Sunday, June 12, 2011

Discussion - Bringin' Consensual Back

This is a lengthy post, but stick with me. I want readers to chime in with their opinions. If it's TL;DR, you can still scroll to the bottom and join in the discussion!

As many of my readers and blog followers are probably aware, one of my biggest soap box issues is consent -- or lack thereof -- in BDSM fiction. I have blogged about it at length in the past, mostly on my personal blog:
In short, I am greatly disturbed by the trend of marketing a story as BDSM when it's actually dubious consent, rape fantasy, kidnapping, and the like. Note I'm not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with dubious consent and rape fantasy stories; there are some people who enjoy that. Fine. It's fiction. What it isn't is BDSM.

My objection lies in seeing stories about rape, kidnapping, psychological abuse, assault & battery, and Stockholm Syndrome masquerading as BDSM. When I crack the cover on a story that promises kink and leather, I should at no point find myself physically ill or in need of a cold shower because I've just, for all intents and purposes, witnessed a rape. A rape that is unmistakably intended to arouse me because "he knows she really wants it". Um...eww?

Unfortunately, more often than not, that's exactly what happens. I've had some stories keep me awake at night, long after reading them, and not in a good way. Judging by some recent comments on and e-mails regarding my previous blog entries on this subject, I'm not alone. Nor are these books few and far between. I've heard from no shortage of readers who have stopped buying BDSM fiction altogether for this reason...never mind the fact that characters often engage in unsafe practices that can be downright dangerous.

So, to paraphrase Justin Timberlake, I think it's time we bring safe, sane, and consensual back.

Authors, hear ye, hear ye! From what I've gathered from readers and kink enthusiasts, and what I myself would love to see as a reader, I say...

Let's see more kink, and let's see it with (please note I tend to use male pronouns for Doms and female for subs; this is only for simplicity's sake):
  • Strong submissives. Show us subs who can hand over control and, if need be, take it back. The kind of sub who is strong enough to surrender completely to a Dom, and won't hesitate to stand up and put his dumb ass in his place if he abuses that power.
  • Conscientious Doms. Let's see Doms who have emotions, and who are as much in control of themselves as they are of their subs. Let's see Doms who are fully aware that the sub is the one in control. The kind who is humbled by the willingness of his sub to trust him enough to surrender herself and put her safety, well-being, and satisfaction in his hands. You know, the kind who sees domination as a responsibility as much as a pleasure.
  • Doms who aren't Manipulative and subs who aren't Manipulated. Pretty self-explanatory. If a Dom needs to manipulate a sub into submitting to him, then the relationship and D/s dynamic aren't healthy at all. If a sub needs to be manipulated into submitting to him...I mean, good lord, why not just slip her a roofie while you're at it? The end result is the same.
  • Safe Words. Specifically, safe words that never need to be used, or if they do, are honored the instant they slip off someone's lips.
  • Responsible Bondage. Not leaving a submissive alone while bound. Not suspending a submissive in a way that will not only hurt, but cause serious damage to ligaments, tendons, etc. Doms who actually check extremities on a regular basis to ensure circulation and feeling haven't been lost.
  • Consent Prior to Engaging in BDSM Activities. Meaning the Dom doesn't get to kidnap the sub, tie her up, make her submit, punish her, fuck her, and then obtain her consent. Because that is what we call "kidnapping" and "sexual assault". These things are crimes, even if he "knows she actually likes it" (doesn't that make your skin crawl?) or she "secretly really likes it and hopes he doesn't actually stop even though she's telling him to."
  • The Unconditional, Irrevocable, and Indisputable Right to Stop at Any Time for Any Reason, No Questions Asked. Whether by saying "No", saying a safe word, using a safe gesture, or simply ending the scene and leaving, any participant has the right to leave. If they don't, it becomes sexual assault. If they're held against their will, imprisonment. If the Dom pulls a stunt like this, don't expect him to maintain any sympathy from me as the love interest.
  • A Passing Grade on a Vanilla Litmus Test. If a scene would be considered rape/non-consent in a vanilla erotic romance (as opposed to a BDSM erotic romance), then it is also rape in a BDSM erotic romance. (hint: if the submissive consents to it beforehand, and there are rules and a safe word in place that are honored from the get-go, it's not rape) If the sex scenes -- those actually intended to be erotic and thus arousing to the reader -- would not get a book past a publisher's "no rape/non-consent" guidelines, then it's not's rape fantasy.
Now wait just a gosh-darned minute, you're probably saying to yourself. Where the hell is the conflict if all the characters follow the rules? What fun is that?

