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17.1.08

BDSM and Romance


"BDSM? Yuck!" I have the impression that this represents the reaction of many romance readers when someone offers them a title that includes Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, or Masochism. What is romantic about pain, suffering and humiliation? Why would anyone enjoy reading about whippings, spankings, restraints that contort the body into embarrassing and awkward positions, severe punishments that are administered in response to the tiniest lapse in obedience?

My personal position is that BDSM literature (sometimes labeled D/s - Dominance and submission) can be as emotionally satisfying and erotically charged as any romance - perhaps more so (for people like me, at least!) What are my qualifications for making this statement? I'm not a part of the BDSM "scene". I don't practice "lifestyle" BDSM. I've experienced one extremely intense, long-term D/s relationship that profoundly changed my world view and that influenced me to begin writing erotica about ten years ago. Since then I've written two BDSM novels and dozens of short stories and chapters with BDSM elements, as well as co-editing Sacred Exchange, a collection of stories by other authors exploring the spiritual and mystical aspects of dominance and submisssion.

For me, the essence of a D/s relationship lies in the emotional bond between the dominant and the submissive. The physical trappings and conventional activities - the riding crop and the gag, the handcuffs and the nipple clamps, the whippings and the binding - are side issues, merely the methods chosen to express, explore, and strengthen the bond. Others may associate BDSM with humiliation, cruelty, abuse, and agony. In my view, BDSM is about devotion, commitment, trust, and ecstasy.

A caveat: not everyone agrees with me. (My husband would be amazed to hear me admit that!) Some readers prefer their BDSM rough, with an edge of real cruelty that would definitely limit my enjoyment. For some people, the objects of discipline themselves hold a fetishistic attraction. There's also a tendency in some romance writing to play with BDSM paraphernalia in vanilla relationships, where blindfolds and bonds function as sex toys to enhance the excitement of the participants. The BDSM that I write, however, and that I enjoy reading, focuses primarily on the connection between the characters in the "power exchange".

What do I mean by "power exchange"? This D/s jargon refers to the fact that submissive voluntarily gives up control to the dominant. In return, the dominant accepts responsibility for the submissive's well-being and ultimately, for his or her pleasure. The sub surrenders herself to the dom, in devotion and trust. (For now I'll assume a female submissive. I've written both male- and female-dominant tales, as well as some lesbian D/s, but it gets awkward to keep using multiple pronouns!) The dom can do whatever he wants with the sub; she has, after all, given her consent. He has the intoxicating knowledge that by taking what he desires, he will also give his sub what she most craves: the satisfaction of pleasing her master and the freedom to experience her most intimate fantasies of ravishment and abuse.

As usual, I'm getting pedantic here, so let me give you an example, from Raw Silk.



He carried her over to the bed and laid her down on her back. “Lift your arms above your head,” he commanded. As she complied, her hand brushed against something, dangling from the headboard. She turned to look at the braided ropes of red silk, fastened to the rattan spokes, and suddenly understood why Gregory had disappeared when she first arrived. A few things to attend to, he had said. So he had left her with his lady co-conspirator, trusting his comrade and the performance to inflame Kate”s senses and imagination, while he came and installed these bonds.

Gregory watched the comprehension dawning in her eyes. “Yes, Kate. I prepared these for you. Only for you.”

He leaned closer. “I want to tie you here, hand and foot, so that you will be more completely at my disposal. I believe that you want that, too. But you must tell me so. I will not do this without your permission.”

Kate was silent. She had never been so unsure in her life. Fear, suspicion, shame, and distrust warred with curiosity and desire. In his arms she had felt both sheltered and helpless, and she longed for those feelings again. Yet he was essentially a stranger, she reminded herself, a stranger with a shady profession and an unsavoury reputation.

When she looked him, though, she saw concern and attentiveness in his eyes, even though his cock still pulsed hugely from his fly. The sight of his manhood sent a delicious weakness through her limbs. I must be crazy, she thought to herself, as she nodded her assent.

