Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A few words about consent and submission.

It's been about three months since my last rant about BDSM, and less than 24 hours since my last rant. Clearly, it's time for another.

And, just as I did with the previous BDSM rant, here is a nice little disclaimer:

DISCLAIMER: This blog entry discusses BDSM, rape, and other topics relating to sexual activity, sexual assault, and erotic fiction. If you find this topic objectionable, click away now. Also, for the sake of brevity, I generally refer to Doms/Masters as male and subs/slaves as female. Obviously the genders can be reversed, or they can be the same gender. Ditto with comments about sexual assault; I refer to male rapists/female victims, but this is only for simplicity's sake.

Now, with that out of the way.

In the world of erotic fiction, there seems to be some confusion about the grey area between rape and BDSM. Part of this confusion stems, I believe, from the fact that there is no fucking grey area. There's a big, fat, solid black line clearly dividing the two.

Just to be clear, here are two visual representations of how rape and BDSM relate to one another.

Pretty simple concept. So why, my loyal blog minions, are there so many books out there that are essentially rape fiction masquerading as BDSM? And why are they not only selling like hotcakes, but receiving positive reviews? This isn't a subjective case of "I don't like it, why does everyone else like it?" Opinions are what they are. Writing about rape and calling it BDSM Romance goes above and beyond offending my personal taste. I think it's dangerous because a lot of readers may be curious about - and clueless about - BDSM. They may read these books and think these practices are okay. Ideal, even. If they decide to explore that curiosity, they might not know the difference between an intense scene and finding themselves in a dangerous situation.

Think I'm exaggerating? That these things don't really happen? Tell that to a friend of a friend who was recently sexually assaulted by a dickwad who called himself a Dom. Fortunately, she was an experienced sub, knew something was wrong, and managed to escape, but not before he put her through some serious hell. Imagine, for a moment, if a novice sub had been in her position, and her only information about BDSM had come from reading stories like this?

Of course I firmly believe people should do their homework and research these things. It's the responsibility of the reader to know fact from fantasy, and research accordingly before applying that fact or fantasy to real life. It's not up to the authors of fiction to educate the populace, it's our job to entertain. It's fiction, it's fantasy. But what is gained by portraying, in book after book after book, BDSM as rape?

At best, it demonizes BDSM. At worst, it glorifies rape.

BDSM is supposed to be safe, sane, and consensual. I'm sick and tired of it being portrayed as unsafe, insane, and non-consensual, but not labeled accordingly. If a writer wants to write a dark story about a submissive being abused, raped, etc., fine. But don't call it a romance, and don't try to tell me the situation is positive in any way.

One particularly unsettling trend is that of the Master who knows the heroine really, really wants to be a submissive or slave. And he knows this either before she tells him so, or before she even knows it about herself. This in and of itself is okay. In fact, it's the perfect setup for a patient, conscientious Dom to carefully and sanely coax the sub out of her.

The disturbing thing is how this setup plays out in numerous books.

Our hero, the clairvoyant Master, obtains the sub-to-be. "Obtaining" her can involve coercion, deceit, or outright kidnapping. Now, normally this would be a terrible thing to do to someone, but she secretly wants it, so she doesn't really fight that much, even when it's painful and/or terrifying. Even when she's fighting tooth and nail, in the back of her mind, she's secretly excited.

Sick to your stomach yet? It gets better.

Once he has her in his clutches, the Master breaks her. He forces her to submit and obey. He punishes her when she doesn't, rewards her (sort of) when she finally does. He binds her, abandons her (sometimes while bound), forces her to endure or actively engage in all kinds of sexual acts. He causes her pain, fear, shame, etc. Sometimes he brings in additional partners to have their way with her, regardless of what she has to say in the matter. Sometimes she'll just quietly take it because she's so ashamed (either of her deep dark desires or her predicament), other times she'll protest loudly until she's gagged, exhausted, too broken down, or he's finished with her for the time being.

Eventually, she willingly surrenders, embraces his domination, thanks him for bringing this out of her, and ultimately falls in Stockholm Syndrome with him. Er, I mean, falls in love with him.

And all the while, up until she finally breaks, she is scared, hurting...and, deep down, excited.

Which makes it okay, right?

Of course. And when a woman has an orgasm while she's being raped, it's not rape anymore, right?

Yeah, I thought not.

People, Masters do not break slaves. Not like that, anyway. Master/slave relationships are entered into consensually, with the slave being completely aware of what she's getting into and how to get out if she is so inclined. The rules are laid out up front. If the Master brings a new sexual partner into the mix, he does so knowing she is agreeable to this, because they discussed it before entering into the Master/slave relationship. If he ties her, leaves her alone, punishes her, hurts her, hits her, or whatever, he does so with her conditional consent given in the beginning.

