Mon
Feb 3 2014 2:00pm

To Read BDSM, or Not To Read?—That Is the Question

Bound to Be Dirty by Savanna FoxToday H&H is joined by author Savanna Fox, whose Bound to Be Dirty is out this week. Bound to be Dirty is a book in the Dirty Girls Book Club, where a group of women get together to read different types of erotica—in this book, the married hero and heroine find some inspiration in the book chosen for the club. Savanna's here to discuss why readers like to read BDSM. Thanks, Savanna!

Since the blockbuster success of books like Fifty Shades of Grey and Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series, all levels of kink have become hugely popular among “mainstream” female readers. What is it about this new trend that’s reaching women on such a primal level?

Is BDSM just a different kind of sex between two people who care about one another, or is it abuse? Surely it can’t be abuse, because that’s not something women fantasize about. Clearly, there are issues to be explored, illumination to seek—and what better reason for choosing a book club selection?

In Bound to Be Dirty, the women in the book club that frames the series read Bound by Desire, excerpts of which I wrote for the book, but the fictitious book does follow a, let’s just say it’s not uncommon, trend. Meet Girl: independent, career woman who is sexually active but not sexually satisfied. Girl meets Boy. Boy is rich, charming, and powerful. Girl learns Boy is a sexual dominant who is convinced that Girl’s true sexual nature is submissive. Girl can’t see that, resists, but eventually succumbs because he knows her better than herself. Girl finds sexual pleasure she’s never imagined and in addition to that Boy and Girl form a powerful intimate bond that leads to love and romantic commitment.

Questions arise when reading this kind of book, questions such as who has the right to judge anyone else’s sex life, as long as the partners are informed, consenting adults? In a BDSM relationship, there’s a balance of power. Yes, the dom appears to be in control, yet that control involves responsibility to the sub, plus which the sub has a safe word which gives her/him the ultimate power to stop the dom. And in any sexual relationship, knowledge of yourself, trust in your partner, and communication between you is crucial.

But what exactly is it about this particular Girl meets Boy scenario that appeal to the club members, and romance readers in general? Is it the kink? Sure the sex is hot, but is it the fact the sub’s other senses are heightened if she/he is blindfolded? Is it the spanking? Dirty talk? All of that is well and good (sometimes very, very, good!) but is it the actual “non-vanilla” aspects of these protagonists’ relationships that are drawing readers in?

So how about this…if we live busy “take charge” lives, isn’t it nice to sometimes give up all responsibility and control, and simply let someone else take over—especially if that someone knows our needs and is devoted to meeting them? Perhaps it’s the intimacy that that kind of relationship requires. D/s couples have an inordinate amount of trust in each other, and in these books they share everything because they need to. In Girl’s case, her situation isn’t just sexual; she’s unhappy with her stressful job and at the end of the book. Boy says he wants to take her away from it and they’ll travel the world, living a life of luxury. Tempting, right? In some BDSM books, the hero has had a bleak emotional life, and it’s the heroine who awakens his heart and shows him that it’s possible to love and be loved. Powerful stuff, no?

Of course these same themes also often exist in romances that don’t have a BDSM relationship. And of course each romantic relationship—be it BDSM or plain vanilla, gay or straight, fictional or real-life—is as unique as the two individuals involved.

We all know that reading can influence our lives. In Bound to be Dirty, reading BDSM erotic romance certainly affects the views of the club members, and leads a few of them to spice up their sex lives.

For the members of the book club, their understanding of BDSM comes from the outside, from reading and from speculation. But in many other erotic novels, the characters live fully immersed in that life or are drawn into it and find that they truly belong. If you’re interested in reading those kinds of novels, here are some books for you—or your own Dirty Girls Book Club!—to check out: The Invitation and Decent Exposure by Lacy Danes, His to Command and Secret Ties by Opal Carew, Bound by Sasha White, Claimed by Stacey Kennedy, The Dark Garden by Eden Bradley, The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz, The Submissive Trilogy by Tara Sue Me, and Carrie’s Story by Molly Weatherfield.

As a reader, what’s your comfort level when it comes to sex scenes? If you read BDSM, what aspects appeal to you—and do you have books to recommend? If you prefer to avoid it, what things turn you off about it?

