protocol. Also, the rest of the book has gobs of intelligent stuff about kink in general, some with a focus on power exchange, so it’s definitely a worthwhile read. Ignore the bad copy editing and read it anyway.
- Creating a Personal Protocol: A Workbook of Exercises to Help You Create Your Personal Protocol by Shannon Reilly – A slim volume that’s mostly blank pages for you to fill out. Pretty basic, but if you’re looking for a place to start in terms of setting up protocols and behaviours within a D/s or M/s dynamic, you might find the structure useful.
- Etiquette:17th Edition – The Definitive Guide to Manners, Completely Revised and Updated by Emily Post/Peggy Post. This is a huge tome, and its approach to etiquette is both open-minded and highly conservative. It presumes a class situation that may or may not be true for you. Nonetheless, some elements of it are extremely useful, if only for getting into a somewhat formal mindset.
- The Bride Wore Black Leather… And He Looked Fabulous! An Etiquette Guide for the Rest of Us by Drew Campbell – This fills in all the bits that are missing from your standard etiquette guide when it comes to dealing respectfully with people who live in unusual relationships, including non-monogamous and D/s ones.
D/s and non-monogamy
- Power Circuits: Polyamory in a Power Dynamic, edited by Raven Kaldera – Buy it here. I’m biased here too because I have an essay in here, but even if I didn’t, I’d recommend checking it out. The book is the only one out there to address this topic in any depth, even though it is hugely relevant to a very large percentage of the people who do D/s and M/s relationships.
It’s unfortunate that two of the three books I’ve read that provide personal accounts of slavery/full-time submission are both highly problematic. The following two are valuable reads if you’re looking for what NOT to do (and also for a sense of history):
- Endless Knot: A Spiritual Odyssey through Sadomasochism by Mathew Styranka – This guy stayed in an abusive relationship for years because he was convinced it was slavery and that’s what he wanted. Worse yet, he still doesn’t seem to see it as abusive, and seems to think he’s now “cured” of his SM desires. Oy. Read my review here.
- To Love, to Obey, to Serve: Diary of an Old Guard Slave by V.L. Johnson – Vi Johnson is still an active and vocal member of the American leather community and from what I understand she’s pretty cool. Her diary comes to a positive conclusion, but you’ll cringe at some of what she went through in her early days as a self-identified slave. Still, very thought-provoking and a great discussion starter.
… But this one is great!
- Ask the Man Who Owns Him: the real lives of gay Masters and slaves by david stein with David Schachter – This book features interview-based profiles of over a dozen long-term M/s couples and triads, providing by far the highest number of experiences and opinions on M/s I’ve ever seen gathered in one place. It’s exclusively focused on men, but it’s not hard to extrapolate from there when considering the principles each interviewee discusses. Despite the narrow demographic, there’s quite a diversity of approaches outlined here. The format can get a bit repetitive, but if you’re looking for vocabulary, ideas, and a sense of what’s out there, this is definitely worth a solid read.
Note that tons of workshops are available on these topics. I teach a bunch myself, and there’s a whole conference devoted to M/s, and numerous others that include strong M/s or power relationship tracks. I’ll update this as I come across new ones, but for now suffice it to say the offerings are expanding, so keep your eye out.
- “Passionate Bonds” – This is a weekend-long intensive course held by Midori and Marketplace author Laura Antoniou. The description: “A special weekend intensive designed for people who enjoy authentic power dynamics and D/s, who want to consciously create quality relationships that suit their personal hungers and needs in the context of the real world. Through the unique curriculum and its innovative tools, each individual or relationship unit will create their own customized manual of effective protocol, rules, etiquettes and codes of conduct.” More info here.
- Any protocol workshop offered by Laura Antoniou. She doesn’t give classes often, so grab one when you can get it! Most specifically I recommend “The Way of It: Establishing and Maintaining Protocol Within Relationships,” but she has several other D/s and protocol workshops too. Details here.
- Lee Harrington also offers a weekend intensive, called Delving Into Power. Details here.
Fantasy- or fetish-oriented power dynamics
- Miss Abernathy’s Concise Slave Training Manual and Training with Miss Abernathy: a Workbook for Erotic Slaves and Their Owners, by Christina Abernathy – These two books are now available condensed into a single volume, as well. Abernathy’s flavour is very Victorian and proper. She writes very clearly and presents many intriguing ideas and tons of practical suggestions. Her breakdown of “types” may or may not suit you; I would suggest taking the parts you like of her instructions rather than trying to follow them like a rigid program.
- The Mistress Manual: The Good Girl’s Guide to Female Dominance by Mistress Lorelei – I disagree with the book’s idea that female dominance is something essentially and classically feminine, and I dislike the archetypes she creates as they seem constructed with men’s pleasure in mind rather than aiming to help women find their own inner sense of self within dominance. Still, Lorelei writes well and some of her points are very insightful. The book might give you some interesting ideas, just take it with a grain of salt!
- The Marketplace Series (The Marketplace, The Slave, The Trainer, The Academy, The Reunion and a forthcoming title we’re all waiting for with bated breath) by Laura Antoniou – She writes fictional works but she lives the real thing, so while the premise and setting of the books may be out there in fantasy-land, the flavour and essence of the relationships she presents rings very true. Inspiring to read, it’ll really get into your head!
- The Leather Daddy and the Femme by Carol Queen – It’s not heavily protocol-focused, but you will certainly get a strong sense of what a submissive mindset looks like and how D/s-flavoured relationships play out.
Not yet reviewed
I’ll post short reviews and add these to the appropriate sections when I’ve read them!
- BDSM Relationships Books 1, 2 and 3 by Peter Masters
- Master/slave Relations: Solutions 402: Living in Harmony by Robert J. Rubel
- Art of Slavery by slave lara
- Protocols: A Variety of Views by L.C. Morgynn
- The Compleat Slave: Creating and Living an Erotic Dominant/submissive Lifestyle by Jack Rinella
- The leatherboy Handbook by boy Vincent L. Andrews
- Order for Discipline and Service Handbook by the Order for Discipline and Service
- The Leatherman’s Protocol Handbook: A Handbook on “Old Guard” Rituals, Traditions and Protocols by John D. Weal – Guy Baldwin’s very powerful critique is here. I’ll write my own when I’ve read it!
- Extreme Space: The Domination and Submission Handbook by F. R.R. Mallory