Dear Author: Four Ways NOT To Write BDSM Romance

If you have not noticed I have been over at this little kerfuffle on Dear Author explaining why I find that article suspect and I guess I should say something here about my point of view in that whole mess…

Sure, I have read tons of bad BDSM Romance stuff that frankly was probably flung out there to make a quick buck off the growing BDSM Romance trend going on in both M/M and M/F. BUT! I don’t go around putting it down to being “right” or “wrong” BDSM.

You want to know why?

Because I know there are all types of BDSM practices out there that are not my thing. A hell of a lot of those people in my BDSM Community are into things BDSM wise that I frankly think are pretty twisted and I have no interest in. One of my FAVORITE Lesbian Doms in San Francisco can sit for hours recounting her dungeon scenes of “non-con play” and “verbal degradation” she does to her subs because she is a badass fucker like that. NOT MY THING! I myself probably could recount to you scenes I did with John in public that would make you cringe and I loved each and every moment of it.

But… She and her subs have every right to explore “their thing” and write about “their thing” and share “their thing” to everyone who cares to listen and if one of them wrote a BDSM F/F Romantic Fiction about “their Fantasy” tomorrow I might not review that BDSM Romance here since I am not an expert on any of that but I would accept it as a F/F BDSM Romance because that is exactly what was written.

Then if some BDSM “Church Lady” ran around calling it NOT REAL BDSM Romance because it was not her “personal kink” I would lay into them like no tomorrow for what I consider to be the most basic requirement of respect for someone else in the BDSM Community. That is one of “my things” in that I don’t simply assume the writer has no interest or knowledge of BDSM or is not part of our community, but that’s just me.

So if anything be sure of what you are saying when you say “right” BDSM and “wrong” BDSM. Maybe you mean it’s not “your kink” and leave it at that.

Fact is Fact and Fiction is Fiction and we are talking about Fiction here, someone’s personal BDSM Fantasy. Claiming it is NOT BDSM by your personal standards might be insulting to that person who is into that scene. The first thing I was taught by my Dom concerning BDSM or any scene I witnessed in private or public was always to show respect first and foremost.

I am not saying you cannot say it was not “Your Thing”.
I said do not give me a lecture on “right” and “wrong” BDSM.

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"Am I Pissed Off Or Pissed On? PICK ONE!" by TeddyPig was published on November 2nd, 2009 and is listed in Wank.

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Comments on "Am I Pissed Off Or Pissed On? PICK ONE!": 30 Comments

  1. kirsten saell wrote,

    I think there’s a disconnect between readers who are practitioners (or for whom BDSM resonates) IRL and readers who are vanilla, in what they’re reading it for.

    For practitioners, there’s a lot of focus on “topping from the bottom”, “safe, sane, consensual”, safe-words, negotiations beforehand–because the premise is often that BDSM is really a power/control transfer from Dom to sub, so that the sub is the one who’s really in control. By giving up control, the sub acquires the ultimate control. Or something like that. It doesn’t resonate with me, so I don’t really know, but it’s what I hear a lot.

    The kind of BDSM romance a lot of vanilla readers might like is much different. The mind-reading Dom who “just *knows* what they really want”, and practices that might look bizarre or dangerous to practitioners–such as tying someone up and leaving the house–I think maybe speaks to a different aspect of female sexuality than the more “accurate” kind of BDSM.

    Maybe it is the narcissistic part that non-con, rape fantasies, punishing kisses, etc, speak to. This aspect isn’t interested in topping from the bottom. It’s about having the power to incite desire in others, but it’s also giving up control in order to, well, *give up* control. There’s a huge turn-on for many women in being mastered, in being used roughly, even callously. The selfless Dom who eschews his own orgasms in order to extract a dozen from his sub doesn’t resonate with that part of the female psyche. It doesn’t feed women’s narcissistic desire to *be desired* in any meaningful way–because that desire is fed by the dominant male *losing control* of himself, not maintaining it to the point that he eschews his own needs for those of his sub.

    You know, the part of women’s sexuality that really longs for this rigid, self-controlled man to want her so much his judgment goes right out the window. He wants her (or him, in the case of the first book featured) so much, that even though he knows it’s wrong or a bad idea or potentially hurtful, he *just can’t help himself.*

    Dressing it up as BDSM maybe makes it more palatable to women who’ve been told that desires and fantasies of this sort are unfeminist. If you want to see what I mean, read this.

    http://www.violentacres.com/archives/51/how-feminism-ruined-my-sex-life/

  2. TeddyPig wrote,

    Well BDSM is a sexual practice and I really distrust people that define it as a community that thinks the same way about everything in lock step because that is not my experience.