Learn more or pre-order a copy of Bound to Be Dirty by Savanna Fox, available February 4, 2014:

Buy at AmazonBuy at Barnes & NobleBuy at Indiebound

 

 


Award-winning author Savanna Fox, who also writes as Susan Fox and Susan Lyons, writes “emotionally compelling, sexy contemporary romance” (Publishers Weekly). She is published by Berkley and Kensington, and also self-publishes. Her writing has won numerous awards and has been excerpted as a Cosmopolitan “Red-Hot Read.” Susan is a Pacific Northwester with homes in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. She has degrees in law and psychology, and has had a variety of careers, including perennial student, computer consultant, and legal editor. Fiction writer is by far her favorite, giving her an outlet to demonstrate her belief in the power of love, friendship, and a sense of humor. http://www.savannafox.com; http://www.facebook.com/susanlyonsfox.

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37 comments
Stacey Kennedy
1. Stacey Kennedy
My vote: Read it! Love it! And spice up your life with those seductive fantasies! As a busy mom, it's great fun losing myself in sexy worlds. Toss in a sweet love story in there, too, and I'm happy!! I, for one, love the alpha male and the power exchange that goes along with our Dominant heroes--yep, it just hits all my sexy buttons!!! For me, as long as the BDSM is consenual and everything is safe and sane, I'm all for the theory "the hotter the story, the better"! Great post, Savanna! :)
Opal Carew
2. Opal Carew
Loved your post, Savanana!

I agree that trust is a huge aspect of the D/s relationship. I also think that, like you said, women like the idea of letting some else take the lead. That doesn't really mean giving up total control. In fact, in a way, the sub has more power than the Dom, because she has the option of stopping things at any point.

Because the pleasure of both partners is the goal, the Dom must understand the desires of the sub for the whole thing to work. He must cater to those desires and satisfy them. I think in this type of relationship, the sub feels very taken care of, and that is very appealing!
Stacey Kennedy
3. Eden Bradley
Awesome post-and I'm thrilled to see someone addressing some of the real issues involved in BDSM fiction, and BDSM romance in particular, so thank you! Because ultimately, the brain is still the biggest and most powerful sex organ. It's good to think about what makes this stuff hot, whether it's hot in practice or in theory only. We should be as familiar with what drives our desires as much as we are (or should be) familiar with our bodies.

Now, I'm a 'real-lifer' so my comfort level in reading may be different from some of our readers, but you've already mentioned some of my most iconic favorites, like Carrie's Story and Tiffany's Original Sinners series (which is beyond brilliant!). I also love Anne Rice's Exit to Eden-the psychology of kink is so true to life, even if the setting is a bit fantastical. And thank you SO much for mentioning one of my books in your wonderful list! I'm honored to be in such admirable company. :)

Eden
Carmen Pinzon
4. bungluna
Thanks for your wonderful article. I'm a big fan of your books!

The BDSM trend does very little for me. I'm tired of the billionaire dom and the naive sub trop. For the most part, I avoid these books.

However, I've found that some authors have the knack (talent?) for illuminating other aspects of relationships while using alternative lifestyles, whatever these may be. I find myself drawn to these books, some of which you cited in your article.

An author that I follow into any sub-genre is Lauren Dane. Her books always touch me deeply, even when the 'lifestyle' depicted in them may not be my cup of tea.
Susan Lyons
5. Susan/Savanna
I've been trying to respond to comments, and my responses show up then disappear again. I retype them (because you can't copy and paste into these screens), try again, and same result. Trying one more time...
Susan Lyons
6. Susan/Savanna
Yay, that worked. Let me keep trying. Stacey and Opal, the power balance is so fascinating, isn't it? In any romantic relationship, there has to be a balance tha works for both/all partners. Stacey, "safe, sane and consensual" is definitely one of the things the Dirty Girls Book Club discusses. And yes, Opal, don't all women fantasize about a man who intuits her needs and desires and fulfils them, without her having to nag? Thanks, both of you, for dropping by.
Susan Lyons
7. Susan/Savanna
Hi Eden. Ah yes, the largest and most powerful sex organ is definitely the brain. Or at least it is for most women!
Susan Lyons
8. Susan/Savanna
Thanks for the compliment, bungluna. That's exactly what I do in "Bound to Be Dirty" - use the alternative lifestyle of BDSM in the book club's selection to help Lily and Dax sort out some of the issues with their marriage. Thanks for recommending Lauren Dane. Yes, she's an excellent writer. I'm sorry I forgot to mention her.
Stacey Kennedy
9. Sasha White
Great post, Savanana. You've done a fab job talking about what can attract readers to any romance, not just BDSM romance. Personally, I love BDSM fiction when it's done really well because it adresses the emotional side of things beyond the romance. By that I mean, it tends to get behind the reasoning of why some people physically enjoy certain kinks, as well as emotionally...if I'm making any sense. LOL

