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:
- Chains Required...Rants Optional
- A Few Words About Consent & Submission
- To All BDSM Authors...
- Guest post on Evie Balos's blog.
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 BDSM...it's rape fantasy.
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.