Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Friday, January 15, 2016

What Spoils It: Carelessness in Doing BDSM

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.

16 comments:

  1. but what if the top is flawed? i find the concept of the flawed to be fascinating from the point of view of creating conflict in a story. just randomly careless wouldn't work for me either, but various terrible character traits causing tops to put the bottom in danger or make bottoms have to decide how to handle it...safeword, say no etc...that creates an interesting tension that can really propel a story forward. for BDSM stories, just as for any other erotic story, i'm not looking for instruction or moral values or education, i'm looking for a good read that turns me on. i'm turned on by what goes wrong more often than what goes right ;) if the character's supposed to have credibility as a dominant, then yes, i don't want them to be careless or thoughtless when it comes to their treatment of a submissive, but a flawed dominant is so much more exciting to me to read about and to write about.

    thank you for your post, Xan. i appreciate the opportunity to explore the topic. happy new year!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. & i love the idea of showing readers moments of carefulness. :)

      Delete
    2. Amanda,

      Thank for sharing your thoughts. I'm not interested in perfect characters, they are boring, honestly. I like characters with flaws and challenges, characters who make mistakes and struggle.

      I'm wondering what you mean by flawed, here, and what kind of terrible character traits you are thinking of? Abstraction around it is harder for me to respond to. Could you perhaps give an example or two? When you say you are excited by flawed dominants, what kinds of things are you thinking of?

      There are all kinds of risky things I'm hot for; I am an edge player & most of what I write is edge play. So there is danger there, for tops and bottoms, that they need to decide how to take care of themselves in the face of. That doesn't need carelessness, in my perception. The danger is inherent in the play. Also, tops might make mistakes that might increase danger for a bottom, even as they were being careful. They don't need to be careless for there to be danger or risk.

      I admit I don't find BDSM hot to read when people are careless with each other; top or bottom, I want characters who treat each other like human beings worthy of care and respect.

      I might want to find out what happens for characters that don't, but I honestly don't find stories like that hot and don't want the characters to be together or stay together. I don't find them more exciting to read or write, myself.

      Delete
    3. i once wrote a story about a man named Mephisto who was dominant but a megalomaniac, a cult figure. when i say flawed, i'm talking about emotionally or psychologically flawed. Hamlet's tragic flaw, for example, is indecisiveness. another character i wrote, a dominant in a story called The Travellers, which is in the ERWA treasure chest, is about a dominant who is an excellent dom, but in the rest of his life he is mild-mannered, very unnoticeable. if i were to rewrite the story now, i would have focused on the disconnect, on how being dominant helps him to leave behind his introspection. i'd love to write a dominant with autism or ocd.

      i haven't written any bdsm involving physical carelessness per se, but i written about emotional carelessness. i have a story called Sir North (also in the ERWA TC), where a sadist takes some dangerous risks. i am interested in psychologically or emotionally flawed characters & the tension such flaws create.

      i think there are two issues here: the idea of carelessless, (both emotional & physical) which to me could just be clumsy behaviour or the writer not knowing how to properly describe or depict bdsm. such as was the case for FSOG where Christian was artless at bondage at best. that's a turn off for sure.

      the 2nd issue is flawed characters, particularly dominants & submissives. i used to write my fantasy doms. there are lots of stories of mine where they appear, The Storyteller or Unravelling the Threads of An Ordinary Life (both in the ERWA TC); these were early stories. they turned me on & they turned readers on, which is great, but for me, i am more excited by characters who don't treat each other with respect or who transform from disrespect to respect. i want my characters to be complex & struggling. both as a reader & as a writer. i am bored to death by perfection. bdsm is often portrayed with this kind of perfection where everyone has a safe word, practices RACK or SSC & it's dull to me in fiction. fiction, for me, is a place to explore imperfection. my favourite erotica writer, Remittance Girl, explores a lot of these issues in her writing, works such as the Waiting Room & the Splinter. i could go on. the subject of flawed doms & subs would be an interesting one to pursue :)