Naturally, all of the above are rife with opportunities to create conflict, tension, etc. I've used several of them myself to show what an evil son of a bitch a character was. The point is that none of those things -- rape, kidnapping, etc -- should be portrayed as positive, sexy, or any form of safe, sane, and consensual BDSM. If it's a rape fantasy, call it a rape fantasy, not kink.

Or, if a character screws up and disobeys one of those rules, he or she had damn well better have to move heaven and earth to redeem himself/herself, which is a metric ton of conflict right there. If a character commits a criminal act such as kidnapping or rape, he is not a Dom. He's a kidnapper and a rapist. He's not someone I'm going to root for. I'm going to be rooting for the submissive's foot to find its way to his balls in a violent manner, and if she falls in love with him, then she's too stupid to live. Either that, or she's so beaten down and abused, she doesn't realize she has Stockholm Syndrome, at which point I the reader will be horrified to the point of violently ill. And I can guarantee I will never pick up another book by that author again.

Bottom line: I've read far too many stories where those elements I listed above were conspicuously absent, and yet the dynamics and actions of the characters were portrayed as a good thing. A Dom who kidnaps someone who he thinks is a sub and forces her into submission until she realizes, "hey, I really AM a sub! Thank you, Mr. Dom, for showing me this facet of myself, even if I was scared shitless and was probably put into a couple of seriously dangerous situations along the way!" I swear, if I read another story where I'm expected to believe that such a situation is even in the same time zone as safe, sane, or consensual, or that the submissive's resulting love is anything short of Stockholm Syndrome, I may have to set my ebook reader on fire. There is no One Way(tm) to do BDSM, but that? I defy you to find a real-life kink participant who will tell you that's anything other than One Hell of a Wrong Way(tm) to do BDSM.

*steps off soapbox*

Now. With all of that said...

Readers!! I want to hear from you! Tell us what books and authors you've found who portray BDSM in a positive light. Feel free to pimp out your own books, post links to authors, etc. I do ask that we keep the conversation positive. If you want to express your frustration with trends in BDSM fiction, that's fine, but please don't start bashing specific authors or books. If you're going to mention specific authors or books, please keep it to those who do write awesome, consensual kink.

So...let er rip! Give us some titles, give us some authors, and let's bring back safe, sane, and consensual.


  1. Hmm. How about when it starts out intentionally quite questionable and then grows towards healthy? And what do you call it when there are BDSM elements but no one has a safeword and so on? I might be opening the TPE can of worms here...

  2. It depends on *how* it grows towards healthy, and how it was questionable to begin with. Sadly, most of what I've seen has started out unhealthy and stayed that way.

    As far as safe words, if a consenting couple/group chooses to go without, I can live with that...*AS LONG AS* it is clear to everyone involved that anyone can stop the scene at any time, and they're all aware of *HOW* they can do that. Mostly what bothers me is seeing submissives winding up in situations where they are genuinely scared, and they can't get out. Either because the Dom refuses to stop, or because the sub has not been given a means of communicating that she wants out.

    Even TPEs -- arguably ESPECIALLY TPEs -- have safe words of some kind...or at least something that serves as an emergency exit for the submissive.