“Do it,”, she murmured, and did not trust herself to say anymore.

With expert skill, he bound her wrists with the silken braids. “Silk is a marvellous substance,” he commented. “So soft, but incredibly strong. Like you, my little Kate. I know that you can endure much, Kate. Much more than you would believe.”

Kate shivered, wondering exactly what he meant. He was working on her ankles now, in a business-like fashion, leaving her knees bent and open so that her sex was spread wide. Every time he touched her, heat traveled through her to that burning centre, still sensitive and hungry from her earlier ministrations. She squirmed a bit, involuntarily pushing her pelvis toward him.

“Be still,” he said sharply. “Be patient. You must learn to wait.”

Finally, she was bound, restrained from all but the most subtle movements. She found she was panting. Gregory stood at the foot of the bed, admiring her, or his handiwork.

“Excellent. Just as I imagined.”

He began to remove his clothes. Her eyes followed his every gesture. When he dropped his shirt to the floor, Kate sucked in her breath. Marshall's left arm, from shoulder to wrist, was elaborately and beautifully tattooed. A pattern of multicolorcoloured flames writhed over his flesh, scarlet, green and turquoise. A trick of the flashing neon, or perhaps simply the motion of his muscles, made the flames dance across his flesh as if they were consuming him. A similar flame flickered in his blue eyes as he pulled off his trousers.

He mounted the bed and straddled her with his thighs. His engorged penis hovered above her body. Despite herself, she writhed a bit below him. In response, he leaned over and pinched both her nipples, hard enough that she cried out.

“Still, I said! You are mine now, mine to do as I wish. I will fuck you, or not fuck you, as I please.”

“But,” he added, smiling, “I do please.”


The excerpt above illustrates another aspect of D/s that I personally find incredibly arousing. The submissive's act of consent does more than initiate the power exchange. It is also an admission of desires that are viewed as abnormal and forbidden. To voluntarily request domination can be difficult, embarrassing and humiliating. The dom, though, is a fellow deviant, a co-conspirator in pleasure. The confession of taboo fantasies strengthens the bond. Only in the approving presence of her Master is the submissive free to expose her shameful secrets.

Another example, from Rendezvous:




I swallowed hard. I was so turned on that I forgot to be frightened. “Murdered! And now you're condemned to haunt this room forever?”

“So it seems. I really don’t know. I never remember, when I appear, what happened the last time I was here.”

“You won't remember me.” The thought was like a knife in my chest.

“Most likely not, Rebecca.” I could imagine him smiling, sadly.

“How — can you read my mind? Is that how you know my name?” I blushed furiously. If he could hear my thoughts, he'd know all the wild, wicked things I was picturing at the moment.

“I read your credit card when you checked in.” He laughed. “I don't seem to possess any powers now that I didn't have when I was alive.” I felt his cool palm briefly caress my cheek. “But I'll bet that I can tell you what you're thinking now.”

His hand traveled downward, between my breasts, across my belly. I held my breath, waiting for him to reach my sex. He brushed his palm, ever so lightly, over the tangle of blonde curls there, then his hand was gone. Pleasure fluttered through me, expanding like ripples on a pond.

“So, what am I thinking?” My voice caught in my throat.

“You have to tell me, my sweet. You have to ask for what you want.”

“I can't.” I reached out blindly and managed to grab hold of his arm. “Please...”

“Tell me.” He shook off my hand, then gripped my wrist tightly. His voice held a new sternness. “Tell me, or I'll leave.”

“No, don't go! Please!”

He seized my other wrist. “Say it, Rebecca. You can trust me. Tell me what you want from me.”

“I ... I want... You should ... do those things to me, the things you used to do.”

“Things?” I could hear him mocking me. I squirmed in his inexorable grip.

“You know what I mean.” His silence made it clear that he wouldn't not be satisfied by my vagueness.

“I — you — ” I struggled, trying to get the words out. “Tie me up, Tony. Tie me to the bed, beat me, use me any way you want. Fuck me so hard that I'll never be free of your memory. Even if you forget about me.”

