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BDSM

By Donna George Storey

The movie Fifty Shades Darker was released just before Valentine’s Day. No one cares. The box office on opening weekend was slightly more than half of Fifty Shades of Grey. The quality of the second movie may be a factor. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson did not return to do the sequel, which lacks the humor and sizzle of the first film, critics say.

Then again perhaps we’ve lost interest in the fate of Ana and Christian because our nation is too busy navigating our own intimate BDSM relationship with a billionaire? “You’ll let me hurt you, because you love me, right?” he snarls gently. “Don’t resist! You’ll enjoy it. Now stop calling your Senators and let me put these handcuffs on you. Trust me, it’ll be something terrific…”

Not sure how that’s been going for you, but I’m learning a lot about myself from this experience.

Indeed I find it fascinating that the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon of just a few years past is suddenly painfully relevant to our everyday lives. This month I’d like to share some lessons from E.L. James’ erotic novels that illuminate the power of fantasy, BDSM and billionaires.

Don’t Bother Fact-Checking A Fantasy

Do you remember all the dire warnings about Christian Grey as a stalker and a dangerously controlling personality? Therapists and cultural critics alike worried that the female fans of Fifty Shades of Grey would be fooled into thinking that the relationship between Christian and Ana was desirable and that these poor women would then seek out sociopathic narcissists who would abuse them physically and psychologically. Many more criticized the bad prose, the passive heroine and the inane plot lifted from Twilight. Anna J. Roberts even analyzed the novels chapter by chapter to show how silly, embarrassing and wrong the story was at every turn (her commentary is highly entertaining). BDSM aficionados pointed out that James’ grasp of power exchange is misleading and amateurish—indeed she has little, if any, personal experience in the kink for which she has become famous.

In other words, Fifty Shades of Grey was fact-checked by therapists, experienced authors and editors, and BDSM practitioners. In every respect, it was found lacking. Four Pinocchios all around.

The fans of the series didn’t give a fig. They loved the story, even if it was “bad” and “wrong.” Adding to the huge audience of true fans were the curiosity seekers. Thanks to them and a celebrity-driven press, Fifty Shades of Grey became—and still is, because I assure you I will get at least twice as many reads for this column as any I’ve written without “Fifty Shades” in the title—a code word for “exciting, kinky sex.” So what if the actual sex scenes in the book are far more vanilla than advertised? E.L. James is still a rich woman.

Mind you, how many of us would appreciate our fantasies being fact-checked? What are the chances that any given neighbor spying on you while you undress is a gorgeous sexpot who somehow knows your pleasure buttons intimately without speaking a word once you finally beckon him or her over to your boudoir? Most of us know this is unlikely to happen in real life, but there’s no harm done if we merely imagine idealized encounters without consequences in moments of privacy.

Yet problems do arise when fantasies are taken so seriously that, say, you vote for someone who promises you a health care plan that covers everybody and costs less and offers more benefits except it’s not single-payer because that’s socialism–and you actually expect them to deliver on the promise.

Therefore, let us take note from the Fifty Shades example, that a “good story” trumps harsh reality when the desire to believe is strong.

The Strict Father and the Republican Party 

The general consensus seems to be that Fifty Shades of Grey is just a standard Harlequin romance that wouldn’t have gotten a second glance except for the BDSM. Apparently the novels finally made it completely okay for the ordinary Jane to think sexual thoughts about cable ties and handcuffs. Unfortunately, this openness has also brought out a lot of misogynistic cultural “analysis,” which says as much about the commentator as the topic. The books’ popularity was seen by some as proof that women naturally want to be submissive because they find their new “equality” in society a burden from which they long to escape into the arms of a billionaire with a secret playroom full of canes and whips. In other words, the Freudians were right that women are intrinsically masochistic.

I’ll let Leslie Bennetts challenge this conclusion most eloquently in “Sex, Lies & Fifty Shades”:

“So when people pontificate about women’s intrinsic sexual nature, I find myself thinking: How do you know? How can we ourselves even know? From earliest childhood, women’s experience of sex is so inextricably intertwined with all forms of male control that submission is forever eroticized in more ways than we can possibly unravel. As females, we have been dominated physically, politically, socially, legally, and economically, and pop culture endlessly reinforces the message.”

So if it’s not that women just naturally like to be dominated straight from the womb, what could be the compelling appeal of BDSM to millions? I humbly present an alternate explanation for the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, and it has to do with the Republican party. I owe this insight to George Lakoff’s Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think.

Lakoff argues that conservatives in America believe in the Strict Father model of the family and by metaphorical extension, the Strict Father model of our government. In this traditional, patriarchal structure, the father/president has the primary responsibility for supporting and protecting the family/citizens. He also gets to whip their butts if they don’t follow his directions.

“He teaches children right from wrong by setting strict rules for their behavior and enforcing them through punishment. The punishment is typically mild to moderate, but sufficiently painful. It is commonly called corporal punishment—say, with a belt or a stick. He also gains their cooperation by showing love and appreciation when they do follow the rules. But children must never be coddled, lest they become spoiled; a spoiled child will be dependent for life and will not learn proper morals.” (Lakoff, p. 66)

Under the Strict Father moral order, humans are more powerful and important than animals and plants and the environment, adults are more powerful than children, and men are more powerful than women. Thus, if a woman challenges this hierarchy by assuming male privileges, she is threatening the natural order and must be punished. This explains why those who oppose government regulations on almost everything else are quick to legislate to control women’s bodies–and also why the environment is fair game for whatever we humans want to grab and exploit.

The liberal family ideal, in Lakoff’s terminology, is the Nurturant Parent model. In this type of family, parents of both sexes embrace empathy, nurturance, social ties, fairness and happiness in the family relationship. Parents earn their authority by acting kindly and fairly and setting an example for their children. Children are encouraged to express their needs and opinions. Men and women are equal. This model of the family has been gaining traction, particularly among younger baby boomer parents. The downside of nurturant parenting–and government–is that it’s hard work and involves self-doubt, constant negotiation, and expensive social programs.

The majority of American voters today are likely to have been raised in a family more closely resembling the Strict Father model. This is why conservative rhetoric about family values touches deep chords in so many Americans. Fifty Shades puts the focus on women’s experience of submission, but men, too, must deal with power hierarchies in every aspect of their lives. Those with a Strict Father worldview are especially intimate with hierarchy, authority and punishment for disobedience. Yet while hierarchical power relations start in the family, we find them flourishing in schools, in the workplace, the doctor’s office, the military of course, and pretty much any setting that you’ll find as the unifying theme for an erotica anthology.

Speaking of erotica, allow me to call in another expert to support my argument: Jack Morin, the author of The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Sexual Passion and Fulfillment. Morin introduced me to the idea of the “core erotic theme.” You can figure out your personal core erotic theme simply by identifying the sexual fantasy that is most likely to turn you on, especially when you’re having trouble getting aroused.

In my earlier review of Morin’s book, I mentioned that I found this quote relevant to literary erotica writers: “Many find it discomforting to tolerate the ambiguity of the erotic experience, to accept its mixed motivations, or to observe how the erotic mind has a habit of transforming one idea or emotion into another.”

Morin is describing the genesis of sexual fantasy. That is, our erotic minds take material from our actual experience–such as our family or religion-induced guilt about sex, our doubt about our desirability, or frustration about sexual limitations–and transforms it into arousing fantasies that address or redress or overturn the limitations of the real.  In erotic fantasies, we are often freed from the restrictions that rule our behavior in real life.  Lovers are abundant, orgasms even more so.  Even in the submissive role, the dreamer is always, in some fundamental way, in control of the situation as she or he manipulates all of the characters in the sexual drama unfolding on the imaginary stage. Our minds perform the magic of converting desire, humiliation, confusion and powerlessness into sensual pleasure and release.

In real life, there are always restrictions upon our desires and thus feelings of anger and powerlessness to manage in one way or another. No matter how powerful a Strict Father might be, there are always women, profits, federal employees and deals that elude his control. Although men have social privilege in the abstract, millions of individual men don’t experience those privileges for reasons of economic standing or ethnicity or any other quality that might lower status. We each have a complicated relationship with power, and a mind that readily translates these ambiguities into the language of fantasy. Fifty Shades of Grey was the first popular novel to give ordinary people the cover to explore more fully the intersection of power and sex—whether to enjoy it, condemn it or both.

