Thu
Nov 8 2012 4:30pm

Untie Me Already!: Over BDSM

Black leather heelsThere’s a famous episode of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye Pierce calls a fictional restaurant in Chicago, Adam’s Ribs, and orders take-out to Korea. What prompts this bit of madness is a string of weeks where every time he goes to the mess tent the only choices are “liver or fish.” To which Hawkeye states that he’s already eaten “a river of liver and an ocean of fish” and begins a battle-cry among his comrades of “We want something else!” while dancing around banging on his metal food tray.

That’s exactly how I’m feeling about BDSM in erotic romance.

Contrary to what the media seems to think, E.L. James did not invent BDSM fiction. It’s been around for ages, in both erotica and erotic romance. I’ll admit BDSM has never been a favorite theme of mine. Chalk it up to having too many battle scars left over from the early heyday of erotic romance. Authors who were shooting for “dominant hero” but instead landed in “Neanderthal Not-Even-Housebroken Jerk” territory. Wimpy heroines, who were mealy-mouthed, couldn’t speak their own minds, but tie them up and whip them with some chains and suddenly they’re Xena, Warrior Princess. Authors who failed to realize that the submissive role in BDSM does have power and that the relationship dynamic between a dominant and submissive requires the utmost trust.

Aside from my various encounters with books where the theme was not handled well, the BDSM trope is quickly devolving into repetition. This is genre fiction, and genre fiction has always relied on tropes and themes. How many secret babies, oil tycoons, sheikhs, and friends-to-lovers have we all read in the genre? Tons. Yet authors continue to take these tropes, tweak them, infuse them with interesting characters, and that’s why we come back for more. In my opinion, BDSM has failed to do this because authors keep repeating themselves.The hero is always the dominant force. The heroine is always looking for fulfillment and finds it by being submissive. The hero is always closed off emotionally and the heroine teaches him how to love. And there is always the ubiquitous S&M club scene where the dominant character takes the wide-eyed innocent character to expand their sexual horizons.

Not all reader preferences are one size fits all. Not all of us have “fantasies” about being “dominated” by a brutish hero. Not all readers have fantasies of a Daddy-type spanking us because we were “naughty.” And not all of us are reading erotica as a way to fulfill whatever fantasies we may or may not have. Some of us simply read it because we like it, or in my case, when done well, it contains feminist underpinnings I find refreshingly subversive. Yet prevailing thought seems stuck on female readers secretly wanting to be dominated with Dom heroes quickly out-pacing Navy SEALs on the Romance Novel Land census chart.

You know what I want? I want something else. A dominant heroine. A true, honest-to-goodness, Domme heroine. Not a switch. Not a Domme heroine who suddenly wakes up one morning and decides, “You know, I’ve got this all wrong, I want to be a sub!” Not a Domme villain. A Domme heroine who stays Domme throughout the whole story. Constantly casting the hero in this role is not only repetitive and boring, it got old and tired for me after the 1000th book.

And can we stop with the sex clubs already? My kingdom for a couple who wouldn’t know where the trendy neighborhood sex club is even if they had an atlas, compass and GPS. If erotica reading has taught me anything it’s that kinky sex can happen in other locales besides in S&M clubs—even in the boring privacy of your own home. It almost makes me long for the days when historical heroines routinely got deflowered while riding on horseback. At least that would feel refreshing compared to a sex club.

Am I being fair to BDSM erotic romance? Probably not. I can even admit that someone who routinely gobbles up category romances probably shouldn’t be throwing stones at overused tropes that lack imagination. What the real concern for me is that I’m having a hard time finding anything unique within the BDSM theme that puts a different spin on it.

So tie me up and flog me, BDSM fans. Tell me about books where the heroes aren’t Doms, the heroines aren’t subs, and nobody sets foot into a sex club. Seriously, I’m waiting.

 


Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.

