“I’m sorry but the safe word is not ‘I forgot the safe word.’” – A bit about BDSM in books

“Look, if you want to torture me, spank me, lick me, do it. But if this poetry shit continues just shoot me now please.”
~Lori Petty in Tank Girl

james buchananHey, it’s ManCandy day and I, James Buchanan am butting in. Don’t worry, I’m sure Wave will still give your pre-Halloween candy.   Heck, it’s Halloween, youjames 1 deserve a treat, so I’ll give you half-dressed Twister from this year’s Folsom Street Fair.  

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with me, I write gay male romances oftentimes with a BDSM overtone.  My newest book, Personal Demons  was released this month from MLR Press…and surprisingly has no BDSM, just lots of hot sex, an FBI Agent who falls for a Cuban-American LAPD Detective while they investigate Santeria, Voodoo and ritual murder.  More surprisingly still, I’m not talking about that book today. 

Right now, I’m working on book three of the Taking the Odds  series.  The series features Nicky, the Nevada Gaming Control Agent, and Brandon, of Riverside PD.  Nicky’s a bondage switch and Brandon is the sexual submissive in their relationship.  They’re far more fetish than lifestyle and they don’t play service games.  The other set of obviously BDSM centered books are my JB Hardfallfinal lgeDeputy Joe Novels  with Utah Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Peterson and his boy Kabe.  There is a Sir/boy dynamic to their relationship with heavy S&M elements.  

Just ‘cause I’m a kinky bastage I’ll let you in on a little of my life: I’m a dominant (with some switch tendencies – although I hate pain and I’m not really comfortable being restrained) and my life partner is a sexually submissive masochist.  We don’t have any real service elements in our lifestyle.  We occasionally attend large public events, but other than belonging to National Leather Association-International (mostly for news and such) we don’t socially interact with a lot of the leather community.  We may hang with individual members of it, but not social groups or local scenes. 

And probably a good deal of you reading those last paragraphs had the WTF moment: Isn’t BDSM, just BDSM?

The answer is no

A person, any person, can be as into the scene as they want.  BDSM is a catch-all that covers a wide variety of tastes and levels and lifestyle.  It’s one of the reasons that a lot of us in the life (at whatever level), get really annoyed at books by people not in the life whoJames BDSM_whippingby JereKeys don’t at least try and understand the basics.  Not that you have to be Leather, or Rubber, or Puppy to write those stories, but it’s one of those areas where research really helps.  And not just about the props like how to use a St.   Andrews Cross, but who would use it and why. 

In the less than stellar books you’ll generally find a full blown service submissive masochist who lets a Sadistic DOM control everything.  There is no discussion of limits or boundaries or the big one SAFTEY.  They don’t understand the difference between Domination/submission and Sadism/masochism (you can have both, but you might have one without the other).  Puppy play has a different dynamic than Sir/boy.  Those types of stories are all about the whips and chains and NOT the head-space why the characters form the trust to employ the devices that turn them on.  And may I just say that BDSM is not therapy…it can be therapeutic, but it’s no substitute for professional intervention. 


james 2Complete lifestyle relationships are fairly rare. Lifestyle D/s relationships breathe, eat and sleep in their roles 24/7.  Syd McGinley’s Dr. Fell  series is one of the better one’s out there for a reasonably accurate picture of that deep a commitment.  By reasonably accurate, I mean Syd doesn’t bore you with the minutia, but does touch on and/or acknowledge the bigger issues.  Same with Claire Thompson and Eden Bradley  (both of them write various “flavors” and I’m just throwing a few names out there – although Eden WOOF!).  Remember, it’s fiction and reasonably accurate is the best authors can mange without readers drifting off to sleep. 

I try to maintain reasonable accuracy as well.  In Cheating Chance  Nicky makes a DOM’s promise to Brandon.  “I promise you that if you say [the safe word] I’ll stop everything and get you undone.   I promise I won’t leave you tied up alone.   I promise I’ll never leave you face down on a bed.   I promise to look out for your safety.   Trust me.”  They negotiate their limits and set boundaries.  Now, Joe and Kabe have never had that discussion…because Joe is learning that this is something he enjoys.  But he does understand consequences: you tie someone’s arms above their head, they’re going to lose circulation, you smack someone’s butt they may walk out on you.  As he says of himself, sometimes he can be a “thick hick.”

This is one of the peeves of the readers/writers/reviewers in the larger community of BDSM.  Rarely do books touch on the issues of Safe, Sane and Consensual.Personal Demonssm  BDSM can be dangerous.  One of the scandals of the Leather Community was a former Ms. Leather was participating in a breath play scene and the sub, who was not being watched properly and was not supported properly, passed out, fell on his face and broke his nose.  There was a great deal of outcry among leather folks and discussions of whether her title should be stripped. 