George Lakoff’s Strict Father model is very helpful in understanding the conservative approach to family and government, but we must remember that both the liberal and conservative family models are essentially fantasies in themselves. Human patriarchs are never unassailable towers of strength and rectitude, nor are real-life nurturing parents always perfect models of kindness and equality. Both kinds of authority figures wield power they invariably abuse and both disappoint us.

Our current political situation has allowed us a naked glimpse of the abuses of power in government that is a disorienting blend of reality and fantasy that all too often bleeds into the surreal. However, when you involve another adult partner in playing out your fantasy, it is extremely important to get her or his consent at every step of the way. This is the difference between a purportedly pleasurable BDSM scene and assault and battery.

Where indeed will this unfolding relationship between our Strict Father leaders and our many Ana-like uncertain citizens lead America’s democratic experiment? Might Fifty Shades of Grey have the answer?

Does America Get A Happy Ending?

After much self-inflicted drama and misunderstanding (spoiler alert), Ana and Christian end their travails as a deliriously happy married couple with two adorable children. Their chief problem in life is getting the kids to sleep. Ana, just by being herself and also saving Christian’s sister from an evil Princeton-alum kidnapper, has “cured” Christian of his kink and healed his heart.

That’s the fictional version. So what about our real-life power-kink tale? How will the American people deal with the unprecedented challenges presented by our billionaire Master? Will we live happily ever after in the end?

I’ve decided to be optimistic. In this, too, let’s take our inspiration from E.L. James and move this plot as best we can away from dysfunctional obsession and toward a supportive relationship between government and citizen that honors our Constitution and the rule of law. The “how” this happens is, of course, the most important question for every story.

Yet unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, the citizens of the United States are the authors of this narrative. The ending of the story lies in our hands. Let’s make it good.

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

By Lisabet Sarai

Are there topics you feel should be unequivocally banned from erotica? Subjects about which you would absolutely never read—or write—in an erotic context? Do you believe there are some literary lines that should never be crossed?

Many people feel this way about rape or other forms of non-consensual sexual activity. Yet studies (here, for example) have shown repeatedly that many women (and some men) fantasize about being raped or forced into sexual activity. In general, these women understand that imagined coercion is very different from real rape. Finding the former arousing does not indicate a desire for the latter. Nevertheless many readers, and publishers, object to exploring this topic in erotica.

What about incest? Despite the difficulty authors experience in publishing fiction that features sexual activity between adult family members, the taboo topic is a turn-on for a significant subset of readers. The wildly popular step-brother romance sub-genre has provided a “safe” way for readers to experience the forbidden thrill of being attracted to a close relation. I personally consider this as a bit dishonest. I’ve had incestuous dreams about my own brother. I’d never act on them, but that doesn’t mean the dreams weren’t a turn-on.

Bestiality? If sexual activity involving animals is so horrifying, why are shifter stories so successful? Not to mention the cryptozoological “taken by bigfoot” sub-genre? Forcing oneself upon a dumb animal in the real world would be immoral, but the beasts in erotic fiction tend to be anthropomorphised. The human participants feel some sort of sexual connection with the horny dog or the sleek, predatory tiger. I’ve read some amazing erotica based on human attraction to animals. Does that mean I plan to have sex with my cat? Of course not.

Sex with children may be a hard line. Adults getting sexual with kids too young to object or to understand is definitely wrong. There are no extenuating circumstances. But how do you define “young”? Is fourteen too young? That’s how old I was when I gave away my virginity, to a guy who was twenty. I knew exactly what I was doing (well, in theory, at least). During the teen years, desire is confusing and inchoate, but overwhelming in its power. Memories of that period, when every emotion cuts to the quick, offer tremendous possibilities for meaningful and moving—as well as tremendously arousing—erotic fiction.

My clearest personal line involves erotic fiction that portrays inflicting serious violence, physical harm or death as arousing. I avoid such stories when I can. I’ve read enough erotica, though, to know that not everyone agrees with this boundary. Are the people who write such stuff fundamentally evil? Am I qualified to judge?

These are not easy questions to answer. If you think they are, I believe that you’re fooling yourself.

The core issue relates to another kind of line: the line between imagination and reality. Is someone who finds a taboo topic arousing in fiction likely to perform such actions in real life? I’d argue that most readers of erotica distinguish very clearly between the fantasies evoked by erotic fiction, no matter how extreme, and the life they live outside of books.

Of course there are individuals who do enact this sort of forbidden scenario in the real world. There are men who kidnap women and hold them prisoners in their basements for years, who secretly abuse grade school kids, who screw their prepubescent daughters. These people have always existed. Does our writing about the sort of crimes they perpetrate encourage these people to commit these crimes?

Does an author who writes about a serial killer encourage murderers in the real world?

How much of the horror that people express about various taboo topics is rational, and how much is based on their personal discomfort? I will leave that question open for you to ponder.

Publishers and online venues like ERWA don’t want to make readers uncomfortable. They’re also worried about getting in trouble with the law. Hence, they establish various rules about what content is and is not acceptable. These rules tend to be idiosyncratic, depending on both the personal beliefs of the owners or operators and their perception of their market. For instance, I had a publisher reject one of my stories once because they had a policy prohibiting the portrayal of priests and nuns in erotica. In the romance world, very few publishers will accept any work that includes bodily fluids (“golden showers” or “scat”) even though there’s no legal reason for them to reject such stories (and it’s possible to write about these topics with both grace and heat). These publishers are convinced their readership will find such content “gross”.

Rules can change. Last year, the ownership of ERWA changed hands. Now, the ERWA staff members are debating whether to remove the prohibition of incest erotica on the public website. Perhaps you will consider me an incorrigible reprobate, but I am in favor. I believe we should have as few rules as possible.

In my view, erotica should not only turn readers on, but should also expand their perspectives. Sex is inextricably intertwined with so many other emotions—love, guilt, ambition, shame, anger, and compassion, to name just a few. Erotica derives its singular power from this psychological complexity. It’s not a safe genre, or at least it shouldn’t be. Sometimes the most arousing stories are the most disturbing.

Does that mean nothing is sacred, nothing forbidden? That’s something each of us has to answer for ourselves. There are few, if any red lines that I can discern. Defining what is and is not acceptable in erotica is a dangerously slippery slope.

Red lines in erotica remind me a bit of limits in BDSM. Limits are personal—the activities I totally reject might be the ones that most turn you on. Furthermore, limits can change over time. Tomorrow I might consider doing something that terrifies or squicks me today. Finally, the most erotic BDSM encounters often result from pushing limits—moving beyond the edge of what’s comfortable and familiar into new experiences and new insights.

One of my favorite erotica stories is by Patrick Califia. (No
surprise there.) “No Mercy” (which can be found in his collection of the same title) centers Terry, who is in an abusive D/s relationship with
Heather, and on the cusp of finding her way out of it. The story begins as they
approach a piercing shop to finally get the genital piercing that Terry has
wanted for a long time. Her body could not accept the piercing from Heather,
she kept safewording as the moment was approaching, so they decide to go to a
professional piercer. The first 8 or so pages are filled with the lead-in to
the piercing. Heather thinks of the piercing as a last ditch effort to save the
relationship, and Terry thinks of it as another step away from the
relationship. The tension in the story builds until the piercing is done, and
once it is complete, Terry bursts out with a flow of words. The piercer, a
leatherdyke herself who becomes a key character in the rest of the story,
explains, “Once you poke a hole in somebody, something frequently comes out.” The
piercing, which is hot in and of itself and also incredibly satisfying, is also
holding so many other things for all the characters involved. It is this transformational
moment, this intensely loaded thing.

Sex and kink can hold so much in them, and Califia is one of
those writers that deeply embraces this reality, and uses the sex and kink in
his stories to nudge the reader to grapple with the things he cares about. He’s
pretty upfront about it too. In his essay, “A Insistent and Indelicate Muse”,
printed in M. Christian’s brilliant collection The Burning Pen: Sex Writers on Sex Writing, Califia says:

“I like to use the cover of eroticism to entice the reader
and make them emotionally and psychologically vulnerable to new ideas or
discomfiting information. I hold out the reward of dirty talking in exchange
for the reader stretching their political muscles.”

Califia is upfront about wanting the reader to stretch, to
see the things that sex is holding inside itself, to grapple with those things
in reading his stories.

When I started writing erotica, it was about reaching for my
desire, trying to envision it and make it real for myself. My early erotica is
full of my fantasies about BDSM, but more than that, about my fantasies of
being seen, witnessed, and met in the wholeness of who I am, particularly
around gender. I wrote a story about being seen and desired as trans by cis gay
men. I wrote about being witnessed and desired as a genderqueer femme by queer
trans men. I wrote about being desired as a submissive boy by a trans man, and
as a femme dyke by a butch dyke.

