This resource section is deliberately geared towards beginners and is very general in nature.
- If you’d like a basic introduction to the terminology and concepts of BDSM, visit this lovely FAQ. It’s not perfect, but it covers the basics.
- If you’re looking for a range of 101-level books, read the Basic Books section at the end.
- If you’re looking for advice on how to meet people, read the Social Networking section in the middle.
- And everyone who hits this page, please read the Consent, Safety and Community section directly below, as it’s by far the most important one!
Consent, Safety and Community
There is a really important conversation starting to pick up steam these days on the topic of abuse, rape and sexual assault within the BDSM scene. For a long time on this resource list, I linked to the first item on my list below, but today it feels important to add a number of links to pieces of writing that discuss this issue in greater detail. If you’re new to BDSM, don’t let this scare you away from exploring your kinks. But do read these pieces, and proceed with due caution. The BDSM/leather scene is not a safe space isolated from the problematic things that happen in our broader culture.
Remember that you are at choice – in who you choose to play with, in what kinds of play and relationships you choose to engage in, and in what community groups you choose to participate in, or choose not to, as the case may be. Your newness may make you especially vulnerable to thinking you have to do things you don’t like or aren’t comfortable with in order to best fit in, not offend people, or get the play and sex you want. You may think you need to be quiet and be careful while you try to figure out all the unwritten and unspoken rules; or you may think that if you step into the BDSM scene, you’re automatically allowing people to do things to you, or to insist you do things to them, just by walking into the room. Please do your best not to fall into this mentality. You have every right to be respected, to say no, to ask questions, and to challenge people who treat you badly, same as you do at work, at school, at the bank, on the street.It doesn’t matter if you’re a top or a bottom, a dominant or a submissive, a switch, a fetishist, or anything else.
Also, be aware that if you get a bad vibe in a given local community space, you can go find another; and you can choose not to participate in the community/ies at all. There are plenty of fantastic perverts out there who never set foot in a public play space or go to a munch, for all kinds of good reasons.You are not alone. Yummy sexy perverts are all around you, and they don’t all “look the part.” Do not despair. Do not compromise your own integrity. If you decide you do want to participate in community, then lucky us – we need your fresh new energy to move us forward! If you decide not to, you are no less a legitimate pervert, and I hope you find awesome exciting ways to indulge in your chosen kinks outside the Scene(s).
So, moving along to those recommended readings…
- The Network / La Red is a Massachusetts-based domestic violence prevention group that has posted a wonderful explanation of the difference between SM and abuse. Read it, think about it, and pass it on.
- My October 2014 article for the Globe and Mail (!) entitled In Healthy, Consensual BDSM, “Yes” Is Just the Beginning.
- Kitty Stryker wrote a post entitled “I Never Called It Rape” about her experience being raped repeatedly in the context of BDSM. A subsequent San Francisco Bay Guardian article based on an interview with her discusses the concept in more detail, and the comments section includes a very complex discussion (with extensive commenting from well-known BDSM author Janet Hardy) about the difficulties of safewording – well worth reading.
- Asher Bauer’s well-known post entitled “Field Guide to the Creepy Dom.”
- Cliff’s post over at Pervocracy called “The Scene Is Not Safe.” Most especially recommended is their five suggestions for dealing with the situation. Really solid stuff.
- Thomas Macaulay Millar’s seven-part series over on the Yes Means Yes blog called “There’s A War On,” discussing in greater detail the politics of abuse in the BDSM world. He’s fucking brilliant. Read the whole thing.
- A couple of my own somewhat older posts, originally posted in 2007: Abuse Among the Kinky, Part 1: 6 Ways to Think About Abuse and Abuse Among the Kinky, Part 2: 10 Things to Do to Reduce Abusive Behaviour in the S/M World. And a much more recent post entitled Why Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny, Even If You’re Kinky, which isn’t about rape and abuse per se, it’s about how we create and support a culture that makes them seem okay, and we should fucking stop.
- For some reason, the idea that dominants’ consent is as important as submissives’ consent is rarely discussed, so I do that in detail in my post The Dominant’s Consent. I also explore how BDSM culture can make it easy for abusers to blend into the crowd in Calling It: Non-Consent and the Insecure Dominant (don’t be one of those, okay?), and how BDSM culture can send really confusing messages to dominants in Expectations of Dominance: Picking Through the Tangle, which I hope might help beginner dominants figure out how to stick within their comfort zones, and stick to their guns about safety and consent, when they play. For instance, don’t buy the hype that you must bottom before you are qualified to top – Megan Stories picks this apart beautifully in her post Against Requiring New Tops to Bottom, and I discuss the problems it can bring up in my own post Topping a Top.
There are doubtless many more articles worth reading. I will update this section as I come across them.