    On the other note there are M/M Romances that have wound up with an F from me because they have a rape scene between the two main characters that evolves into an HEA. That is SO NOT romantic to me and I have no problem in saying that.

    But it sells by the bucket loads to the M/M Romance Community so what can I say if there is a market for it… Oh well.

  3. AnneD wrote,

    I’d wondered about this “Well BDSM is a sexual practice and I really distrust people that define it as a community that thinks the same way about everything in lock step because that is not my experience.” on twitter with @SarahFrantz

    I would have thought (I will plead ignorance, I’m not BDSM associated) there would be obvious basics that yes, would be the same, but different places in the world would have developed protocols/procedures/maybe specific kinks that were specific to that area – I think I likened it to sign language… English sign language is not the same everywhere, can be rather different in fact.

    So what might well be common practice or frowned upon where you’re involved in the scene say in say the big cities of NE USA, might be dealt with totally differently in Hobart, Australia, or Germany. Obviously, that might reflect on a person’s decisions when writing a story depending on their research sources (assuming there was research).

    But I was only hypothesizing (and I wasn’t intending it to be explaining away poorly written/researched stories, just that one persons experience might well not be another’s) so I have no idea if that could be the case or not.

  4. Tired Book Buyer wrote,

    I found the whole DA post to be a pedantic academic scissorfest.

    Being an academic, I try not to sound like that. Please smack me (heh) if I ever do.

    I used to be involved in a BDSM scene and find that particular poster’s need to have all books conform to her idea of what BDSM is to be condescending. Language is a powerful thing, and the tone of the posts suggests that she is talking down to a class of first years students.

    I do not have an issue with what books she likes or dislikes or her reviews per se–my issue is that she tries to act like an expert in the subject and thus…ugh. I am just disgusted by the whole post. ;)

    I also question the vehicle she is using. But that is just me.

    Thanks for going into that quagmire of dominant hegemonic polemics…I could not do it.

  5. TeddyPig wrote,

    Well yes, I have some unique views on this because of my affiliations.

    I was trained in a highly ritualized and formalized protocol specific to something termed Leather House which is pretty esoteric and unfortunately mostly gone. In fact my Dom died of AIDS which should give you some idea of what happened.

    I am also an alumni of The Centaur Motorcycle Club one of the older Gay Leather Motorcycle Clubs on the east coast.

    Both have their own specific rules and functions and yes they do share certain basics since they essentially come from being founded in the same eras and yet they are entirely different groups with a different focus creating separate rule sets.

    Most of the current scene is a hodge podge of different kinks and styles and even rules like Puppies and Daddy/Boy and Leather Bears and Master/slave and so on and so on. As I said Safe, Sane, Consensual expresses a basic understanding in Real BDSM but not an understanding in these different BDSM Scenes or their Fantasies and Fiction.

  6. Katrina Strauss wrote,

    I’m puzzled by the insistence on “rules” in envelope-pushing genres like erotic romance, BDSM, and m/m. I started writing in these genres because I wanted to do something different, but the growing sentiment on the blogs is that authors who dare are doing it wrong.

    If one wants reality in their BDSM fiction, shouldn’t it reflect the *reality* that no two BDSM relationships are the same? As for captor/prisoner fantasy, it’s exactly that — a *fantasy*, one which explores the darkest, grittiest undercurrent of D/s at its most elemental nature. No, it’s not for everyone, but then neither are sweet romance or by-the-book BDSM stories, either.

  7. kirsten saell wrote,

    On the other note there are M/M Romances that have wound up with an F from me because they have a rape scene between the two main characters that evolves into an HEA. That is SO NOT romantic to me and I have no problem in saying that.

    But it sells by the bucket loads to the M/M Romance Community so what can I say if there is a market for it… Oh well.

    Well, that makes perfect sense to me. Lots of women have rape fantasies, but they’re often deeply ashamed of them (not me, because I refuse to be ashamed of what I fantasize about). The rape scene you mentioned would allow them to vicariously experience the fantasy of it with a male placeholder–keeping it one step removed from them. The whole “exploring sexual agency through m/m” thing I hear so often. I have plenty of agency, and I’m not ashamed of saying that I have all kinds of fantasies. I have fantasies of being dominated (even raped) by men, and fantasies of dominating women, among a whole host of others.

