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Four Ways NOT to Write BDSM Romance

As there are many ways to get romance wrong, there are exponentially more ways to get BDSM romance wrong. BDSM is tricky. If you’re writing it because it’s hot, but you’ve got no experience with it, you’re almost bound to get it wrong. Almost, but not always, I hasten to add. Examples of successful BDSM romances by authors who aren’t BDSM-identified themselves — as far as I know — are Ann Somerville’s Remastering Jerna and Matthew Haldeman-Time’s An Affair in Paradise and Victoria Dahl’s The Wicked West. So the “authenticity” of a writer who is BDSM-identified isn’t necessary, if that author has imagination, empathy, and has done their research. But still, there are many many ways to get BDSM hideously, awfully, horrifically wrong. I’ve written before about how not to write BDSM romance, but I’ve recently had a string of truly scary BDSM romances cross my computer screen, all scary in very different ways, so I thought I’d combine reviews into a discussion of What NOT To Do.

big_Kersten-TDaysThirty Days by Shayla Kersten (Liquid Silver Books)
This book horrified me. So much so that I literally can’t bring myself to read the sequel. Thirty Days got fabulous reviews all over the web and has intrigued me for a while, so I was excited to find the time to read it. But once I did, I was absolutely appalled. If this is really what people think BDSM is, no wonder it’s so reviled and hated — because it should be.

This whole review is italicized, bolded, and written in flashing red and yellow danger signs in my head, so imagine that as you read it. I’ll try to be restrained (harhar — very weak joke).

Cavan has been in held in literal sexual slavery for nine years, probably since he was 13, maybe 11. He has a 6th grade reading level. He has no idea how to interact with anyone normally. He hasn’t seen a woman in a decade. He has no idea if he’s really gay or really into BDSM, because he was given no choice about either. And these issues are NEVER resolved in the book. He’s three months out of this literal slavery — THREE MONTHS!!! — and he’s taken to a BDSM party to be hooked up with Biton, a dom who is three months past his partner’s death from cancer. Biton wants Cavan, takes him, and then when he figures out the depth of Cavan’s issues, including not knowing whether he’s actually gay or submissive, doesn’t immediately stop the relationship and treat Cavan as the little boy he is emotionally and intellectually, but continues with the relationship because he wants to, because he’s hot for Cavan and because ::gag:: Cavan is so sweetly submissive:

Biton set down his coffee cup and stood up. "He doesn’t understand that being a slave is a lifestyle choice. He’s never really known any other life. He thinks being tortured is normal." Biton paced the kitchen, anger at the people who did this to Cavan growing with each step. "He’s a gentle soul. I don’t think he’d be into submission if he hadn’t been forced into it."

"And you want to keep him around." It wasn’t a question and Harry hit the nail on the head.

Biton wanted Cavan, but the idea of giving up the thrill of control, of power over a helpless body, bound and gagged, waiting for his whim…The memory of Cavan strapped in the sling Friday made him shiver. "Yes."

How can someone write those three paragraphs together? Seriously? How can you say you don’t think he’d be into submission if he weren’t tortured into it when he was thirteen and then shiver at the memory of this same man strapped into a sex sling?! It made me nauseous, personally, and although Biton isn’t the man who enslaved Cavan, he’s coming pretty fucking close here, to my mind.

Exposition reveals that Cavan showed up in an ER three months previously “badly beaten. His back was a bloody mess, broken arm, two fractured ribs and rectal lacerations from some kind of foreign object. He refused to press charges against his attacker” and the BDSM “Society” that Biton and his friends belong to “warned Wainwright [Cavan's "master"], threatened to exclude him and issue warnings to potential subs.” You’re shitting me? They fucking WARN him?! They don’t CALL THE COPS?! The ER doesn’t CALL THE COPS?! A whipped back, a broken arm, broken ribs, and anal rape doesn’t qualify for someone getting arrested, whether or not Cavan files the charges?!

Somebody posted on Twitter (it might actually have been Jane) a few days after Roman Polanski was arrested that they’re sick of how the media says Polanski “had sex with a 13 year old girl”, rather than saying he “drugged and raped his 13 year old victim”. Don’t say “had sex with” when it was really “drugged and raped.” In this story, Biton and his friends continue to call Cavan’s abuser his “former master” and a “dom.” No, dammit. No. He’s a pedophile, a rapist, a torturer and, apparently, a murderer. Don’t continue to call him a “dom” when what he did was so hideous. Raping, torturing, and enslaving thirteen year olds is so far from being a BDSM dom that it’s not even funny. So unfunny I was crying with despair when I read this book.

In fact, this book almost made me throw up. This is NOT BDSM, folks. Some things are too big for a romance to cure. A boy — barely 20 — three months out of a decade-long abuse, rape, and torture, a boy with a 6th grade education and an inability to interact with anyone normally, should not be entering into ANY relationship, let alone one with a sexual dominant who has problems understanding the ability to give consent. Because more than anything, Cavan cannot give his consent, the foundation of Safe, Sane, and Consensual. Grade: Epic EPIC FAIL.

1253Pink Buttercream Frosting by Lissa Matthews (Samhain Publishing)
If you’re going to write about BDSM, if you’re going to have one character be a much sought-after dom and the other be a newbie sub, then the sex should be something other than vaguely hot, but otherwise normal, ordinary vanilla sex. You can’t just slap a BDSM label on a romance that in all other respects is a vanilla romance and expect your audience to believe you without actually including anything that looks or feels like BDSM sex. Bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism, masochism. Those are some pretty scary words and some pretty involved practices. But having your hero identify as a dom and your heroine identify as a sub doesn’t mean that their story is a BDSM romance unless you actually have them interact on a BDSM level. Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible to be BDSM-identified and have a vanilla relationship and be happy in it (so I’m told), but then you can’t call the book about that relationship a BDSM romance. To be a BDSM romance, the relationship must be built with, explored through, filtered by BDSM practices in the relationship, not just generic BDSM identification by the characters without any application in the relationship.

Aidn is a much sought-after dom who does not date his submissives. Huh? Why not? “He dated vanilla women, engaged in vanilla sex and kept the dominant side of himself just out of reach. It was simply something he did, something he’d done in the years since…” (ellipse in original). Ah. The old “past submissive ruined me for everyone else” trick. Right. Anyway, so Aidn meets Bailey at the mall, they recognize each other from the BDSM club they both frequent, and they go to her place to have sex, because they’re too hot for each other not to. He’s stripped her, has her sitting on her kitchen counter, orders her around a bit, and then cuts her panties off her. Big whoop-dee-doo. Without the constant internal refrain from both characters about their need to dominate or submit, none of this would be out of place in non-BDSM erotica. They do nothing — NOTHING — that vanilla people wouldn’t do when having sex. And then Bailey thinks:

She was slipping into a place that she’d only dreamed of. Subspace; the sensation of floating on air, a bliss so sweet it could be painful. She’d read about it, talked to others about it, but until Aidn, she hadn’t had an inkling of what it might be like to feel it. She gave herself up to it, gave herself and her pleasure over to him, and he was taking her there, making her fly. She was a different woman than she’d been just hours ago.

Oh good lord, no. Subspace is, usually, an endorphin high from being beaten. It’s a feeling of floating, an in-body/out-of-body experience that is the result of physical overstimulation and PAIN. Sure, good BDSM relationships can have submissives slipping into a submissive mindset with a word or a look from their dominants, but that’s not subspace, dammit. It’s certainly not flying! Good lord.

And, finally, submissive does not equal doormat. When a guy fucks you three ways to Sunday then leaves before you wake up, doesn’t contact you for two weeks, and then walks into your bakery, you do not just kiss him when he tells you to. You give him the cold shoulder, make him explain himself, scream at him for being an asshole. Not Bailey. No, sir, she kisses Aidn and calls him sir. Then when he runs AGAIN, she goes looking for him. Give me a break. Might as well write “WELCOME” from sternum to belly-button and lie down in the doorway.

And! way to go, Aidn, ruining another dominant’s scene on purpose by being a possessive asshole about a woman you’ve been running away from for 50 pages. Fabulous manners there. BDSM does NOT give anyone the permission to act like a complete asshole like Aidn seems to think it does. Irrational jealousy is not an attractive trait and not the innate right of a dominant. In fact, most doms are the opposite of jealous.

Bailey’s a doormat, Aidn’s an asshole, and the only thing BDSM about this story is their constant harping on it being their true identity. Take that away and it’s a mildly hot Harlequin with an alphole (TM SBTB) hero and a ridiculously self-effacing heroine. Grade: F

This book can be purchased from Samhain.

bondagebetrayalBondage Betrayal by Lila DuBois (Liquid Silver Books)
This book makes the strong distinction between nice normal sane people who do a few kinky things now and then in the bedroom and those dirty rotten perverts who fully identify as kinky and try to live it all the time. I’m actually loathe to include this book in this list, because it’s got some really great writing, really hot scenes, and deep emotional issues. Then again, it’s also got a Big Mis that’s solved in three seconds and the characters are suddenly soulmates again.

Savannah is a famous yet anonymous and stunningly sadistic femdom. The first scene of the book is hot until you get to the part about: “He screamed, not merely a cry, but a true scream. Around the room people jumped, some of the Doms moving as if they would interfere, but no one did.” Um, why not? Because they should have.

That aside, then, Savannah in her normal life is an artist with a dark past, a deep betrayal in her background. She accepts a commission for a sculpture for a building only to see her dark past, the man who betrayed her, as she leaves the building. They meet again at a BDSM club that evening and most of the book is spent in flashback in alternating points of view that tells about the dark betrayal. Roman and Savannah were very much in love and exploring shaking things up in the bedroom a bit. They go to the house of a “Master” and go through a pretty intense but positive scene as Roman is coached by “Master Wilcox” and another guest. Wilcox then convinces Roman to let him “train” Savannah because she’s a “born submissive” and “needs” submission all the time and Roman can’t provide it because he’s too weak. Proving him right, Roman says yes rather than listening to his instincts. With smoke and mirrors and digital recorders, Wilcox then convinces both Savannah and Roman that they have abandoned each other, all the while raping and torturing Savannah. Savannah feels abandoned and betrayed (duh) and runs away, Roman feels abandoned and betrayed and runs away, everyone runs away until they come back together in the end with 20 seconds of “I’m sorry”, “no, I’m sorry”.

On the surface, it looks like the conflict between the characters is a deep betrayal, but underneath, the conflict is actually a Big Misunderstanding that pits The Plucky Hero and Heroine against The Evil BDSM World. BDSM is the enemy. Anyone who does it as more than spice in a relationship is evil and a torturer. And anyone who feels the need to do it more than occasionally should be willing to give it up to please their partner. And yes, technically, sometimes people who do BDSM are evil, but really, statistically, many more vanilla people are evil than kinky people. Grade: D

This book can be purchased from Liquid Silver.

Look, I know that authors are convinced that their books are unique and spring from their own fears and desires, so they’re just trying to tell this one story and aren’t writing a treatise about all BDSM everywhere (this was Tymber Dalton’s defense about her hot mess of a story). And they’re right, of course. But those fears and desires are themselves shaped by culture and society and the people we’re with and the shows we watch and the books we read. And if all books, shows, people, society, culture represent BDSM as sick, twisted, perverted, ridiculous, then that’s going to be reflected in your writing sometimes, however much you might not want it to, unless you’re a very strong-willed writer OR unless you have a healthy understanding of and respect for BDSM-identified people that comes from lots of experience in and with BDSM. Yes, DuBois’ book shows some scenes in which BDSM is used to enhance sexual interaction, but the fundamental, underlying message of the story is that anyone who wants it full-time, anyone who actually identifies as full-on kinky, is evil and sociopathic, abusive, manipulative, and murderous. Is that really what she was trying to say? On the other hand, Matthews has it in her head that BDSM is Hott! and Exciting! and makes a relationship better and bigger and more meaningful. But that doesn’t mean that any sex scene labeled BDSM is kinky — it just doesn’t.

1615810234.01.LZZZZZZZImpacted! by Mickie B. Ashling (Dreamspinner Press)
Finally, a book that gets BDSM very right, in my opinion (Yay!), but is terribly, horribly, awfully written (Boo!). It’s just as possible to get the BDSM right and be a truly bad writer, as it is to be a great writer and get the BDSM wrong. Everything Ashling writes about the BDSM sounds fine. She seems to get the emotions, understand the way it feels, understand the whys and wherefores. It’s not abusive, it’s not the enemy, it’s not there just to make the story hot. But she’s just a truly bad writer: info-dumping; terrible flat, bland voice; ridiculously flat, stereotyped characters; characters and storylines that come out of nowhere; cringe-worthy motivation — you name it, this book has it.