Sex is an "opt in" activity, not "opt out." Meaning all participants must consent - fully - prior to commencing any activities. And that consent can be revoked. "Stop", "No", "Get the fuck off me, you Neanderthal", or similar such statements can end a sexual encounter that's already begun, and continuing with it in spite of her protests (unless there is an agreed upon safe word that hasn't yet been used, and things are still proceeding according to agreed upon rules) turns a sexual encounter into a sexual assault.

Why the fuck do people think this changes with BDSM? Sex without consent is rape. Sexual activities of any kind without consent are sexual assault. These are crimes, people.

If a submissive is forced to submit to a Dom, and she has not given consent, then it is no different than a rapist forcing a woman to have sex with him. If a slave is forced to bend to the will of a Master with whom she has not agreed to enter into a Master/slave relationship, then it is no different than being held prisoner by the aforementioned rapist. If she ultimately falls in love with him, especially if it's because of what he's done to her and "brought out of her", then this is nothing short of Stockholm Syndrome.

This trend glorifies sexual assault and calls it romance.

This trend portrays BDSM as synonymous with rape.

This trend is dangerous and disgusting.

I can grudgingly live with the trend I ranted about yesterday, with wealthy jackasses knocking women up. It bugs the hell out of me, but this appalling nonsense is not something I will just quietly ignore.


  1. People who really know anything about the lifestyle realize that it's the sub who is REALLY in control. Glorifying rape as having ANYTHING to do with BDSM is just rank, and wrong, and disgusting.

  2. I have nothing to add but my complete agreement.

    If it makes me (us?) arrogant to say books like the ones you're referring to are sexually-deviant SHITE, then I'll own up to being arrogant. I could write a better book standing on my head.

    What you're describing is rape, pure and simple. To dress it up as sexually arousing erotica is a lie, a lie, a lie.

  3. Stockholm Syndrome was my first reaction to the situation you described. It's what happens when someone goes into survival mode and does whatever they need to in order to survive; their "real" psyche takes a backseat so it doesn't crack completely.

    And I think "falling in Stockholm Syndrome" is one of the best descriptors I've ever seen.

    Granted, I don't read erotica, so maybe my opinions don't mean anything to those who like these kinds of stories. But the (very) little I know about BDSM involves consent and the presence of a safe word/out in case the scene is beyond the Sub's present comfort level. Rape is the absolute opposite of that.

    I think you could spin a story so someone being abused is made to believe he/she is a willing participant, but it should be clear to the reader that this is a false belief and once the victim is out of the rapist's control, they should come to see that as well.

    This topic reminds me of something I was discussing from a YA novel with a moon-eyed teen who thought the "hero" was simply amazing. He was "super strong", so it was "great" of him to think about drugging his girlfriend before sex. That way she wouldn't get hurt. Nevermind that the drug was strong enough to make her completely loopy and there was no way to say No if she wanted to. "She was totally okay with it because he was her boyfriend and they were in love!!! Besides, he got it from a doctor so it was totally safe."

    No, the freak should have asked first. That's what someone who was in love would have done. (And yes, I meant FREAK. Anyone who drugs their S.O. with the intent of having sex without prior consent is a freak/criminal.)

    Terrific post. Well thought out. Well presented. Well said.

  4. Granted, I don't read erotica, so maybe my opinions don't mean anything to those who like these kinds of stories. But the (very) little I know about BDSM involves consent and the presence of a safe word/out in case the scene is beyond the Sub's present comfort level. Rape is the absolute opposite of that.

    You might think you know little about BDSM, but the above shows you know enough.

    Consent is everything. If a regular reader of BDSM fiction (and I am one) disagrees, they are in the wrong, not you.

    Sex without consent is rape. End of story.

  5. I'm with Scarlett on this, Josin...you know more than enough about BDSM. More than a lot of these authors, apparently.

    I think it's time for this trend to change, and hopefully I can do my small part to help that along. Once I finish my current novella, I'm on to my second BDSM novel, which directly addresses this.

  6. Great post. I can't be more pleased to finally see something true and so well explained about bdsm. It is such an awful thing read online so many bullshits about bdsm culture. The most disgusting thing is Google bdsm and see the images related. Also the pages on facebook are not better. Full of bullshits showing basically rapes, violence and degradation of women. It looks sexist and absolutely homophobic. This is not what bdsm is. I hope to read more from you soon.

  7. what the actual hell people read this stuff i mean seriously, i've read eroticas before not many but the one i read is nothing but consent people should really research more about BSDM before leaping into what they think they know it is, like honestly are people that naive, there are sooo many different types of BDSM and all people tend to assoicate with it is bondage and pain like unless expressed intenions sex isnt even a part of it, like if u wanted to idk go mountain climbing for literally the first time ever u dont just get some trainers, water bottle and sport outfit and be like lets do this without any proper research or gear. Christ these authors really need to educate themselves about the lifstyle before babbling some BS about it