    Rape fantasies don’t appeal to men the same way they do to a lot of women. I’d guess that the more hard-core rape type of fantasy would be considered “normal” in women, but “pathological” in men. That is, men usually fantasize about giving pleasure, and if the object of their fantasy isn’t experiencing pleasure, or doesn’t consent to the act, that’s usually off-putting. For many women–in fantasy–her own arousal is often derived from entirely different sources. She’s not giving pleasure, she’s either receiving it, or he’s taking if from her. Both types of fantasy are narcissistic–just in different ways.

  8. Tired Book Buyer wrote,

    I will say that I tend to resent people who try to define my sexuality as a community and that it must stay within these rigid painted lines.

    It is bad enough that some want fiction to be politically correct, but now it must adhere to the rules of a person who is setting herself/himself up as the expert?

    That just goes against…well everything I was taught about BDSM ;)

  9. Alex Beecroft wrote,

    There’s a huge turn-on for many women in being mastered, in being used roughly, even callously.

    I’m glad you put ‘many’ in there instead of ‘all’. In fact, this kink is a huge, huge squick to me. I have violence fantasies that involve doing grievous bodily harm to that kind of character. But whereas plenty of people seem to be catering to some women’s rape fantasies, nobody seems to be catering to my rage fantasies. Where is “The gruesome revenge of the Sheik’s sex-slave?” “Beautiful ball-crusher”? “He tried to dominate me but I broke his kneecaps?

    Apologies for being slightly off topic, but I did just want to represent the fact that not all women have rape fantasies. And if you don’t, coming across one unexpectedly can be sickening/enraging. Which is not to say that they ought not to be written for those people who do enjoy them. They probably should. I’d just like to see some “I took a chainsaw to the rapist and settled down with the nice guy” books to balance them out.

  10. Moriah Jovan wrote,

    Apologies for being slightly off topic, but I did just want to represent the fact that not all women have rape fantasies.

    I have this preference (in my reading). I’ve talked about it elsewhere in terms of female fantasies and that it’s an EXTREMELY common one.

    What I have come across is that lately, there has been a hue and cry that that type of romance is WRONG and those who want to read it is WRONG and I PERSONALLY am WRONG for liking it. I’m tired of being beat over the head. It is MY PREFERENCE. Heaven forbid I should tell anybody else their reading preference is WRONG and they are WRONG for liking it.

    I totally agree with Teddypig when he says, IT IS FICTION.

  11. kirsten saell wrote,

    They probably should. I’d just like to see some “I took a chainsaw to the rapist and settled down with the nice guy” books to balance them out.

    I have a m/f romance that fits that bill quite well–not so much rage, per se, but veangeance against rapists by a woman. Unfortunately, the little letters f/f in the warning probably turn a lot of female readers away.

    Like many fantasies, it’s always a matter of degree. I mean, I’d say that a full-bore rape fantasy and a “punishing kiss” speak to the same aspect of female sexuality. One is simply a more extreme version than the other.

    But I will say that if you claimed among a group of women to have “rage fantasies” concerning rapists, you’d be cheered with “You go, girl!” But if you claimed to have fantasies of a man using you callously to slake his lust, the response would be more along the lines of “WTF’s wrong with THAT doormat?”

    Not every woman has rape fantasies, no. But many, many of them do. And it often has nothing to do with how “liberated” they are. I mean, ain’t no one more self-sufficient than I am. But those fantasies still appeal to me. And I think it’s a disservice to women to imply that there’s something wrong with them for liking that, so that they need to dress their desires up as something else–the rapist in BDSM clothing–in order to not feel ashamed for indulging them.

  12. Moriah Jovan wrote,

    Or dress the rapist up in vampire, werewolf, or cosmic forces that require you to sexxor a (coincidentally) hot aggressive dude.

  13. AnneD wrote,

    “I’d just like to see some “I took a chainsaw to the rapist and settled down with the nice guy” books to balance them out.”

    I’d buy it :) since I’m not a subscriber to the Women-want-to-let-it-all-go-and-not-be-in-charge deal. I know it works for others, but not me.

    Moriah – sorry to hear you get that, especially when it’s made personal. Might not be my deal, but live and let live I say. What would we be without diversity?

  14. Moriah Jovan wrote,

    Moriah – sorry to hear you get that, especially when it’s made personal. Might not be my deal, but live and let live I say. What would we be without diversity?

    I don’t know. I try to be respectful of others’ tastes.

    But yes, I have gotten it personally and, in fact, was told by a couple of people I thought of as friends and respected very highly that they thought less of me now, knowing that’s my reading preference.

    It’s been made very personal for me and I’ve lost connections I valued over it.

  15. Tired Book Buyer wrote,

    Moriah for what it is worth I still love you and have a hopeless girl crush on you. ;)

  16. TeddyPig wrote,

    My whole thing is not to put down the readers or really the writers

    BUT!