Scott is an oral surgeon (no, really — there’s a whole plot point about making sure his partner doesn’t do some delicate oral surgery because he doesn’t have the training. Sexay!) and a sexual submissive and masochist. He comes to work one day and finds that his new dental hygienist is the dominant he hooked up with for a one night stand a few weeks ago. Hijinks ensue, mostly having to do with their homophobic mutual boss. It’s one of those stories that thinks it’s a romance because there are apparent external barriers keeping the couple apart, but not really, and the characters fall in love and express that love so early that there’s no emotional tension or uncertainty at all. It’s boring. Seriously boring. Even with the ridiculous plot twist at the end of the book. The BDSM’s good, but the story as a whole is a cure for insomnia. Even though I struggled through in order to write the review, I’d have to say that this book was truly unreadable. Grade: F

Oh, and P.S.? No dom is going to pierce his sub’s left nipple. Left side flags dominant. Right side flags submissive. Do your research.

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

108 Comments

  1. SonomaLass
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 15:13:33

    Calling them as you see them FTW.

    Might as well write “WELCOME” from sternum to belly-button and lie down in the doorway.

    I’m stealing that one.

  2. HeatherB
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 15:16:36

    While I don’t read BDSM (just not an interest) I do read all the reviews at DearAuthor and I have to say that the premise for Thirty Days makes me want to heave.

    I am sure some people love it but I wish I could scrub it out of my brain with a brillo pad.

    Thanks for the warning!

  3. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 15:25:54

    Cavan has been in held in literal sexual slavery for nine years, probably since he was 13, maybe 11….In this story, Biton and his friends continue to call Cavan's abuser his “former master” and a “dom.” No, dammit. No. He's a pedophile, a rapist, a torturer and, apparently, a murderer. Don't continue to call him a “dom” when what he did was so hideous. Raping, torturing, and enslaving thirteen year olds is so far from being a BDSM dom that it's not even funny.

    Holy shit. Holy shit.

    I cannot believe that anyone thought this was a good idea, let alone at least two people (author and editor).

    Someone who kidnapped someone and abused them is not, as you so rightly point out, their “dom” or their “master”. They’re their perpetrator, full stop.

  4. Maili
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 15:44:29

    Interesting. I avoid BDSM-labelled romance novels and erotic romances for ages because many I read were too much for me, similar to what you described in this post.

    I completely stopped giving any a try after I read the one – a western historical erotic romance – where the “hero” also did all sorts to her, to make her submit to him (e.g. when she loses temper or unwilling to do things he asked her to do) or to show his deep streak of possessive nature.

    For example, this “hero” unexpectedly wrapped a barbed wire around the heroine’s chest without warning. She resisted and he wouldn’t let go until she had an orgasm. He tied her up with a barbed wire because he thought she had been too feisty.

    And also, he forced her to give him a blow job in a crowded saloon. She didn’t want to, but did it after he said he’d get one of saloon girls do it instead. I wanted to stop reading at that point, but forced myself to read on because it was a review copy.

    The reaching point was when after she threw a tantrum, he forcibly tied her, completely naked, to a horse and paraded the horse around outside his ranch where his men could see her. That was it. I stopped reading.

    That book and other books I read completely turned me off the whole BDSM element. So it’s interesting to note that I may have read ‘wrong’ books.

  5. kaigou
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 15:50:33

    @SonomaLass:

    Damn it! Beat me to it (no pun intended). Hrm. Maybe we can share?

  6. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 15:55:15

    @Maili: I’d suggest the MHT I mention above. It’s short and literally sweet and cute. And does a pretty good job with dealing with domination with no pain from the POV of a tentative new dom. The Dahl is also good, because it shows two BDSM-identified people figuring out that it’s okay to be the way they are, and it’s gentle, too. The book you describe sounds awful and just like those I talk about here–masturbatory fantasy written down and sold as “romance”, not a good representation of BDSM. Barbed wire?! Just…no. No no no.

  7. Jane O
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 16:17:17

    Thirty Days got fabulous reviews all over the web

    I’m sorry, but I find that really scary.

  8. katiebabs
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 16:39:59

    BDSM stories are very touchy for me. I don’t mind the light stuff such as tying up with scarves or blindfolds, but writing a story with a character who was enslaved as a sex slave as a child and then being forced to submit to the acts he was forced to do as a child is not my type of read in anyway. I am shocked that an author would think of writing such a story and it actually being published.

    Maili: Barbed wire?!?! OMG

    And to think tree sex and anal sex on a horse is pretty tame in regards to these books. O.o

  9. Angie
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 16:43:51

    What you said, all of it. Aside from turning people off (and understandably so) through the spread of misinformation, I’ve actually seen people posting comments online about stories almost as bad as the first one, saying things like, “I never knew anything about BDSM before, but I’m learning so much reading this!” I wanted to crawl through the internet to educate the commenters and strangle the author. Can you imagine some idiot actually trying some of this stuff at home, with books like this as their only info, and they or their partner ending up in the ER, or the morgue, because of it? And no matter how stupid they were to be doing something like this based on info they got from a fictional source, you just know the news would spin it to sound like a danger which is inherent to all BDSM, rather than to a lack of functional brain cells.

    Another thing which annoys me (although not quite as much as the above) is stories which end with the characters deciding they don’t “need” that icky, violent BDSM stuff anymore because they have Twu Wuv and that’s good enough for them now. I find these to be 1) stupid and 2) insulting. Not only does it insult anyone who’s into or interested in BDSM by basing the whole story on the idea that it’s some kind of crutch or immature toy you should be working at getting past, just who do they imagine is going to enjoy these books? People who are into or like BDSM are going to be insulted and angry by the ending, and people who aren’t into reading BDSM stories aren’t going to buy them in the first place, so…? I read three of these in one week when I was up at my mom’s a couple of years ago, and if they’d been my own books I’d have been wallbanging them.

    [sigh]

    Angie

  10. Kinsey W. Holley
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 16:51:45

    Joan: that’s what I’ve been wondering. You can have BDSM without pain, right? Dominance and submission, bondage and discipline, w/o sadism and masochism? The stuff I’ve read gives conflicting answers – some people seem to think that anything less than the full acronym is just vanilla kink.

  11. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 17:26:43

    @Kinsey W. Holley: Well, there’s a big difference between doing kinky things (like, oh, tying your partner up with silk scarves and using a blindfold, something most couples have experimented with now and then), doing REALLY kinky things, and being BDSM-identified. That aside, yes, you can be a dominant but not a sadist, a sadist not into bondage or discipline, a bondage enthusiast who really isn’t into anything else, a fetishist who thinks those other kinky people are a little whacked. You can be a masochistic top (although that’s usually designated switch, but not all the time). Your BDSM identification can completely overwhelm the traditional Kinsey (hah–how many jokes about that do you get) identification. If you’re a full-on sadist or submissive, it might not matter the gender of whomever you beat or submit to. And anyone who says “if you’re not doing ____ you’re not really kinky” should get slapped upside the head, and not in the sexy way. :)

  12. Emmy
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 17:31:15

    Well, at least you read Impacted! I mean, there was an ass on the cover, and it’s m/m.

    I couldn’t get past the mental image of a really constipated subbie to even flip to the first page. Ugh.

  13. Caligi
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 17:37:12

    I think it was Dear Sir, I’m Yours that was a mix of hot BDSM (that blowjob!), I’ve-read-Wikipedia info dump and zomg bad idea! misinformation (a knife for cutting rope in an emergency? No thanks.)

    It’s a shame it’s so hard to find good BDSM erotica and romance. I can see it done well in porn, but if I want a story and emotions to go with it, I’m SOL. So many books I buy with great ratings on Goodreads, etc. have me yelling at them. It’s kind of scary that those people thought such creepy or unhealthy situations were ok or even hot.

  14. joanne
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 17:50:45

    Not only does it insult anyone who's into or interested in BDSM by basing the whole story on the idea that it's some kind of crutch or immature toy you should be working at getting past, just who do they imagine is going to enjoy these books? People who are into or like BDSM are going to be insulted and angry by the ending, and people who aren't into reading BDSM stories aren't going to buy them in the first place, so…?

    I think that’s a very interesting question.

    As a vanilla (and I hate that word but I can’t think of a better one) romance reader, if I read (any) one of them, how would I know if the details of the relationship are erroneous? Why would I wonder if the facts are incorrect if I’m not in or into the lifestyle? I’m truly not flippin’ off the real issues of authors who get it wrong but am curious about readers who buy these books but really don’t know what BDSM is like in real life.

    My guess would be that the people who are buying these books aren’t likely to be (or able to be) into BDSM. Maybe they are people who are interested in reading about the type of sexual experience they won’t ever have. I think that may be the core audience/buyer for these last three books.

    It seems that the sexual passages would be more detailed or more of the focus then it is in the vanilla romances so maybe they are seen as a little walk on the wild side without the danger? Dunno, just wondering.

    For the first book: Ugh. Just freakin’ ugh.

  15. Teddypig
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 17:53:24

    I don’t know

    I read Shayla Kersten ~ Thirty Days and thought she had done a pretty decent job with the length of the story and the amount of effort she put in making sure the reader understood the whole separation between healthy BDSM vs Emotional/Physical Abuse. Which I fully agree is a HUGE task to undertake in a romance of all places. I have to say I also from the beginning picked up on the whole hurt/comfort soap opera story going on so I then expected the whole damaged for life epic nature of the story and the love heals all aspects no matter how totally over the top it came off as.

    I guess in this case despite my years in the gay BDSM community I can recognize someone going for the big hurdle and even if it might not be totally believable I still congratulated her on being clear in a lot of what she described and talked about.

    Biton also did not alarm me in calling the old abuser a Dom especially in regards to how Cavan probably described him and responds to those around him in a constant slave role. You have to talk in the way people understand each other. Honestly, even I know abusive asshole Doms in the BDSM community who have done incredibly stupid and nasty things to slaves (It’s called a reputation and people do get them.) but in public at least I always respond to them with Sir and address them as a Dom because that is showing publicly my pride in who I am.

    I am usually very much aware what is going on behind the scenes and frankly the community (My friends and brothers) will most likely know what is going on but that does not mean we change how we publicly address people who identify themselves with a specific role. We just do not get involved with them. Anyway, that’s my experience talking yours may be different.

  16. Angie
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 18:01:49

    @joanne:

    As a vanilla (and I hate that word but I can't think of a better one) romance reader, if I read (any) one of them, how would I know if the details of the relationship are erroneous? Why would I wonder if the facts are incorrect if I'm not in or into the lifestyle?

    Assuming you’re still addressing my comment, that’s the whole problem. [nod] Someone who doesn’t know any better doesn’t know that, for example, tying someone up and gagging them and then leaving them alone in the house is absolutely insane. An allergy or a puff of dust ==> stuffy nose ==> choking to death, if there’s no one there keeping an eye on them. Or the bound person might shift wrong and fall off the bed, gashing something open on a corner of the nightstand or hurting themselves on some object on the floor, and just lie there bleeding until their idiot partner wanders back. Or they might get a cramp, or a panic attack, or develop circulation problems, or, or, or…. [headdesk] And yet I’ve seen this practice presented as “hot” and “fun” in fiction over and over.

    Bad enough that vanilla (sorry) readers who think this through might decide that everyone who practices BDSM is a careless idiot. But the thought of people with no sense using some of this crap as an instruction manual, and then having the media (or some ambitious politician) reflect the results back on the BDSM community in general? It makes me want to smack someone. (Usually the people who write these awful stories.)

    Angie

  17. joanne
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 18:11:05

    tying someone up and gagging them and then leaving them alone in the house is absolutely insane

    YES, and that scene has crossed over into several not-so-vanilla romance books and been written to seem sexy.
    The stupidity of it makes me want to load the Winchester but I never considered your point which is that someone may actually do something so idiotic. Ack.

  18. LoriK
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 18:29:13

    First: thank goodness I didn’t read Thirty Days because I think I would have had an aneurysm. It sounds unbelievably screwed up & awful. I understand when an author says that s/he is just trying to write a story that grows from their own fears and desires. The thing is, there are some stories that should probably just stay inside the author’s head, or at least only be shared with a more select audience.

