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Book Excerpt: The Ultimate Guide to Kink by Tristan Taormino

Book Excerpt: The Ultimate Guide to Kink by Tristan Taormino

As part of our effort to profile more authors within the LGBT community, we present Tristan Taormino. Here is an excerpt from her book The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge:

As part of our effort to profile more authors within the LGBT community, we present Tristan Taormino.

Taormino is a celebrated sex writer and educator.  She has edited sixteen editions of Best Lesbian Erotica and authored The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, for which she also directed the adult video.  A former columnist for The Village Voice, she has a column in Taboo and has been featured in The New York Times, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Glamour,and Playboy.  She has appeared on CNN, MTV, and the Discovery Channel.

Here is an excerpt from her book The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge:

Chapter 1

"S is for...": The Terms, Principles, and Pleasures of Kink

Like other subcultures, kinky folks have developed (and continue to develop) a vocabulary to describe the unique elements of our world. This chapter will define the most common words and phrases used among kink practitioners and throughout the book.

In addition to a specific vernacular, members of the kink community have adopted a set of principles that represent its core values: consent, negotiation, safety and risk reduction, communication, and aftercare. These values are the foundation of the work of all the educators in this book, and they apply to each of the chapters and all of the activities discussed here. To avoid repetition, most authors will not define basic terms or tenets covered here, although they may elaborate on them or define other terminology as it relates specifically to their topic.



In this book, kink is used as an inclusive term that covers BDSM, sadomasochism, kinky sex, dominance and submission, role play, sex games, fantasy, fetish, and other alternative erotic expressions.


BDSM is an acronym and an umbrella term that was first used in the late 80s and early 90s in Internet discussion groups, including one of the early newsgroups, soc.subculture. bondage-bdsm. It did not become the umbrella term of choice until the 2000s. BDSM is a combination of several shorter acronyms that reflect the history of our kinky vocabulary and the wide variety of practices that it incorporates:

B & D or B/D stands for bondage and discipline. It is an older term that first appeared in personals and magazines in the 1970s and became widely used by kinky folks in the 1980s to describe their interest in kink. It wasn’t necessarily meant to denote only bondage and discipline, but rather a range of activities that revolved around power exchange. Today B & D is much less frequently used as a term on its own.

SM (also S & M, S/M, S/m) is the common abbreviation for sadism and masochism or sadomasochism. (Definitions of these and related words appear later in this chapter.) These terms were coined by Richard von Krafft-Ebing in 1886 and have appeared frequently since then in psychoanalytic literature to describe sexual pathologies; however, kinky people reclaimed them beginning around the 1970s, and S/M was the most popular term until BDSM gained widespread use by the 2000s.

Embedded in the acronym BDSM is D/s (also DS or d/s), which represents dominance and submission or Dominant/submissive (defined in detail below). These terms have been around for a long time; people began using them in the context of kink in the 1980s to describe the power dynamic within a scene or relationship. People used D/s to reflect the power exchange in SM activities or to communicate their interest in roles like master/slave or daddy/boy, for example. Today, D/s is most often used to denote relationships that are built around a dominant/submissive power dynamic where power exchange is always or very often present (and may exist without other elements of BDSM). [1] In those D/s relationships where the power exchange is always present, partners inhabit their roles and reinforce the dynamic through various rituals, protocols, and behaviors all the time; these relation- ships may be referred to as 24/7 D/s (as in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), lifestyle D/s, TPE (total power exchange), or APE (absolute power exchange).

BDSM can be used as a noun (“I’m interested in BDSM”) or an adjective (“I went to a BDSM event”). Some people use other terms interchangeably with BDSM, including SM, kink, and leather. The use of the word leather (as in “I’m part of the local leather community”) originated in post-World War II gay male biker clubs and bars and continued in leather bars and sex clubs from the late 50s all the way through the 2000s. [2] Leather is still used today, especially by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer folks, to signify kinky interests, identities, and communities.