    Authors if you do write something edgy… PLEASE LABEL WHAT EDGE WE ARE TALKING ABOUT EXACTLY!

    I hate to be shocked when I buy Romance and I get Rape Fic.

  17. Moriah Jovan wrote,

    I agree with enumerating content a la Samhain and other e-pubs.

  18. Moriah Jovan wrote,

    Tired Book Buyer: *blush* Thank you. :)

  19. kirsten saell wrote,

    Or dress the rapist up in vampire, werewolf, or cosmic forces that require you to sexxor a (coincidentally) hot aggressive dude.

    Oh, certainly. A lot of women find a huge appeal in fantasies of being the single perfect object of a man’s insatiable and immediate sexual demand. The fated mates thing has got to play into that.

    But yes, I have gotten it personally and, in fact, was told by a couple of people I thought of as friends and respected very highly that they thought less of me now, knowing that’s my reading preference.

    I think it’s so scorned because it seems to strike a blow to the heart of women’s liberation. That is, if you like to read it, you’re a tool of the patriarchy advocating for the oppression of women. When in reality, the woman who can proudly proclaim she loves the odd rape fantasy is maybe the one with the greatest sexual agency of all. She likes what she likes, and fuck the rest of the world if they think there’s something wrong with that.

    Authors if you do write something edgy PLEASE LABEL WHAT EDGE WE ARE TALKING ABOUT EXACTLY

    I hate to be shocked when I buy Romance and I get Rape Fic

    Totally. Not just for the people who don’t want to read it, but for the people who DO.

  20. Alex Beecroft wrote,

    @Moriah and Kirsten Yes, I’m not in any way in the business of saying that anyone’s fantasies are wrong. Like Teddy, I just wish it was labeled so that I could avoid it, but that’s for my own mental comfort, not as some kind of moral judgment. I don’t think any of us really get to choose the things that turn us on, and I honestly don’t think it has anything to do with how liberated we are, and I haven’t ever said that there’s something wrong with women who have rape fantasies. I’m sorry that you have been the target of that kind of ire.

    For me it’s just that dubious consent and so forth do seem very popular in romance and I sometimes feel like a weirdo for finding it upsetting. I’m not trying to deny your reality or your right to find rape fantasies sexy. I’m just saying that what one person finds sexy another might find triggery or hurtful. Good labeling would solve the whole problem, IMO.

  21. Moriah Jovan wrote,

    Good labeling would solve the whole problem, IMO.

    Totally agree.

  22. Amber wrote,

    I followed the link to the hanky code, and couldn’t get past the idea of some poor Joe deciding his pocket will hold only half a dozen bandannas–and agonizing over which six he had to pick.

  23. TeddyPig wrote,

    Oh good god! The Hanky THING!

    I used to work part time at this place called The Leather Rack in DC because I was best buddy with the manager Rocco (Yes he looked as scary and mean as his name and I called him Mom) who also happened to be president of the Centaurs which should give you a clue of how I got to be a Centaur because I was pretty young and in the Navy so I was not at all looking to become a member. I was invited because I knew people and I started dating John and they actually wanted John to be a member because John had a huge rep in the community and the Drummer and Hell Fire pictures to back it up soooo.

    Blah blah blah… anyway we used to sell those stupid hankies to the noobs all the time.

    Listen, my thing is the hankies are great if you didn’t want to talk and simply have some back room one night stand sex or whatever. You don’t have to do much talking if you stand around color coded like those kids clothes with the tags that told you what shirt went with what pants.

    The thing is adult men into Leather are usually looking for more than a back room fling and they can actually do things like TALK about what they are into sexually and if you can’t talk… What the hell are you doing hanging out at a Leather Bar of all places?

    So no, hankies and stupid hanky codes were for players and noobs in the scene and generally were laughed at as such.

  24. Amber wrote,

    Okay, so now I’m picturing a noob sliding through the bar, getting a few interesting whiffs here or there, and rushing to the bathroom to dig out whatever hanky matches the one displayed by the guy he’s interested in, while in the alley that guy is frantically stuffing that hanky in a front pocket and sorting through his stash for one he thinks would interest the first guy.
    And they see they don’t match, so each flees to a private spot to switch hankies–which still don’t match…

  25. TeddyPig wrote,

    getting a few interesting whiffs

    Actually no cologne, perfume, deodorant or any smelly stuff besides sweat allowed in a traditional Leather Bar. NADA ZILCH!

    They would have asked you to leave actually.