“Can I hang you from that hook in the ceiling?” Something drew my eyes to the far corner, where there was indeed a steel hook embedded in the discoloured plaster. Installed, perhaps, for his past assignations? I wondered what it would feel like, to dangle there, while he did whatever he pleased with my helpless body.

Lust raced through me, followed by shame. I swallowed nervously. “Yes.”

“Or what if I bend you over the chair back and spank you till your butt is raw? How about screwing you with an ice cold beer bottle? Can I do that?” I nodded, unable to frame the words.

“And if I feel like taking you in the ass, forcing my cock into your rear hole and making you scream from the pain and the dirty pleasure –— do you want me to do that?"

The image almost made me faint. I could almost feel the implacable hardness of his cock, pressing against my back door. My cunt twitched, anticipating the roar of sensation when he drove himself into my bowels.

“Whatever you want.”

“But what do you want, Rebecca?”

I was silent. I still couldn’t admit how much I craved this defilement.

“Rebecca! It’s not enough to merely consent. You’ve got to ask. To beg me!”

The fact that I craved such things was somehow even more humiliating and arousing than the acts themselves. I had absolutely zero past experience with anything kinky. Where did these dark desires come from?

Wherever their source, from hell or from my unconscious, I couldn’t deny them. Halloween, as usual, had transformed me.

“Please,” I whispered, grateful that I didn’t have to look into his eyes. “Take me. Use me. Make me your slut.”




But what about the pain? Intense emotional connection, trust, devotion, that all sounds wonderful, but is it worth suffering beneath the lash, enduring the ropes biting into your flesh?

I don't particularly seek out pain (though I understand that some BDSM practitioners do). In any case, pain is a strange thing. It depends on expectations as much as on reality. I have read that native American women did not experience any pain at childbirth because their culture viewed labor and delivery as joyous and easy. (Those of you who are mothers might be skeptical.) In any case, during a D/s scene, when you are unbelievably turned-on, pain does not necessarily feel bad. For one thing, elevated levels of endorphins (yikes, there's the pedant again!) decrease pain sensitivity levels. Whip strokes and spankings stimulate the senses - it is the mind that translates them as pleasure or pain, or sometimes both at once.

Here's a final excerpt, from "Body Electric", due to appear soon in Yes, Sir: Erotic Tales of Male Dominance and Female Submission, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel:




I shook my head. My legs were spread wide, my cunt-lips stretched open, baring my throbbing clit to tremble in random air currents. The sheet beneath me was soaked with my secretions. Do something, I thought. Anything.

He returned to his attaché case. There was a strange noise, a kind of hissing or snapping. "I thought we might begin with this little gadget."

The thing in his hands looked like something from a 1940's horror film. It had a handle, topped with a mushroom-shaped globe of glass that glowed with a malevolent purple light. Inside the glass, bright sparks danced. Their images flickered on the wall next to the bed.

Slowly, he brought the bulb closer to my bare flesh. The crackling noise grew more intense. He hovered above my nipple. "Don't move," he whispered.

All at once a rain of sparks shot from the tube to the taut node of flesh. I was being pierced with a thousand needles. I screamed, as much from surprise as from the pain. Ryan pulled the device away, as I tried to catch my breath.

"Colette?"

"Sorry, Doctor. I wasn't expecting..." Before I could finish, his mouth was on my recently assaulting nipple, lapping and sucking, soaking my skin with his hot saliva. I felt every movement of his tongue deep in my cunt. When he brought the glowing globe close again, I thought I was ready. This time, though, the sparks were stronger, hotter, more painful. Electricity crawled over my breast, wherever he had left traces of wetness.

Before I could recover, he was sparking my other nipple. I jumped and squirmed. My cunt contracted with each contact. He stroked by stomach. "You're all sweaty," he said. The thing sputtered and popped. Miniature bolts of lightning showered down on my navel. "And your thighs are smeared with cunt-juice..." He swept the wand slowly over my body and a long trail of sparks stitched up the sensitive skin toward my gaping sex.