    Second: Compared to some of the awful described in this review my pet peeve is minor, but I’m going put it out there any way. I wish to Flying Spaghetti Monster that people would quit writing about lovers tying each other up with scarves. It’s really not a good idea, especially for someone without a lot of bondage experience. Scarves tend to roll up, which means that they can easily can cut into the skin or pull tight enough to cut off circulation and be hella difficult to get untied. Save the scarves for making a fashion statement and use something safer for bondage. Nothing kills the mood like unwanted pain and/or an untying emergency.

  19. Anne Douglas
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 18:42:29

    I’ve tended to shy away from BDSM that’s not true fantasy as too many times I’ve felt uncomfortable with the way something is handled (I’m not trying to rag on any authors, I think these sort of feelings can be very personal and what doesn’t suit me, might totally rock someone else’s boat). I’m just a plain old person who’s (fairly over active) imagination can’t quite overrule good/safe sense for the most part (except for that one abducted by an alien and turned into his pet dog story, I totally bought that, no matter how bizarre it appeared on the surface).

    The majority of my problem, though, is that I don’t subscribe to the whole ‘women giving up control because they have to control everything else in their life’ theory. So ultimately I just don’t find most of them satisfying.

    Which makes it often hard to buy ERom contemporaries…

  20. Angelia Sparrow
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 18:44:54

    Pink Buttercream Frosting…sounds like they borrowed the idea of “kinkster engaging in vanilla is its own kink” from Exit to Eden. (In that book, the vanilla sex was the kink)

    @Kinsey, you can have as much or as little of the acronym as you like. I play on the S&M side without the D&S part. I know people who are strictly B&D.

    Reviews by Jessewave is having this discussion today as well.

    I write kink colored by my own perspective on it. I read kink through my own filters. And I have gotten .5 star and 5 star reviews on the same piece because of the kink levels.

  21. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 18:47:38

    @Teddypig: Although it might not sound like it, I think I get what Kersten was trying to do, and yes, Biton sounded mostly sane. But looking at the reality of the situation, seriously looking at the reality of a boy three months out of a decade of abuse, violent sexual abuse that lasted more than half his life, with an elementary school education — this person is UNABLE TO CONSENT. Seriously seriously unable to consent. Nothing can gloss over that for me.

    And I guess we have very different experiences, very different feelings about the second point. I personally think it would detract from being a dominant to call Cavan’s abuser a dom. We’ll have to agree to disagree. And I understand about using that terminology with Cavan. This was Biton and his friends talking not in Cavan’s presence.

  22. Jennifer Leeland
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 18:53:15

    I hate to say this and I know I may get slapped for it, but I also read “Thirty Days” and didn’t get the same violent reaction to it.
    Also, definitions of subspace seem to vary since I’ve heard it described and experienced it differently than you defined it.
    Here’s the thing. I write BDSM and frankly, I probably don’t get it right all the time. But isn’t it better to show the lifestyle in a respectful, positive light rather than say “If you don’t do it, don’t write it?” which seems to be the flavor of the post.
    And as for research, every community, every club, has its own take with some rules being rigidly adhered to and others being loosely kept.
    And the comments seem to reinforce what I already know. People reject what they don’t really understand.
    I first read BDSM in erotic romance, in ebooks, and I know not all the authors I read got it “right” but they did something for me that a lot of writers don’t do. They made me curious.
    Perhaps those of us who write it don’t always get it right, but most us have a tremendous respect for the power exchange and the emotional depth that can result from it.
    I’m not defending these books since I’ve only read one of them, but I AM saying that readers do know they’re reading fiction–fantasy–so I don’t buy the idea that they’ll run out and start applying nipple clamps.
    I do agree we have to hold these books to a high standard but guess what? Isn’t that true of ANY work of fiction?

  23. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 18:54:03

    @Angie: Ugh. Just ugh. I wince when people say they learn from Joey Hill, for heaven’s sake. She gets the psychology right, but some of the stuff is a little fantastic (in the fantasy sense, not the great! sense). But learning from some of these books…OMG.

    And YES! to giving up the BDSM b/c of Twu Wuv. That’s why I actually don’t like Emma Holly’s hardcore BDSM books, Top of Her Game and Velvet Glove, because both of them have the characters giving up BDSM because they just don’t need it anymore because they’re so satisfied with their relationships. Ugh.

    As for audience issues, I’ve come to a realization, I think, that the audience for most of these books IS the mostly-vanilla crowd who wants to be titillated with a walk on the wild side, but assured that it’s not really real. I think that’s what’s going on with the Dubois book in my post here: it’s okay to get off on a little spanky-panky now and then, but don’t worry, that’s normal, not like those freaks over there. It really is all about masturbatory fantasy and doesn’t have to have anything to do with any sort of reality. So maybe I’m judging all these books too harshly.

    But then there’s “Oh, I’m learning so much.” How do you balance that against the fantasy. For me, the reality of safety, sanity, and consent trump spanky-panky fantasy every damn time and I will point out the wrongness every single time.

  24. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 18:55:49

    @LoriK: Yes! What she said. Especially since the people who use silk scarves aren’t likely to have prepared with EMS scissors, like SSC kinky-folk with their rope!

  25. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 18:58:54

    @Angelia Sparrow: My impression with Pink Buttercream Frosting was that they totally thought they were having completely kinky sex. Uh, not so much. :)

  26. Teddypig
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 19:09:17

    Reality? It’s a work of fiction. Hell, you could tear apart Mr. Benson all you want but it is still considered a BDSM classic despite how “unreal” it is. I don’t understand your requirements here.

    In this story the “community” seems more like a gentlemens club or something which is unrealistic and then add in how badly Cavan is treated for so long and yet remains even mentally coherent which again is unrealistic… they were trying to get Cavan to prove his “Master” did this terrible thing and tell the police so that” police part” was in the story there.

    As I said in the end at least in my opinion the author clearly drew the necessary lines around abusive behavior and BDSM so I was not offended even though the story itself was over the top.

    Anyway in real life BDSM… No, the actions of another practitioner in the general community does not reflect on you or your position Top or bottom unless they represent you personally in say a Leather Club or a Motorcycle Club and the older groups are very very exclusionary in nature with specific rules and regulations around personal conduct. Everything about old school gay BDSM groups tend to gravitate towards military type structures and behavior.

  27. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 19:16:56

    @Jennifer Leeland: I’m actually struggling right now with exactly what you’re talking about. I don’t want authors to get it right every single time. I love authors who show doms and subs, etc., who fuck up and have to figure out if and how to get back together.

    I guess my argument would be that these books AREN’T respectful and positive. The Dubois book certainly isn’t. And I know most readers might disagree with me about this, because I’m sure Dubois wasn’t trying to insult BDSM-identified people. Kersten neither. But Kersten’s book made me insane with rage (and Dubois’s book only slightly less so). Cavan couldn’t consent. Biton couldn’t “fix” him or “heal” him through Twu Wuv because CAVAN COULDN’T CONSENT. And that’s not sexy. I think I’m with @Anne Douglas: I prefer my BDSM books to either be complete and utter and OBVIOUS fantasy, like Story of O or Rice’s Beauty books or Antinou’s Marketplace books, or…or what, Sarah? I don’t know. Because I think Joey Hill’s books are brilliant, but they’re just as much partly fantastic as Kersten’s book is. I’m not sure what the answer is.

  28. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 19:29:31

    @Teddypig: Yes, I know it was a work of fiction, but at what point do the requirements of verisimilitude outweigh its fictionality? Why make Cavan 3 months out of 10 years of sexual slavery? Why not 3 years out of 1 year of abuse as an adult? Surely the story would have been as good? Would have made the same points? At some point, the author’s choices have to mean something. One can’t just chuck all the issues with the story away with a shrug and say, “eh, it’s all a fantasy.” But *I* don’t know where that line should be drawn for everyone. I know where I draw it for me and I elucidated that here.

    To clarify, maybe (maybe just to muddy further): I hate that romance readers in general have long (and I mean since the early 18thC long) been stigmatized as unable to tell fantasy from reality. First, because I think most readers are more discerning from that. Second because I think fantasies can still teach and I think critics have long missed some of the good stuff romances can teach (everything I know about communication in a relationship, I learned from romances, whether or not they’re fantasies). So I guess my issue with these books is that fantasies still teach, even if they’re not supposed to give a perfect mirror reflection of reality. They teach about internal mindset and thought processes and psychology. And I guess my point here is that Kersten’s book depicts ability to consent as unimportant, Matthews’ book devalues that true difference of people who are BDSM-identified AND (yes at the same time) shows subs as weak-willed, spineless twits, which they’re not, and Dubois’s book shows BDSM as evil and tainted and something to be avoided. (And Ashling’s book is just bad writing.)

  29. Teddypig
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 19:50:01

    I don’t want real life while also demanding an HEA because I know I won’t get it. I know for a fact even my experience and knowledge in BDSM was particular to my time and place and the people I was with when I got involved.

    I also like to encourage writers who I find have some understanding of BDSM and launch a story from that. I don’t need a lecture on BDSM basics with every book I read, just the facts important to the story thank you.

    If you need factual details about BDSM and it’s practice I know several good books to point you to but I have to ask why are you looking for that in your fiction? In fact I tend to find more faults with stories that try and do the BIG MESSAGE and get it horribly wrong. Or as you pointed out stories that only go so far using a BDSM motif and then fall back on considering it wrong or bad for a relationship in some way.

    Mr. Benson is not realistic in it’s portrayal of BDSM but it paints BDSM in this exciting sexual way which is why it is erotica and Joey Hill not realistic but I still loved Natural Law because she was showing romantic strength and passion in submission through the hero. That is a pretty complex subject there.

    Anyway, any one of these stories Mr. Benson, Natural Law or Thirty Days is not perfect. Some more than others. I still would rather encourage writers to explore by pointing out the big positives in the story like “BDSM is not abuse” or even “the male submissive can be a romantic hero” or even as simple as “you can find love and romance even in a dungeon scene” than demand perfection at small offenses.

  30. Moriah Jovan
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 19:50:49

    I prefer my BDSM books to either be complete and utter and OBVIOUS fantasy, like Story of O or Rice's Beauty books

    Those are erotica. Not romance.

  31. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 20:18:26

    @Moriah Jovan: True.

    @Teddypig: I don’t see any positives in Thirty Days. Sorry. What’s the phrase? oh, right: your kink is not my kink. Thirty Days is definitely not my kink. I think Biton IS being abusive and exploitative. not like Cavan’s captor, of course, but still not consensual.

    Love Mr. Benson, love everything Joey Hill’s ever written. Love the three authors I mention at the start, and Thom Lane’s first book, and James Buchanan, and Anah Crow’s brilliant Uneven (which is NOT realistic, but so perfect). And these books aren’t manuals (which I’ve read, thank you), and don’t read like How To books, but they get the psychology right, the mindset, the feeling, the rightness of BDSM for people who need it. Thirty Days shows a boy who doesn’t know if he’s gay or submissive, willing to do anything for the kindness he’s never been shown, desperate for someone to take care of him. Yuck. Sorry.

  32. Jane
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 20:43:59

    This is kind of an interesting thread because one of the things that Robin talks about is how books in the romance genre talk to each other and riff off one another. I.e., many historical authors base their “research” on Heyer books even though Heyer admittedly invented many things that might not have been historically accurate. It sounds like some BDSM authors research by reading other BDSM erotic romance books.

  33. Melissa
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 20:50:24

    I absolutely agree with @Teddypig:

    I have to ask why are you looking for that in your fiction?

    I genuinely hope that any author attempting to write something with BDSM avoids this post like the plague. Otherwise we’ll have the most bland offering in BDSM fiction that caters only to a select group of readers.

  34. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 20:59:54

    @Melissa: I’m not looking for factual details about BDSM, or a primer on basics. That’s certainly not what Uneven‘s all about, or James Buchanan’s kinky romance, or Joey Hill, and I love those books. I’m looking for psychological realism and I don’t think these three books provide it.

    As for the select group of readers: yeah, I’m not universal. No one is or should be. As with any review anywhere, this is a personal opinion. And we obviously don’t match up. ::shrug:: That doesn’t invalidate your opinion, but neither does it invalidate mine.

    And @Jane: That’s a really interesting thought. I know Maili’s been talking about this with Scottish historical romances. I hadn’t heard Robin’s take on it before, but it’s a cool thought. Can we trace everything back to Story of O and/or de Sade? ::shudder::

  35. Anon
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 21:58:08

    Sarah I just want to say thank you. Please continue reviewing BDSM books and calling it as you see it.
    Thank You.