These stories, these fantasies, were as much about gender
and queerness as they were about spanking, or pain play, or sucking cock in a
bathroom or an alley. They were imagining a sexual universe where I was able to
be in the fullness of myself, and be desired. Because I was worried about that,
worried about whether I was desirable in my gender complexity. Worried about
whether the kind of queer kink I wanted was possible.

I am not worried about those things as much now; I bring
other needs to my writing. But they often are still rooted in that desire to be
recognized, that desire to create moments of recognition for readers, that
desire to open up space that allows us to be in the wholeness of ourselves
during kink and sex.

Erotica has been a place where I play with the ways we can
feel seen and met in our desires, honored for all of who we are, witnessed and held
in our vulnerability, as we show ourselves to our partners. That’s been a
common thread in my erotica over the last 15 years of writing, because I find
it to be one of the most gloriously hot aspects of sex and kink. I titled my
recent queer kink erotica collection Show
Yourself To Me
to evoke that aspect of my work, to draw attention to the
ways it is rooted in that place of yearning and meeting, of holding and
celebrating, of showing who you are and being shown in return.

In a recent round table discussion on sex writing, Larissa Pham, who writes one of my favorite sex
columns, Cum Shots, said:

“With Cum Shots, people would text me (saying), ‘Oh my God,
you broke my heart again.’ This isn’t happy writing a lot of the time. Sex
is just a way to talk about other things. You poke sex and a bunch of stuff
comes out: power comes out, abuse comes out, emotions come out, trauma comes
out, race relations come out.”

For me, writing stories about sex and kink has been a way to
write about other things that I care about. You poke the sex and kink in my
stories and a bunch of other stuff comes out, including the very things that
Pham names in the quote above. Sex and kink is the arena where all that stuff
takes place, shows its face, gets grappled with and held. I use my stories to
illuminate ways I have found to create safe enough containers within sex and
kink that can hold the things that come out when you poke.

When you poke the sex you are writing, what comes out? How
do you grapple with that as a writer? How do you create stories that can hold
it? How do you decide what stuff your story can hold, and where you need to
limit that? What do you use sex to talk about?

You know how on Project Runway, when the contestants are creating a
collection, they keep being urged to make it cohesive? Cohesion is a big part of how they envision each piece of
the collection being connected and part of a whole. So it doesn’t feel
disjointed. So you get a clear sense of who the designer is. So you know who
they are making clothes for.

As a top, when I’m planning a BDSM scene, I’m attempting to create a
similar kind of cohesion. I want the play to feel connected, not like a series
of disjointed activities. I want the play to be an expression of who I am as a
top. I want the play to be specific to the bottom, and specific to this
particular moment with the bottom. It needs to be about both (or all) of us.

It can be easy to be caught up in a clever idea, or a particular goal,
or want to use all the tools available, or have a clear arc in mind. But goal
focused or highly scripted play often prevents us from being in the moment and
present with ourselves and those we are playing with. So I try not to overplan.
I want to leave plenty of room to respond in the moment. When I’m teaching BDSM,
I often tell folks: 

Let your intention
float alongside or in front of you. Grasping for it may sink you.

So, I generally lean towards a loose plan, instead of a script or
concrete goals. I’ve built scenes on a few tools I want to focus on. I’ve created scenes based on the emotions I wanted to harness. I’ve
planned scenes based on sensations I want to give. I’ve conceived of scenes
that are based on the kind of connection I wanted to create. These are loose intentions,
ones that I can let float next to me, and still really be in the moment during
BDSM play, let myself be guided as much by context and the responses of my
partner and my own desire right then, as I am by the intention. And even this
kind of loose intention can sometimes weigh me down in the moment if I become
too attached to it, so I try to enter a scene knowing that I may need to let it
float away from me altogether.

Many of my erotica stories mostly consist of a scene; there may be a
bit of a lead in, or sometimes a longer lead in, but often the bulk of the
story is the scene. That’s where the character arc happens, that’s where the
conflict occurs, that’s where I do much of my characterization. The scene is
the center of the story, and it needs the sort of plan that a real life scene
needs, one that is dynamic and responsive, one that allows for discovery and
flow, one that isn’t too heavily scripted or goal oriented. It needs to feel
cohesive, in some ways even moreso because it’s the center of a story.

I often do the bulk of planning for my stories much like I plan a
scene. I get a clear sense of point of view, and who the characters are as
individuals, but also their dynamics, the context for their play. I also have a
loose plan, an intention for how the
BDSM is going to be cohesive, deeply woven into the story as a whole. I choose
the thread I am going to draw throughout the scene so that it feels whole and
not disjointed. I think about the intention I am going to use for the BDSM scene,
and consider: How is the intention going to illuminate internal conflict for
the characters? How is the intention going to create opportunities for the
reader to get to know the characters? Does the intention fit this context, this
setting, and these people at this specific moment?

The intention I select for the BDSM scene gives me a path towards how
to set up the scene for the reader, how to create an arc for the scene, how to
build momentum in the scene. It is the thing I keep my eye on as I let the
story flow, and let the scene unfold, put these characters together and watch
what they do, in the moment, as they play off each other, respond to each
other, engage in their play dynamic together.

Let me give you a few examples from my recent collection, Show Yourself To Me.

My story, “It’s My Job” was written with a very particular intention for the scene: leather.
In particular, the bottom’s deep love for leather. This intention gave the story
its structure and tone, and its beginning with a focus on gay leather traditions
and the legacies of particular pieces of his Daddy’s leather. This intention made
the choice of all leather toys: gloves, boots, leather sap, braided cat, quirt.
This intention is what led to a long luxurious leather worship scene where the
bottom licks from his Daddy’s boots all the way up his chaps to his leather
jock. But it was the dynamic between the characters that drove where the story
went. The repetition of the boy describing that it was his job to care for his
Daddy’s leather, to stand still and take it for Daddy, all the specific things
that are his job in this role that is full of worship and service, that is what
led the story to its conclusion, to the center of the internal conflict of this
character. I fought where this story wanted to go, because I wasn’t sure I was up to writing it
that way, but it insisted, and I found I had to listen.

The plan is not in charge, it needs to be responsive in the moment, and
be real to who these characters are, to what their dynamic is. Sometimes the
scene builds to somewhere unexpected. Part of the point of the looseness of the plan is to
allow that to happen.

I wrote “Willing” with a desire to really focus on trust and the difficulties
of vulnerability and connection. It centers the internal struggle of a vampire
to let himself trust this boy he meets, who seems like he might be the willing boy
of his dreams. The intention of the scene was to show a dance of intimacy,
where he comes close, and pulls back, repeatedly. This is what led to a dance
metaphor in the descriptions of rough body play, what made the up-close nature
of knife play a central part of the scene, what drove how blood sports are integrated into this story. This dance of trust helped lead to
this particular moment where the top transitions from knife play to caning. This moment feels like the core of the story, revealing the
ways that this scene is different for the top, has higher stakes:

Mine, I think again. And catch
myself. I watch him, building on his fear, and remove my touch. There is only
the knife sliding along him, forcing him to remain still. There is only the
knife as silence lays on him like a blanket. I step away, moving quietly, and
leave him alone. We will see how much he needs connection, how much fear I can
build. We will see, I think slowly to
myself, how much distance I can tolerate.

My play is
usually about connection. About driving myself inside. About opening someone up
to my gaze. My tools are up close and personal. Play is my source of
connection, and I usually hurl into it, deep and hard.

I don’t want
to show myself yet. This must be done slowly. I want to see what he can do. I
want to wait before I commit myself to what I have already thought. I will come
to that on my terms, in my time.

I collect my
favorite canes, needing air between us. Needing the sound that whips through
the air and blasts into flesh. Needing controlled, careful cruelty. Canes are a
special love of mine. It takes a lot for me to risk thin sticks of wood, easily
broken to form deadly weapons. Canes are about my risk, too. Their simple
existence menaces. Their joy is unmatchable.

The planning makes the rest possible, creates the framework so that the
story can reveal itself. The looseness of the plan lets the scene breathe, lets
the characters struggle. It is that inner struggle that I love to write most.

