Techniques of Pleasure

BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality

Techniques of Pleasure

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 1 figure Published: December 2011

Author: Margot Weiss

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Sex and Sexuality

Techniques of Pleasure is a vivid portrayal of the San Francisco Bay Area’s pansexual BDSM (SM) community. Margot Weiss conducted ethnographic research at dungeon play parties and at workshops on bondage, role play, and flogging, and she interviewed more than sixty SM practitioners. She describes a scene devoted to a form of erotic play organized around technique, rules and regulations, consumerism, and self-mastery. Challenging the notion that SM is inherently transgressive, Weiss links the development of commodity-oriented sexual communities and the expanding market for sex toys to the eroticization of gendered, racialized, and national inequalities. She analyzes the politics of BDSM’s spectacular performances, including those that dramatize heterosexual male dominance, slave auctions, and US imperialism, and contends that the SM scene is not a “safe space” separate from real-world inequality. It depends, like all sexual desire, on social hierarchies. Based on this analysis, Weiss theorizes late-capitalist sexuality as a circuit—one connecting the promise of new emancipatory pleasures to the reproduction of raced and gendered social norms.


“... Weiss’s book offers a fascinating extension of debates about the sexual politics of neoliberalism, and a consideration of how local economic changes in the San Francisco Bay Area have reconfigured sexual communities there...” — Gavin Brown, Society & Space

Techniques of Pleasure is an important theoretical and empirical contribution that moves beyond the existing analyses in feminist and queer theory that depict SM as either inherently sexist or inherently transgressive. Building on both these theories without discarding their core assumptions, Weiss demonstrates how SM can be both sexist and transgressive, often at the same time. Beyond the empirical focus of this book, Weiss contributes to the broader literature on late capitalism’s impact on bodies, sexualities, and subjectivities.” — Amy L. Stone, American Journal of Sociology

Techniques of Pleasure is an impressive book that does much to humanize BDSM to those who wish to get involved in the community or simply wish to be better educated about the topic. . . . Weiss exposes a world that is typically viewed as dank and dark by the casual outsider; through her insightful analysis, she brings this subculture into the light and shows us the ‘softer side of kink.’” — C. J. Bishop, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

“[A] useful scholarly monograph on how once perversions of the select have become indulgences of the many. . . . Techniques of Pleasure is at its best when Weiss describes what goes on at gatherings of consenting adults engaged in semi-public and non-commercial fetishistic S-and-M role-play. To her credit, she includes extensive quotes from practitioners she meets along the way. Ethnographers have the eyes and ears of an explorer.” — David Rosen, The Brooklyn Rail

“[A] vital, if controversial, contribution to the body of writing and theory on BDSM.” — Nina Lary, Bitch

“The analysis of these circuits is quite fascinating and could be expanded outside the BDSM scene to explore sexual fantasy and performance in any affluent, educated, tech-savvy culture. Recommended to readers interested in human sexuality.” — Scott Vieira, Library Journal

“Researchers and teachers of popular culture may use this book to counterbalance the recent upsurge in media depictions of BDSM, particularly the strain of erotic fiction known as ‘mommy porn,’ which uses BDSM imagery to reinforce heteronormative ideals… It is a complex subject, worthy of the meticulous treatment Weiss offers.” — Misty Luminais, International Social Science Review

“In its analytic candor, both generous and unflinching, Weiss’s book is an appropriate entrée for anyone wishing to engage with contemporary BDSM communities — nestled within the larger queer academic trend of critiquing neoliberalist ideological formations of liberated selves and others.”  — Andy Campbell, GLQ

“In debunking some myths that continue to surround BDSM, Weiss contributes to an honest and nuanced conversation about how power dynamics really work within a scene that plays with power for pleasure.”  — Lisa Downing, New Formations

“Margot Weiss’ sociological approach to the formation of sexual desire is breathtakingly smart and powerful, and should be required reading for any serious scholar of sexuality henceforth.”  — Adam Isaiah Green, Contemporary Sociology

Techniques of a landmark study of the BDSM 'scene' in San Francisco...Weiss succeeds admirably in producing a work that is conceptually rich and ethnographically engaging.” — Richard Joseph Martin, Current Anthropology

“Weiss offers a nuanced reading of sex, power, consumption, and subjectivity that makes Techniques of Pleasure a major contribution to new theoretical work on neoliberal economic processes and the anthropology of sexuality and gender.”
— Michael Connors Jackman, American Ethnologist

"I would urge anyone interested in the history or the future of the BDSM culture, whether researchers, educators, or organizers, to look into Weiss’ book. There are some uncomfortable criticisms about our culture, but they are things we have to look at and address if we as kinky people are going to move forward." — Peter Tupper, History of BDSM blog

"[A] fascinating, sophisticated, and original look at the ways in which we might begin to rethink how we view alternative iterations of expressions of sexuality. ...I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in areas of sexuality, critical race theory, gender studies, biopolitics, and even discourse analysis." — Nicholaus Baca, Peitho

“I cannot emphasize enough how vital the analysis in Techniques of Pleasure is. Margot Weiss reveals the half-lie of ‘safe space’ in the BDSM world and, in doing so, artfully unveils the half-lies that propel ideas of ‘agency’ and ‘choice’ in neoliberal culture.” — Annalee Newitz, author of Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture

Techniques of Pleasure is a wonderful, theoretically significant, and ethnographically rich book. Margot Weiss contextualizes the development of the Bay Area’s BDSM scene, analyzing contemporary BDSM as biopolitical practice. Examining the complex connections between discipline and freedom, subject formation and subjugation, power and play, Weiss extends feminist and queer theoretical debates about identity, community, sexuality, gender, race, and the nature of power. This book breaks new theoretical ground in relation not only to BDSM but also to questions of personhood, political economy, and embodiment in late capitalism.” — David Valentine, author of Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Margot Weiss is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
A Note on Terminology vii

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction. Toward a Performative Materialism 1

1. Setting the Scene: SM Communities in the San Francisco Bay Area 34

2. Becoming a Practitioner: Self-Mastery, Social Control, and the Biopolitics of SM 61

3. The Toy Bag: Exchange Economies and the Body at Play 101

4. Beyond Vanilla: Public Politics and Private Selves 143

5. Sex Play and Social Power: Reading the Effective Circuit 187

Appendix. Interviewee Vignettes 233

Notes 241

References 269

Index 291
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Finalist, 2012 Lambda Literary Awards, LGBT Studies category

Winner, 2012 Ruth Benedict Prize (single-authored work) by the Association for Queer Anthropology

Additional InformationBack to Top