  36. K. Z. Snow
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 23:04:56

    I’m puzzled by the standards that are continually laid down for sexual behavior. I’m puzzled by the labels. Who has a right to say, categorically and irrefutably, that certain activities are “vanilla” and others, “kinky”? Is there a secret bible somewhere? Does it have separate books on proper modes of bondage, domination, submission, sadism, masochism, fetishism, anal sex, oral sex, autoeroticism, etcetera, etcetera? WTF?

    Human nature — and, especially, human sexuality — being as diverse as it is, where did all these rules come from? Of course there will always be people who deviate from accepted norms! And what, for that matter, are accepted norms? Who’s the ultimate arbiter . . . aside from the two (or more) people engaged in any given activity at any given moment? And isn’t it up to writers to explore this diversity, whether or not individual readers find it palatable?

    I’m neither defending nor attacking any of these books. I haven’t read them. But I’d be extremely reluctant to proclaim one book a superb representation of some aspect of human behavior and another book a shitty representation of some aspect of human behavior, given how broad the spectrum of human behavior is. As far as I’m concerned (and I’ve lived a long while) people are capable of just about anything. I believe it’s the role of any writer who takes his/her craft seriously to explore the possibilities.

  37. Alia
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 23:44:36

    I wanted to say thank you. I’m a kinky romance reader, and I really appreciate that you read these and comment on the psychological bits. My husband also really appreciates that you complain about the trope of the eeeebil sadist, which really pisses us both off. It’s nice to see someone else fighting against that trope.

    I think that stories like Thirty Days can be hot, when done right. There’s a place for “slavery as an institution” stories, but that place is definitely the total fantasy of something like The Story of O, I think. Thirty Days reminds me of a fanfiction story, actually. The premise is fairly similar — character has been abused since very young and is brought into a non-abusive situation. The difference is that he’s acknowledged to be broken and that things like kink or even sex happen at his behest. That’s the important difference that I think is the basic point of contention in the comments — that while it can be really hot to read about a sub being forced to do something, that really undermines the feeling that there can be a HEA, because the situation itself doesn’t feel safe. I don’t want to read a story that leaves me with visions of the sub potentially dead in five years courtesy of unsafe treatment. I understand that many people reading these stories don’t have the background in kink and in safe practices, though, which is why the behavior seems hot — it’s the possessive behavior of the stereotypical romance hero ramped up to eleven, after all, with a counterpart who has license to enjoy it rather than try to reject it.

    I do tend to disagree with the idea that certain actions aren’t kinky enough to count, though, because I tend to think that the biggest difference between BDSM sex and vanilla sex, for me at least, is the emotional impact. I don’t play a lot with strict protocol and since I’m primarily a sub with masochistic tendencies coming in secondary, how dominated I feel in a scene is the main determinant of how kinky I think it was. So done right, an almost vanilla scene can really work for me, if the headspace is there.

    While I use a different definition of subspace, I’ll agree that for what was going on in that passage from Pink Buttercream Frosting, the heroine’s precise experiences seem really off. Mostly, I was just put off by the idea that subspace was something she’d dreamed of but that no dom had ever gotten her there before. Subspace: the new orgasm.

  38. Kaetrin
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 00:20:15

    Subspace: the new orgasm.

    Ha Ha

    (is this what happens if the hero has a “super collider”?)

    :)

  39. Nonny
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 00:27:25

    K.Z. said: “Who has a right to say, categorically and irrefutably, that certain activities are “vanilla” and others, “kinky”?”

    I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would label a scene where one character beats another with a bullwhip “vanilla”. There are a LOT of activities which fall decidedly into the “kinky” category, as there are others that fall into “vanilla”, and still others that are borderline between the two (usually referred to as “kink lite” or some variant).

    I hear the “why do we need labels?” argument a lot, and it gets pretty annoying. Speaking as a reader, I want to know what I’m getting into before I buy the book. If I’m specifically looking for BDSM, then I don’t want to find a story where the characters only engage in sexual activities I could read about in a mainstream romance, and the only BDSM involvement is that we are told in exposition that the characters are dominant and submissive.

    On the opposite spectrum, if I’m not looking for BDSM (and I’m sometimes not, for reasons that are long and complicated), I don’t want to pick up a book that is billed as being mainstream and find an intricate story about a 24/7 power exchange relationship (as good as the book may be).

  40. blodeuedd
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 02:14:07

    I could write an entire page on how wrong that whole book is so i am just saying that it sounds utterly disgusting and yes wrong, wrong. I would not even touch the book.

  41. Anon
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 05:14:06

    BDSM became popular & profitable & suddenly EVERYONE wanted to write it. Never mind it's a legitimate lifestyle and the fact every time writers get it wrong it cast a negative light on the “lifestyle” and the inhabitants of the community.

    Also one of my biggest pet peeves is in a good majority of the books, the interchange is about being tied, gagged, and spanked. Not that there's anything wrong with that but BDSM is mental as it is physical.

    In my opinion, the mental element is more important than the physical element, so when writers leave it out they're only giving you half story.

    I've only read a few books where what the heroine experiences was familiar to me. And it didn't surprise me when I found out that the author was active in the lifestyle.

    No one can prohibit what an author wants to write but publishers can demand & expect accuracy, can't they? That's really all I ask.

  42. Teddypig
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 05:21:00

    I think Biton IS being abusive and exploitative. not like Cavan's captor, of course, but still not consensual.

    I think you took an internal conflict of the story and Biton being shown by the author who clearly understands the difference between a “real sadist” and “real abuse” while expressing the goals of BDSM of a “role” and a “scene” and are making that a bad thing.

    I thought the writing was decent and relayed some complex ideas despite some aspects of the SHORT STORY being over the top. Which is a typical situation I find.

    Safe, sane, and consensual is a great starting point for understanding BDSM basics but it is also a catch phrase that does not convey the total ideas of “levels of risk” that every scene has. Even suspension scenes have risk and require understanding of those risks.

    But as I said, I do not need “Dick and Jane” with every story while you insist that those need to be spelled out with great big letters and a Power Point presentation.

    That is where I disagree with you.

  43. January
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 09:28:43

    I think there’s nobility in exploring the difference between BDSM and abuse in fiction.

    But why do it through a broken, abused character who is transformed by BDSM? Why not prove the same point with a healthy, rather ordinary, couple having FUN with BDSM? I suppose writers of damaged sub characters believe a plot with a sturdy, self-aware couple doesn’t provide enough conflict. If that were true, the whole of romance fiction would be doomed.

  44. Angie
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 09:48:45

    @K. Z. Snow:

    Of course people do all sorts of things, and some of them are unsafe, and some are just freaking stupid. I wouldn’t object to stories about people doing unsafe or stupid things if the writer made it clear to the reader that what was going on was indeed unsafe or stupid.

    I’m not even saying that I’d require the writer to show the worst case scenario consequences, because it’s true that that’s not always what’s going to happen.

    Take the scenario I described above, which I’ve seen variations of far too often, where Stupid!Dom ties up and gags Hapless!Sub and then leaves him/her alone in the house. The worst case scenario is that SD comes back and finds HS dead, yes. But the odds are everything will be fine. So suppose they do this, and they have their fun and later on they’re talking about it to a friend, describing what they did and how hot it was. Clueful!Friend might go all O_O and say, “Wait, doesn’t HS have allergies? What if he’d had an allergy attack while you were gone, and his nose got all stuffed up? He was gagged, right? Holy crap, dude, he could’ve suffocated while you were gone!”

    Now our pair of clueless newbies might’ve actually accepted delivery on the clue, expressed some sort of “Ack!” at the chance they took, and resolve to play more safely later. Or they might’ve just scoffed at CF’s worries, put it down to his being vanilla and Not Understanding what BDSM is about, and gone on their merry way. Even if they took the second option, though, the reader now has the info to understand exactly what they’re doing and the chance they’re taking, and can interpret their behavior from a POV of someone who’s informed, rather than just going along with the two characters in thinking this is all fun and hot.

    Or maybe while lying there alone, HS actually gets a bit of a sniffle, realizes they can’t just breathe through their (gagged) mouth the way they usually do when their nose starts running, and spends the next hour and a half snuffling desperately and wondering WTF is going to happen if their nose stuffs up completely, and is in a panic by the time SD gets back. Whatever.

    There are ways of showing the reader that something is unsafe, even if the writer doesn’t want the characters themselves clued in for whatever reason.

    Another option is setting the story very clearly in the Fantasy Universe, which has been mentioned above. No one (lordy, I hope!) would take The Story of O as realistic. It’s closer to a transcription of someone’s fantasy, or of what a couple would pretend is true while they’re roleplaying in scene. Take away the framing story — where they’re living normal lives, and then planning out a scene, agreeing to a safeword, etc. — and you have a story which shows only the in-role fantasy scenario. That’s fine, so long as it’s clear what’s going on. The Omnicient Dom is another feature of the fantasy universe, where the sub never has to say a word about what he or she wants or what their limits are, and the Dom always just magically seems to know what the sub wants or needs, even if the sub doesn’t know him/herself. Again, that’s a hot fantasy, but it should be at least somewhat clear that it is only a fantasy.

    It’s when a story has the trappings of being set in the real world, with a few props to make it look like it’s trying to portray reasonably safe play — condoms, a safeword — but also features practices or a mindset which make it incredibly UNsafe, especially in a way that someone not already into BDSM might not recognize, that I start cussing at the page. Yes, the writer can have the characters do whatever they like. It should be clear to the reader, though, what they’re doing and how to interpret those actions.

    Angie

  45. Alia
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 09:58:31

    No one (lordy, I hope!) would take The Story of O as realistic.

    Considering the existence of Goreans, I think this might be a vain hope.

  46. Teddypig
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 10:51:17

    I hope!) would take The Story of O as realistic. It's closer to a transcription of someone's fantasy, or of what a couple would pretend is true while they're roleplaying in scene. Take away the framing story -’ where they're living normal lives, and then planning out a scene, agreeing to a safeword, etc. -’ and you have a story which shows only the in-role fantasy scenario. That's fine, so long as it's clear what's going on.

    Well I think this falls under “Why don’t people fart in gay romances during anal sex?” or “Why is there no descriptions of aftersex cleanup in gay romances?”

    As I pointed out with Mr. Benson the story itself is entirely unrealistic but well loved and considered a classic. So using that as a standard I don’t think the “better story” or the “more loved story” is ever going to be the “realistic or safety first” story.

    I think it’s OK to say “that is not my personal kink” but I don’t run around lecturing people on the “proper way” to write BDSM stories. I might discuss reasons for my likes and dislikes and provide other fact based sources for research but that is different.

    I mean if I actually read all the negotiation and setup of a typical dungeon scene then forget it. That’s what I call a “how to manual” BDSM story and I hate that, and I think they are bullshit because they are trying to relay “agenda” through fiction. I don’t like Big Message or Big Moral stories and I find the whole idea of “Politically Correct” BDSM writing tedious and filled with suspect judgement.

  47. Heather (errantdreams)
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 12:40:46

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your review of that first book. I truly despise it when people romanticize or trivialize abuse of any kind.

  48. Jennifer Leeland
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 15:18:28

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your review of that first book. I truly despise it when people romanticize or trivialize abuse of any kind.

    And this response is why I take issue with the way you categorized “Thirty Days”.
    I don’t feel Ms. Kersten “Trivialized” or “romanticized” Caven’s abuse in any way, shape or form.
    She attempted to show that abuse, even horrific abuse, can be overcome. She never makes the abuse seem “romantic” or shrug off its long lasting effects.
    She does, however, take TWO books of which “Thirty Days” is the first and “Forever” is the second, to deal with Cavan’s growth as a character.

  49. Caligi
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 16:24:10

    I haven’t read that book, but I can’t see any way that a character who had been in involuntary sexual bondage since he was an adolescent can be in a healthy relationship of any kind a mere three months out of it. I would yurk at that premise even if it was completely vanilla.

  50. Mary Winter
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 01:10:16

    What I’d love to see, and this doesn’t have to apply just to BDSM books either, would be a bit more than the story. Maybe an author’s note. Maybe some additional information. Not only would this offer additional content in the electronic versions (the value added stuff that we ought to be including), but it’d help do a little “damage control” for those readers who believe that such books are primers on the lifestyle and not fiction/fantasy books written for entertainment.

    That said, really, as an author, how difficult is it to run any subject which you’re not familiar, or even intimately familiar, with past someone who is? I used to write spanking fiction. Paid quite well, thank you. Spank me, and you’re getting your wrist broken, but I found people to talk to and offer beta reads to, who said, “yes, this works.” or “no, it doesn’t happen like this.”