"I've always been fascinated by electricity," he said in a conversational tone as the bulb approached my cunt. I tensed, waiting for the jolt I knew would come. Nothing could have prepared me for the raw sensations. Sparks danced on my clit and sputtered among my wet folds. I screamed again, overwhelmed, confused as to whether I was in terrible pain or close to climax.




Have I convinced you that dominance and submission can be romantic? If not, perhaps you'd be interested to know that, although I live half a world away from him, and am married to another man, my Master and I still send each other Valentines. And every time I write a BDSM scene, I think of him, with gratitude and love.

11 comments:

Nina Pierce said...

Lisabet... your excerpts are wonderful. *sigh* This whole BDSM culture fascinates me. I've often wondered about the pain aspect, but you've explained it so well. Wonderful blog today.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks, Nina,

I don't really know much about "BDSM culture" - only my own experiences and imagination. Enough to fuel many stories, though!

acagedheart said...

Beautifully said, thank you for helping to explain the fascinations and pleasures of alternative relationships. I, too, find the utmost pleasure in the power exchange dynamic of D/s, and while we play hard and love hard, pain is not an issue, lol.

Kate R said...

I'm a regular reader of Mistress Matisse and Monk's blogs, so I've understood the point, but your entry helps, too.

Jim said...

Lisabet... excellent blogging! Some very hot excerpts and interesting observations. One of the stories I write for fun has a lot of BDSM (albeit light BDSM) in it, as well as a completely fictional setup for BDSM society/culture (as I've been told Many Times). It is a fascinating world to play in.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

There are things I'm not sure about but luckily I know two other authors online who give me a little nudge in the right direction.
I get very weird characters who are much more willing to delve into the power exchange you're talking about than I am.
One was sensory deprivation. I didn't know anything about it and my character just kept at me. The strange thing was when I checked the details with someone experienced in the BDSM lifestyle, my character was right on.
Great post!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Jennifer - I've never written a sensory deprivation scene, but I've read quite a few. Anything that enhances the sense of helplessness on the part of the sub, or the feeling of dependency on the dom, may work.

Preferences vary quite a lot, though, I believe.

Ashley Ladd said...

Very interesting. This makes me feel as if I've been living in an extremely vanilla world. I can see there's a lot I've been missing.

Hot excerpts! I can't wait to read more.

Portia Da Costa said...

Fabulous post, Lisabet. And wonderful excerpts... but then you're a shining star in this particular sub genre.

This quote of yours perfectly expresses what I feel when I write BDSM:

"For me, the essence of a D/s relationship lies in the emotional bond between the dominant and the submissive. The physical trappings and conventional activities - the riding crop and the gag, the handcuffs and the nipple clamps, the whippings and the binding - are side issues, merely the methods chosen to express, explore, and strengthen the bond. Others may associate BDSM with humiliation, cruelty, abuse, and agony. In my view, BDSM is about devotion, commitment, trust, and ecstasy."

Awesomely put! I wish *I'd* said it...

Thanks again for a marvellous, thoughtful post.

Katrina Strauss said...

Lisabet,

Very nice excerpts, and I wholeheartedly agree with your approach. I don't think BDSM should be anything *but* romantic, whether in my marriage or in my books. As writers wishing to convey this, I think it is indeed important that we step beyond the physical and the toys and truly get inside our characters heads to show the psychological dynamics at work. It not only allows those in the lifestyle to grin and nod and say "Yes, I can identify!", but it provides an opportunity to educate those who wonder just why some of us prefer our lovemaking on the rough side. Anyone who argues that BDSM elements in a story automatically equate as "erotica" and cannot also be considered "romance" needs to understand that just because it is not "romance" to them, does not mean it isn't romance to others. On that same token, I don't think all BDSM authors take pains (haha, yes pun intended) to really show the romantic aspects of BDSM -- but hey, more work for us! ;)

Kate R said...

PS What Wendy/Portia said!