  3. I think this also gets in to how complex abuse and victimology can be, since in the scene I am thinking of it's always read as the "bottom" if you will being the actual aggressor. He wants to press the emotionally deficient guy over the edge and in to violence, and he pokes and prods and is violent himself until he gets exactly what he wants. It's a rape scene, but who is actually experiencing a violation is to me quite a bit more complex than a surface read would suggest.

    In the community I have seen situations where there was no safeword in TPE. Some people do feel it goes against the principles of TPE. It's not a one size fits all concept. Now, if an author wants me to read their dom in that situation as sympathetic, then yes I want evidence for the dom being considerate, caring, sensitive, and putting an end to scenes/situations that are harmful.

  4. I think the biggest thing is acknowledging that this kind of thing *IS* abuse. What bothers me is seeing blatant abuse in fiction, but it's not acknowledged as such. In ANY way.

    As for TPE, of course there's no one-size-fits-all. If there's no safe word or similar escape route, it's up to the author to make sure it's clear that the submissive is going into this willingly, and convey to the reader that everything is on the up and up. What I'm mostly getting at is situations where the participant giving up the power really does want out, but *can't* get out. Half the time, she didn't want to be involved in it in the first place.

    Of course there are complexities all along the kink spectrum, and every couple/group can and does establish their own rules, some of which may not appeal to all kink participants. There's no way I can encompass all of it in one blog entry. However, I have read far too many books where it is blatantly, indisputably, black and white, RAPE...and that's where my problem lies.

  5. Yes, sadly it seems to be a trend. There's this one author, very popular, twenty books in her series now, and people are still reading it when to me not only is it often very dub/non con presented as healthy, but the narrative just reeks of all kinds of -isms. When called out on a rape scene, she was surprised, saying she hadn't intended it that way. It saddens me that we live in a world still where a man sneaking in to the shower with a woman to have sex with her and does so even when she says no isn't perceived as a rape scene, even by its author.

  6. Ugh, no kidding. I've read a couple that are *INSANELY* popular, and it just baffles me that they do so well when they are clearly kidnap-and-rape scenarios. I mean, it's one thing if someone plans out a fake kidnap/rape scenario so someone can play out a rape fantasy under controlled conditions with trusted participants. It's another when someone takes it upon himself to kidnap someone and imprison her, force her to submit, etc., without getting her consent first. It's No, I can't accept that as being even remotely healthy.

  7. Lori, how do you suggest that authors acknowledge that kind of behavior as abuse? What if characters don't ever acknowledge it, or don't ever recognize it? This is always a head-scratcher to me. I want to maintain realism with characters in that I don't want to make them meta-voices, but I want to make it clear that certain types of behavior is not okay, either. A simpler but tangentially related instance might be Character A calling someone a nigger. Character A didn't do it by mistake, and he probably meant it as an insult. What if no other character really calls Character A out on it? In real life, this of course sometimes happens. How do you suggest authors handle issues like this?

  8. Vivien,

    The answers are as varied as the situations, but to keep it fairly brief...if it's an erotic romance situation, and the characters fall in love, live happily ever after, etc., when there is clearly rape and abuse going on, that's no more a happy ending than if a woman in a mainstream romance falls in love with a guy who beats her, you know? If it's an abusive, unhealthy situation, acknowledge it by getting the abused character out of it and into a truly happy relationship. If he's imprisoning and raping her, and she stays with him, that's not a happy ending, that's Stockholm Syndrome.

    I have one story of my own where the submissive is imprisoned and abused, and she gets her wits about her, gets out of it, and gets her life back. An abusive relationship -- sexual or otherwise -- can be acknowledged as such in fiction by NOT making that relationship the happy ending.

    As for your analogy, even if no character blatantly calls him out on it, no one is going to swoon over him for saying it. No one is going to fall in love with him after he calls someone that name repeatedly. If they do, the reader isn't going to buy it. By the same token, if a character is abusing another character, and the victim falls in love with him, your reader isn't going to buy that as a happy ending...but for some reason, it's acceptable as long as there's a BDSM label on it.