Review of Consensual Sadomasochism

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Consensual Sadomasochism
by William A. Henkin and Sybil Holiday
Daedalus Publishing Company, 1996.
ISBN 1-88194-312-7

My first thought when looking at this book was that it wasn't needed--after all, there are books like SM101, Sensuous Magic, and Screw the Roses, Send me the Thorns! It also looks more like your typical self-help book (it's subtitled How to Talk About It and How to Do It Safely), a turn-off for some. The cover is innocuous, i.e. has only words (as opposed to the covers of the three books mentioned above) and a purple rectangle for some color relief. Those who are squicked about owning a book with a photo of a bound woman or a hand holding a whip on the cover may have found the book for them. And they would have found a book well worth reading and owning, in my opinion.

The authors, both SM players, are, respectively a therapist and a safe sex educator in San Francisco, and the meat of the book, clear and detailed descriptions of safety issues with play, reflects their professions. Along with some clearly explained basics of SM play and a huge list of definitions and negotiation-topic lists, the most unique part of this book lies in the very clear presentation of psychological aspects of SM--beginning with issues such as self-esteem, reconciling the Scene with feminism, knowing what you want/need (and the difference between them), to "Doing Psychotherapy in the Dungeon"! Somehow even that part seemed like safety material.

The section on Cyber SM is great and includes some basic safety suggestions for playing, as is "What to Do When Scenes Don't Work" (constructive communication, of course, and they even tell you how to do it!).

My very favs are the sections on SM & Spirituality, and Tantric SM. Tantric awareness allows heightened spiritual experiences with SM--didn't we know that? Well, maybe, but here is an absolutely wonderful description of it all--get the book and read it just for this part!

Re Safety--this section has more medical information and more detailed information about specifics of safety than other, I think. A few random examples: the possible consequences of squeezing a penis attached to a man with diabetes; when using weights on body parts use the acronym SHARP to check for injury or damage (OK, it's swelling, heat, altered function, redness, pain); very clear instructions about shaving in ways that prevent all those nasty red bumps; more great details about safety when using candle wax than you can imagine (four and a half pages worth). You get the picture. There is a list of contents for a "basic SM Safety Kit" as well.

Nothing in this book is fluff, the safety messages are easy to read and oh so correct. All in all, I think that if one were to buy and own only one book about SM, this would be a great choice.

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