    Should authors have to explain their work? No, not really. Do they have liability for those who might think about trying something? That’s for them to decide. But I think the responsible thing to do, especially if it’s a “don’t try this at home situation” is to provide a bit of information. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of education. Heck, even put it at the end so those who don’t want to have to turn the page past it, don’t have to.

  51. Teddypig
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:00:17

    @ Mary Winter

    If a writer steps into the realm of “public safety notices” plastered in their fiction are they taking on a task better left to real experts and people who are knowledgeable about real BDSM?

    My point has always been fact is fact and fiction is fiction and you as a fiction writer should not have to spell that out to anyone with half a brain.

    When you start putting public safety notices in your story are you the best resource for that information? Could you be legally crossing some line by giving real advice best left in the hands of those more capable? That is a question I have about this whole idea that writers have to be experts in order to write about something or that any fiction requires footnotes and references.

    I personally think it is an inappropriate demand on fiction writers made by people who are trying to treat fiction like it is another textbook.

  52. Caligi
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:28:40

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect BDSM romance to incorporate safe practices.

    After all, contemporary romance always mentions condom use, which is no sexier than adhering to SSC but no less important.

    If it’s going to abandon SSC, it needs to be fixed firmly in the realm of fantasy, just like how condom-less sex is banished to historical and paranormal romance.

  53. Alia
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:35:23

    @Teddypig:

    I think that my complaint about lack of realism comes from a very different source. I’m not entirely concerned about the general public getting more of the wrong idea about BDSM. For one thing, it’d be hard for them to have much worse of an idea than they do now, and for another I think that that argument conflicts with the idea that we need disclaimers because people don’t know which behaviors are dangerous in reality. However, as someone who identifies as kinky, stories ostensibly set in a real or realistic world are very difficult to enjoy when all you can think about is the extreme unhealthiness of the relationship.

    Also, when I read a BDSM novel I’m looking for something that meshes with my sense and experiences of being kinky. If the story instead turns and looks unhealthy, I feel really uncomfortable and, yes, somewhat betrayed. I see a fairly clear line between the kind of obviously fantasy stories that one reads as erotica, and stories that present as BDSM romances. I want my couple to get a HEA that feels legitimate — where the relationship is healthy and not coercive and where I don’t believe that there’s a significant chance of the sub ending up dead or severely traumatized a couple years down the line. While I can understand that a lot of people read BDSM romances for a more extreme version of the controlling hero dynamic, I can’t enjoy those types of stories and really don’t appreciate finding them labeled as BDSM when it is, in fact, a complete misrepresentation of the nature of a real BDSM relationship.

    Basically, I can understand writers not getting everything right, but I do wish that they wouldn’t mis-characterize what they write, leading to the impression that this is how they think real BDSM is. The doormat submissive appears too often in these stories not to reflect general prejudices/misconceptions, and it stings a bit every time I see it. I don’t think it’s unfair of me to ask that writers at least keep in mind that the central tenet of BDSM is informed consent.

  54. Teddypig
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:46:29

    I can't enjoy those types of stories and really don't appreciate finding them labeled as BDSM when it is, in fact, a complete misrepresentation of the nature of a real BDSM relationship

    But that’s my point. To YOU! That does not represent BDSM. YOU feel that is a misrepresentation.

    I am saying the standard in BDSM Fiction this entire time has not been to represent reality. So if you suddenly want to change things then say YOU want to change things. There is no support from the past or from what people have read and have loved all these years that realism in BDSM Fiction and especially Erotica was ever a requirement or wanted.

  55. January
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:56:35

    I know of an author of a popular BDSM series who offers some safety advice to new subs on her website. To those subbies who are going to meet and play with their Dom for the first time, the author cautions: be sure to get a safeword.

    This safeword advice drives me nuts. A safeword is not some magical incantation that will get a sub out of trouble with some complete, perhaps psychopathic, stranger. A safeword doesn’t call up a genie or the SWAT Team, or even 911.

    This author’s advice, to me, is what’s wrong about a lot BDSM fiction: strip the kink culture of its humanity and common sense, and all you have left is ritual, protocol and slang.

    Better an author not understand subspace than the limits of a safeword.

  56. Julia Sullivan
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:56:57

    Well I think this falls under “Why don't people fart in gay romances during anal sex?” or “Why is there no descriptions of aftersex cleanup in gay romances?”

    I think there’s a big difference between not depicting farts, queefs, and cleanup (which aren’t generally done in F/F or M/F romance, either), and using the same language to describe consensual BDSM relationships and child predation.

    Your mileage may vary. As someone with experiences both in consensual BDSM relationships and as a sexually abused child, I found the experiences completely different and the language I use to discuss them is very different. I know that I don’t speak for every survivor of childhood sexual abuse, but I also know that I am not the only person who is freaked out by that abuse being eroticized by others.

  57. Alia
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:57:48

    @Teddypig:

    I am saying the standard in BDSM Fiction this entire time has not been to represent reality. So if you suddenly want to change things then say YOU want to change things. There is no support from the past or from what people have read and have loved all these years that realism in BDSM Fiction and especially Erotica was ever a requirement or wanted.

    Okay, for one thing, I’ve never said that I wanted realism in BDSM erotica. In fact, I’ve consistently said that the kind of fantasy represented there is perfectly fine because it’s so obviously a fantasy.

    For the rest, you do realize that the BDSM community has historically been very underground, right? People do not stand up and identify as kinky, because that can lead to repercussions at work and losing custody of children. This is not clearly a case where no one protesting necessarily implies lack of a problem. In fact, quite the contrary, I’ve seen endless discussions about frustration with the way BDSM is commonly portrayed. Personally, I’m excited that people finally feel safe and powerful enough to complain about this issue in public, instead of solely within the community. There is nothing wrong with wanting to change a trend of negative stereotypes for the better.

  58. Julia Sullivan
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:58:35

    Also, please remember that the slavery contract O undertakes in The Story of O is with her consent. She is an adult who agrees to her own enslavement, not an abducted child.

  59. cs
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 13:02:26

    Right so hang on, if some author misrepresents my culture for example, then I should suck it up because it’s FICTION, and that’s just MY opinion and that it’s just ME that feels like it’s a misrepresentation?

    Look, yes it’s fiction – but things like BDSM, slavery and abuse are not. I don’t read anything that uses abused characters as tropes in erotic fiction. Unless it’s an author whom I admire (and I don’t admire a lot of authors). I’ve seen the first book pimped out to the max, and you know what I wasn’t sure about it, and now after reading this post I wouldn’t even touch it. My choice. The point here is do your research. Research into a practice does not equal to writing a textbook. I don’t have a clue how BDSM is practiced, but even I get it when someone is talking out their backside.

    How do you know by the way? As I said I haven’t got a clue how BDSM is practiced and I doubt many people do (my assumption as is yours). Looking at these comments and the posters (minus yours of course) people are literally gagging at how bad some authors get BDSM.

    So the next time someone writes about a Native American character, we’ll just say there was no evidence to support past or present that in [whatever genre you chose] needed/wanted the realism of the people/culture in their books.

  60. Joan/SarahF
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 13:11:33

    @Alia: What she said.

    @Teddypig: The fantasy/reality issue is fascinating to me. Canonical BDSM fiction — if there can be said to be such a thing — is definitely not realistic. De Sade, von Sacher-Masoch, Rice’s Beauty series, Laura Antionou’s Marketplace series: none of this is claiming to be reality. But as @Moriah Jovan says, none of those are romance. I would argue that BDSM romance has a different provenance and DOES lay claim to some sort of attempt at verisimilitude. Where does BDSM romance start? Mr. Benson? Because it is romantic, in a sense, and does have more attempt at a representation of the psychological reality of BDSM than the BDSM fiction canon. There’s a much longer history of something approaching BDSM romance in the gay male community than in the straight community. Or in the m/m romance community. So, for straight BDSM romance: Joey Hill? Also psychologically realistic, if slightly fantastical now and then. In fact, it’s the psychological realism that makes Joey Hill so acceptable to the mainstream. She explains why, even as she has her characters doing some pretty extreme things. And that’s precisely what Kersten glosses over, in my opinion: the psychological realism of what Cavan’s been through and how far he has to go to recover.

    I would like to add that the book does try to deal with Cavan’s issues, that his abuser is outwardly condemned by the characters in the book, and that Cavan and Biton have a tender relationship. But there’s taking damaged hero too far, there’s ignoring consent, and there’s a complete lack of psychological realism, and this book crosses the line immediately. IMO.

    @cs:

    Right so hang on, if some author misrepresents my culture for example, then I should suck it up because it's FICTION, and that's just MY opinion and that it's just ME that feels like it's a misrepresentation?

    Thank you for this. Yes. Exactly.

  61. Teddypig
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 13:50:57

    you do realize that the BDSM community has historically been very underground, right? People do not stand up and identify as kinky, because that can lead to repercussions at work and losing custody of children. This is not clearly a case where no one protesting necessarily implies lack of a problem. In fact, quite the contrary, I've seen endless discussions about frustration with the way BDSM is commonly portrayed. Personally, I'm excited that people finally feel safe and powerful enough to complain about this issue in public, instead of solely within the community. There is nothing wrong with wanting to change a trend of negative stereotypes for the better.

    Actually within the first year I got involved in the Leather Community I was doing a whipping scene in front of 2000 Leathermen on stage at Mr Mid-Atlantic Leather despite the fact I was enlisted in the Navy so I think I might sorta get what the BDSM Community and being in the closet is about.

    There are vastly different sub groups of people being talked about when you say BDSM Community. So I would keep that in mind when you are saying you speak for them. Many of us might find that insulting.

  62. Joan/SarahF
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 14:05:30

    @Teddypig:

    There are vastly different sub groups of people being talked about when you say BDSM Community. So I would keep that in mind when you are saying you speak for them. Many of us might find that insulting.

    This goes both ways, though. Yes, for me (and other commenters)–I’ll cop to that and try to reflect it in future reviews. But it also goes for you.

  63. Teddypig
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 14:17:11

    Right so hang on, if some author misrepresents my culture for example, then I should suck it up because it's FICTION, and that's just MY opinion and that it's just ME that feels like it's a misrepresentation?

    No I am stating beyond the basics such as a story that spins BDSM as a negative to a ongoing relationship or some such gobbledy gook like that.

    Claiming that there is a standard set of practices and political points of view that must be observed in BDSM Fiction/Romance in order for the story to be considered acceptable by the BDSM Community misrepresents that communities diversity and it’s history. Some love The Story Of O some love Mr. Benson and some like extreme stories like Leather Blues and some like the short stories of Phil Andros and all of those have different appeals and takes on what BDSM is and how people practice it.

    So what you consider misrepresentation or not BDSM might be considered by another group (Like Bears, or Leathermen, or Puppies or that list can go on here.) that consider themselves BDSM. It’s an extremely diverse community and no one person is an expert on it all and so I don’t expect a writer to be an expert.

  64. Alia
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 14:18:08

    @Teddypig:

    I apologize for assuming that you were speaking as someone who didn’t practice BDSM.

    It’s true that we’re not talking about a uniform community, any more than one is when speaking for the GLBT community or the African-American community. It sounds like you’re coming from a radically different part of it than I am. The area where I tend to spend my time has been talking about these issues recently, as a matter of fact, and with much the same distaste shown in Sarah’s review. I’m a little uncomfortable with this argument, however, as it’s generally used to silence people who are trying to move against prejudice.

  65. Stevie
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 14:35:22

    Well, I’ve had an interesting day following the injunction to do some research, but I’m back more or less where I started; Shayla Kersten has an advanced and probably incurable case of “the power of luuurve” and needs, not least for her own good, to be forcibly confined to plotlines where the manifestations of her condition are merely risible.

    I do find it extraordinary that it does not appear to have dawned on either her or her publishers that abuse survivors might take very severe exception to her trivialising their suffering in this way…

  66. Teddypig
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 14:46:14

    I'm a little uncomfortable with this argument, however, as it's generally used to silence people who are trying to move against prejudice.

    I have read bad BDSM Romance. I have read stuff that was obviously done to make a buck. I have! Honest.

    I just would rather encourage authors to explore BDSM so we can have wonderful books like Natural Law made by an obviously talented writer than discourage someone from attempting a BDSM story because they do not feel they are an expert or they might offend someone. I really try and not be offended at mistakes everyone makes em especially when they explore something different or new and because I figure they will get better with practice especially if I point out the things I did like.

