Tue
Dec 13 2011 9:30am

BDSM: Spelling It Out in Erotic Romance

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. JamesRecently, the erotic BDSM fanfic turned novel, Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, blasted onto the romance scene and put the subject of BDSM on everyone’s mind**. What I noticed is while many admit to enjoy reading about it, some (myself included) don’t understand the actual need or desire for such a relationship—one that requires someone to take or give over sexual control of themselves. So, I thought to investigate a little further into this alternative lifestyle and discover for myself what the fascination is.

BDSM: Bondage. Discipline. Sadism. Masochism.

What exactly is BDSM? BDSM is an erotic form of sexual expression involving the consensual use of restraint, intense sensory stimulation, and fantasy role-play. The acronym BDSM is derived from the terms bondage and discipline (B&D or B/D), dominance and submission (D&S or D/s), and sadism and masochism (S&M or S/M). BDSM includes a wide array of activities, forms of personal relationships, and distinct subculture. I will be only discussing basic BDSM here and save the fetishes and role-playing for later.

Bondage is physically restraining your partner from simple rope to elaborate straps, chains, and locks.

Discipline is the act of restraining your partner through the use of rules and punishment.

Second Chances by Lauren DaneDominance and Submission (also known as D&s, Ds or D/s) is a set of behaviors, customs and rituals relating to the giving and accepting of control of one individual over another in an sexual relationship. It is the mental aspect of the BDSM relationship. Collaring, tattoos, and piercings are often used to show a D/S consensual relationship.

Sadomasochism is the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure through physical and psychological pain. The Sadist enjoys giving pain, while a masochist enjoys receiving.

BDSM relationships are characterized by individuals usually taking on complementary, but unequal roles, so consent from both the partners is essential. Participants who are the controllers are known as tops or dominants. Those who enjoy being controlled by their partners are known as bottoms or submissives. Individuals who alternate between top/dominant and bottom/submissive roles are known as switches. Every relationship and person is different, so it’s up to you and your partner to work out the details of what your relationship will entail.

A common misconception of BDSM lifestyles I’ve heard repeatedly is the control issue; submissives are often thought to be nothing more than mindless slaves whose need to be loved have them agreeing to any perversion or command in order to receive that love. The people I’ve spoken to who are involved in this lifestyle or know about it say this couldn’t be further from the truth. More often than not, the erotics we read do not depict a realistic BDSM lifestyle. A source for this article who prefers to remain anonymous, (I will refer to them as Gem in here), explained to me that most erotic BDSM books feature alpha bossy male doms because that’s what the readers want and expect. When I asked Gem why we rarely see the negotiations involved, they replied,

“Trust me when I say what’s in fiction is very different from what’s in real life. I had to learn that the hard way. A good author has the skill to make just about anything romantic. In real life, there are sights, smells and sounds that just aren’t sexy. lol I was reading a critique partner’s BDSM books long before I met my dom and I have to remember that what she writes doesn’t mean that’s the way it is. For example, in a lot of books, the Dom immediately starts ordering the sub around and telling her what to do. My dom refuses to do that. He says he doesn’t want a doormat; He wants an intelligent woman capable of making decisions for herself. If He has to order her around for every little thing, that’s nothing more than a trap for Him.”

It is actually the submissive who is in control. They let their doms/dommes know what they want, how they want it, what they can and cannot do before hand and then they trust their partner to give them that in a safe and healthy environment. Everything is and should be done with consent of both individuals. Gem described it as such.

“Again, it’s not about being told what to do, but in doing things that you know already will make Him/Her happy. That is an internal desire/drive which is difficult for me to explain because I’m not there yet. I can say that in my day job, I make decisions all day, every day, and usually for others who can’t make the decision for themselves. It’s tiring. When I’m with XX, I breathe a sigh of relief b/c I don’t have to think—finally!!—I just do.”

The Reluctant Dom by Tymber DaltonI was surprised to see that many couples actually indulge in a little BDSM in the bedroom without being aware of it. Ever scratched your lover’s back during sex? Perhaps asked for or received a light tap on the buttocks? Maybe your partner likes to call or email you at work and tell you what they will be doing to you when you get home or asking you to wear a particular outfit. All of that is BDSM to varying degrees.