My story “What I Need” is all about the intense desire for claiming of a trans stone butch
top. It is driven by the urgency in that desire. That’s what led to the choice
of first person present tense. That’s why it’s written to bring the reader up
close by addressing it to “you”. That’s what drives the pace of the scene, from
the start. That’s definitely what led to
the choice of toys. For the most part, there are none. This is a scene built on
getting up close and person, deep inside the bottom with the most intimate of
tools: the top’s body. It starts with throat fucking, and breath play not with
tools but with the top using hir body to cut off airflow. It continues along
this vein with rough body play, and is filled with this desire to mark and to
get inside, to claim through fucking and pain and culminates in blood sports.
That intention around claiming shapes the story, and what is revealed in its
midst is how vulnerable the top is in that desire for that level of connection.
That vulnerability becomes the tender core of this story, gives it depth and
struggle and reveals the POV character to the reader, a character who pushes hir own edges around how much clothing ze takes off during play.  

The plan is a path for the scene, but the scene may veer off the path.
Or the path may be reveal itself to be a bit more complicated that we might
have thought when we began. The plan gets me moving as a writer, helps me
focus, works to create a container so that the scene, and the story, can go
where they need to go.

Silence is Golden
To be published by Sexy Little Pages
Deadline: April 22, 2016

If
someone is unable to speak, how do they communicate with their
partner? If a sub or Dom can’t hear well in crowds but loves to play at
parties, what mechanisms are in place to ensure everyone stays safe?

Not
just gags and sensory deprivation! We’re looking for contemporary
kink-inspired tales encompassing a range of diverse characters and
intense, sexy storylines about communication, that make us squirm in
our seat. Tell us about every body, not just white, cis and able. Make
your stories hot with your characters reflecting real people across the
spectrum of size, colour, gender and ability.

Deadline 22nd April 2016. Word count 4000-6000. New writers welcome.

Please
read our full guidelines at www.SexyLittlePages.com/submissions for
how to submit your story (and a few things we are and aren’t looking
for!)

Questions? EMail: hello@sexylittlepages.com 

One of the best kink education panels I’ve ever
been part of was a group of experienced queer tops being real about our
experiences back when we were new tops. We told stories about mistakes we made,
how afraid we were, how much pressure we felt to act confident. We were real
about the ways we realized that we wanted to top, and what that early
self-discovery was like. We talked about the tricks we used to get over our
nerves, and the ways we learned to value our own needs. It was one of the most
real and important conversations I’ve ever had with a group of tops, and I feel
incredibly lucky to have participated in it. There was this hush in the room as
we spoke about this, a sense that we were breaking silence, that this
conversation was precious. We don’t have these kinds of
conversations often
 in kink community, rarely
speak openly as tops about being vulnerable, nervous, scared, or unsure.

When I was a novice top, I would have
loved to read stories about tops who were unsure. Part of why I felt like
I had to act sure even when I wasn’t as a novice top was that no tops were talking about being unsure. If
I’d been able to read stories about tops who were unsure, it would have been
validating, and really helped me. I know that some people look to erotica
& erotic romance for fantasy, and to get off. I sure do. But I also look to
it for a mirror.

The first erotica story I wrote from
the top’s point of view, “Nervous Boy”, had the top character being unsure. It
felt like such a risk to write. Maybe I was the only top that felt this
way. Maybe the bubble of faith readers had in him would burst when they saw he
was unsure. Maybe I couldn’t find these stories because no one would be willing
to print them. (I was wrong about the last one, by the way.)

These days I work really hard to include tops in my erotica who are
unsure, vulnerable, and scared
. I consistently write experienced
tops that doubt themselves, that need support, that are vulnerable, that have
needs. I care about those stories. I think they are important, not just as erotica,
but as a voice in kink culture that insists on top vulnerability and tops
having needs. But these stories aren’t the only kind of mirror I needed as a
novice.

I would love to read stories about novice tops
learning from experienced bottoms. I would love to read stories about
novice tops getting mentored, or learning through co-topping. I would love to
read stories about novice tops figuring out how to top through reading, going
to classes, having cybersex, talking with kinky buddies, watching instructional
videos, watching other people play. I would love to read stories about novice
tops trying out bottoming as a way to learn, and the ways that works for them,
or really doesn’t work. I would love to read stories about novice tops refusing
to try bottoming despite being pressured and finding other paths for learning
and self discovery. I would love to read stories about novice tops and bottoms
learning together, perhaps in group scenes, perhaps through co-bottoming,
perhaps on their own or with friends.

There are very few stories that center novice
tops. I can’t name more than a few short stories (mostly about couples
experimenting with kink together) and about half a dozen book titles, and I
read pretty damn widely. (If you are looking for examples I particularly
recommend For RealHave Mercy, and Sated, which actually features a novice switch,
but I especially adore her topping moments.) The dearth of examples illuminates
a pretty big gap in BDSM fiction.

But I think the gap is wider than that. The kinds of stories we tell
about novices are a bit…one-note.

Most of the time in BDSM erotica and erotic
romance, when a
character is a novice, it seems to be a stand in for virginal innocence. This character has done very little (or no) research about kink, and often has had no prior kinky fantasies. A clean
slate, if you will. The novice is
inevitably the bottom or submissive. (And for the most part, a woman partnering with a man.) Much of
the time, the experienced dominant teaches a novice submissive about their submissive identity. The novice only learns
about kink from
their partner, or occasionally a bit of internet research. They don’t talk to
other kinky people. They aren’t part of a kink community. They often don’t
know any other kinky people…besides their love interest.

There are so many other possible stories we could
tell about learning BDSM and being a novice.

What would it be like if we told stories about novices who took charge of their own learning
about kink, and went after what they
wanted? What would the story arc be if we started from there? With novice tops and
bottoms who didn’t learn through their lovers alone?

What about a story with a main character who
dropped kink (or a certain kind of
kink) after dipping a toe in, and is now thinking about picking it up
again?

What could the story be if the character is an
experienced top or bottom that is exploring switching for the first time?

What about a story centering folks who are new to
D/s but have done SM or bondage for years?

What about a story centering a novice whose first experiences of BDSM are with a professional? 

What about a story centering a novice who learns about their own kinky desires through doing sex work?

There is so much possibility in stories about novice queers, novice Ren Faire folks, novice goths,
who come out into kink as part of their culture, and now need to claim it for
their own. So many cultures and communities are kinky. It’s really
different to be a novice trying out BDSM inside one of those. Sassafras
Lowrey has written two (non-erotic) novels (Lost Boi and Roving Pack) about communities of homeless and
precariously housed queer and trans youth that center kink as an important aspect of the community culture
and a vital part of the lives of the characters. I would love to read more
erotica and erotic romance stories about being a novice in that kind of context. Where characters are coming into kink
through being pagan, or punk, or a vampire, for example, where BDSM is already
an integral part of the cultural landscape.

What if the story was about a novice top or bottom trying to claim their desire as a
survivor of violence, navigating the complexity of consent?

What if the story was about a novice top or bottom of color grappling with racism in
the kink scene, claiming their sexuality in that context?

What about stories with novice edge players? I
was definitely one of those, and would have found so
much solace in a story that came from a place that acknowledged the diversity
of desire and the ways that just because you are a beginner doesn’t mean that
you don’t want intensity in your BDSM.

What would the story be like if it centered a novice who went to kink education or munches with
groups of friends? I went to some of my first kink events with my best friend,
who’d been kinky all along, but I hadn’t known, in 5 years of friendship. I’ve
seen novices find each other
early on in kink community, and form intense friendships, support each other to
explore. I want more stories about novices who support each other,
where that friendship is a core part of the story of self-discovery.

What if the story was about a nerd who did tons
of research first? Who spent years
exploring their kinky desires through writing or reading fan fiction before
trying it out in life? I knew much more about my own kinks with very little
experience because I had so much cybersex. Folks in kink communities are often really scornful of people
who learn about kink outside of real life experience, but it’s so common! I
know there are more people than just me who did tons of reading before they
ever acted on their desires.

I would be so excited to read BDSM
fiction that represented the wide range of novice experience that actually
exists in life. Perhaps one of these ideas will inspire you to write something
new. I know I’d love to read it!

by Jean Roberta

On Saturday, January 23, I attended an annual event in the university where I teach: the Creative Writing Open House. In theory, everyone on earth is welcome to show up, free of charge (and sample the free tea, coffee and muffins), to hear half-hour talks on aspects of writing by faculty members who teach this subject at various levels. Questions are not only allowed, they are encouraged. In reality, this event is attended by a sprinkling of undergraduates who are thinking of taking a class in creative writing and want to know what they could expect. So far, no one has discussed grading standards, but I suspect this would be of great interest to most of the audience.

