Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Representation of Novices in BDSM Erotica & Erotic Romance

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 centekink 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!

5 comments:

  1. (If this posts twice, apologies) Would you like to take a look at Black Heart? http://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Heart-Zak-Jane-Keir-ebook/dp/B00EALIOAI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1395449200&sr=1-1&keywords=black+heart+zak+jane+keir It features a lot of the stuff you mention.

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  2. I'm currently doing rewrites on a werewolf erotic horror novel called 'Wolfgang,' in which the titular character is tormented by guilt over all the people he's killed. He has a prostitute be a top for him, tying him up, flogging him with a rider crop, pouring hot wax on him, and even peeing and crapping on him, to assuage his guilt. She's never done any of this before, and along with her own emotional issues (being sexually abused by her father), the 18-year-old has to struggle with her own feelings about doing these things with the man.

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  3. I definitely agree with you, Xan. If I read one more virginal "natural" sub, I think I may upchuck.

    You should check out my latest novel, The Gazillionaire and the Virgin. In fact, it features exactly the scenario you describe, a nerd who has been drawn to kink (especially bondage) for as long as he can remember, but who's too shy and socially awkward to act on his fantasies. (In fact, he's borderline Asperger's and has a touch of OCD). So he does extensive research and masturbates--until he gets together with the heroine, an experienced (and rather bossy) bottom who recognizes (belatedly) his Dom instincts. A VERY different book.

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  4. As usual, I found your post stimulating in one of my favorite ways -- the combination of erotic, intellectual, and practical. This time, you've also helped me break through my writer's block. I've been in two relationships as a semi-reluctant novice dom, both involving people with whom I was well-matched in experience as a submissive, but who wanted to submit to me. There has to be a story or two in there.

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  5. I've had a different but parallel lingering thought of late, Xan. I've encountered a number of old friends scaling way back on kink because of aging issues. The deepest of these situations involves flagging desire, sometimes affecting some of the most versatile, experienced kinksters I've known. My own libido had changed as well with menopause and with it, the nature of play and desire.

    Like you, I've longed to find storytelling that explores, confirms, and celebrates the nature of change. I'm not far enough into this thought process of mine to lay out a platform like you have here, but you've given me the urge to create a path to it. Thank you!

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