This brings me to consent. Consent can be a verbal or written contract. The contract between the dom and sub is very important. Starting a BDSM relationship requires responsible, mentally coherent, consenting people. This mutual consent makes a clear legal distinction between BDSM and sexual assault or domestic violence. A safe word is used as a way to let the dom know when you are not comfortable with what is happening and need to stop. It is very important to listen to your partner when they use a safe word. Failure to do so is a breach of trust and can end the relationship. If you are considering embarking on this lifestyle choice, make sure you do so with a person you trust. No, Stop, and Don’t are often not used as safe words because the roles being played may involve the illusion of non-consent. Green, Yellow, and Red are good words. Green meaning “good to go,” yellow meaning “whoa there buddy...I’m not sure about this,” and red meaning “stop now.”

Consent is a major button of mine when reading BDSM fictional novels. Because the Dom is usually portrayed as being over the top Alpha, I often see a line being crossed where the male coerces, sometimes blackmails the female into accepting a sub lifestyle because, “I know what she is and what she wants.” Really? Most times the male knows the female for about 5.8 seconds before they make this astonishing observation. If a man I didn’t know came up to me and said all that then told me I would have to accept his lifestyle in order to have fulfilling sex with him and if I didn’t then I’m lying to myself...well let’s just say Mr. Alpha Dom would get an earful and quite possibly a kneeful. The overall conclusion I have drawn from all I have learned is this isn’t about the need to be saved. They don’t need to be fixed. Most who indulge in this lifestyle know what they want or have a pretty good idea. They don’t need a new mommy or daddy (though there are fetishes that play off that). What they want is an outlet for their kink and they need a partner who can help them fulfill that. Both parties need to know what this lifestyle entails before hand. I don’t like the whole “I’ll tell what you need to know right before it happens” attitude.

In my explorations, I asked a friend of mine what she liked about the genre. Nicole from the blog Bookpushers.com is a BDSM reader and this was her reply,

“What I enjoy in reading BDSM books is the enjoyment the Dom and sub get out of taking care of one another. The Dom does his/her best to find out what the sub needs, whether it’s of a purely sexual nature, or in life in general. The sub takes care of the Dom as well—either by serving them in a submissive way 24/7, or be fulfilling the need that the Dom has to take care of him/her.”

Bound by Deception by Ava MarchShe does warn that all BDSM books are not alike:

“They range from the Master/slave books where the sub is sometimes portrayed as JUST a servant for their Dom. That’s not the kind of book that I enjoy. I like seeing two personalities clash, I like seeing a woman (or man) struggle with being submissive. There are the club books, that take place out in the open with lots of people watching. I know some readers don’t like that, but I don’t mind it. Then there are the books where the BDSM relationship just takes place in the comfort of their own home. They don’t go out and flaunt it, but they live it day in and day out. And there are the strictly kinky sex books. The characters on’t live a “BDSM” lifestyle, but enjoy their sex with a little spice.”

While I think I’m going to hold off introducing the whips and chains into the bedroom—for now—I will continue to read this erotica with more of an open mind to the people who choose this alternative lifestyle.

Are you interested in reading more about this spicy lifestyle? Here are a few authors and books that will have you “submitting” to the interesting and admittedly erotic world of BDSM.

My favorite BDSM book of all time is Second Chances by Lauren Dane. It’s a lightweight BDSM novella that is an emotionally heartbreaking story about loss, sacrifice, and redemption. Our heroine, Rory, is a young lady with self image issues who leaves her hometown a shy overweight girl and returns a sexy self confident woman who captures the attention of her crush-town bad boy Jude Callahan. When Jude sees Rory, it brings out all the secret desires he keeps hidden. He wants to own her, pleasure her, dominate her. When Jude’s commitment issues (he’s a total arse) push Rory away, she meets Zach. Another Dom who knows exactly what Rory needs and won’t make the mistakes Jude made. When Jude sees Rory with Zach, he realizes just what he lost and wonders if he’ll get a second chance.

The Reluctant Dom by Tymber Dalton is a beautiful, emotionally draining story that deals with a husband and wife who practice a D/S relatioship. When the husband Kaden receives news he’s dying, he approaches his best friend Seth with a request. He wants Seth to take over his Dom duties with his wife Leth. Leth was severely sexually abused as a child and teenager. She uses the D/S to help her deal with her past issues. The story is told from Seth’s POV and the grief of his friend dying and the fear of trying to be what Leth needs will have you grabbing tissue after tissue till the end.

Jane Davitt’s Bound and Determined is a gay m/m BDSM story that deals with a young man who wants to sub for an older, reserved, experienced Dom. The book follows their journey, leading us through the initial stages of lust to their eventual HEA against a BDSM background. Very realistic look at the love and trust that can be and should be a part of this lifestyle.