I gave my usual talk about “niche publishing.” As usual, I found this topic so inspiring that, at some point, I ignored my notes and spun off into the various niches that an aspiring writer can find, and I raised the question of whether literary erotica has been completely swallowed by erotic romance because of a constantly-changing, profit-driven publishing biz that tries to ride the crest of every wave, even though trends are hard to predict and dangerous to follow because they start to recede even while they’re peaking.

I had just been introduced by the current head of the Creative Writing Committee as probably the most-published person in the room. OMG! I’m far from being an expert on what works, and in fact, several of my colleagues have won more awards than I have (or probably ever will) for writing relatively “mainstream” fiction and poetry. (Dramatists seem scarce in these parts, although one of them was formerly head of the English Department here.)

One of the niches I discussed was non-fiction, loosely speaking: blog posts and reviews. It’s something we’re all encouraged to write for the purpose of promoting our “real” writing (erotica, romance, spec-fic, whatever), but when/if we write more words of on-line non-fiction than anything else, we’re either letting the cart pull the horse, or we’ve discovered a delightful new niche in which to express ourselves. (I prefer the latter theory.)

Re literary erotica, I said I would not rehash a tired debate about how this differs from “porn,” but I would attempt a definition: literary erotica is simply literature (fiction, poetry, even drama) that includes explicit sex scenes. One of my male colleagues seemed so impressed by this concept that he said he didn’t see why any reader would object to this type of writing, or why any writer would avoid writing it. I explained the project of British publisher Totally Bound to publish new versions of classic novels (Pride and Prejudice, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Wuthering Heights) with sex explicitly included. I also mentioned James Lear’s novels, which come close to being parodies of well-known novels of the past (Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped) as m/m erotic mysteries. My colleague seemed so delighted to hear that sex can appear on the page outside the context of “porn,” strictly speaking (films and magazines marketed as masturbation fantasies) that I could imagine him hard at work on an erotic poem or story.

This colleague is primarily a poet. For the sake of politeness, I avoided suggesting that Canadian poetry is a niche in itself, far from the kind of writing that appears on bestseller lists. (The poet showed the audience his latest royalty cheque, for $4 Canadian.)

The focus of the whole event definitely seemed to be on writing as self-expression and as communication with other writers rather than as a way of making money. Nonetheless, I pointed out that both literary erotica and writers who write about gay men or lesbians (Sarah Waters, Jeannette Winterson) seem to get more mainstream acceptance in Britain than in North America. The reasons for this are subject to speculation. Could the Puritan roots of North American culture still be keeping sex in general, and especially non-heterosexual, non-monogamous sex, in the margins?

A traditional relationship between the literary margins and the mainstream seems to me to be represented by the odd but moving friendship of John Preston and Anne Rice in San Francisco in the 1970s, before she became famous for bringing new life to vampire fiction. Preston was never even close to being mainstream: he proudly identified himself as a writer of gay-male BDSM “porn” before explicit sex, kink of any kind, or male-on-male lust could be mentioned outside of certain ghettoes, and he was a social/political organizer because he needed to help create the kind of community he wanted to live in. Like many pioneers, he died before he could see his efforts bearing much fruit.

Anne Rice has always admitted how much inspiration she got from John Preston’s writing as well as from his more personal conversations with her. However, I’m often reminded that most of the readers who love the gothic lushness of her novels about vaguely homoerotic vampires (who all have a kinky blood fetish by definition) have never heard of John Preston and probably wouldn’t think of him as her Muse even if they knew who he was. The margins nourish the mainstream, but this process usually seems invisible to everyone who hasn’t deliberately researched it.

If I continue to talk about “niche publishing” next year, and the year after that, I suspect my examples of what is “niche” will have to change with the times. I would love to see Canadian poetry outgrow the half-shelf it occupies (at most) in the brick-and-mortar bookstores that still exist. I would also love to see literary erotica marketed simply as “literature.” I’m not holding my breath until a miracle occurs. The one thing I know about “mainstream” culture in general is that the stream is always moving.
——————

[The cover of an upcoming anthology of steampunk erotica (a niche within a niche?) in which I have a story]

I read a lot of BDSM erotica and erotic romance. While what
I write is fairly specific, I enjoy reading a wider diversity, all different
sorts of pairings and groups. I enjoy the sort that is all about building a
fantasy for the reader, from the billionaire natural alpha dom, to the corral
where you park your submissive at the club. I also enjoy the sort that is
intended to feel real, to reflect the realities of kink life. I’m not one of
those folks who do BDSM and need fiction to be realistic; I’m perfectly fine
sinking into a fantasy story about a magical mind-reading dominant, whether it
comes with a critique of kink life (e.g. Cecilia Tan’s Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords) or
is purely there to fulfill a fantasy (e.g. Cherise Sinclair’s Club Shadowlands)

What I’ve found is that there’s a particular thing that’s
pretty much guaranteed to spoil my investment in and enjoyment of a BDSM story:
carelessness in the context of a scene or D/s dynamic.

To be clear, I adore mean, cruel and even cold dominants.
I’m not talking about sadism here, or needing to go easy on bottoms in a way
that treats them as fragile. I’m not even just talking about tops. Bottoms can
definitely be careless too.

I’m not talking about stories where folks have casual play,
or play that’s not centered on emotions or caring for each other romantically.
I’m not even talking about psychological edge play scenes that center on a top seeming careless. I’m fine with that
sort of play as long as I know, as a reader, that the top is actually seeing to
the well-being of the bottom, and that the bottom knows somewhere in the back
of their mind that they can trust the top to be careful with them.

What do I mean when I talk about carelessness?

I mean carelessness in terms of leaving a bottom tied up and
unattended. I mean carelessness in terms of casual selfishness where the
character is solely focused on their own needs to the point of ignoring the basic
well-being of the folks they are doing BDSM with. I mean carelessness in terms
of launching into heavy humiliation play with a novice with no negotiation. I
mean carelessness in terms of deliberate ignoring of basic bodily needs. I mean
carelessness in terms of deliberately fucking with someone’s head when mindfuck
was not on the table. I mean carelessness in terms of a dominant giving a
submissive away to someone without ensuring that the submissive is ok in that
person’s care.

For the most part, what it often boils down to is a
character treating another character like they are not a real person, but an
object, not as part of an agreed upon D/s dynamic or humiliation scene, but in
actuality. Treating them as if they are a tool to get off with, not a human
being with, y’know, needs and vulnerabilities, who is worthy of a basic modicum
of respect and care.

Is it realistic to have characters do this? Absolutely. This
behavior abounds in kink life, just as carelessness does in many other kinds of
communities.

Do I want it in my erotica or erotic romance? Absolutely
not.

Please do write about miscommunication, misunderstandings,
secrets, scenes that go wrong, common novice mistakes, times when people need
to safeword, accidents that happen in play, times when folks are not aware of
their feelings or not up for talking about stuff they should, and all the other
ways that people are human and have opposing needs and fuck up and things fall
apart and need to be repaired, especially if you are writing realistic stories
about BDSM. I’d love to see more of that in the kinky fiction I read. I don’t
need or even want characters to be perfect.

Carelessness is in a different zone for me.

Why?

I don’t trust the character any more as a practitioner of
BDSM. I wouldn’t recommend them as a player to a stranger, must less to someone
I care about.

I am not rooting for the couple anymore. I want the other
character to dump that asshole, not make excuses for them or sink deeper into
connection with them or ignore the problem or want to be treated that way.

I don’t want to witness them playing or falling for each
other. It’s not hot. I wouldn’t watch that scene in a public dungeon; I
definitely don’t want to read it.

I don’t want stories that support, elide, apologize for or
excuse carelessness in kink. Especially not in a main character I’m supposed to
be identifying with or desiring or rooting for. Especially not in a story that supposedly
has a HFN or a HEA ending.

Want me to love your BDSM erotica and erotic romance and
invest in your characters and story?


Show the reader moments where characters are careful with each other.

Where dominants take an extra moment to ensure they still
have consent. Where submissives consider a dominants needs. Where tops check in
after a scene. Where bottoms share information a top might need in order to
fully consent to something. Where a dominant pays attention to body language
and tone of voice and not just the words a submissive uses. Where a submissive
notices that a dominant seems off and checks in. Where a top thinks about what
a bottom might need from play. Where a bottom thinks about the shit a top had
to deal with today and treads carefully around sensitive subjects. Where
characters negotiate in a way that shows they are invested in each other’s
well-being.