A case that made national news in the US was the death of Adrian Exley  who liked mummification bondage and suffocated.  The Dom involved committed suicide.  Another death occurred in Wales when a man inhaled chloroform gas through a soviet era mask during a scene.  Each year many people die in Autoerotic (self bondage) accidents. 

james buchanan bikeObviously, I’m not talking about this to be a downer or “scare” people away.   I enjoy BDSM…immensely.  I’m not going to tell people not to do it or write about it.  Yes, it is risky, but so is riding my Harley on the 110.  My only plea is be responsible.  Take safety seriously.   Educate yourself.  If you’re going to write about it, have your work read by people in the scene.  I’m into bondage…I still have other people who have significant involvement in BDSM review my postings and books for accuracy and safety.  If you’re going to get into it, learn about it. 

Self pimpage: I have a reoccurring feature on my blog called Nicky Says…where Nicky from Taking the odds will answer questions about BDSM (you can email your questions to him at Nicky@james-buchanan.com).  I also have guest bloggers who discuss various issues and/or their take on or involvement in BDSM. 

Then hit the bookshelves.  Start here –Safer Kinky Sex  it’s a free eBook.  Then I recommend anything by Midori or the KnottyBoys about bondage.  The Leatherman’s Handbook by Larry Townsend is iconic.  Even if you’re not a gay leatherman, there is a lot to be learned there.   For basics, try: Jay Wiesman’s SM 101: A Realistic Introduction, Learning the Ropes: A Basic Guide to Safe and Fun S/m Lovemaking by Race Bannon, Consensual Sadomasochism : How to Talk About It and How to Do It Safely by William A. Henkin or more specifically geared toward women The Sexually Dominant Woman: A Workbook for Nervous Beginners by Lady Green.  You can find them on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but you’ll get a good grounding. 

james 3Of course, the best way to learn is hands on.  Instead of going into a scene never having tied someone up…you can take classes.  I don’t particularly endorse any of these classes, well other than Knotty Boys and Society of Janus because I’ve seen them…but there are live classes out there where you can learn the basics of BDSM in a safe non-judgmental environment.  Some are for singles, some for couples.  Most don’t involve sex (if they do, it’ll likely be announced as a play event – although many of those don’t allow sexual contact either), its all about learning the techniques.  

The National Leather Association International  has local chapters throughout the US and Canada and some hold informational seminars.  If you’re in Portland you can check out Nobel Rope , they offer classes on bondage.  In the San Francisco Area  The Knotty Boys give regular seminars, The Society of Janus  holds newbie coffee socials and informative events and Loki teaches various beginner BDSM classes.   Chicago’s Discovery Center  and Seattle’s Center for Sex Positive Culture  both offer a variety of classes.   Midori  gives lectures around the US.   You can find them if you look.  JB CheatingChancePrint

I’m not going to tell people who don’t practice variants of BDSM not to write about them.   I would hope that they understand they need to educate themselves as they would on any topic.   I would also hope that readers who get turned on by BDSM and want to start exploring it, educate themselves with something other than fiction.  If you’re honest with yourself and honest with your partner you can expand your relationships in many ways.  Just learn, play safe and have fun.


I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball


Thank you, James!

I recently was involved in this exchange; (Idiot ignorant author); “It’s genuine BDSM, she is abducted and forced into servitude and humiliating display. She consents because if she doesn’t she’ll be beaten.”

Me; “No, I won’t edit your story, and here are some places you can go for information on this subject you insist on writing about.”

Elle Parker

Great Post! Thanks for all the fantastic links. I’ve done a lot of research already, but I’m always looking for new sources


James Buchanan

Katrina, yeah, I know switches involved in relationships with other switches and they play way differently than a D/s pair would. My idea of a hard limit is some other dude’s idea of just warming up. Realizing that goes a long way to making a book or your own life work.

Eden Bradley
Woof back at ya, James! And thank you for writing such a well-thought-out article. You know I share this pet peeve (people writing BDSM who have no real clue about it and haven’t bothered to do any research). I love that you address how ‘lifestyle’ can have such a variety of meanings, depending on the individuals involved, and I really, really love that you addressed safety issues-something too many people don’t consider before playing. As an author who has been involved in BDSM for over 20 years, I feel it’s my responsibility to touch on these issues in my books-even… Read more »
James Buchanan

Ah, EDEN! Thanks for showing up. It is so cool, isn’t it, how the kink community is vast and varied.

Elle, I’m glad you found this useful.