Ava March wrote the primer on gay historical bdsm novels. My review partner Mandi adores Ms. March’s Bound series, and rightly so. The first one in the series, Bound By Deception, deals with Lord Vincent Prescott and the man who loves him, Lord Oliver Marsden. Oliver had loved Vincent since childhood, but has never gotten the same feeling from Vincent. When Oliver learns that Vincent hires a man from a local brothel on occasion, Oliver switches places with the prostitute and learns that nothing about Vincent is what it seems. From here, Vincent and Oliver embark on a turbulent love affair that is shadowed by the social taboos of the times and Vincent’s reluctance to admit his feelings.

Make Me, Sir by Cherise SinclairCherise Sinclair is considered a favorite in the BDSM literary world. Her books feature sexy alpha Doms and smart, stubborn “bad” little subs who need a firm loving hand in the bedroom. Her Masters Of Shadowland series mainly interacts in a sex club, while her Mountain Masters series is more personal one on one interaction. Plenty of humor and emotional interaction, though her books can be intense for those not familiar with this world.

Megan Hart is another favorite author or mine that straddles the line between erotica and BDSM. In her Order of the Solace series, Ms. Hart writes of a fantasy world where handmaidens are trained in the arts of submission and are there to offer solace to their clients. Her stories go beyond the normal sex, sex, and more sex and offers a strong emotional connection between her characters with a viable plot to round it out.

**For more on Fifty Shades of Grey, check out:

And find more in the Fifty Shades of Grey Collection!


 

Tori Benson, Smexybooks and at Twitter.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Individual - You will receive an alert for each comment added to this post.
Digest - You will receive an end-of-day alert for all comments added to this post.
31 comments
tiggerlover1971
1. tiggerlover1971
fifty shades of grey was actually a twilight fanfiction she wrote ( she of course changed the names now ) but its a really really good story it was one of the first BSDM stories Iread
tiggerlover1971
2. MichelleKCanada
Great article. Have you read any Claire Thompson? She has a wide variety of various levels of BDSM. Super dark to learning to practice.

Great job.
Mandi Schreiner
3. smexybooks
I really enjoyed this article :)

I'm a fan of BDSM if done well. I do love Ava March and Cherise Sinclair. I also think Kele Moon does an amazing job with it as well as Joey Hill.
tiggerlover1971
4. MinnChica
Great article Tori! It turned out really nice!! :D
Tori Benson
5.
tiggerlover1971- I did not know that. Thanks for telling me. May explain the feelings of deja vu I had. lol

MichelleKCanada-I have not read her. I really tend to read what a few friends tell me to read. lol

smexybooks-Thanks for stopping by. :) I need to try Moon and Hill.

MinnChica-Thanks for all your help.
Marquetta Whitmore
6. lovetoreadforfun
Great article and informative! I loved Second Chances! I enjoy some BDSM. I am still discovering what I'm comfortable with. Some of the hard-core stuff still makes me uncomfortable.
Melanie Thomas
7. missmelthomas
A lot of BDSM books I've read aren't very good but I'm not looking for light bondage, I want the whole nine yards. Cherise Sinclair is a must read for me. Both her Masters of Shadowlands and Mountain Masters series are exceptional. Being a submissive, I feel her books stay very true to the BDSM lifestyle. A lot of people don't get BDSM and that's okay. We all have our kinks I'm just very open about mine. To understand what it's like for a submissive female, I think Cherise said it best in Dark Citadel.

“It's hard for an educated woman to turn her head off. That's part of the joy of being a submissive. None of the decisions are yours. When you can't refuse anything and can't even move, those voices in your head go silent. All you can do, and all you are permitted to do, is feel.”

Thanks for the list. There are a couple of authors on here that I haven't read yet. They will be added to my TBR list.
tiggerlover1971
8. Eva / TXBookjunkie
Great article, Tori.
Tori Benson
9.
lovetoreadforfun-Thank you. I'm still uncomfortable with the more intense BDSM books myself.

missmelthomas-Interesting quote and yes, that seems to be a hard thing to do-just let go.

Eva / TXBookjunkie-Thank you. :)
tiggerlover1971
10. Aestas
i LOVEEEEEDDD the Fifty books - they are now hands down my fav books in the world. They were my first romance book with BDSM in it and having loved it, I thought I'd read another book in the same genre and was recommended Comfort Object which I truely hated (it dealt with more of the SM side of this lifestyle - the hero enjoyed causing pain to the heroine and the heroine genuinely enjoyed recieving it. And I think I could have gotten past that but I couldn't get past the heroine being called 'my little c*m whore'. That was too much for me. What I loved to much about Fifty was that it encorporated the BDSM aspect while not having it overwhelm the story. At its heart, its just a love story about 2 people who are crazy for one another, all the rest is just details... very, very hot details though, to be sure :P
I would love to read more in this genre but was a little off put by Comfort Object. I will try Second Chances. Anyone have other recommendations in this genre of books similar to Fifty?
tiggerlover1971
11. Marina_ro
Great post Tori!

