Although it’s been years since I’ve had to go to school on a Monday morning, you’ll be happy to know I’ve been keeping up with my homework. 😉
For years, I have intended to pick up S&M 101 by Jay Wiseman because it has been unanimously recommended to me. S&M 101 is perhaps the quintessential BDSM book on the market and it is more than titled appropriately. From the moment I picked it up, I understood why. This is no flimsy volume but a nearly-400 page tome of information about BDSM and, although it contains much information, is it a quick read and I was halfway through it in a matter of days, simply reading through it as I waited for pages and programs to load in my computer. Furthermore, Mr Wiseman’s casual yet knowledgeable tone stresses safety and caution in all things risky (which BDSM is) without ever sounding condescending or holding the “holier than thou attitude” which runs rampant among many BDSM participants and can be a serious deterrent to struggling newcomers. It may not be the only resource in your collection but it’s a perfect first.
I suspect this will be a lengthy review, because it is a lengthy book. Although Mr. Wisemen does not discuss every single aspect of BDSM in minute detail, he covers a great many aspects and in a depth I appreciate. I like specific answers and SM101 provides me with those, specific answers about BSDM. While many of the ideas he presents are not new to me, he gives refreshing details. I’d like to take a moment to explain that, in his book, Jay uses SM as an umbrella term rather than BDSM and it seems this is simply due to the trends at the time when it was published (first edition in 1992 and this, the second edition, sometime between 1996 and 2000).
SM101 starts with a sort of introduction from Jay Wiseman about how he started writing this book as well as how he started in BDSM. It’s interesting but I found it to be long. Some of his personal experiences might have been more interesting at the end of the book; instead, they felt like a speed bump on my way to the “real” material. That material starts with a chapter on the Basic Basics which will outlines consent and safety measures – with a negotiation form – and Finding Partners which aids in finding partners through ads and club, by your sexual orientation and ends with advice for introducing BDSM to your existing relationship.
Next come several chapters on the more physical aspects of BDSM (Bondage, Flagellation, Clamps etc) as well as some thoughts on Lubricants. In these sections, the author discusses different BDSM gear, where to buy it, characteristics of quality gear and how to use it. You will not be an expert in physical BDSM but reading this book can definitely aid in your understanding of these tools. For instance, SM101 taught me that cheap handcuffs are often identical cuffs instead of mirror images and have a 3 link chain. I now know to keep an eye out for a quality pair of S&W cuffs, should I be in the market for them. Information as specific as this is available about gags, riding crops and rope, just to name a few.
Of particular note is the Bondage 1A which discusses only rope including qualities, care and illustrations of knots and the best positions with which to use them to bind a person (genital bondage, anyone?). Although I am not a fan of rope, I found this chapter to be suggestively helpful without being commanding.
The physical chapters finishes up with Erotic Torture in which Mr. Wiseman discusses various techniques of teasing and torturing a submissive from sensation play to sex toys to electricity to blades. Again, he reflects his beliefs about taking it slow and safe to minimize risk. The chapter is wrapped up with several masturbation techniques to use on a person.
The chapters following, including Humiliation, D/s Interactions and SM Relationships focus on the emotional dynamics of BDSM. Jay outlines qualities desired in both players, including the four basic duties of a submissive (To serve needs, to obey orders, to accept domination, to please desires).He touches on the significance of the collar, basic positions for training and punishment. SM Relationships probes beyond the scene, to the lifestyle. The ideas in these chapters are rather traditional and rigid and certainly do reflect power exchange well but while it will work well for some, this information may not be as helpful to others.
The remaining chapters focus on safety and resources, in general. SM Organizations suggests ways to locate and advice for joining BDSM groups but will definitely be more helpful to those who live in areas which already have established communities. Jay does include suggestions for those wanting to start their own as well. A chapter on General Safety Considerations includes BDSM while pregnant and common emergencies during a scene (The 5 Fs: freakouts, falls, fainting, failure and fire). SM and Safer sex focuses on reducing the risk of spreading STDs but focuses narrowly on AIDs. I suspect that a book written more recently would focus more on issues surrounding HPV (but they are both risks to be well aware of).
There is a chapter which outlines a typical scene between a Domme and male submissive. Following this is a chapter listing suggestions for your BDSM starter set which includes not only BDSM toys but everyday, household items which you can put to good use as well. SM Sayings is essentially a list of commandments about practicing. Related Practices includes activities/fetishes/lifestyles which tend to have overlap with BDSM like Age Play and Polyamory; Wisemen includes contact information for groups which specialize in these activities. Finding Help With Problems provides further resources for issues such as abuse and rape. Jay suggests even further reading in References and Resources, as well as some books which are not recommended.
Finally, the book wraps up with a glossary of terms used and 3 Appendices: Sample Event Rules which is self explanatory, SM and the Internet and a sobering Monograph on Breath Control Play which, by no means, should be skipped because it is the last section of the book.
As you can see, this book does discuss many aspects of BDSM and in great detail – greater than I would be able to describe without making this review too unruly (although, I would be glad to answer specific questions). Wiseman does so in a no-nonsense manner, repeatedly stressing to take things slow and use safety measures. It’s also a very approachable manner and I chuckled a time or two at the book, like when he describes helping a Domme test eyebolts in a wall with a lacey pink pillow strapped to his head, lest one pop out and hit him (it did). It is a solid book.
But it is not without its flaws. As a critical person, I found the strange font face to be distracting until I become accustomed to it. I would absolutely reprint this book using a more standard font; it looks sloppy as-is. Furthermore, Wiseman includes sometimes-relevant quotes on pages. They are generally thoughts from players which reflect thoughts and attitudes about BDSM, sometimes quotes from the page. They do not always seem to be relevant to the content on the page (sometimes I can see how they’re supposed to relate but they fail to do so) and, quite frankly, sometimes they do not add to the book at all. I have also touched on how some of the advice about interactions and relationships is very traditional and rigid. For this reason, I found the chapters about physical BDSM more helpful but this is mostly due to personal preference.
Still, the most glaring flaw of SM101 is that it is dated. Extremely so. Wiseman lists contact information in several places but it is only ever addresses and phone numbers. Unfortunately, there is no way for the reader to know whether or not this information is up to date or even if these groups and people still exist. And who writes for information anymore, anyway? I have never once. Website URLS would be entirely more useful.
Additionally, he makes many mentions of newsgroups on Usenet and, well, this summer marks a decade I’ve been using the internet and I’ve probably joined less than a dozens newsgroups in that time, none of which I ever stuck around very long. I know it’s difficult to write about the internet as websites come and go and there’s so many it could easily be a book on its own but a mention of strong sites like FetLife, Alt.com or Bondage.com would offer more potential than newsgroups which only serve as a forum for spambots. You can basically skip the second Appendix because, even though it’s probably some of the “newer” information in the book, it’s still decrepit.
I wonder why SM101 is only the second edition when there were only a few short years since the first was published. Following that timeline, it could be on the 4th or 5th printing by now.
In the end, this book is best for uber newbies, folks who have no way to contract BDSM info or those who want to introduce the subject to their lovers. It could certainly be a book to study religiously before or even have open during your first few scenes and the ideas in it will set you up well. It will still be useful for those who have a more experience under the belt and anyone who is looking for a specific piece of information which to page through once more but will not be quite as useful. Despite what I see as a major flaw, I would still absolutely recommend it in yuor collection of sex toys and information.
A realistic introduction, indeed.