  67. Joan/SarahF
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 14:53:52

    @Teddypig:

    I figure they will get better with practice especially if I point out the things I did like.

    See the educator in me says that you need to point out areas that need to be improved, as well as those that are great. You can’t improve if you don’t know what’s wrong as well as knowing what you did right.

  68. Alia
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 14:56:08

    I just would rather encourage authors to explore BDSM so we can have wonderful books like Natural Law made by an obviously talented writer than discourage someone from attempting a BDSM story because they do not feel they are an expert or they might offend someone. I really try and not be offended at mistakes everyone makes em especially when they explore something different or new and because I figure they will get better with practice especially if I point out the things I did like.

    You make a good point here, I think. I’m not offended by the novels described here. (Although I do find that portrayal of subspace offensive, it’s because it offers a regressive view of sexuality that’s way too much like the old-school “female orgasm can only be had with the right man” trope that permeated romance once upon a time.) I get frustrated when the writers then reject the criticism they’re offered, or when(Edit, misread you briefly) use widely discredited stereotypes like the evil sadist, the possessive asshole dom, and the doormat sub show up for the umpteenth time. Those can be avoided pretty easily, and I’m at the point where I never want to see them again.

  69. Teddypig
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 15:19:54

    See the educator in me says that you need to point out areas that need to be improved, as well as those that are great. You can't improve if you don't know what's wrong as well as knowing what you did right.

    How are you going to teach someone who is out to make a quick buck? They don’t care. The only people I care about are the ones not doing that and who simply need encouragement to explore further.

    Oh and yes that means they probably will run into all the flawed classics and repeat those same issues and I sorta get that too.

  70. cs
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 16:39:10

    Claiming that there is a standard set of practices and political points of view that must be observed in BDSM Fiction/Romance in order for the story to be considered acceptable by the BDSM Community misrepresents that communities diversity and it's history.

    But who is saying that? There are books that simply get BDSM wrong, you can disagree with the fact who is to judge, but that doesn’t make it any less true. As I said BDSM is NOT fiction – sure there are different ways to practice this lifestyle, but the point being made here is the story being generated around the BDSM culture.

    Say Mark’s been enslaved since he was nine and was raped beaten and gagged for ten years. Then he gets away because this chapping Dom comes and saves him. Then he suddenly falls in love with [said] dom and after three days is having wild monkey BDSM sex with him, and even though he was raped whilst gagged, he doesn’t mind when his dom does it – because he loves him and he loves being a good submissive.

    That is where writers get BDSM wrong, sure use BDSM to make your story different or your sex hotter, but get it right. I get people will read BDSM stories differently, and sure one person who reads one of these books (who practice BDSM) will says HELL YES HOT HOT and someone else will say HELL NO! That’s opinion. However, it seems your comments are implying that we should be quiet and not get all fussy because no one has pointed out the fact, that these authors don’t do their research.

    So I should assume now, that anyone writing a historical fiction should not research their setting when writing about Edwardian Britain? The only time I’ll suspend my belief when it comes to sci-fi/fantasy. Everything else you don’t know about? You best be doing your research. That’s not be demanding anything from the author, that’s their job.

  71. cs
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 16:40:42

    @Joan/SarahF: I agree with you, I say what I liked about the book, but how can one improve when you don’t point out what you felt was something they needed to work on?

  72. Moriah Jovan
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 16:41:39

    In principle, I have to agree with @Teddypig because I’m damned tired of being told my READING kink is WRONG and I should not have it. Full stop.

    How I choose to live my life, what I think of actual abuse, how I see romance versus erotica, how I see m/m romance written by straight women for straight women versus gay fiction, what kind of sex me and my husband have–

    Has no bearing on my READING (or writing) kink. None.

    Do I like MY religious culture hung out to dry erroneously? No (especially since it’s hung itself out to dry factually so many times). But so what? People are going to believe what they believe and as long as they’re not willing to find out what it’s really all about, they’re happy in that belief. Doesn’t hurt them, doesn’t hurt me.

    I love it when an author gives me enough credit to be able to distinguish a READING kink from reality, and maybe I’m just so naive that I think other readers will be able to distinguish the same.

  73. Nonny
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 16:44:05

    @CS:

    I would argue on a technicality. I don’t think that what you’re describing is writers necessarily getting BDSM wrong, but writers getting basic human psychology wrong. You are flat-out not going to have someone that has been traumatized be absolutely okay with activities and actions that were used to abuse him.

    I have dealt very personally with trauma victims. It bothers me a LOT when I read books where someone “recovers” from serious psychological trauma instantly, whether it be through the power of the hero’s “love” or the power of a dom’s firm hand.

  74. Teddypig
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 17:01:03

    It bothers me a LOT when I read books where someone “recovers” from serious psychological trauma instantly, whether it be through the power of the hero's “love” or the power of a dom's firm hand.

    But let’s all admit we have read tons of Romance with that exact same message.

    So that is why I read that as being over the top but also that it had nothing to do with the story being BDSM and everything to do with it being a Romance. As I said, basic hurt/comfort storyline nothing surprising there.

  75. Stevie
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 17:17:49

    The usual hurt/comfort storyline doesn’t involve the purported hero repeating the hurt…

  76. cs
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 17:58:56

    @Moriah Jovan: I sense there is some mental block going on here. No one is saying you can’t enjoy your stories the way you want, what is being said that there are things that aren’t fake.

    People are going to believe what they believe and as long as they're not willing to find out what it's really all about, they're happy in that belief. Doesn't hurt them, doesn't hurt me.

    See I find that ignorant, and I believe when someone/culture etc is wrongly written then it is hurting someone. I’m not applying this to only BDSM, I am applying to situations when authors get cultures wrong or when they get ethnic minorities wrong or religion.

    To add that’s not a personal attack on you, I’m just saying authors get things wrong, but when they’re called out in not doing their research, people feel like their being attacked for liking their books. Like them, enjoy them, hell recommend them until your heart is content. No one is saying you are wrong in liking the kink the author wrote, what is being said is the kink they have written (and to add does BDSM equal to kink?) is essentially realistically wrong. You can argue who are we to say it’s wrong, and we can argue who are you to say you’re right. But as it keeps being said, not all readers read the same way. I like realism in my books. I like to read a contemporary setting and whilst the names/street names or what have you can be made up – I want it to be established in our modern world.


    Nonny
    : You’re quite right, but at the same time isn’t that putting BDSM in a bad light. Shouldn’t that dom not understand that engaging in a sexual BDSM heavy relationship with an abused person is wrong? ETA: I’m not saying a dom can’t have a relationship with someone who has been abused.

  77. Teddypig
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 18:28:09

    However, it seems your comments are implying that we should be quiet and not get all fussy because no one has pointed out the fact, that these authors don't do their research.

    Since I take it from what you are saying that you did not read the story why are you arguing with me what was in the book?

  78. Nonny
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 00:20:29

    @CS:

    I don’t necessarily think it puts BDSM in a bad light because it’s a common romance novel plot. You see it a lot in mainstream romances, as well. A dom should know better, yes, but I think any person with half a brain should be able to respond to someone that’s traumatized. (If the person doesn’t know, that’s one thing, but frequently in romances, the hero’s response is to do exactly the same fucking shit that was done to the heroine to hurt her. That is absolutely inexcusable in my book.)

    I think it’s a problem in the genre as a whole, honestly.

  79. Nattie Jones
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 00:30:40

    Thank you for this post. I’ve noticed quite a few erotica editors say things that make it clear they don’t really like the real BDSM world. In the case of M/f, it’s a bit against our culture of female empowerment, which is GREAT. I’m all about equality and choice, in spite of what turns me on. :-)

    In the end, as someone noted above, much of BDSM fiction today sells to vanilla-ers who want a little kink fun. To many, anything real would be appalling. The reason much of BDSM culture is underground is because, um, to the vanilla world, being submissive appears to them as being weak.

    I’m not sure there’s a way to avoid that. We want to cry. We want to feel pain. Lordy, some of us want to be punished for real. We get turned on by anything that makes us feel like the someone *we’ve chosen* has taken control, which means we’ve given some of our power to someone else. We want to stretch ourselves, to push ourselves…

    All that doesn’t scratch the surface, and I don’t mean to speak so inclusively, because everything is individual. All of that involves a roller-coaster ride of *very intense* feelings.

    Must I, every time, enter the caveat that we are lawyers and teachers and executives and successful, independent people?

    Yes. Why? I once tried to explain to an author that four spanks were unlikely to send one into the endorphin-high of subspace, and she was then worried about me.

    BDSM is a niche because it only appeals to a niche, and I understand that most erotica publishers must appeal to what most people want to buy. My complaint is that I crave more of the intensity… but likely that would sell only to a small niche. Still, a little understanding would feel nice.

    And that first story reeallllly icks me. *shudder*

    PS: And as an author, most all of my email comes from women who love their vanilla husbands but are miserable at not being able to explore this side of themselves. There is no “find the right guy” and the need for BDSM disappears. It is exactly like being homosexual but being monogamous with a heterosexual partner. In other words, since sex is one of a human’s strongest instincts, it’s a daily struggle. Can I capitalize that? It’s a daily, miserable STRUGGLE.

  80. Cs
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 06:53:14

    Teddypig who is arguing here! And where did I say I’m talking about the books listed here? I’ve read numerous bdsm books that talk a lot of crap – so just because I didn’t read the books the original poster listed means I can’t comment? The basis of your comments imply you don’t care if an author gets bdsm right or wrong, fair dues – but ‘some’ of us do and we’re entitled to say so.

  81. cs
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 07:49:16

    @Nonny: I’m under 25 – hell I’m under 23. When I read my first BDSM-centric novel I was probably 16-17. When I read it, my first reaction was “damn these BDSM folk are sick” – yeah. Not until I did a little research and read some good books that had BDSM in it that I realised, that some authors got it wrong. Very wrong. So yes, to me it does put BDSM in the wrong light. I didn’t think “damn this romance book is sick” I thought the BDSM aspect was.

    In closing, I’m glad the OP made this post. I’ve ranted about this (not necessarily just BDSM) on numerous occasions and I’m glad their was a platform opened here. I just want to say once again, that my point that I made numerously is that authors should do their research. Yes, we all interpret things differently and authors aren’t going to make everyone happy. No one is asking them too, what I personally ask (and you can argue who I am to ask) I’d like the author to get the basics right the very least. Hell wikipedia it if you can’t be bothered, but at least do some basic reading.

  82. Teddypig
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 08:00:34

    @ Cs

    Say Mark's been enslaved since he was nine and was raped beaten and gagged for ten years. Then he gets away because this chapping Dom comes and saves him. Then he suddenly falls in love with [said] dom and after three days is having wild monkey BDSM sex with him, and even though he was raped whilst gagged, he doesn't mind when his dom does it – because he loves him and he loves being a good submissive.

    And where did I say I'm talking about the books listed here?

    Right there.

    The basis of your comments imply you don't care if an author gets bdsm right or wrong, fair dues – but 'some' of us do and we're entitled to say so.

    No, I said that almost all the classic BDSM Erotica I have ever read and I know has been cherished and loved by my friends in the BDSM Community was never realistic. I simply do not understand why BDSM Romance is being treated so differently and requires the whole “right and wrong” BDSM discussion.

    And… If we are getting down to what is “right” or “wrong” BDSM is the whole community here to discuss that part of your argument? Sounds very generalized to me.

  83. Am I Pissed Off Or Pissed On? PICK ONE! | The Naughty Bits
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 10:03:43

    [...] Dear Author: Four Ways NOT To Write BDSM Romance [...]

  84. Nonny
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 15:17:56

    @CS:

    I’m about the same age, and I first read BDSM around … mmm, 14 or so. My first introduction was through Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, and at that point in the series, people who practiced were the “monsters” (shifters and vampires) that probably would end up killing someone with what they were doing. Actually, I seem to recall a fairly graphic BDSM scene that did involve someone nearly dying (if he didn’t… it’s been long enough I don’t recall whether he did or not).

    I tend to think chances of someone’s first introduction to BDSM being “good” are pretty low, considering how it’s frequently villified (or rather, you’re more likely to see the villain break out the black leather and whips) in way too many novels to count.

    I’ve never once said authors shouldn’t do their research. But, I think in this case, what’s being looked at (specifically, the issue of the hero “healing” massive psychological and emotional trauma through “love” in a crazily short amount of time, whatever form it takes) is not just a problem in BDSM romances and fiction, but in the romance genre overall. Hell, you could say fiction, overall, as I’ve seem trauma victims similarly dismissed in fantasy novels.