I did a small search myself about BDSM a little while ago while reading A. Voinov's Special Forces i was intrigued by the act of "collaring" and I understood that it's quite complicated, it's all about trust and it's not something that can happen spontaneously while you meet someone for the first time. It's more of a "way of life" than some game between sheets.
tiggerlover1971
12. Jennifer B.
A second to Joey W. Hill's books. Ice Queen and Mirror of My Soul are both great stories with dynamic and complicated characters. I love that she ties together her various series in small but meaningful ways. I didn't even pick up on the connections until I finished her Vampire Queen series, of which Beloved Vampire remains one of my favorite books - ever. Aestas - I think you'd like Beloved Vampire given that the BDSM nature of the hero's D/ comes from the fact he's a vampire (among other things) and helps the heroine unconver her /s nature as a means to regain control of her life and body (as Tori mentioned, it's really the /s that has the control).

Another point for Hill in my book - almost without fail, every time the D character does something because he or she "just knows" what the s wants, the narrative explains the details that leads to that conclusion. It's a great attention to detail and helps makes the characters more than just cliches.
tiggerlover1971
13. Misa Buckley
A couple of recs from me (a VERY picky reader)
Light Switch by Lauren Gallagher (contemp rom)
Impulse Control by Sara Brookes (sci fi rom)
Eva / TXBookjunkie
14. TXBookjunkie
@Aestas As Tori recommended, Cherise Sinclair (Masters of the Shadowlands series & The Dom's Dungeon) is a huge favorite of mine. Melissa Schroeder (Harmless series) also writes in a similar vein.
Kristin O
15. krismas29
Loved this post - thanks Tori. I have read most of the books that you mention and will add the ones that I haven't to my TBR pile.

BDSM is my favorite romance sub-genre, but really well done books are few and far between in my experience. I was lucky with the first BDSM book that I stumbled upon, Ice Queen by Joey Hill, in that they author is fantastic - otherwise I think I would have run away screaming. As it says in the book description on Amazon, "not for the faint of heart" !

@Aestas - maybe try Master of the Mountain by Cherise Sinclair
Chris Bails
16. Chrisbails
Loved Lauren Danes Second Chances. I love all of her books, but this ranks up with the best of them. First BDSM book that I have read, and will definately read more. Thanks for the other recommendations.
tiggerlover1971
17. Amy111
I like Cherise Sinclair and Tymber Dalton and Megan Hart. I like the authors who do the emotions, not just the motions of BDSM. If the BDSM is too "surface", just playtime or dungeon time or whatever, it doesn't do much for me.

I actually enjoyed Comfort Object. I like the emotional craziness of Annabel Joseph books, but it's def. not BDSM lite. Then there is Lisa Valdez's BDSM historical Patience, which was interesting because it emphasized the underpinnings of the BDSM, not just mindlessly slinging the whip or tying up the partner or whatever. I guess with my BDSM I want a deeper intensity that in other romance.
tiggerlover1971
18. Amanda Bonilla
Great post, Tori! :)
s butler
19. mssarahb
Charlotte Stein's Control is one of my favorites D/s novels. Funny, smart, touching. In fact, all of her books are fantastic.
Cara McKenna's Willing Victim is also great. I love her style. She also writes romance as Meg Maguire.
Heather Massey
20. HeatherMassey
Thanks for a fun and informative article! I recently read my first BDSM story--The Cyberkink Sideshow (Lyrical Press) by Ophidia Cox--and really enjoyed it. Lots of great circus freak show action (and a touch of romance) in a near-future sci-fi cyberpunk setting.
tiggerlover1971
21. ShilohWalker
Joey Hill... she can rock a BDSM book, but she'll push you past your comfort zones. She's so beautiful romantic in her stories and the BDSM elements are very, very powerful, too. I have to be in the right mindset to read her, but man, she is good.
joyofbean
22. joyofbean
I have read Maya Bank's whole "sweet" series, the first one being Sweet Surrender and I think she does a good job with the BDSM lifestyle. Give her a try!
Rebekah Reeves
23. ratpacksmom
Think there might have been a misprint it is Jane Davitt for "Bound and Determined"
tiggerlover1971
24. Narcissus1
Wicked Ties by Shayla Black was the first BDSM novel I've ever read and it's really good.
Heather Waters (redline_)
25. redline_
@ratpacksmom -- Thanks for the correction! I'll make the edit right now.
Amanda Calton
26. mandeejt
I am gonna be the jerk here and say that i prefer the FF of fifty shades. I miss echo charlie and that Edward and Bella. i just cant read the books and think the same way as i did reading the FF, if anyone wants it we have copies lol
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
27. tnh
Great article.
Consent is a major button of mine when reading BDSM fictional novels. Because the Dom is usually portrayed as being over the top Alpha, I often see a line being crossed where the male coerces, sometimes blackmails the female into accepting a sub lifestyle because, “I know what she is and what she wants.” Really? Most times the male knows the female for about 5.8 seconds before they make this astonishing observation. If a man I didn’t know came up to me and said all that then told me I would have to accept his lifestyle in order to have fulfilling sex with him and if I didn’t then I’m lying to myself...well let’s just say Mr. Alpha Dom would get an earful and quite possibly a kneeful.
No question about it: anyone who tried that routine on an intelligent sub in real life would get their head handed to them. Does the BDSM community still use the shorthand term "chudwah", a phonetic acronym for "Clueless Het Dom Wanna-be"? I always liked that one.