Katrina Strauss

Nodding my head here at many of your points. To me, as an author, a reader, and yes, a practitioner, the psychological D/s dynamic is more important — and sexy! — than the accompanying whips, chains, and/or blistered red bottoms. (Of course, I like those elements too, but give me the motivation behind the act if you want to turn me on!)
And thank you for pointing out that, just as no two vanilla relationships are alike, neither or any two BDSM relationships. A “how to” manual should serve as guide, not bible, and good fiction reflects this reality and variety.

James Buchanan
Erastes – in historicals it is harder, but even if you don’t talk about it in modern terminology there is the whole, “do you like me doing this?” and “yes.” that has always been a part of consensual (as opposed to those who literally owned others be it by purchase of social status) beating the crap out of people. Tam & LadyM – snort, I get more hassle about the hair. o.O Ingrid (and Tam & LadyM). At the most basic level BDSM is all in your head. I can have as much fun spanking a guy I’ve tied up… Read more »
I like to read about BDSM because sometimes I get tired of the same old, same old boy meets boy, they have a Big Misunderstanding, and then they live happily ever after. BDSM adds some spice to these stories and although I’m not into the scene I can usually tell when a writer has done his/her homework. ** Some of the BDSM books I like, other than yours James :), are the Deviations series by Jody Payne and Chis Owen, where the protagonists live the lifestyle 24/7; Natural Law, a wonderful book by Joey W. Hill which I think is… Read more »
“In the less than stellar books you’ll generally find a full blown service submissive masochist who lets a Sadistic DOM control everything. ” ~ Thank you for this post. I have to admit that I’ve wanted to stop reading several books because the submissive was beaten senselessly, tied and humiliated repeatedly without ANY discussion about safety and personal boundaries. These books made me wonder about the sanity and intelligence of both participants. One or two times I decided never to pick another book written by those authors. ~ While I personally don’t enjoy any elements of the lifestyle (with the… Read more »
I also learned that I enjoy reading the books with BDSM elements if they, like Tam said, describe characters’ motivation and perception rather than just their activities. I found that boring. It’s like the authors are writing the recipe instead of describing the smells, colors, taste of food. Or something like that. Actually, I think it’s exactly like that! I’ve read BDSM erotica for decades & played, off & on, around the edges of the lifestyle for about as long. In that time, after reading I-don’t-know-how-many books & articles about technique & toys & props & mindset, plus the aformentioned… Read more »
James Buchanan

It is a great metaphor. If I do that in a scene intentionally (yes I’ve done it in Book 3 of Deputy Joe) it was to show a disconnect, a fracturing of their relationship where they’re “going through the motions,” and have to heal on all fronts. But I’m glad you’ve found this post and thanks for commenting!

Is there significance in the scene to your name?


Not directly, no–I started using Wanted_A_Pony to shield my professional ID from my ‘alternative activities’ online. It’s a contraction of All I wanted was a pony… referring to that horse-mad longing that many girls suffer, unrequited. I have great respect for accomplished human ponies, however, as well as fascination with their tack & equipment. 😉

I came to your site via your review of Sarah Madison’s latest book, BTW, & couldn’t resist clicking on the ‘Popular Posts’ link.


That’s too funny because after I posted I’m walking around thinking “You know that really sucked that Nicky lost all that gorgeous hair.” LOL


Heh, I liked Nicky’s entire goth image, but the hair… *sigh*

As it happens I just reread Golden boy/man by Claire Thompson this week. And as always when reading books with a bdsm theme I wonder how “real” it is. So I am glad you mention her here as being rather accurate. * I do like the theme in books so if I see one I will pick it up (most times). I like to see how 2 different personalities make this work for them. How they balance things out. So it´s rather the mind aspect that´s more important to me then the actual play. And I want to be realistic,… Read more »
I have to confess I’m one of those people who doesn’t really get the BDSM lifestyle. I never even read about it much until I discovered m/m. I will say I like what is often referred to as “BDSM lite”. I can understand the appeal of D/s and bondage to a point but the S/M for me is a giant “huh?” and the 24/7 slave thing is a “double huh?”. But I’m sure there might be aspects of my life that people don’t get either. LOL * I think for me, stories that focus purely on the physical, just talking… Read more »
Thank you so much for posting this, James. Time and time again I read books where people are just whipping each other without any rhyme or reason and it gets to me, because someone who really ties people up non consensually and beat the living daylights out of them isn’t erotic. People do need to understand at least some of the mechanics and dynamics behind it, that being a sub can also be about control and without that sub the dom is nothing yadda yadda. I think a lot of the sadism comes from fandom where writers would – for… Read more »
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