People do BDSM for the same wide variety of reasons people have sex, including for pleasure and connection. Just as some people love oral sex and others love sex in the woods, some love BDSM. Plenty of folks have told me they believe it’s just how they’re wired. I’ve heard countless stories of the first time a lover held her down, the first time a woman put a collar on him, the first time she got spanked. Many experienced a visceral reaction to these experiences before they had language to describe what they were doing or knew there were other people out there doing similar things. For some, BDSM does not have to focus on or even involve genital stimulation to be pleasurable and even orgasmic. For others, a good flogging and a good fucking is the perfect combination—BDSM enhances the sexual experience.

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In sidebars throughout this chapter, you’ll find examples of different kinds of BDSM as well as popular practices and tools. I hope they illustrate the extraordinary diversity within BDSM, provide you with a list of possibilities, and whet your appetite for the chapters to come. [3]

Play is a common term used to describe the practice of BDSM, as in: “I want to play with a bondage expert so I can learn more about it.” It can also be used as an adjective: “My play partner caned me really well at Susan’s play party. I’m glad I set up that play date!”

A scene is where two or more people come together to do BDSM. People may also use scene to describe the BDSM community (“Is she in the scene?”). You can do a scene anywhere, but often people do them in a play space or dungeon. These spaces may be private, such as a room in someone’s home, or public, like a large club; they often have different stations that feature various types of equipment for BDSM play: for example, a St. Andrew’s Cross (a large X usually made of wood), a bondage bed, a spanking bench, a sling, a medical exam table, and a cage.

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Tops, Bottoms, and Switches

During a scene, a top is the “doer,” the person who is in charge, initiates activities and actions, and does things to the bottom. A bottom follows the top’s lead, receives stimulation from the top, and has things done to him or her. For example, in a spanking scene, the top is the spanker and the bottom gets spanked. Top and bottom can also be used as verbs, as in “I topped my girlfriend last night.” A switch is someone who enjoys playing both roles. Whether a switch becomes a top or a bottom can change from one scene to the next; switches may take on a particular role based on the partner they play with or the activity. They can also switch between both roles within one scene.


Sadomasochism is the enjoyment of giving or receiving pain or discomfort. A sadist is one who derives pleasure from inflicting pain, intense sensations, and discomfort on someone else. That pain or discomfort can be physical (like during a spanking), emotional and psychological (as in an interrogation scene), or both. This is just a brief definition; Chapter 16, Inside the Mind of a Sadist, by FifthAngel, is a thorough, thoughtful look at sadism. A masochist is someone who enjoys receiving pain or intense sensations, being made uncomfortable, or being “forced” to do something they don’t enjoy. Remember that sadists and masochists experience these desires and pleasures in the context of consensual BDSM scenes.

Let’s talk about pain, since it’s part of SM and comes to mind when people think of activities like flogging, caning, or piercing. When people experience pain, adrenaline, endorphins, and natural painkillers flood their nervous system. People get off on this chemical rush, which many describe as feeling energized, high, or transcendent. Pain is not just a physical event; like many things in our culture, it is also socially constructed and reinforced. When we see a person slap some- one’s face, we think, That hurt, that was unpleasant. But, in the context of a sexually charged scene, some people, when they are aroused (and their pain tolerance is much higher), process a face slap in a different way: it feels good. They like how their flesh responds and their pulse quickens. It may feel shocking, intimate, stinging; add the taboo of dominance, punishment, humiliation—whatever that slap signifies for the two people—and you’ve got a recipe for an intense experience. In certain contexts, one person’s pain can be another person’s pleasure. Or, as Patrick Califia writes in Chapter 15, Enhancing Masochism: How to Expand Limits and Increase Desire, which delves much deeper into this subject, “Euphoria and agony are next-door neighbors.”

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Dominance and Submission

A Dominant runs the show, exerts control over a submissive, and may direct him or her to complete tasks, behave a certain way, follow rules, or submit to various kinds of SM. A submissive gives up control and surrenders to the Dominant, complies with a Dominant’s wishes, follows orders, and has an investment in pleasing his or her Dominant.

