Review: 50 Shades of Kink

Tristan Taormino’s 50 Shades of Kink should be required reading for anyone interested in BDSM and kink. Although 50 Shades of Grey has popularized power play and allowed many people to discover new fantasies, it also inaccurately represents kink, and the books shouldn’t be seen as a guide or a model for realistic or safe BDSM activities. Thankfully, Tristan Taormino has put together all of the basics of kink in an accessible, easy to read guide for anyone who wants to take the fantasies they’ve discovered and explore them safely with a partner. pennysblog_50ShadesofKink In 50 Shades of Kink, Tristan Taormino introduces the basic terminology and practices in BDSM as well as possibilities for play while stressing the essential themes of consent, communication, and safety. And although the book is instructional, Taormino peppers her tips and explanations with sexy images and possibilities, her guides serving as educational foreplay. Throughout the book, Taormino explores topics like sexual power games, sensory deprivation, sensation play, and more.  Below is an excerpt from one of my favorites, “Rough Sex.”

A pink handprint on a pale ass cheek. A fistful of hair. A string of gooey spit dripping down your chin. Nails dragged across flesh. A slap across the face. An order barked with cool confidence. A guttural groan or a high-pitched squeal. These are some of the sights and sounds of rough sex. Although it is obviously intensely physical, there are also strong psychological elements in rough sex. Rough sex tops get turned on by taking control of a partner’s body, using physical force, and breaking taboos. Bottoms like to explore feelings of being scared, overwhelmed, and out of control. In my work as a sex educator, I’ve talked to thousands of people over the years, and some are very big fans of playing rough but don’t associate it with kink at all. It doesn’t really matter what you call it. Rough sex is another kind of dominant/submissive role play where you can explore power, control, and surrender, and use intense physicality to push limits and break taboos. Rough sex can include BDSM activities like spanking, blind-folds, or bondage as well as smacking, pushing, grabbing, hair pulling, spitting, scratching, being held down, and face slapping. If these things sound fun to you, read on. Although some folks distinguish between rough sex and and BDSM and others don’t, what’s most important is that the basic principles of kink should always be in play: consent, communication, negotiation, education, safety and risk reduction, and after care. Telling your partner, “I want it rough,” just isn’t specific enough. You need to negotiate, talk about what activities are off limits, and constantly check in about the degree of roughness that works for you. For example, some people love to be slapped in various places on their body, but being slapped in the face is too much for them. But if you are interested in being slapped on the face, think about what will make it sexy for you. Some love being spit on, but others find it degrading; where does it fall on your “Yes-No-Maybe” list? What about having your hair pulled? If you want your partner to grab you, push you, and generally “manhandle” you, talk about how you want that to feel.

In 50 Shades of Kink, Taormino gives you the tools you’ll need to explore kink safely, stressing the most important one, consent:

Consent–explicit, informed verbal approval after negotiation, a confident and secure “Yes!”–is the bedrock of sex and relationships, and one of the most significant elements of kink. It’s what separates kink from abuse. You will read about consent repeatedly in this book. Securing consent from a partner is a necessity, and this holds true whether the person is brand-new to you, you’ve played together more than a dozen times, or you’ve been in a relationship for ten years. Never assume anything. When you ask for consent, you clearly speak your part in the exchange: I need to know you’ve agreed to this before we begin. Giving your consent to a partner prior to a scene is absolutely crucial. It establishes that you’re ready, willing, and able to proceed; you’ve discussed what’s likely to happen, shared any concerns, talked about your limits, and agreed to dive in. When you give consent, you do so willingly, without pressure, coercion, or reservation. You agree to play, communicate during the scene, and stop if you need to.

Like anything new, BDSM and kink can seem intimidating to beginners, and this book does an excellent job of explaining how to begin without sounding overwhelming or condescending. It’s the perfect stepping stone into the realm of kink if you’re a newbie as well as a great way to review core concepts even if you’re an intermediate player. If you’re already an experienced kinkster, you probably won’t find anything new in 50 Shades of Kink, but I’d definitely add it to your list of resources for newbies.

In fact, although this guide is geared towards people interested in kink, I wish I had read this book before I began having (“vanilla”) sex, because the themes and tips it presents are essential, (oh how my 16 year old self could have benefited from the idea of a “Yes-No-Maybe” list!) and even if there isn’t an explicit arrangement, power play is always present to varying degrees in sex and relationships. I long for a world where 50 Shades of Kink is featured as required reading for sex ed!

If you’ve read the 50 Shades of Grey books or other erotic novels and found the power play, bondage, and hot sex intriguing, I definitely recommend Tristan Taormino’s 50 Shades of Kink. Read it and have your partner read it, or read it together, and use it as a guide and inspiration for your exploration of kink. Thanks Cleis Press!

3 thoughts on “Review: 50 Shades of Kink”

  1. Dan

    Thanks, Penny, for the look see here. As a monogamous, married, old schooler, I read Tristian’s book Opening Up and reviewed it on Amazon; liked it, found it helpful.

    As a beginner in kink (and with my own personal kink button on hold at the moment as my spouse and I figure out what’s helpful/not helpful or road bumpish in the whole power play thing) I’ve wondered why young people jump into kink as if it were love/sex 101. Dive in even before getting much field testing in the vanilla love and relationship dept. Don’t you think the excitement of kink while enhancing a strong vanilla relationship might be a distraction for a young person whose not perhaps even yet had a significant, basic more vanilla relationship? I do agree w/ you about the importance of a Limit List, a Yes/No/Maybe workup at any age.

    Again, thanks for the review.

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