      Delete
    4. my favourite BDSM book remains the Story of O. i started wanking to it in my late 20s. the dominants are cold & unfeeling; that was a turn on & still is. a lot of my favourite BDSM skirts around the edges of nonconsent or sometimes even crosses the line. i'm a fan of Bataille's the Story of the Eye where the corruptors of youth are young people themselves. & they are hopelessly fucked up. they transgress, they walk around naked, they use guns, they break a girl out of an insane asylum & manipulate her terribly. other books with flawed & awful characters who exercise control over naive subjects: The Whip Angels, Linda's Strange Vacation, the latter involving a lascivious uncle with a penchant for filth. sorry for the elaboration, just trying to find specific examples of flawed characters who play around with power exchange. none of these books would receive the official stamp of approval of real life practitioners of BDSM. i'm ok with that. :)

      Delete
    5. I immediately thought about "Sir North", Amanda, in reading your replies. That's such a powerful story--about a woman who deeply craves domination of the most violent and abasing sort, yet who realizes the man who has promised her this cares nothing for her--or her submission. I believe that the mark of a responsible Dom is his or her respect for what the sub is offering. A Dom that takes submission for granted is bad news.

      Delete
    6. thanks, Lisabet. good dom/ bad dom...i think in fiction all types of doms are possible. i find the idea of a bad dom has a lot more possibilities for intriguing fiction, at least for me as a reader & as a writer. bad news is exactly what i want in my fiction. dark, tawdry & conflict-ridden. in some ways a lot of contemporary BDSM reads like a Disney fairytale. not the Grimm Brothers version. the Dom is a handsome prince & the submissive his princess. they live happily ever after with a contract yada yada. this bores me to the core. i don't want to read about responsible doms. not saying there isn't room for that kind of BDSM erotica. there definitely is. but it shouldn't all have to be that way. the trend seems to be that it is & i find that disappointing. where do those of us go who want to sate our dark fantasies?

      Delete
    7. Amanda,
      After reading all of your comments, it is clear that you and I are not in agreement about many things around representation of BDSM in erotic fiction: our preferences, our reading experiences, our goals for our own BDSM erotic fiction. Personally, I do not find stories with characters who practice BDSM in a way that is disrespectful and irresponsible to be interesting, exciting, rare or hot. In my experience, these abusive behaviors abound in erotic fiction. They also abound in life, hurting many people along the way. That’s not the kind of representation I’m interested in as a reader or a writer.

      I do want to respond to a specific thing you said in more depth.

      Being nueroatypical (e.g. autistic or having OCD) is not a flaw. Naming these things as “flaws” is evoking a long legacy of ableism (and eugenics in particular). And it is hurtful.

      One of the things that happen to disabled and nueroatypical tops like me is that many people struggle to reconcile the reality of being disabled or nueroatypical with the idea that someone could be a dominant, or a sadist. This is partly because of the ways disability and neurodiversity are desexualized, and partly because the dominant image of tops is deeply ableist. I’ve written a lot about this, and about representation of disability in erotica, so much in fact that I’ve got a post that gathers some of those links on my website. (https://xanwest.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/on-writing-disability-in-erotica/) To be clear, despite the difficulty some may find to reconcile being a top and being disabled and/or neuroatypical, it is in fact very possible. I’m lucky enough to be in community with a wide range of disabled and nueroatypical tops.

      We do not only exist in life, but in erotic fiction as well.

      In my work, I endeavor to create erotica and erotic romance from my own perspective as a disabled and neuroatypical kink practitioner, work that centers disabled and nueroatypical people in our own stories about our own desire (often for each other), written specifically for disabled and nueroatypical readers. I endeavor to create stories where people like us trust each other to go to edgy and intense places in our kink, precisely because we are treating each other with respect, are doing kink in a responsible way, are being careful with each other. I am writing the kind of kink relationships I want to do and to see in the world—a hopeful vision of the ways that we can build community together, create accessible dungeons, care for ourselves and each other. I’m particularly excited about my work in progress, Shocking Violet, a queer poly BDSM romance novel centering nueroatypical characters, that repeatedly shows them practicing self-soothing and self-care, as they go about their lives and do their kinky relationships. Here is a post I wrote about that, which includes an excerpt. (https://xanwest.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/comfort-reading-an-excerpt-from-shocking-violet/)

      Delete
    8. Hi Amanda. First, to explain where I am coming from: I am not a frequent reader of erotica romance. I came to this blog since I follow Xan's writing with great interest, and read it wherever I might find it. In many ways your comments made me uncomfortable,
      and I think I would like to engage with these aspects, both as a writer of fantasy fiction in which kink relationships are explored, as a person who appreciates the tremendous value of Xan's writing, and as an autistic person.