A power exchange of some kind is nearly always present in human relationships. There are people all around us in power exchange relationships who don’t acknowledge the dynamic or call it anything: A husband who gives his wife an allowance but no credit card in her own name. A woman who controls her coworkers, making them eager to please her even though she’s not their boss. That’s right: there are plenty of people wearing collars and others tugging at their leashes, but the gear is invisible and the dynamic unexamined. Kinky people do the opposite: they consciously create and name a power dynamic in order to eroticize it. By making the power exchange explicit, they get to act on it, play with it, and let it drive the erotic interaction. That exchange is what fuels their desire and pleasure. Think about the mistress who forces her slave to be sexually available to her at all times. Or the submissive who strives to please her Dominant, putting his needs above her own.

Service is one kind of D/s dynamic or relationship where the submissive serves the Dominant; the Dominant may direct the submissive to do household chores, provide sexual stimulation, or complete projects. In fact, ordinary activities that most people take for granted—making coffee, drawing a bath, folding laundry—can be imbued with a different meaning and become symbols of submission and service. Service is most often equated with submissives (slaves, boys, girls, etc.), but there are also self-identified service tops, who enjoy doing things to bottoms at the bottom’s request.

D/s roles and relationships are explored throughout the book, most extensively by Laura Antoniou (Chapter 3), Midori (Chapter 13), and Madison Young (Chapter 14).

Some people take on the role of Dominant or submissive expressly for a scene, like top or bottom, and shed that role when the scene ends. For others, being dominant or submissive is not about role playing, but is a much bigger part of their identity and relationships. For example, some Dominants can’t turn their desire to dominate on and off at will, and they describe dominance as very similar to how people define sexual orientation: they are attracted to and interested in submissives, they see the world through their dominant lens, their dominance is a constant in their sexual and BDSM interactions.

Many tops are dominant—their needs and wishes come first—and many bottoms are submissive—their desire is to please and serve their top. However, that is not always the case. For example, if a dominant master orders his submissive to flog him, then the master is the flogging bottom and the submissive is the flogging top; the master is still the one in charge, he’s just having something done to him. The roles of sadist and masochist overlap with the others and many people identify with different elements of more than one. Sometimes the overlap is easily recognized, like a submissive masochist bottom who enjoys being flogged to experience both the pain and the submission to his Dominant’s flogger. But there could also be a sadistic submissive who enjoys piercing masochist bottoms.

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When you engage in erotic role play (also called fantasy role play), you and a partner (or partners) create characters and scenarios to act out fantasies with a sexual component. Erotic role play is a chance to become someone else, channel your inner drama geek, explore a particular dynamic, and have some fun. For some people, role play is part of their BDSM. It makes sense: most of the common role play scenarios—doctor/ patient, teacher/student, cop/civilian, prostitute/client—have a power dynamic built right into them, and so much of BDSM is about power. Often these scenes revolve around one person submitting to another, being forced to do something, or feeling vulnerable. Think of a naughty student spanked by a ruler-wielding nun, a dominatrix humiliating her client, or a drill sergeant putting a private through his paces.

Other people may love erotic role play—and their scenarios can include corporal punishment, bondage, or mindfuck—but they don’t consider what they do BDSM. There is plenty of overlap between erotic role play and BDSM: roles, scenarios, props, power dynamics, and, of course, getting off on all of it! It’s entirely up to you. Many of the same principles adopted by BDSMers are also practiced by erotic role players and vice versa, which is why there are several chapters in this book about role play.

Fantasy role play gives folks a chance to be someone else, even if it’s only for an hour or two. You can shake off your real-life stern, responsible school principal and become a pampered princess with a doting babysitter. Role play creates a space for fantasy and make-believe, where you can explore your inner cocky jock, naughty schoolgirl, or bored-but-horny housewife. It can add another layer to your sex life, where you explore the many facets of your own personality, different dynamics with a partner, sexual taboos, and scenarios limited only by your imagination.

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Tristan Taormino