By Lisabet Sarai
"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. If you want examples of what I mean, you might want toread this excerpt (X-rated) from my erotic romance novel Raw Silk. Or this one from my recent release The Understudy.
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 sensitivitylevels. 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", coming soon in my new collection of the same name, that illustrates this point
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 Valentines to one another. And every time I write a BDSM scene, I think of him, with gratitude and love.
CONTEST ANNOUNCEMENT! To help celebrate Valentine's Day, I'm giving away a copy of my latest release Almost Home, a M/M/F contemporary ménage, to someone who reads my posts here on the Whipped Cream blog. All you have to do to enter is send me an email, to contest [at] lisabetsarai.com, with the subject line: "Whipped Cream Valentines Contest". I'll randomly select one lucky reader on Valentine's Day!