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17 comments
Ava Austin
1. Ava Austin
I've got a story for you! Just finished a review copy of Hot Ticket by Olivia Cunning. Fits the bill perfectly. I'm also reading one called Hold 'em by Katie Porter. You should give them a go. :)
Lynne Connolly
2. Lynne Connolly
Sing it, sister!
Joey W Hill is my BDSM writer of choice, and even she goes too far for my comfort sometimes! She writes Dommes in what she calls her "Palace Guard" syndrome. The badass alpha hero will do anything for her, but only her, because she's the princess. "Natural Law" is a wonderful book.
Carmen Pinzon
3. bungluna
Emma Holly. Try "The Top of her Game" for a Dom heroine. Try "Cooking up a Storm" for kinky without the friendly neighborhood sex club. Just try her for the sheer fun of reading well written BDSM books!
Lege Artis
4. LegeArtis
OMG, Wendi, what an awesome post! Kudos for mentioning M.A.S.H.
Yes, I was having enough of beautiful, insanely rich men who actually have torturous past that inflicted their bedroom behavior. Please, give us a guy who was...I don't know, orphan or adopted and therefore he likes to cuddle. It would be refreshing. Stop recycling same idea making series of books that are named by last name of our dark hero and have male acsessories on their book covers.
I don't know if you read Siren by Tiffany Reizs. Main character Nora is "a true honest-to-goodness Domme heroine". I recommend it wholeheartdly.
Ava Austin
5. Fanti
OMG, finally somebody else!!!

I thought I was the only weirdo wanting out of this. Thank you so much for this post. I really hope authors, publishers and the likes will read this. I respect readers who like this and are enjoying the endless release of books with this theme, but sorry, I'm just sick of the wips, chains and D/s wannabes. I even said this in the post asking what was the appeal of BDSM romance.

I'm fairly new to romance books and Fifty Shades made switch from general fiction to contemporary romance as my favourite genre but since my chances to find good readings have been killed by this "trend", I have gone back to spend most of my money in general fiction again... I refuse to buy or read any other BDSM themed book. I'm done as well.

So, I say AMEN to your post, especially to the last paragraph.
Vanessa Ouadi
6. Lafka
@Wendy the super librarian : Hear! Hear!
I'm so glad some people share my opinion about the proliferation of BDSM clichés in erotica! I'm so eager to read a good book starring a true and good Domme that I've considered writing it myself, for Pete's sake!
Not that I find BDSM novels unpleasant, but they seem to have been running in circles for a while...

I shall have a look at the few books recommended so far in the comments, thank you guys :-)
Ava Austin
7. Lesley54
Very few authors seem to get the dynamic right and a lot of the books aren't that sexy.What gets me is how bloody intense everyone is in most of these books -they all have ''issues'' or take themselves way too seriously.
One of the best BDSM romances I have ever read is Reluctant Surrender by Riley Murphy.Ethan and Colin seen like normal people and Colin is strong throughout and so funny. She challenges Ethan , although she's the sub, as much as he challenges her.The oneliners are great and there is a lot of humour in this book -although, sorry! it does have your friendly neighbourhood sex club in it but done in an original , refreshing way. Riley Murphy just seems to ''get it''.
Ava Austin
8. Julia B
I read Katie Porter's Hold 'Em last month and it opened my eyes to how similar much of the BDSM I'd read was. I picked it up on a whim and I'm so glad I did.

The heroine is the Domme and it was surprising and fun and exciting to read her discovery of her kinky desires. And the couple has a great relationship away from the sex. They are competitive. They laugh together. They care about each other. No club in sight.
Ava Austin
9. Jeannie Lin
Aww...shucks. I kind of like the sex club scene--IN BOOKS, IN BOOKS I mean.

But I totally know what you mean. Read a couple and you feel you're getting into a rut. I always felt Eden Bradley's sex clubs rang true to me...even though I've only encountered them in books. *blushes*

BDSM without a club: I really love Anonymous by Emily Ryan Davis. It's dark, moody, very psychological. I adore her voice and her writing always transports me. The Waiting Room by Remittance Girl was also awesome and takes place in an international setting in Cambodia. The writing in these two stories is exquisite though I should warn that they are not standard HEA romances. The characters are complex. The "heroines" are subs, but the stories really explore the complexities of why a strong-minded, independent woman would be drawn to BDSM. These are novellas so they're quick reads. These two ladies are modern day Anais Nins for me if that helps pinpoint sort of the overall tone of these works.
Rona Singapura
10. ronasingapura
Thanks for this post. It's good to hear from some others who are tired of the BDSM fad. Others are free to read and do as they will, but to me, it just doesn't sound like much fun and turns me off. Fortunately, most BDSM books make it clear what your getting from the blurbs, so I can avoid something I don't like.