  85. Robin
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 16:03:01

    Well, as someone who is not a practitioner of BDSM and who doesn’t know a great deal about the practices, I’m grateful for a post like this. In fact, it reminds me of many a debate I’ve been involved in regarding “vanilla” (i.e. mainstream) Romance, where a question of abuse, rape, captivity, or the like is used in a novel and discussion erupts around both its realism and its value both to the genre and as a general social message. And, not surprisingly, views end up lining up along a very similar trajectory to what they have here: there are those who feel their enjoyment of the non-realistic or allegedly “bad” books is being impugned; there are those who feel that it’s essential to have the books be responsible exemplars, and there is a huge swath of middle ground in which the various issues around how/why/to what purpose certain scenarios in the genre appear again and again.

    And the reason I’m grateful to see this post is the same I feel it’s important to have the discussion relative to Romance in general: completely independent of how people enjoy books and how the genre represents a certain level of unrealistic fantasy, there are, as Sarah pointed out many comments ago, issues of psychological authenticity and, as many comments have suggested, serious dynamics (abusive enslavement v. consensual dom/sub activity) that repeat through the genre, often without much reflection (for example, I recently employed the STD model to characterize the transfer of bad history throughout the genre – inadvertent, contagious, sometimes indiscriminate passing from one book to another). And IMO it’s important to reflect on these representations, not because they’re going to convince people that BDSM and slavery are equivalent, and not because we don’t want people to enjoy even the most unrealistic fantasy, but because someone like me, who doesn’t know all the nuances of BDSM, wants any help I can get in reading them knowledgeably. Which doesn’t mean I have to adopt any *one* perspective as my own.

    In fact, the more of these discussions that exist, the more viewpoints I have to draw from when I do read books that deal with elements outside of my own experience. The more discerning I can be intellectually, despite whatever my emotional response might be. And IMO the more reflective people are of the way certain elements run unabated and unreflected through the genre as a whole and various subgenres, the more honest we can be about how the genre does and doesn’t represent important issues. Why are we so averse to looking at that and talking about it? Are people afraid they won’t be able to enjoy certain books any longer? It seems to me that our ability to love openly even those things that might be a little problematic is a good thing to cultivate as beyond the judgments so many seem to fear.

  86. kirsten saell
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 01:05:42

    I’m thinking that the kind of BDSM that you guys find so objectionable is enjoyed for entirely different reasons than people read realistic BDSM. The readers drawn to this stuff don’t want safe, sane and consensual, they don’t want to imagine topping from the bottom. They want to imagine bottoming from the bottom.

    This is rape fantasy dressed up as BDSM. And why does it need to wear these clothes? Because women feel ashamed of having rape fantasies–so ashamed they often can’t even admit it to themselves because it feels like they’re betraying the liberated sisterhood. They’ve been told for so long that something is wrong with them for liking this stuff, that they need to put it in BDSM or vampire or fated mate clothes in order to read it without that guilt.

    Just MHO as someone who enjoys all kinds of fantasies, even rape, and doesn’t care if you all think I’m a freak for it.

  87. January
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 08:22:58

    I don’t begrudge you your fantasies, kirsten. I also find no disconnect between feminism and subhood.

    But, you know, there is a difference between vampires, fated mates and BDSM. Vampires and fated mates aren’t real. BDSM is.

    So you can’t fault some authors for wanting to present the underground, largely misunderstood BDSM culture in the best, most rational light possible. No child molesters. No outright insane creeps. No hapless, desperate subs. Because there are real human beings involved in BDSM.

    Some folks above have commented that this sort of realism in BDSM fiction is merely PC. So what if it’s PC? Sometimes PC is exactly the same as personal morals.

    As an author, I think it’s okay to both entertain and inform. That doesn’t have to mean a how-to manual. Sometimes it’s just a matter of respecting the culture I’m writing about. And that means either have experience or do tons of research to get into the mindset/emotions of the characters–or both.

  88. A
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 08:38:31

    I had it in my head I wanted to try to write BDSM and I bought the book “Screw Roses, Send Me the Thorns!” to try and get a better understanding of RL BDSM. At the end of it, I found myself more bewildered than ever and decided I would do readers a favor and not put them through my interpretation.

  89. cs
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 16:34:51

    @Teddypig: Right what? That was made up. I don’t get what you mean.

    I think what’s gotten your back up is the ‘wrong’ part of the title, but hasn’t it occurred that maybe the reference to wrong was a personal one? Like, hey this is wrong for me. I don’t like the way this scene is written because I think it’s unrealistic. I’m not saying that’s what the OP may have been getting at – but when I use that word in a reading context I’m talking about MY reaction/opinion. I’m not generalising a whole community or speaking on behalf of one.

    That’s fine if you and your friends have enjoyed BDSM books that have no relevance of how it is practiced* and as you say yourself have been enjoyed by people who do actually practice BDSM. That’s fine – because I have no idea how many times I have to keep saying the same thing here; that’s cool. You don’t think I read books that are laughable, and think ‘oh hell it doesn’t make sense but it’s fun/hot etc’? Believe me I do. But not all of us read for fantasy – shock horror. As I said before, I like my realism – shoot me. Not going to apologise for it.

    Nonny: Wow, lol I’m glad I’ve never read her books then. My introduction was pretty standard hell pretty vanilla compared so some BDSM books I have read later on. I think I was more shocked at the character/dom making his sub lick his shoe or something, and me sitting there raging how dare he ;) but you’re right I think it was the whole package that made me go OMG. I think when the story is bad and the characters are revolting it brings more emphasis on the BDSM aspect (for me) cause I’m all you got everything else wrong, why not have done a tad research and gotten an understanding of BDSM a little. Oh and I didn’t say you were against authors researching, sorry if you thought I was.

    January: I salute you.

    Kirsten
    : You have your fantasies, I have mine. I wouldn’t call you a freak, and to be honest I could care less what tickles someones fantasy – but as January said why can’t we have no child molesters, and sick doms and obsessive guys or gals who like their subs cleaning the toilet with their tongue. I’m sorry but I don’t think BDSM in any way shape or form can be boring. I take that back – apparently some authors can actually make BDSM boring. Dear God.

    A: It’s hard to research anything, hell I was trying to write an essay on Freud and Jung, and whilst Freud is my best friend – Jung confused me so that I decided to change my topic because using your word I was bewildered at how to explain and evaluate his theories.

    *(and again I’m not talking on behalf of anyone, but when the word fantasy is used on things that aren’t fake – then there is an understanding that what is written is a load of crap)

  90. cs
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 16:52:24

    Oh and because I keep recommending that damn one book that can’t be bought, I thought I’d recommend “An Elegant Corpse” by A.M. Riley from Loose Id. I love the authors voice and style, she’s got a real edge. It is labeled as BDSM novel. I really enjoyed it, she’s one of my auto-buys and I’ll probably get all sad if anyone takes on to read this book and hates on it – but alas here is one book you can actually buy.

  91. Teddypig
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 18:35:41

    But not all of us read for fantasy – shock horror. As I said before, I like my realism – shoot me. Not going to apologise for it.

    But you are “judging” other peoples BDSM fiction based on your interpretation of a BDSM buzz phrase like “Safe, Sane and Consensual” which is sorta about real scenes which has nothing to do with BDSM Fiction or erotic fantasies in general and then saying the title “Ways not to write BDSM Romance” does not imply a generalized “how to”.

    That is obviously not what I got from it or from your comments.

  92. Sarah Frantz
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 12:09:47

    @cs: I hope you get this, but OMG, thank you for recommending the Riley. I’ve finished the truly excellent An Elegant Corpse and I’m currently devouring the unbelievable Amor en Retrogrado. Reviews forthcoming. :)

  93. Jet
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 06:56:47

    There is just so much here to throw a bat at… Let me begin by saying that I am a member of the BDSM community and have been on both sde of the crop or so to speak.

    They do nothing -’ NOTHING -’ that vanilla people wouldn't do when having sex. And then Bailey thinks:

    She was slipping into a place that she'd only dreamed of. Subspace; the sensation of floating on air, a bliss so sweet it could be painful. She'd read about it, talked to others about it, but until Aidn, she hadn't had an inkling of what it might be like to feel it. She gave herself up to it, gave herself and her pleasure over to him, and he was taking her there, making her fly. She was a different woman than she'd been just hours ago.

    There are many ways to get to the realm of subspace. It’s not just a matter of kink level or endorphine high. Sometimes there is just simply a shift in the mood or a word or a sensation that starts to guide you in the right direction, but I agree that the ‘subspace’ of the romance novel is often dissapointing and completely ridiculous. While its clear that this writer had no clue what actually slipping into subspace feels like, there is some validity to going there without overly kinkifying a scene. Subspace is as much a mindset as well as the occasionally ‘flying’ experience. You don’t tend to go there without a shove in that direction by some kink that sets you off… for some people its the feel of rope tightening against their skin for others its slipping to thier knees and for others its the first bite of hand against their ass.

    From what you’ve described of Thirty Days I’m shocked that this book got published somewhere not on a kink fantasy site but in book form. There are some truly twisted porn sites out there and this one seems to belong in the bad slash fiction submission section. As a Domme I’m vaguely offended having heard what you’ve spoken about. (I say only vaguely offended because I haven’t read the book and tend not to judge what I havent experienced myself) There are thousands of Dom(es) that refuse to acknowledge other law abiding dominates simply to to personal preferences and treatment standards… I can’t imagine a Dom refering to clear and obvious physical torture and abuse as BDSM or refering to the monster that inflictd it as a Dom.

    @Teddy pig- It its hard not to address the ‘rights and wrongs’ of BDSM in a novel about BDSM because there is agood deal of stigma about what BDSM is. In america where the government is extremely religious and the news paints everyone as angels or whores what can you expect. We are in someways a rapidly polarizing nation where those who are on your side are right and good and those who are not are devil worshipers, sadist and marilyn manson all rolled into one.

    Well I for one enjoy marilyn mansion, spanking a sub to a teary eyed mess, and what I like to believe is the freedom to do both without being painted the sadistic nut that appears in so many of these terribly BDSM novels…I dont’ want honestly unwilling or unable to decide for themselves partners in my bed anymore than any sane peson does. Rape fantasy has its time and place. There are a good number of people that enjoy it extensively, but actual rape and torture is abhorred even by those in jail for other variously sickening crimes.

    Everything from jumping into intense bondage sessions to bloodplay and rage taken out in BDSM book scenes is yet another nail in the coffin of this now blooming genre.

    I did read impacted…. i nearly died of boredom… It was like reading what a vanilla person imagines BDSM to be but didn’t want to outright say that they just don’t get it. There is an intense passion that well up inside one in a moment of sexual passion that is completely lost in all these scenes, even though the premise is decent. the book reads like someone was trying to make a political statement rather than write a romance novel.

    Oh, and P.S.? No dom is going to pierce his sub's left nipple. Left side flags dominant. Right side flags submissive. Do your research.

    I disagree with this entirely. A dominant may ask a sub to get anything peirced. While there is still some adherance to the old Leather Guard standards about peircings and clothing meaning specific things, there is enough personal preference in the BDSM community to not make these hard and fast rules. To some degree there is some hesitance and a lot of conversation that goes on about mixed signals in the community. Not to mention the ever seemingly complex minds of Switches who enjoy both someties simultaneously. Peircings only left nipple could simply be a preference or a sign of submissino in terms of reliquishing ones body, the sde of the body referencing homosexuality is traditionally the left however this has flip flopped over the past 60 or some odd years in american history alone. Thirdly, asking for any permanent mark on your subs body is a huge step and not something serious BDSM couples step into lightly ( I say this and I’m sure someone will immediately point out a contradicting experience, but what the hell I’m gonna put it out ther). while some degree of peircing and tattooing for ownership purposes still goes on, there are a great more that don’t simply because people in general are typically pretty good at saying no when it comes to permanent changes t their body without previous discussion. there are ‘pre-scene’ dscussions for a reason and there are typically highly personalized commitment routines for others. Whether it be a more traditional ‘collaring’ ceremony or the sometimes prefered placement of a master’s ownership in the form of a tattoo, it is up to those involved.

