As a sex toy reviewer and sex blogger, I read "The Ultimate Guide to Kink" for work purposes. I needed to learn more about the ins and outs of BDSM and kink, so I read this book, among other things. I wasn't expecting to like it; it was just something I had to do for work. Surprisingly, I got through the 400+ pages quickly and enjoyably!
The book is actually a collection of essays from various BDSM practitioners and sex coaches who specialize in many different kinks and fetishes. Edited and put together by Tristan Taormino, who writes the introductory chapter, the book is split into the "Skills and Techniques" section (pages 1-224) and the "Fantasies and Philosophies" section (pages 245-404). At the end, there are resource guides you can use to learn more in-depth information.
I can see why the book was ordered in this way, but I feel like the "Fantasies and Philosophies" section should come first in order to set the stage/mood for the "Skills and Techniques" section. It feels weird to go into fine detail about Japanese rope bondage knot-tying techniques before you've talked about the basic tenets of submission and masochism. It’d be like telling you how to hit a home run before telling you the objective of baseball. Strange choice.
I personally think that the "Skills and Techniques" section is stronger than the last half of the book, so it makes sense that they've led with it. The first half of the book is very interesting and informative, full of facts and how-to guides that are very useful if you're not a seasoned dungeon master! You'll find chapters on impact play, sex slaves, fisting, bondage, piercing, CBT and more. This first half of the book is very much aimed at educating newbies and semi-pro BDSM players in the art of different specific kinks.
The second half "Fantasies and Philosophies" has some enlightening sections on taboo subjects like age roleplay and sadism, but it's where the book can start to feel a little boring and fluffy. Most chapters are about the mindset behind certain aspects of kinky sex, something that inevitably differs from person to person. 20-odd pages of hearing why someone REALLY LIKES making their wife bleed starts to wear thin quickly.
And that's kind of the simultaneous blessing and curse of this book – it's a collection of essays, so most the chapters are written by different people. On the one hand, this keeps the writing fresh and clean with each chapter – you never know who you're going to get, how they're going to write, and what they're perspective is going to be. You get a diverse and overarching view of BDSM from a diverse group of professionals of different ethnicities, gender identities, sexualities, and backgrounds.
On the other hand, having all these authors makes the writing inconsistent and finds the book repeating itself sometimes. I often found myself skimming through paragraphs which were repeating points already mentioned by previous writers. Still, it was interesting to see different perspectives on topics like consent, safety, and society’s view of BDSM, even if these weren’t the main focus of each author’s chapter.
But yes, the difference in quality between chapters is noticeable. Some chapters, like the Anal Fisting chapter by Patrick Califia, are informative, well-written, and entertaining throughout. Other chapters, like the Mindfuck chapter by "Edge", are vague, full of fluff, and quite frankly irritating to read. That whole chapter feels like it was written in this “dominant” and “intimidating” character, whereas I'm looking for the real person behind the sadist/mindfucker/whatever. The whole “Dark Side” chapter felt totally unnecessary to me as well. We get it, you’re a dark and spooky son-of-a-bitch. Next.
Every time you turn to a new chapter, you risk liking or disliking the writer. To be fair, the book has been edited pretty well and the tone is fairly consistent throughout, but certain chapters like “Dark Side” and "Mindfuck" stick out like a sore thumb. Overall, I think a good 2-3 chapters could've been deleted and it would be a benefit overall. If I was the author, I suppose I’d be worried about missing out a certain writer’s perspective or making them feel subpar, but that’s the risk you run with this kind of contributer-based book.
BDSM inevitably has lots of crossover between different kinks and fetishes. Bondage is often combined with sensory deprivation, while role play is often part of a power exchange relationship between a top and bottom. The book is quite good at separating these kinks and looking into them individually. It was also very good at making me think about the stark differences between play styles which seem similar on the surface.
For instance, one thing that surprised me was 3 different chapters on role play – roleplay in general, age-related roleplay, and taboo/rape roleplay. “Is this not all the same thing?” I naively assumed... apparently not! Roleplaying as a naughty schoolboy or a vicious dog is VERY different from living out a fantasy where someone rapes you or calls you offensive names – you’re tapping into a whole different aspect of the human condition where it’s less about control and more about exploring the darkest sides of your sexuality. Very intriguing.
The opening chapter to section 1: "The Terms, Principles, and Pleasures Of Kink" is written by Tristan herself and does a great job of giving us an overview of everything we need to know about BDSM before going forward. She explains the basics of dominance/submission, sadomasochism, consent/safety, communication, aftercare, tops/bottoms and more. She perfectly sets the stage for everything else to come (or cum). It’s the introduction this book needed, especially if you’re new to the kink world.
This book has some great quotes in it, which is hardly surprising given the diverse and misunderstood nature of the writers. For example, in a chapter exploring society's misconceptions around masochists and their mental wellbeing, Patrick Califia writes: "It's not enough to say BDSM is sick or crazy because most people don't do it. Most people don't become concert pianists or Olympic athletes, either.” It's a simple sentiment, but a good writer can make the simplest idea "click" and stick in your mind.
To be honest, Patrick Califia's two chapters are the highlights of this book for me. It’s a shame that he only wrote two of them – one on masochism and one on anal fisting. I personally have no interest in being anally fisted or anally fisting someone else. If I’m totally honest, it makes me feel a little sick when I’ve seen it being done. However, Califia wrote about it so eloquently and insightfully that I was nearly converted to trying it for a moment! I won’t stick my hand up someone anytime soon, but now I have a better understanding of those that do.
Overall, this is a great book for people who are new or semi-experienced with BDSM and different types of kinky sex. There are a lot of interesting viewpoints on what fetishes and kinks mean to different people, as well as ideologies I’d never considered before. For example, there’s the playful idea that a masochist bottom is a sadist top’s worst enemy because a sadist doesn’t want their bottom to be enjoying the pain – they WANT them to be suffering in unpleasant pain. This book really opened my eyes and forced me to reframe my thinking about BDSM relationships – Fifty Shades is not to be believed!
If you can put up with the inconsistent tone and occasional repetitiveness, this book is incredibly enjoyable and easy to read. It’s a brilliant starting guide for BDSM newcomers, covering not only many of the techniques for specific kinks, but the philosophy and erotic undertones that underpin them and make people want to do them in the first place. For a community that’s very misunderstood, a book like this does them a world of good.
Finally, if you find anything that you want to explore in greater detail, Tristan even gives you a resource guide full of books, websites, organizations, and events to check out. The resources are very America-centric, so not ideal if you’re in Europe like myself, but I suppose they can’t list every leather dungeon on the face of the Earth. Berlin alone would need 50 pages, not to mention Amsterdam.
So, what are you waiting for? Buy this book, explore the darkest taboos of human sexuality, and open your mind to an infinite well of kinky possibilities!