      First of all, I am disturbed by a parallel you seem to be drawing between being a dominant who is "emotionally or psychologically flawed" (perhaps uncaring or callous), and being autistic or having
      OCD. I know many kinky autistics, and far from being careless, these are some of the more careful, considerate people who constantly examine their behaviors - since being autistic a lot of times
      correlates with being in abusive situations. As an autistic person, being assumed to be emotionally or psychologically flawed" in the context of any relationship dynamic feels really othering and
      uncomfortable to me.

      Second, I do find responsible dominants and responsible submissives exciting. Kink relationships exist in real life, yet portrayals of caring and responsible relationships (as opposed to abusive dynamics) are rare. For people like me, Xan's book is of tremendous value in highlighting the potentials of non-abusive, considered and respectful relationships
      between people whom you may perhaps label "deeply flawed" - marginalized people of all kinds including trauma survivors, and/or people who are neuroatypical. When one comes from a lifetime of othering and trauma, a wish-fulfillment fantasy involves non-abusive relationships in kink context. It gives one hope and respite, and it is anything but
      boring. If you haven't yet, I'd encourage you to give Xan's work a try.

      Third, as a writer, I resist the equating of "good" with boring and "bad" with exciting. There are endless ways to write a non-abusive character who struggles and makes mistakes in relationships, and/or
      faces tremendous external obstacles, from which narrative tension can be derived. Personally I am intrigued by deeply nuanced representations of lives - real and fantastical - in which conflict does not stem from an abusive dynamic.

      Delete
    9. my apologies for the mischaracterization of OCD & Autism as flaws.

      Delete
  2. Hi Xan, thank you for the fantastic, thought-provoking post! I completely agree that carelessness in kink scenes is a huge turn-off.

    A friend just linked me to this, because I'm actually working on a post that's tangentially related to this topic, discussing how poorly-written BDSM erotica can actually be dangerous, because readers accept it as real and legitimized, and may attempt to copy play that is not safe to practice. I would love to talk to you about it if you're interested and willing!

    Thank you again for the post, this was really fantastic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment; so glad you appreciated the post! I'd be happy to discuss it with you. I just reached out to you over twitter so we can connect that way.

      You may find this post of mine on realism in BDSM erotica of interest:
      https://xanwest.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/how-much-realism-should-be-part-of-bdsm-erotica/

      Delete
    2. ps- i read your post above. i do like the idea of portraying characters not often portrayed by mainstream, if we can call it that, BDSM fiction.

      Delete
  3. Xan, I don't have nearly the real world experience with kink that you do, but I have the same reaction. I was reading a BDSM erotic romance by an author whose work I normally like, really enjoying the tale. Then she had the Dom cane the sub, during the first scene they'd ever done together. The sub passed out from the pain (probably realistic). I was appalled. The Dom later excused himself with the claim that he'd thought the sub was more experienced, but I just didn't buy that. This incident really spoiled the book for me.

    There's a style of BDSM fiction that's very cold, treating submissives as interchangeable objects, and the whole process as being about physical pain. My reactions to that sort of kink range from boredom to distress, depending on just how much abuse is heaped upon the sub. In contrast, I love stories where the complicated emotions are front and center, and yes, stories about Doms who have some insecurities, who aren't plastic alphas who never make mistakes.

    My new novel, out next week, features a virgin Dom, a guy who has spent years studying sex, porn and kink and now, finally, has a chance to try out all the things he's read and dreamed about. He alternates between mad triumph and deep self doubt.

    Great, great topic!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. in fiction, i get off on the cold doms & the objectification of submissives myself. i also enjoy submissives who say no when they feel they aren't being treated properly. or bratty submissives or submissives who don't properly do what they're told for a variety of reasons. i think there's a lot of play with the whole BDSM genre possible. for me the importance is to write fiction. it can be realistic but it needs tension. i don't find tension in well-behaved characters, whatever they're orientation.

      Delete