One last note, on the off chance that you are new to the BDSM scene and you, yourself, are prone to ignoring people’s consent, regardless of how you try to justify that in your own mind. You may find people in the BDSM scene who will allow you to get away with this behaviour, much in the same way you may find them outside it. But there is a great deal of conversation about the culture of consent these days, both within the community and outside it. Anita Phillips may have joked that there will never be a Masochists’ Liberation Front, but honestly, it’s starting to sound like that may well happen, and all for the better. So if you are one such person, stop it, and then go get some therapy. Seriously. Put a halt to this behaviour stat and do whatever it takes to heal whatever damage you’ve got that leads you think it’s okay in the first place. Don’t think it’s okay to use the trappings of BDSM (or Gor, or the mythical Old Guard, or Total Power Exchange, or whatever other hardcore philosophy makes you feel better about your approach) to dress up your abusive actions. Our entire culture – including and in some ways especially in the BDSM/leather subculture(s) – is poised for real change, and you’re best off fixing your shit before you’re ostracized, hollabacked or jailed for what you’re doing.
(Warning: I’m totally dating myself here.)
Gone are the days of personal ads printed in magazines and newspapers using cloaked language (“strict lady seeks gentleman who longs to please”). Gone are the later days of AOL message boards and BBSs. And almost gone are the days of international, national and local BDSM mailing lists and yahoogroups, though they do still exist here and there. Cruisy sites like collarme.com have pretty much had their day too, although they still exist – but the signal-to-noise ratio has turned a lot of people off putting profiles up there.
Today, FetLife is The Shit. It’s a social networking site (similar to Facebook) for kinky people. I wrote an article about the site for the Montreal Mirror way back when it was first launched in 2008, if you’re curious to know more about its beginnings (the founder, John Baku, is/was a Montrealer). I attended a talk on kinky young people by 2011 International Ms. Leather Sarah Vibes during her title year – she was, I believe, 22 at the time – and in hearing her speak I realized that in the entire time she’d been of legal age and involved in the BDSM/leather world, the overwhelmingly predominant online channel of access to the BDSM community has been FetLife, to the point where new members of the community/ies simply don’t know of it ever having been any other way. Amazing how fast things change!
Still, FetLife is not the be-all and end-all. Pervs who know more about IT than I do tell me it’s riddled with security problems; it charges money for access to certain features; profile editing is clunky at best; and it’s not well integrated with other social media. I personally don’t use the site to promote the events or groups that I run, because every time I’ve tried, the lack of privacy settings has made it impossible to avoid dealing with various pain-in-the-ass situations; and while I have a profile there, my participation in groups and my use of various other features is limited. If you can handle the potential lack of privacy, then it’s a good place to put up a profile if only for the reason that you can use it as a sort of online CV, so that people you meet can go see you there. But I would caution you not to make it the centre of your pervy existence. Go meet real people in real-life places. Use FetLife as a tool, not as a place to live. And be careful with what information you share there, as it’s not nearly as private as it seems.
Also, Facebook is also no angel on the privacy front, as we all know, but plenty of pervy social networking happens there. It’s worth looking for if you are comfortable with that. If you need to, for joining FB groups, create a separate profile using a separate email address and a banal-sounding name to minimize your chances of being nailed by their awful, transphobic, racist “real” names policy.
And then there’s always good ol’ Google. Try “BDSM” and the name of your town. Chances are you’ll come across a listing of real-life groups and events. Now go have fun!
Okay, are you the geeky bookworm type? Yeah, me too. I have more BDSM 101 books than I can count, and people just keep publishing them. We’re sorely lacking in books that address more advanced topics, but if you’re a beginner, there are about a bajillion books out there for you to try. The following are just my top picks. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect – each one has its flaws. But they are great places to start. Read them and think critically!
- Playing Well with Others: Your Field Guide to Discovering, Exploring and Navigating the Kink, Leather and BDSM Communities by Lee Harrington and Mollena Williams – A tour of all the many types of community formations that exist out there, and tips on how to navigate them with grace.
- The Ultimate Guide to Kink edited by Tristan Taormino – A diverse collection of voices covering an astonishing range of kinks that not often seen between the covers of a single book. Thorough!
- Sensuous Magic by Patrick Califia – An excellent introduction to BDSM for beginners by a well-respected queer and trans veteran of the Scene.
- SM 101 by Jay Wiseman – Lots of useful information, with strong emphasis on technique and safety.
- Partners In Power by Jack Rinella – A wonderful exploration of the nature of kinky relationships, how to meet people and how to get what you want.
- Different Loving by Dr. Gloria Brame – Not a how-to, but rather an extensive and accessible book listing a huge variety of kinks explained and then illustrated with people’s real-life experiences in their own words. You might also want to check out Different Loving Too, the recent sequel.
- The Sensuous Art of Japanese Bondage by Midori – Wonderful pictures and clear diagrams for the beginning bondage-lover.
- Greenery Press publishes dozens of well-written and informative how-to guides about all sorts of play styles and relationship styles.
Note that the many other 101-level BDSM books out there mostly say the same stuff as these ones do, just with different flavours and foci. Your mileage may vary. One of these days I’ll get around to posting an annotated list of each one of them, explaining their strong points and weaknesses, but this covers most of the really good ones.