  26. JenB wrote,

    Heh. The next time I get a BDSM romance to edit, all my negative comments are gonna say “REVISE! DearAuthor says UR DOIN IT RONG.”

  27. Amber wrote,

    getting a few interesting whiffs

    Actually no cologne, perfume, deodorant or any smelly stuff besides sweat allowed in a traditional Leather Bar. NADA ZILCH!

    They would have asked you to leave actually.

    But of course I was talking about pheromones. Not even English Leather. :)

  28. AM Riley wrote,

    I’m always a little leery of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ as regards any of the arts. Critics do have a useful purpose. But when they begin to think they are the ‘all knowing Oz’ and make pronouncements about what is and is not correct in a genre and culture to which they do not even belong, I chalk it up to the Jesus complex to which all critics are sometimes subject. Somebody let her personal squick factor overwhelm her and the next thing you know she’s making wild pronouncements and accusing authors of writing bdsm only for the money.

    I’m glad you spoke up, Teddy.

  29. Emilie wrote,

    Personally, I like a certain level of realism (or at least, what’s realistic to me) in the contemporary romances I read. I don’t like for abuse or non-consensual sex to be romanticized. I’m with Alex on rape fantasies being a “huge squick” to me. It sounds like there are a lot of people who enjoy stories in which one of the protagonists is forced by the other to have sex. What I’d like is a warning so I know to avoid those books. If it’s a paranormal, I can suspend somewhat more belief about love healing psychological trauma, but only so much. If I read a D/s story, I like for it to be well-established that a submissive character is clearly consenting. If a story breaks my standards for whether the characters could realistically find their treatment acceptable, it just doesn’t work for me.

    I realize that the things that bother me won’t bother or will really be enjoyed by others. I realize that other people just don’t need the same reassurances I do to feel comfortable with a story, or maybe just have a much stronger feeling that any type of romance they’re reading is just fantasy, anyway. I like for a reviewer to give good “why this doesn’t work for me” reasons, ones which give me an idea of whether a story is one I wouldn’t care for, or might be something that I’d enjoy, myself. So, my take on it.

  30. Tymber wrote,

    I “loved” (not) the “definition” of subspace and what it is and isn’t. Ugh. I know from SEEING first-hand that a LOT of subs can (contrary to the writer’s assertions) be put in to SUBSPACE in ways other than being beaten or experiencing pain. I have talked with Doms and subs/slaves in the lifestyle for decades who have told me you don’t have to “beat” a person into subspace. In fact, most of them were of the opinion that if that’s the ONLY way you can get your sub into subspace, it means you might not be as “domly” as you think you are, because the best Doms are the ones who can take hold of not just a person’s body, but their mind. Because we all know, the brain IS the biggest sex organ.

    Not all subs like to be beaten, they enjoy the submission midset, obedience, discipline. Or they enjoy bondage. Or they enjoy the fetish aspects of it. And I would challenge the DA “expert” to prove to them they’re NOT experiencing “subspace” during their play sessions. There are Dom/mes who don’t like to beat subs, they prefer mindf*cks or bondage or something other than heavy impact play. Or they enjoy SENSUAL impact play in combination with other elements.

    Oh, but according to DA, all those practitioners are wrong and have been doing it wrong for all those years.

    It’s nice to know this self-appointed expert on BDSM has visited every dungeon, every play party, every private club, and watched all practioners of BDSM in their private homes so they can state unequivocally that the rest of us are doing it wrong in real life and in writing. Oh, thank you Dear Author sage for not only showing us how stupid and wrong we are, but…

    *gagging*

    Sorry, if I shove my tongue any further into my cheek I’m going to choke on it.

    Pompous asshat. That’s the only name I have for a “know it all” academic like that. I’ve been to play parties. I’ve talked to a lot of people in the lifestyle. I certainly don’t claim to be a know-all expert on all aspects of it.

    What I DO know is that the only thing you CAN accurately say about BDSM is that no two people practice it the same way, and people who claim to be “one twue wayers” are usually…pompous asshats.

    What’s worse is they use a venue like a *cough* respected *cough* review blog to foist their highly biased (and erroneous) opinion on people who don’t know any better, then they refuse to see reason when they’re shown to be WRONG.

    Grr.

    I challenge the DA academic to write her own damn “perfect one twue way” book if she feels everyone else is doing it wrong. Put her money where her mouth is.

    Oh, and by the way…It’s FICTION.

    What’s even scarier is someone like this who is obviously unable to clearly discern fiction from fact and gets all riled up about it like this.

    Sorry to vent my spleen, but it just irritates me. Thanks for standing up and being a voice of reason about this whole topic.

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