    On the surface, it looks like the conflict between the characters is a deep betrayal, but underneath, the conflict is actually a Big Misunderstanding that pits The Plucky Hero and Heroine against The Evil BDSM World. BDSM is the enemy. Anyone who does it as more than spice in a relationship is evil and a torturer. And anyone who feels the need to do it more than occasionally should be willing to give it up to please their partner. And yes, technically, sometimes people who do BDSM are evil, but really, statistically, many more vanilla people are evil than kinky people. Grade: D

    This is an on going themes in the kink genre of romance novels. The same thin often occurs in polygamous or polyamorous storylines in which the poly side of things is eventually what hurts everyone and rips the couple apart… its such a waste in my opinion. One may write a novel for a variety of reasons but more often than not novels like these are all about drawing in the crowd of people that enjoy the activity only to slap them in the face with the ‘morality’ or ‘wrongness’ of what they enjoy. In some ways I equate it to hate writing in others its pure ignorance. Some authors clearly have no problem getting money from the people they think are freaks, and thus seek to bite that hand that feeds.

  94. A
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 08:20:49

    @cs:

    A: It's hard to research anything, hell I was trying to write an essay on Freud and Jung, and whilst Freud is my best friend – Jung confused me so that I decided to change my topic because using your word I was bewildered at how to explain and evaluate his theories.

    I think, in order for a writer to translate any activity successfully into his/her craft…the writer must relate to or empathize with the activity. By that I don’t mean the writer must actively participate, or even entertain interest, but there needs to be clear understanding and ability to relate.

    When I read several books about the BDSM community, I found myself adopting a real “cafeteria mentality” about the culture’s aspects. I bought into some concepts, and felt I related to them, but there were many things I admit I did not relate with very well.

    Because of my fractured understanding and my own lack of “openness” to the subject, I’m convinced my efforts to portray BDSM in fiction would also be fractured. I think that is what is happening with a lot of BDSM fiction now. Authors either “don’t get it” but believe they do, or authors know they don’t get it and decide to write anyway (essentially “faking” it).

    My comments are not intended to denigrate or invalidate BDSM culture or any authors of BDSM fiction.

  95. Nonny
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 14:42:47

    @Jet:

    I tend to agree on the placement of the ring as well. I know a number of BDSM practitioners who are actively involved in their local kink communities that don’t conform to the old Leather rules. Although, in this particular case, if the dominant was older and involved in the community back at that point… I could see it coming off as unrealistic, but it would not be an immediate red flag for me in general.

  96. cs
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 17:38:01

    @Sarah Frantz: You’re very welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it, she is a stellar writer and really has a great style. Her Loose Id titles are amazing.

    @A and @Jet: Thanks for sharing your POV they were great reads :)

  97. REVIEW: Submission Times Two by Claire Thompson | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Nov 18, 2009 @ 04:02:00

    [...] those in my “How not to write BDSM” mega-review who said they didn’t want a BDSM manual while reading, this book was proof both [...]

  98. TrinityVA
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 22:20:01

    I feel torn reading this. On the one hand, that first story sounds disturbing, and not disturbing in any kind of interesting or hot way.

    On the other, though, it really bothers me, viscerally, when people leave the realm of feeling uncomfortable with what someone wrote and start talking about how something they do “should be portrayed.” If the author is clearly aiming to be believable and failing, that’s one thing. (I saw a horrible story just earlier today in which the author invoked stereotype after stereotype of an indigenous population and left the brief note “I just watched some movies about this culture and thought it was neat.” That’s just sloppy.)

    But if the author is writing something that very clearly isn’t supposed to be believable, or that doesn’t require actual accuracy not to look horribly stupid, that’s something else. That very often gives me the vibe that the reader/reviewer is not looking for a story, but rather looking for an accurate documentary of what X or Y is like.

    So the question is “does ‘BDSM romance’ require subculturally accurate representations of BDSM, or does it not?”

    And I am not sure, because I’m not certain what makes something a “BDSM romance,” but my guess is that it doesn’t. Here’s why.

    I do BDSM. I don’t write BDSM romance, whatever it is, but I do write BDSM erotica.

    Some of it is sweet and gentle. Some of it is passionate and intense but clearly about characters having fun and enjoying one another.

    Some of it — much of it, actually — is quite dark. With these stories, even when they are consensual, they’re twisted and violent and about characters who are not healthy and thoughtful.

    Why? Because stories are places where things can happen that I would be horrified about in real life.

    I would not want people to decide they know what BDSM is from reading one of my stories that involves something dubiously consensual (or nonconsensual, for that matter.) That is true. But I also do not open up my word processor going “This, that, and the other fantasy are right out and I can’t put them on paper. I am a role model.”

    Because I’m not a role model. I don’t write to be one. I write to tell a story, and sometimes it is a story about the actually ugly places in the human heart.

    Now, the story you describe in your review. I have not read it, and I think it’s very important not to do too much discussing something when you haven’t even read it. So this comment, like all things, should be taken with a grain of salt.

    Simply put, it sounds awful. The premise — which seems from your description to involve an awful lot of details about an extremely young kid who is used for sex — is not sexy to me in any way whatsoever. The book sounds beyond terrible.

    But I’m not sure that its terribleness is a shame because it gives people the wrong idea, because I’m not sure stories exist to make sure people get the right one. Yeah, didactic writings and writers exist, and I’m not dissing them. But I don’t believe that some authors intending to use their writing to make points about how things are or should be done implies a universal duty on authors.

    We write all kinds of different things for different reasons.

  99. Joan/SarahF
    Nov 27, 2009 @ 20:02:51

    @TrinityVA: I get what you’re saying. I really do. And I think what bugged me more than anything else is that the Kersten looked to me like it was trying to be realistic. There were no markers anywhere that it wasn’t supposed to be realistic or was supposed to be obviously fantastic (like some of Joey Hill’s stuff–even her non-paranormal stuff).

    I AM looking for a story. Anah Crow’s Uneven is not realistic. It doesn’t have the conversations about BDSM you’re supposed to have. It’s visceral and vicious and so so brilliant. Ann Somerville’s Jerna is scifi-based, but is the closest to “real” BDSM I’ve read. I’m looking for books that get the psychology of the experience correct, and I think that’s the commonality among the first three books here: Kersten’s, Matthews’, and Dubois’ books all misrepresent the psychology of BDSM. IMO. You can be fantastical about a lot of stuff, but, I’m sorry, it’s just not cool to depict someone unable to consent as part of an intense BDSM relationship.

    Ak, I’m saying this wrong. Look, there’s dubious consent in Uneven. They do horrifically dangerous stuff without discussing it. But they’re doing it for the right reasons, for real, believable reasons. Joey Hill’s paranormal characters do impossible stuff that’s incredibly dangerous. But again, they do it for the right reasons. The psychology is right.

    And yes, the really squicky part of Kersten’s book is that the abuse Cavan suffers as a child is detailed a little too much and a little too closely and with intent to arouse. ::shudder::

  100. REVIEW: The Elegant Corpse by A.M. Riley | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Jan 12, 2010 @ 20:02:33

    [...] reader cs recommended your writing to me in one of my previous posts. I bought this and Amor en Retrogrado and devoured both of them [...]

  101. Kayte
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 21:36:40

    All I can say is SSC is there for a reason..
    Safe – all that is done should be done with the submissive’s and the Dominant’s safety in mind..
    Sane – rather self explanatory I would think… (wrapping people in barbed wire may not be considered sane)
    Consensual – if both parties can not or will not consent (both physically AND legally, ie due to age)don’t do it. That simple.

    Living in the BDSM world requires a tremendous amount of responsibility on both parts… that is especially true when writing fantasy stories about it. You have young people (people just learning to explore their sexuality) and people who are, yes, “taking a walk on the wild side”, and everyone in between.. but if you are going to entertain someone, possibly make them curious.. maybe even curious enough to try it.. do you really want the responsibility of them going out and trying what you wrote about when they end up getting hurt because you did not do your research? (did everyone understand that incredibly jumbled sentence?)

    All I’m saying is regardless of what type of romance novel you are writing… write it responsibly. Fantasy may be fantasy, but you have people out there thinking it’s ok to bind and gag someone and leave them alone, because it excited them in that book. Heck, if you MUST write such drivel, (and I too, write BDSM short stories) use footnotes stating DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!

    Just my two cents.

  102. Darla M Sands
    Aug 16, 2010 @ 10:21:19

    Great read! Thanks for struggling through for our benefit. Cheers!

  103. REVIEW: Finding Zach by Rowan Speedwell (with bonus short story) | Dear Author
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 04:01:35

    [...] decided not to read this book when it released, because I’m very VERY wary of books in which love magically cures extreme emotional trauma (review of Kersten’s book). Zach had been tortured. For five years. You don’t magically [...]

  104. John Sander
    Jun 12, 2011 @ 15:25:58

    Hi,

    I am looking for some high quality short stories for a new website that we are launching. We are going to start with a free site, and if it is a success, we will probably launch a paid site.

    Are you interested, and do you know any other authors I could contact?

    Thanks!
    John Sander

  105. J.V. Altharas (@JVAltharas)
    Nov 17, 2011 @ 18:44:09

    @John Sander: I’ve got a few free BDSM shorts I’d be happy to syndicate out. Hit me up at jvaltharas AT gmail DOT com

  106. Sarah
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 00:31:50

    Just want to chime in and remind people that there *are* abusers in the BDSM community, and there are definitely people out there using BDSM as an unhealthy way of self-harming. Portraying fucked up versions of BDSM isn’t necessarily unrealistic… In these ways, the kink scene is no different from any other subculture or community – there can be trust and shared values within a community, but that doesn’t mean that nothing bad is ever going to happen. I learned this the hard way in a small community of peace & love types years ago – I thought everyone I met had been “vetted”, but it turned out that one of the friends of my friends was a manipulative bastard who got under my skin and did some real emotional damage. (Also, most of the people in that community used drugs very responsibly, but there were a few who were on the way to ruining themselves with drugs.) Lesson learned: I never give my trust to anyone based purely on what other people think of them, even other people I trust. anyhoo…

    In more recent years I’ve been in the kink scene and I’ve run across a few abusers and a few people for whom it was part of their self-destruction, but most of the people I’ve met through kink seemed completely healthy and normal, just into some crazy shit :) And I do think in general that kinky people have thought more carefully than the average Joe or Jill about what consent really is. You’d be surprised, though how reckless and just plain dumb some kinky people can be, especially the young ones – but again, it’s no different from all the other reckless college students doing dumb things. Sometimes when people are giving the “BDSM is not abuse, the community is unfairly vilified” speech, they make it sound like everyone into BDSM is conscientious and self-aware, and that is definitely not true.

    I also agree with the person above who pointed out that the insta-recovery from emotional trauma plot is a problem with many many romances, with or without a BDSM element. Even if a character’s recovery unrealistically fast, it usually doesn’t bother me as long as it doesn’t feel emotionally shallow – the speedy recovery is part of the fantasy – but if handled clumsily it can seem like the trauma is just a plot device.

  107. A Farewell From Sarah F
    May 15, 2012 @ 08:02:19

    [...] work I adore (K.A. Mitchell, Heidi Cullinan, A.M. Riley) and books that made me want to scream in anger and frustration — thankfully more of the former than the [...]

  108. Rich Orwell
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 13:01:13

    2 things:
    1st. You may be one of the few people who “gets” this. There is a town near us in the San Francisco Bay Area called El Sobrante. If you ask where to find it, the answer may be, “Between Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.” (Charlotte, Elsa, Emily) Local librarians laugh out loud.
    2nd. I want to write something semi-autobiographical about a bdsm relationship I had for 25 years, beginning in 1973. Here are 2 problems (one of which I think I can solve): a. writing in a woman’s voice is different. Men write in short, action-oriented language. No emotions, no texture. I can do “woman” to some extent — 150 words on selecting/preparing her charmeuse robe. b. More importantly, I have no idea what she felt (physically of emotionally) when the events occurred. Where I might say only, “I put the collar on her for the first time, added a leash, and pulled her head down to my crotch,” she might have said, “I’d been waiting for my collar for a week. It would mean that I was truly his. The leather was cool as he fastened it around my neck, but quickly warmed until I didn’t notice it. There was a slight pressure evenly around my neck. I felt secure. And then he clipped on a leather leash and tugged lightly, pulling me forward and my head down. I knew what he wanted. There was nothing else I wanted more.” Like that. But I don’t have personal knowledge of how it felt to be tied the first time, to swallow, to be sodomized, to be paddled, to be beaten with a riding crop, to be given to other men — I wasn’t the sub. I’m sorry to say she went crazy (the technical term is nucking futs) and tried to run me over with her car before using an aluminum baseball bat to shatter the rear window of my car. There is ZERO chance I will talk with her, so never can ask what I need. Do you have ideas where I might source the ideas? Or people I might ask? Long comment. Sorry. Thanks for your help.

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