I was once, for not terribly long, the editor-in-chief of a line of erotic novels. BDSM was a major theme, of course. We were constantly running into the issue of things you can do in fiction vs. things you can do in real life. Some of them were strictly a matter of engineering and physiology: in fiction, you can suspend someone by their wrists or ankles a lot longer than you can do it in real life.

Images of female profligacy frequently edged over (or took a running jump) into physical impossibility. I'm embarrassed to say that it took editing BDSM to make me see that the nastier stories we have about Messalina, Theodora of Byzantium, and Catherine the Great cannot be anything other than pornographic fiction -- and furthermore, they're all the same trope.

I'd say the single commonest nexus of unreality, from the female point of view, is that thing you're talking about in the paragraph I quoted -- that kind of instant and improbably accurate knowledge that verges on telepathy. It gets used in erotic fiction for the same reason those other problematical tropes do: it may not be real, but it's really hot.

In its most extreme form, it turns into stories about literal telepathy and mind control, but its lesser forms pop up all over the place, and not just in literature that straightforwardly admits its erotic element: "I know exactly how to give you mind-blowing pleasure beyond anything you've ever imagined, so give me the keys and let me drive."

It doesn't worry me as much as other varieties of fiction-only BDSM. Love at first sight is a lot rarer in real life too, but reading about it doesn't turn us into people who believe it's happening to us when it isn't. In a way, the tropes of love at first sight and sexual telepathy are talking about the same thing: that certainty that precedes normal knowledge when you encounter someone and feel, for no reason that you can possibly justify, that you know each other.
Janet Webb
28. JanetW
It's so helpful to have suggestions for what to read next -- and considering this genre seems to be experiencing a renaissance -- which books really set the stage. Here are three books to consider:

Carrie's Story by Molly Weatherfield, 1995. Who you may know better as Pam Rosenthal. In any case, what can I say, it's mold-breaking, high concept, Chateau-style BDSM. Beautifully written.

Agony/Ecstasy, an anthology edited by Jane Litte. 21 stories -- although they're not all fabulous, it's an introduction to just about every path, nook and cranny. Two stories, Safeword by Delphine Dryden and Transformed by Anne Calhoun, really stand out.

The Realm of You, a 40,000 word novella by debut writer Tara Buckley, falls squarely in the Molly Weatherfield arena: intense, sensuously written and quite classical in its approach. It's a headgame and quite unforgettable, all with a European sensibility and flare. http://www.tarabuckley.com/#
Cynthia Netherton
29. Cynthia aka Artemis
What an excellent post for those new to the genre. I look forward to your forthcoming ones.
Jenn S
30. artsexygirl
Well done Tori! I really enjoyed your article....please write more....
tiggerlover1971
31. Cecelia J.
This was a great article! I LOVE Tymber Dalton, Megan Hart, Delphine Dryden. I liked Lauren Gallagher's Light Switch, too. Also love Michele Zurlo's Letting Go and Rebound, and Cari Silverwood's 3 Days of Dominance. Lots of good authors out there who do the research, understand BDSM, and even are practitioners.
Post a comment