It’s those moments that make me fall for your characters,
root for them as a couple or triad or group or whatever they are together, want
to follow them to the end of the story. Those are the moments that make me sigh
and smile and swoon.

In BDSM erotica and erotic romance, I often find
very little description of pain, of what it feels like to experience it. Even
in scenes that include descriptions of pain play, the writer often shifts focus
to action and reaction instead of sensation, or to how things look or sound
instead of how they feel. Or the
writer reduces the experience to the phrase “pleasure/pain”.  I would rejoice if that particular phrase
disappeared from erotica and erotic romance altogether. It is not only poor
description that is vague at best, it is also there not to describe the pain at all but instead to say it’s ok there was pain, and that the pain didn’t really hurt. It is
my experience that a good portion of pain play does actually hurt, and for some
folks, that’s actually what they like about it.

So even when we write stories about playing with pain,
many of us rarely describe how it feels. As it turns out, pain is famously
difficult to describe. Virginia Woolf expressed the problem in terms of language running dry. In his book, Listening
to Pain
, David Biro builds on that concept, saying, 

“Despite it’s
overwhelming presence, pain has the elusive quality of an absence, an absence
not only of words to describe it (that is, a linguistic absence) but also of
ways to think about it (a conceptual one).”

So, how do you describe the indescribable?

Taking a cue from Biro, the first place I suggest is
not to start with finding language for the sensation, but to explore how you think about pain. My foundational
concepts of pain come from a number of sources: my own experience as a top and
a bottom, conversations with other folks who do pain play (including my own
play partners), my own experiences with chronic pain, things I’ve read about
pain, BDSM, trauma and psychobiology, and a substantial amount of kink
education. When I write pain play, this is my core framework:

1. Pain is not automatically bad, and pain does not
universally feel bad.

2. It’s ok to desire pain (both giving and receiving).
It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. Desiring pain is not
something that requires explanation in your story.

3. Wanting pain doesn’t mean that you experience pain
as pleasure. There are lots of reasons folks may desire pain and choose to
experience it.

4. Pain is not one-note. There is a whole symphony in
there.

5. Pain doesn’t easily break into a dichotomy. People
in BDSM communities often break down sensation into sting vs. thud. These are a
start, but there’s a lot more variety to pain than that. Folks who do BDSM that
also experience chronic pain outside of a kink context often talk about good
pain vs. bad pain. That kind of differentiation is a start, but there’s more to
it.

6. People experience sensation differently. There is no
universal experience of a particular sensation, including different kinds of
pain.

7. The perception of pain is particularly related to
the rate of increase of sensation, more than other factors. (I learned this
from Dr.
Richard Sprott
, in his lecture on the Psychobiology of SM)

8. Three factors important to how people perceive pain
include: 1) the intensity at the peak moment of pain, 2) the intensity at the
end of the scene, and 3) the emotional interpretation of the pain. (I also
learned this from Dr. Sprott.)

9. Context is important for how you experience pain. Do
you know the sensation, or is it new to you? Are you in public or private? What
is the psychological context of the scene (is the pain punishment, reward, for
pleasure, about service, something to endure, something to revel in)? Are you
nervous or scared or excited or already turned on? Do you have a way to process
the pain, or are you restricted in some way (movement, sound, being gagged)? Do
you have access to all of your senses (or are you blindfolded or experiencing
another kind of sensory deprivation)? Is the skin being played with sensitized
in some way (from hormone cycles, previous play, constriction, touch)?

So that’s my foundation for thinking about pain. Let
me offer you another. In her ethnography of an East Coast pansexual BDSM
community, Playing on the Edge, Staci Newmahr discusses four
different ways that people in that community framed and understood pain:

  • Transformed
    Pain
    :
    where pain is instantly and unconsciously transformed into pleasure. In other
    words, pain does not really hurt, it is converted to pleasure. Newmahr found
    this most common in folks who engage in mild to moderate pain play.
  • Sacrificial
    Pain
    :
    where pain is not transformed, and does hurt; bottoms suffer as a sacrifice for
    the benefit of or to fulfill the desire of the top. The bottom takes pain as
    punishment or as a gift to the top. Newmahr found this way of thinking most
    common in women who identified as submissives.
  • Investment
    Pain
    :
    where pain is unpleasant and is endured in the promise of a later reward. The
    pain is not the goal, it is a path to the goal, a challenge to the self, a
    means to a different end (an endorphin high, the emotional satisfaction from
    enduring it, a sexual reward from the top for taking it). Newmahr found this
    framework most common in men.
  • Autotelic
    Pain
    :
    where pain hurts and the hurt feels good. It isn’t converted to pleasure. The
    hurting is a good, valued and desired thing in and of itself. Newmahr found
    folks who used this framework to be marginalized within the BDSM community she
    studied.

Consider: What are the foundations of how you write
pain? Where do they come from? Getting clear about your own thinking about pain
is a great first step to expanding how you write pain play in BDSM erotica. One
thing you can try is to read each of the bullets in my own framework and
Newmahr’s research aloud, and see how they sound, how they feel in your mouth,
what thoughts they spark. That may help you know more about your own
frameworks.

Now let’s approach the other piece of this: finding
language for sensation. One of the best ways to describe the indescribable is
to get really specific. I’m going to
share some starting questions about the sensations you are describing, along
with examples from my recent collection, Show Yourself To Me, to
illustrate how these details might play out in your descriptions of pain play.

  • Is the sensation more concentrated (like a single tail whip, a punch, a cane, or a pinch,
    where the sensation focuses on a small surface area of the skin) or more dispersed (like a large paddle, a slap
    or a flogger with many tails, where the sensation is spread out over a larger surface
    area)?

In this excerpt from “Please”,
the bottom is experiencing concentrated pain in combination with sex and they
wrap into each other:

He
started teasing my nipples with his fingertips. They were so hard and cold that
even that light silky touch hurt. Then he was twisting them, and the pain was
electric and sharp. It felt so good, mixing up with the relentless fucking that
led to this long glorious spasm. He started pinching them harder, and I
couldn’t help it. I had to slam my hips back to meet him.


  • Does the sensation stay more on the surface of the skin (often described as sting, and
    associated with things like canes, biting, whips, wax play and slapping) or reach deeper beneath the skin (often
    described as thud, and associated with things like heavy floggers, batons,
    saps, and punching)?

In this excerpt from “The
Tender Sweet Young Thing”, a bottom in a group scene is having difficulty
tolerating claws and teeth. One of the tops in the scene shifts it to a
different kind of sensation:

Jericho said, “All
that surface sensation is just too much, isn’t it? You need something deeper to
show you how tender you are. I can do that.”

How did Jericho
know that? It was scary how right they were. Deeper was exactly what he needed.
He nodded helplessly.

Jericho handed
their boy a condom and some lube. They picked up Dax’s scissors, getting a nod
from hir, and cut off Téo’s briefs before he even registered what was happening.
By then, Jericho had almost finished unstrapping Téo’s cock. They gestured to
Rusty and moved around Téo, unbuttoning his dress to bare his chest. Téo loved,
and hated, being beaten there. It was about the only kind of touch that felt
right in that area, and it was so damn intense because, really, when you’re
binding so many hours a day, your skin gets fucking sensitive. 


Jericho had taken out their braided cat. Téo
adored this toy, and was aching to get beaten with it again. Last time, it’d
felt like light was bursting out the top of his head.

It was better than he remembered, probably
because he needed deep sensation so much. He closed his eyes and let it drive
into him. Sublime intensity concentrated where he needed to let go. Jericho was
fucking magic. When Rusty slid into his front hole, it felt so easy and solid.
Rusty was holding him steady with his cock, anchoring him here in this room so
he didn’t float too far. 


  • How does the sensation move through the body? Does it radiate out from the place of the
    blow (like with a slap or a paddle)? Does it reach underneath the skin and
    bounce back out (like with a cane stroke)? Does it feel like it drives right
    through you (like with a punch or a heavy flogger)? Does it come on strong and
    then numb out and then jolt you at the end (like with clips and clamps)? Does
    it sear from the start and then build an ache behind it (like with biting)?

For some, thudding
sensations can have all the movement of a deliciously rough hard fuck. The bottom
in “It’s My Job” has that experience with a lead-filled sap:

He pulls out his
leather sap and begins to pound it into my thighs like a sledgehammer, ramming
lead into me. It pounds me hard, and my dick begins to throb. He’s hitting that
spot where it starts to translate to sex. I am not a masochist, and there are
very few intense sensations that feel like anything but pain. But this is pure
sex. My lips part, and I start groaning. It is all I can do not to bend over
and beg him to fuck me now. I take each blow into my cock, feeling it swell
until it seems like it’s going to burst. 