I read Katie Porter's Hold 'Em and thought it was the weakest of that series. There is only so much you can do with BDSM, and by the midpoint of the book, it was becoming repetitive and boring. And yes, there is a club scene associated with Hold 'Em. It shows up in the "bonus material" you can get from their web site. It's very well written, but loaded with the "eeeew" factor. IMNSHO, some things should be done in private.
Heather Rizzuti
11. heatherbartley
Yes, thanks for the post. I would never want to read a book whose whole theme was BDSM. How annoying! I sometimes like a little bit of BDSM thrown into a book like a little dash of seasoning. My favorite example is The Assassins' Lover by Emma Holly. It is a MMF erotica book, I think #4 in her "Demon World" series. Emma Holly always has characters with depth, a great plot, and interesting relationships. This one just has a little BDSM, not too much.
@bungluna - I haven't tried those Emma Holly books that you mentioned, because I tend to like her PNR-like books rather than her contemporary ones, but I'll keep my eye out for them Thanks!
Wendy the Super Librarian
12. SuperWendy
This post went live yesterday while I was traveling - look at all the lovely comments and recommendations! A couple of things....

+ Yes, I need to try Joey W. Hill.

+ I LOVE Emma Holly's contemporary erotica! Cooking Up A Storm was the first Black Lace book I ever read and wowzers! I know I have Top of Her Game buried in my TBR. Need to unearth it!

+ A couple of people mentioned the "intensity" and how "screwed up" BDSM characters ALWAYS seem to be. That does get annoying, and I say this as a reader who is a total angst junkie. But yeah, can't the Dom hero, I don't know, have a sense of humor? Laugh at himself on occasion? Does he always have to be mysterious and emotionally wounded? Dude, lighten up already.

Lots of great comments, lots of good suggestions! ::feverishly writing them all down::
Ava Austin
14. Jaelynn
OMFG. I seriously thought I was one of a sadly tiny pool of females who's getting tired of the Dom/sub relationship. Give me a good, down-and-dirty Domme/sub relationship, with a STRAIGHT couple ('cause geeze, why do female Dommes only get to dominate female subs? SERIOUSLY?!) where the balance of power is realistic, rather than 'OMG Dom has so much control, can stave off orgasm forever, so totally focused on their partner they NEVER LOSE CONTROL' ...ahem. Sorry, going off on a separate rant there.

Anyway! Female dominants don't ALWAYS have to be lesbians, they don't ALWAYS have to be switches, and they CERTAINLY don't always have to have 'secret desires' of being dominated. That old cliche about 'An S&M queen secretly wants to be Mastered.' is one of the most dull, outdone things ever.

Good example of the cliche'd 'Domme' who subs for the hero simply because he's the HERO? Lora Leigh's Killer Secrets. Kira is a Domme--not explicitly stated, but it IS explicitly stated that she's always dominant with her lovers. What happens when she gets together with Ian? HE is always the one dominating. HE is always the one in control. SHE always winds up enjoying being dominated. Don't get me wrong--I love the book. But I skip past the D/s scenes because after the first (or second, sometimes) I get BORED with them. They're all SSDD. >=P
Ava Austin
15. Canyongirl
Totally agree, I want some serious femdom. Where the heroine is the one with the power.
Renee Moore
16. Nae28
OMG Ava! you've read Hot Ticket!
I can not wait for it!
Great post btw :D
Ava Austin
17. silence
Domme by Default by Tymber Dalton has a female dominant her 'The Reluctant Dom' has a male dom but is not an arrogant jerk.
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