Like Bungluna though, I'm tired of the billionair alpha hero and the sweet innocent virgin. It's been a cliche in romances forever, and every now and then it comes around again so I guess it's not surprising, but I hate to think readers new to the BDSM sub-genre think all BDSM storeis are like that. They really aren't...and you're mentioning some great stories to show that. ;)

Anyway, loved the post, and thank you so much for mentioning one of my books in it.
Liz
10. Lizzie Dee
I love reading about BDSM relationships. I find them intriguing and seriously sexy! And though there is much about the lifestyle that doesn't appeal to me for my relationships in the real world, a man taking control and making my pleasure, my desires a priority would be absolutely amazing!
Kit Rocha's "Beyond" books deal with some BDSM aspects and don't all follow the overused trope of virginal/naive sub and billionaire Dom. J. Kenner's Stark Trilogy also has some great bondage and kink. Maya Banks Breathless Trilogy has varying degrees of BDSM lifestyles, too. And all of these books have great storylines beyond the sex, so they're really great reads.
Susan Lyons
11. Susan/Savanna
Lizzie, thanks so much for passing along those recommendations.
Susan Lyons
12. Susan/Savanna
Hey, Sasha. Yes, I agree that personally I'm not into billionaire alpha heroes paired with innocent, inexperienced heroines. Whether the story is BDSM, plain vanilla sexy romance, or sweet romance. Those guys just strike me as obnoxious, not sexy at all.
Opal Carew
13. Opal Carew
Only some BDSM books have the virginal submissive heroine. It was made popular by 50 Shades, and I think of it as an updated version of the young heroine with the powerful tycoon in the older Harlequin stories.

In my books, I like to have a strong heroine who finds herself drawn to giving up control to a strong hero. Sometimes it's a billionaire, sometimes a biker, sometimes a cop or ex-cop, or even just the boy-next-door. As you pointed out, Savanna, every relationship is as unique as the individuals involved, so the possible situations are endless.
Susan Lyons
14. Susan/Savanna
I like strong heroines too, Opal. And I like heroes who are strong but also sensitive - which I think is one of the appeals of a lot of BDSM. The guy may be sexually dominant but he's very attuned to the heroine's deepest desires - maybe even ones she's not fully aware of herself. I also like guys who are articulate, intelligent, thoughtful, funny, and interesting. If the book is a romance, this couple is going to do more than have sex together. They have to be able to have breakfast together, deal with disagreements, look after each other when someone's sick, care for each other's family and friends and so on and so on. Sex is great, but it's only a small part of life!
Stacey Kennedy
15. Sasha White
Exactly right, Opal. Strength of character is whats important, not the money or job. I love to read strong charatcers, so I always write them too. :)

Also agree with you, Savanna. There's more to a romance than sex, just like I thinkt here's more to a romantic relationship than being able to hang/live together. Both aspects are important if we want a well balanced relationship, and I htink that is whats best abotu erotic romance, is that you get the full story and relationship, not just whats happening outside the bedroom. It's all about balance, both relationships, and the storytelling. :)
Tori Benson
16. Torifl
Great article. I have eased off on reading of this genre only because well written ones have become few and far between. So many show an unequal relationship where dom meets heroine and in 5.9 seconds later knows she's a sub, knows her inner most desires, and demands her trust and submission. *sigh* It takes me longer to order a Big Mac at McDonalds.

I like a strong man and woman who enter into a relaionship as equals. I like the exploration and journey. Seeing how their emotions rise and fall with each new experience. I like a normal progression to the relationship and not alot of over the top drama because in real life, tragidy and mayham doesn't occur every 15 minutes. I like seeing a real couple fall in love who just happen to like a little kink in the bedroom. Or closet. Or alleyway. :P
Susan Lyons
17. Susan/Savanna
Thanks, Torifl. I'm sorry you haven't been finding as many books that you enjoy. I am totally with you on the partners in a relationship being equals. Different, sure, because that's often where the fun and growth lie. And yes, I too like reading - and writing - about pretty normal people and relationships. My test is always, if I was sitting across from this heroine or hero having coffee or a glass of wine, and they were telling me their story, would I be intrigued and like them, or would I think they were stupid, disprespectful, a drama queen, etc.? If a character wouldn't be my friend in real life, I don't want to write about her or him. Oh, and LOL re alleyway. There's a scene in "Bound to Be Dirty" that's in an outside parking lot. Not actual sex, but kinky role-play foreplay!
Tori Benson
18. Torifl
Susan/Savanna-I've got your book on my TBR. Moving up the queue now because of dirty alleyway smexing. :P
Susan Lyons
19. Susan/Savanna
LOL, Torifl. Do I know how to hook you or do I know how to hook you?
Mary Lynne Nielsen
20. emmel
I have to admit to being on the side that hasn't been pleased with the BSDM that I've read. In part, it's because I agree with those who've posted on the sameness of the all-knowing dom and the unrealized sub who discovers her/his potential under the other's omniscient tutelage.