  • How would you describe the pacing and rhythm of the sensation? Sporadic? Relentless?
    Methodical? Jarring? Pounding? Percussive/rhythmic? Deliberate? Surprising? Building
    up in intensity? Dancing around? Moving close to the edge and then stepping
    back, only to move toward the edge again?

Consider how rhythm
shapes the same bottom’s sensory experience in this later excerpt from my story
“It’s My Job”, describing a rather different kind of beating with a cat o’ nine
tails:

It slams into my
back, and I am utterly still: no breath, no movement. He begins to lay into me.
The rhythm is hypnotic; fire dances along my skin as the cat drives into me.
The cowhide is thin and braided, and the knotted tips feel like they are
slicing me open. Waves of reddish-orange pain wash over my vision. My feet are
planted. I will not move. I am helpless against the pain, lightning so strong
it almost knocks me over. I am so small in the face of it. Nothing I can do
will stop it. I stand still and take it, and it transforms me. I am taking it
for Daddy. 

  • Does the sensation have a temperature or texture to it? Things like canes, wax, belts, and
    slapping can often feel like heat. Things that stimulate the nerves (like
    whartenberg wheels), slower sensations, and cooler materials (acrylic paddles,
    batons) sometimes feel cool. A slow rhythmic flogging with deerskin can feel
    smooth, where things that drag on the skin (like some kinds of pinching or
    braided leather) can feel rough. Some kinds of pain feel like they are slicing
    into skin (belts) or piercing it (singletails). 

I’m particularly
partial to describing sharp stinging pain, and I often use language evoking the
heat that comes with that sort of play. Here is an excerpt from my story “How
He Likes It” describing how it feels for this bottom to get hurt with a belt.


I took him in,
tasting like liquid metal in my throat, trembling with the intensity of his
belt, and let the pain pour out of my eyes, stream out of my mouth, let my cunt
drip with it as my ass clenched around it. I begged him for more even as I
screamed, my hands fisting the blanket, safely held down by my Sir, feeling him
smile proudly at me.

My thighs were on
fire, and the flames took me over until I could feel my cunt burning with it,
my chest hot, and I was begging to come for him, could I please show him how
much I appreciated his cruelty, please, Sir.


He laughed and
refused me, continuing to lay pain onto me as I writhed, moaning, sobbing with
it, blazing. I begged him not to stop, to please keep hurting me, claiming me
with his belt. Saying that I needed it, needed his marks on me. He was
ruthless, and I shuddered with it, a conflagration of need taking me over. I
was in that place where I felt like I could take all the pain in the world, eat
it all, and spit the flames of it right back, a burning circle between us, for
as long as he wanted, perhaps longer.


Once you have a sense of these things for what you
are planning to describe, you can start building your vocabulary for this
particular kind of play, and for pain in general.

It can help to gather information about the
sensations you are going to describe. Try them yourself. Reflect on your
experiences and memories of that sort of play. Talk to people who have
experience with them. Watch people do that sort of play. Look at posts on
Fetlife. Read about SM, fiction and non-fiction, especially books by people who
do SM. (I’ve found essays
by folks who do BDSM and experience chronic pain
to be particularly useful
resources.)

Years ago, I began a vocabulary list for myself, of words
that captured what different kinds of pain felt like (searing, invasive,
bursting, jagged, grinding, pounding), and words I could use to describe
delivering pain (thrusting, ramming, ripping, lavishing, placing, menacing,
blasting). I highly suggest you start your own lists. They can help
tremendously when you are stuck describing SM. If you are looking for a place
to start, try the McGill Pain
Questionaire
; it’s got some gorgeously specific language for describing
pain.

David Biro suggests that pain “can only be described
through metaphor.” Metaphor is one of my best tools for describing SM. There’s
a way that it gets you places you can’t really go otherwise. When I decided to
do an erotic retelling of the fairy tale of Tam Lin and Janet, one of the main
reasons was the opportunity to push myself with metaphor. In the fairy tale,
Janet has to hold on to Tam Lin as he transforms from a lizard to a bear to a
mountain lion to a brand to a burning hot coal. I got so excited deciding what
sort of play was the best to match with each transformation, how to build the
arc of a scene that was so pre-determined by the fairy tale.  

Here is an excerpt from the lizard portion of
the story:

Jan
was so mesmerized by Tam’s cock that they were surprised by the first touch,
their head yanked backward by the hair, face tilted up to meet Tam’s eyes. Jan
took a slow shaky breath. This was real. The sensation was cold and quick. It
went so fast that it was hard to hold on to. What was that? It darted over
Jan’s skin, their eyes steady on Tam’s, no idea what was happening to their
chest. Jan gasped when the sensation moved through their nipple, like a tongue
flickering. They reached for the sensation, trying to catch it as it moved,
lizard-like, along their nipples, gone before they could grasp it. Frightening
and exciting all at once, it made Jan throb, breath in their throat, just
trying to hold on to Tam. It didn’t matter what it was. It was Jan’s job to
stay with it, stay connected.

And here is an excerpt from the burning hot
coal portion of the story:

Tam
began to punch Jan in the pecs. Slowly. In the same spot, repeatedly. A
steadily increasing pounding, building heat in Jan’s chest from within, like a
red-hot coal, slowly building, rough and demanding. Jan could feel it growing
in their chest and was helpless to stop it, just held Tam’s determined eyes as
tears started falling. Tam kept ramming hir fists into Jan, smiling so sweetly
at the tears, wanting them to come. This was exactly what Tam needed, they
realized, and they let go and sobbed. Tam just kept driving the tears out of
them, telling them to just keep crying, their tears were gorgeous and hot and
making Tam so hard. That if they kept crying like that, Tam was not going to be
able to resist fucking them. Jan gripped Tam’s waist and bawled, tears washing
over them both.

Whatever kind of description you choose, I urge you
to get as specific as possible when describing pain. Your BDSM erotica will
only be better for it. 

by Donna George Storey

Just to bring closure to last month’s column, I did indeed see the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey and I enjoyed it just fine. No doubt Universal held back some extra sex scenes to add to the DVD release. I predict the movie will top $1 billion when it goes to instant download and DVD. Viewers who are too embarrassed to be seen in their local theater will indulge their curiosity—many of these viewers will be men—and if there are extra sex scenes, lots of people who saw it in the theaters will be back to see if this time Hollywood really, truly changes our lives forever with a choreographed show of two more or less naked people pretending to have sex. My fingers are crossed.

Now, I hear you, my dear readers, we’re all sick of Fifty Shades of Grey. But I’m still reeling from all the hate out there, which seems so out of proportion to its target—a humble erotic-romance novel that, in spite of its purported BDSM theme, isn’t nearly as violent as most of the stuff we see on TV. I’m kind of taking the hate personally, to be honest, as an erotica writer, a woman and a person who believes all of this fear, shame, and anger around sexuality is harming the world. Thanks to the bullying curriculum in today’s schools, I know an honorable bystander is supposed to intervene when they see someone being victimized. So to finish up my Focus on Fifty Shades series (this is my last column on this topic and that’s a promise), I felt I had to stand up for five special victims whose rights and well-being are suffering from the phenomenon.

Victim #1: Traditional Publishing

All of us here write and publish erotic books. So how come people all over the world aren’t clamoring to write scathing reviews about how our work is stupid and badly written and people only want to read it to masturbate and also destroy Western civilization, so the reviewer didn’t actually read it, but recommends no one else does either?  We wish. Of course, first we have to sell over a hundred million copies of the various books in our trilogy, become a household word, and thus draw the attention of the voracious and endlessly snarky media. In fact, I’d argue that one of the more important reasons for all the snark is that the traditional power structure of publishing is under attack by hoards of sex-crazed women, both menstruating and menopausal.

Alas, the traditional ways were so elegant and righteous. Aspiring writers would genuflect before teachers and agents and editors and marketers and publishers who would tell them if they were good enough, mess with their stuff to make it more salable, skim off a cut, and conveniently blame the author if money wasn’t made. In return, the power structure would give readers deathless prose, edifying stories about family dysfunction and sex that is always punished, and an endless supply of the “new voice of our generation.” This indeed gave us many first novels by brilliant young men who masturbate with the English language, thus assuring that the reader is too confused to replicate the physical act at home. Morality was thus preserved.