But also, I think of friends who have been in abusive relationships who often put up with that abuse for fear of losing their partner. And I compare that to what I have read in BSDM romances, where the doms somehow know that the sub will want treatment that is punishing/painful, etc. even if the sub has not realized it her- or himself. I always find myself wondering if the sub takes the treatment for risk of losing the relationship. And the HEA--well, then it just isn't there for me. I don't trust the couple's commitment.

Honestly, I read in all these stories about a "safe word." And I've never read a story in which it's used. Instead, it's always the dom asserting, "let me push your envelope, I know what you secretly want," and then being proven right. And that's an unequal relationship to me. I never get verification that a dom would stay with a sub who said no, and why. Since I've never read use of a safe word, I have no idea what that does to a couple's dealings with one another. I'd like to believe that it happens in these relationships. But I've never seen it expressed in BSDM romance. So they don't work for me--as romance.
Susan Lyons
21. Susan/Savanna
emmel, you should belong to the Dirty Girls Book Club! Those are issues they discuss, because they're troubled by them as well. And you're right, I can't recall ever reading a BDSM book where the sub uses the safe word (but then I don't read a lot of BDSM myself). In theory, it seems to me that use of the safe word should simply mean that the dom stops the thing he/she is doing right now, and the two re-examine the terms they originally agreed on as to what's okay and what isn't okay with the sub. But I've certainly read BDSM books (and romance without BDSM) where the dominant parter can be very manipulative. Mere disapproval is a powerful thing. Withdrawal of attention, approval, love can certainly motivate partners to do things they don't really want to, whether those things are sexual or otherwise.
Anyhow, thanks for dropping by. Great comments!
Mary Lynne Nielsen
22. emmel
Gee, now I'm a Dirty Girl! My day is made. :-) Thank you for the considerate response, Susan/Savanna.
Kareni
23. Kareni
If I recall correctly, in one of the Fifty Shades books the heroine does use the safe word.
Stacey Kennedy
26. Bjackmom
I have read all the books mentioned and have enjoyed them immensely . Thank you ladies. I would like to recommend two of my favorites, please everyone read Kallypso Masters' Rescue Me series, excellent series about using BDSM to help heal emotional wounds !! Also Cherise Sinclair has 2 great series , Masters of the Shadowlands and Doms of Darkhaven. One more and I will quick , though this millionaire alphas, but still very good are Joey W Hill's 2 series, Nature of Desire and Knights of the Boardroom. That's it I won't ad more. Thank you
Susan White
28. whiskeywhite
Thanks for the interesting article, Susan/Savannah. I think it's useful when discussing this topic to have actually read the books that most women are familiar with. So that means, whether one likes it or not, the Fifty Shades of Grey series. (I know, even I, a literary illiterate, recognize that the writing is terrible. And it certainly meets the billionaire dominant, etc. criteria -- in spades).

But details matter if we're going to come to general conclusions. I'm fairly certain that Ana never uses a safe word with Christian, though they do have one. (At one point he complains bitterly that she "forgets" to use it.) What she does do, however, quite early on, is go down the list of his requested activites and go, "Not that, not that, not that" to a relatively long list and "only maybe" to another list. Then when she tries something she's really unsure about, and finds it intolerable, she says, "Never again." And he accepts it.

He accepts it because she, the supposed submissive, uses "withdrawal of attention, approval, (and) love" -- she leaves him. Of course they get back together again (this is romance after all), but she is presented as a very strong and sensible character who gets what she wants in the end. Now maybe this is more characteristic of the genre than I know, since these are the only books of the type I've read. Lemme know.

Thanks for the recommendations, all. I may try some more.
Susan Lyons
29. Susan/Savanna
Thanks for your comments, whiskeywhite. I think you point out a big difference between erotic romance and erotica. Where there's a romance, withdrawal of love is huge (whether the romance is BDSM or anything else). If there isn't love, then presumably each partner could find someone else to give him or her the desired attention and approval. It seems to me you're less "dependent" on a specific partner if the relationship is primarily physical and not emotional. But that's just my opinion. I'd love to hear other people's comments on this.
Stacey Kennedy
30. stacymd2
I am tempted to get into BDSM literature again after reading this post. You guys make a very strong case! I was turned off by BDSM completly by one of my favorite authors, A.N. Roquelaure, aka Anne Rice.

After reading most of her witch and vampire novels I made the mistake of buying the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy Set. It was on sale and I just loved everything Rice had written then.

Claiming of Sleeping Beauty was Ok. By ok I mean I wasn't totally grossed out by what read like rape to me. Beauty's Punishment & Beauty's Release took me years to finish. O...M...G...I would read then put the book down and walk away. Far away. It was like reading a children's book written by a serial killer. Every page was rape, spanking, humiliation, rape, torture, human horses, bondage,
cages, slavery, humiliation and more rape.

I don't think being humiliated is sexy or being submissive to anyone instills love, empathy and humility. This is what I read the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy was supposed to be about. (shutter) I've enjoyed erotica and rough sex/play in novels before, but I swore off all BDSM after this.

I can't stand not finishing something or not reading books that I paid for. Completing these two novels was an epic struggle for me.

There must be a HUGE difference between BDSM erotica vs. BDSM romance.
Carmen Pinzon
31. bungluna
I find that if the emotional relationship is not there beside the physical one, I'm bored by all the "insert Tab A into slot B and do again, with suitable variations." It's the emotional investment that pulls me into the story.
Susan Lyons
32. Susan/Savanna
stacymd2, I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. I haven't read the Sleeping Beauty books myself.

I'm not sure that the difference is necessarily between BDSM erotica vs. BDSM erotic romance, but that each book will be different. My guess is that you'd find books called "erotic romance" where there are acts that strike you as rape, humiliation, abuse, etc. And you'd find books called "erotica" where you find the relationship consensual, equal, and respectful - even if it doesn't involve love. Really, it's a matter of each author's voice and vision for her characters and story.

I'd suggest you read the book blurbs and reviews really carefully, and take advantage of the "read inside the book" or "download sample" features at your online bookstore. It's so upsetting when you settle down for a satisfying read and find yourself appalled and upset. But yet, it's all a matter of taste. What you find appalling, other readers might find titillating.

That's the great thing about fiction. There's a huge range, something for everyone's taste!
Susan Lyons
33. Susan/Savanna
bungluna, I'm with you on needing emotional investment. But I think in a lot of erotica, the investment is supposed to be with the protagonist. The story is about this individual's character arc, her/his journey, and that journey is partly one of sexual exploration and discovery - but often the sexual learning/growth also involves dealing with emotional issues such as vulnerabilities and fears.

Books categorized as women's fiction often have the same kind of emotional investment - in the protagonist's growth, not in a romantic relationship. Though typically without all the sexual kink. LOL.
Liz
34. Lizzie Dee
@whiskeywhite - Actually Ana does use the safe word with Christian. I don't remember if it's the second or third book, but in one scene in the red room, he continuously denies her orgasm and she finally says it. She's shocked that he would do that and he tells her that it's a common practice in BDSM.
Susan Lyons
35. Susan/Savanna
Thanks for providing clarification, Lizzie Dee. And yes, I've certainly read of that practice in BDSM - and let's face it, it's often used in sex that has no BDSM elements, and it's used by women with male partners as well. The way it's supposed to work, prolonging the orgasm heightens the sensual/erotic experience and the power of the orgasm when it ultimately happens. Of course if it's used wrong, then it's manipulative if not downright cruel. That's where communication and trust between partners (dom/sub or otherwise) is so important.
Donna H
36. leigia
I've been reading romance for years. Since 50 Shades, I've been indunated with BDSM in my romance books. I've read some of those books (didn't purposely seek out those books, they were part of series (non-BDSM) that I've been invested in). The lifestyle don't appeal to me and I'm getting tired of reading about the Dom who knows everything about what the innocent sub wants before she knew it herself that it became boring.

Now I read comments to see if the love scenes contain BDSM or not before I can make a decision on whether to invest my time with a series. I even started to skip books of my fave authors due to their books having a BDSM-theme.
Susan Lyons
37. Susan/Savanna
leigia, I do think it's a pity when one trend becomes so "hot" that it takes over the market. It happened with vampires, then it happened with BDSM. My personal preference is to read about characters who are human, not undead or shapeshifter or whatever, and sex that is spicy but doesn't involve any true BDSM. I think sexy play (e.g., taking turns blindfolding each other to enhance the other senses) can be very erotic without involving any dom-sub elements.
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