But along comes E.L. James with a built-in fan base and the negotiating power to avoid the usual slave-labor contracts and insist the “experts” keep their hands off of her story. Plus her fans are not behaving like ladies. They are refusing to be shamed. Best-selling popular novels are not new, but novels that get there without the midwifery of the establishment are far more shocking than whips and chains. No wonder everyone in the literary establishment is in a bad mood about it, archly observing in so many words, “Maybe E.L. James will learn to write well after the Revolution.” I wouldn’t predict that editors and publishers will totally disappear, but the power dynamics are in interesting flux and many are running scared. Let us bow our heads for a moment for the passing of the old ways.

Victim #2: E.L. James’ Control in All Things

There is an irony in James’ desire to “exercise control in all things” Fifty Shades, or so the news stories present her as protective of her story against those who want to “improve” it. However, once any story becomes this popular, it belongs to everyone. Although Fifty Shades is soundly criticized for the weakness of its prose, sometimes an author’s distinctive voice can get in the way of making a story our own. Few readers can maintain hours and hours of pure admiration of someone else’s wordplay (Finnegan’s Wake?). We want a story that comes to life in our own heads.

Recently there actually have been thoughtful articles about the book and movie, some even by men. The few males who aren’t compelled to slam both lest their testicles shrink to the size of chickpeas do something similar to what fans do. They explore how the story is personally relevant to them. A.O. Scott’s “Unexpected Lessons From ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’” compares the movie critic’s role to Christian and the audience’s unpredictable tastes to Ana. Robert Hoatson’s “Fifty Shades of Grey is about the trauma of childhood abuse, not sex” empathizes with Christian’s shut-down emotions. And Richard Brody’s “The Accurate Erotics of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’” points out, without contempt, that one thing Fifty Shades has that most movies don’t is foreplay. The story has taken on the stature of public myth, becoming much more than itself.

I’d like to talk about one of the ways I personalized the story. I’m a hopeless analyzer. I get through the superhero movies my kids choose for family outings by analyzing the arc of the fight scenes and measuring the contrived sentimental punch of the scenes with dying parents and lonely, but gifted children. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of my favorite parts of Fifty Shades, book one, is that much-maligned contract Christian presents to his submissives. Many people call it boring, ridiculous and unromantic. For me it was the first time I felt a real connection to the book and decided to keep reading. Some readers and critics have been outraged that Christian would seek to control Ana’s schedule, clothes, grooming, eating habits, and sexuality, including masturbation, and justify it all as being for her own good. Around the “Availability” clauses, it struck me through the legalese that all women must negotiate these issues as we take our place in a patriarchal society. Ana’s lucky enough to be able to negotiate directly, but the rest of us have to find more creative ways to say no, some of which bring dire consequences to our well-being. And the enforcers in real life—our families, our peers, our religion and, worst of all, women’s magazines–are often more exacting than boyfriends. Throughout history and across cultures, women are constantly under scrutiny to look right, eat right, and limit our sexuality to the proper partner. The whole series of novels is about Ana’s negotiation of a contract, which she never signs. In real life women don’t have to sign to be shackled in those handcuffs.

By the way, there’s an equally problematic version of the social/sexual contract for men, including expectations about work, emotions, sexuality and so forth. It would probably be more authentic for a man to explore this in detail, but Christian’s character is a decent illustration of these expectations and how they can mess you up.

Victim #3: The Pretense that Women Get Respect in our Society

Some of the loudest voices calling Fifty Shades a danger to society are those that argue it encourages women to pursue abusive sexual relationships and more damaging still, read bad prose. In an effort to save us from this fate, so many commentators have felt compelled to insult women and female tastes without restraint. One particular critique amused me. Basically this man said we all know Fifty Shades is written badly and the story is stupid. But we also have to figure out why it works so well so we can duplicate its success. Excuse me, but how can you expect to understand, not to mention bank on, something if you despise it?

Now I know one of the main ways we define ourselves as cool is to feel contempt for others. But as a recovering I’m-too-good-to-read-Fifty Shades snob, I’m really glad I read the books. At the very least, it means I’m not a total jerk for opining about something I know nothing about.

As Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in “Men, stop lecturing women about reading romance novels” (a rebuttal to William Giraldi’s infamously misogynistic screed against Fifty Shades in The New Republic), “Romance novels are attractive not just because they are a gratifying escape but also because they sometimes feel like a respite from the significant hostility that a lot of literature shows women.” Isn’t it the truth? All too often female characters are ornamental girlfriends, the reason for the hero’s quest, or the evil castrating witch, but seldom a character we can relate to and respect. Okay, maybe if we look good in a black leather bodysuit, we’ll get the token female lead in the superhero buddy film. In any case, Rosenberg continues, “Romance novels are a tonic, a form of reassurance that someone is interested in ordinary women’s inner lives and is rooting for us to resolve our conflicts about work, love, and what we deserve from our relationships.”

So, yes, if you want women to buy your writing—and women are the fiction market by a big margin–you have to create a compelling story that treats female characters and their concerns with genuine respect. Should be easy for you, right, buddy? Now go get rich.

Victim #4: Christian Grey

We’re all familiar with the characterization of Christian Grey as a stalker who creepily appears at Ana’s side at whim, due in part to his vampire ancestry. Some insist that thanks to the popularity of Fifty Shades, controlling, abusive men will now have women lining up outside their doors.

If we allow that the Fifty Shades novels are guides to real-life relationships as these critics apparently do, I think we need to look at Ana’s behavior as well. In the first book and movie, she insists Christian show her the worst the pain can be in his playroom. He–though not very wisely for a supposedly experienced Dom dealing with a very inexperienced sub–whips her six times with a belt on her bare ass with no warm-up. She then calls him a sick pervert and breaks up with him. Did this bother anyone else? Not the belt part, because Ana explicitly asked for something that. But if you pressure someone you care about to make himself vulnerable then immediately recoil at his repulsiveness without any meaningful discussion or processing, this is emotional abuse. So, to all the young men out there, let this be a lesson—if a woman does this to you, it is not a promising foundation for building trust in the relationship.

Except of course, it turns out to be the right move for a continuing relationship because (spoiler alert!) Christian decides to let her determine the nature of their sexual encounters, thus giving up the sort of BDSM he was trying to sign her up for. Yet Ana is hardly more trustworthy emotionally in the later books. From a “realistic” view, Ana is in her early twenties and has never had a boyfriend. But Christian gets blasted for his possessiveness and jealousy, when she is just as guilty. Her deep love is supposed to be the salve to heal Christian’s damaged heart, but she is jealous of every woman past or present who even makes eyes at her handsome but romance-novel-loyal boyfriend, so jealous that she regularly contemplates leaving him. The second and third novels swing between Ana wanting to save his wounded inner child with every fiber of her being then wondering on the next page if she should dump him when the going gets even a teeny bit tough. Another shockingly thoughtless act is when she forces him back to the playroom because of her own curiosity, although he has avoided it like a recovering alcoholic stays away from booze. Christian’s life was ruined by a “crack whore” birth mother and a Mrs. Robinson type who seduced him into the BDSM lifestyle at 15. These are bad ladies to have in your life, but I wouldn’t be so sure his luck with women had changed all that much with Ana.

Our young men deserve more maturity and kindness in their relationships. I hope the guardians of our social order will speak up for their welfare when the sequels come out and it’s Ana now jerking Christian around by the emotional leash.

Victim #5: Me-Too Books and Movies

There are some benefits to getting older. I know when something is advertised as the sexiest book or movie ever, it won’t be. Or when a magazine promises to teach me the four tricks that will blow a man’s mind in bed, I won’t learn anything new. And I know that because of the success of Fifty Shades that New York and Hollywood will green-light many projects that won’t do so well. The decision-makers will not conclude that in their rush to cash in, the appeal of Fifty Shades was not carefully analyzed and respected. They will more likely say that women actually don’t like sexy stories as much as we all thought or feared. Having lived through several cycles of excitement over the profit potential for erotica followed by disappointment when a project that receives no support doesn’t sell, I sense we’re bound for another round of the same.

I don’t want to end this column on a negative note by suggesting that all erotica writers will suffer when the publishing and movie industries make the same mistakes all over again. In other words, that we are victims of the Fifty Shades frenzy. I prefer standing up for the victim rather than identifying as one. Let’s just say I hope the clear evidence that women will pay good money to see their fantasies and desires portrayed in the media will create a permanent shift in our favor in the plans of the powerful scions of the Imagination Business.

In the meantime, we must keep writing what we love and support each other and a sex-positive culture. The fight for honest erotic expression continues!

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

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