Sunday, May 30, 2010

What Readers Want: BDSM

by Meghan Conrad

I ran the reader panel on BDSM at EC's RomantiCon 2009. The room was packed—we filled up quickly, brought in more chairs, and even then had people standing.

What Readers Dislike
  • Overly submissive heroines, especially ones who seem to need constant reassurance. Readers wanted the heroine to have a sense of self-worth without the constant praise of her master.
  • Overly controlling heroes/doms. The sub shouldn’t have to ask permission for everything—permission to go to the bathroom was mentioned by several people as a particular squick.
  • Humiliation for the sake of humiliation. Lifestyle humiliation is difficult for readers to buy into and, they said, pulls them out of the fantasy.
  • Doms who are very into degrading their subs. It seemed fine when it happened once in a while, but when it became a steady part of the relationship dynamic, readers were turned off.
  • Doms who cross boundaries they've specifically been asked not to cross.
  • Scenes with a ton of equipment, or scenes that require a diagram to figure out what’s where and who’s tied up with what.
  • Wham, bam, thank you ma’am sex—it needs to be clear that this is a relationship outside of the sexual relationship. Readers don’t find it believable when characters meet and jump right into heavy BDSM in the first scene.
  • “Young” characters—characters who don’t have the emotional, social, or intellectual development that you’d expect from an adult. Incredibly na├»ve heroines were mentioned specifically, as were characters who are so fucked up from previous hurts that they’re emotionally crippled.
  • Treating subs as animals (keeping them in a cage, for instance, or leashing them) was up there with bestiality on the list of do not want. Pet play was also mentioned repeatedly as a squick.
  • When the use of a safeword ends the scene or, worse, the relationship. Readers were quite adament that the safeword should end the act currently in progress, nothing else.

What Readers Like
  • Giving and caring male doms who are more about providing pleasure than punishment.
  • An exploration of the character’s motivations—why they’re into this lifestyle.
  • Showing the strength in submission
  • Use of non-specialized equipment: headboards, ropes, and handcuffs instead of St. Andrew’s crosses and bondage chairs.
  • Exploring the trust between the hero and heroine, making it clear that the trust has been earned, not just handed over.
  • Safewords were preferred by the vast majority, with readers commenting that the use of a safeword shows that the dom really cares for the sub.
  • Characters with full, interesting lives who have personalities and goals that are unrelated to their BDSM lifestyle. Being into BDSM should be one trait among many, and shouldn’t be the primary characteristic of the character.

Things Readers Want More Of
  • Fem dom was a surprisingly common request—well over half of the room said that this was on their wishlist.
  • Submissive alpha males
  • Thinky reads
  • More characterization
  • A closer look at the characters’ headspace. Readers commented that they like to spend scenes deep in someone’s head focusing on how that character feels, both emotionally and physically, and how they react; that detailed descriptions of sexual apparatus and what people are doing are less interesting to them than the emotional components of the scene.

9 comments:

Ms Snarky Pants said...

This all makes so much sense. I know I don't like reading stories where the woman is degraded. It irks me.

Dannah said...

I find it interesting that readers, and most devotees of BDSM dislike the SM part (I do, too).

Sadism and masochism rely on cruelty, and we don't want that--but by name we're asking for it.

We need a new acronym.

Desiree Holt said...

Thabnks, Meghan. I write a lot of BDSM and I stay away from the things the readers dislike because I don't like it, either. I printed this out to sue as a future guide. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

But some of us REALLY like and enjoy erotic humiliation and degradation when overall it is a game and there is love as well.
I wonder if people at a conference were scared to admit that openly. I don't think you would get honest responses in that kind of open forum.

Dannah said...

Well said, Anonymous. To each their own, eh? My point was just that in using the term BDSM as a 'catch-all' there is a level of misunderstanding.

My apologies if I did not state it clearly.

Anonymous said...

BDSM is my favorite genre of erotic fiction. My tastes apparently run harsher than your average readers (if, as Anonymous pointed out, they were being truly forthright). I resent books that promise BDSM but never really deliver (and there are a lot of those). I resent authors that try to explain a sub's preferences by some childhood issue, as though there were something inherently sick or wrong with it. I enjoy the psychological and emotional writings of Joey W. Hill (she's fantastic, isn't she!), but I wouldn't want all of my BDSM to be so heavy.

I like my Doms to be very dominant. I think the tricky part is that on one hand, they have to be sadistic to get off on what they're doing to their subs (don't do me any favors and pretend because that doesn't work for me) and yet they have to be respectful and loving at heart.

Good writers handle that--safe words or no, cages, leashes, etc. whatever. If the characters are real and the conflicts are real and the romance is real, then the fantasy is fantastic and hot and the harsher the elements the better.

Literotica.com BDSM category features many stories that EC would consider too harsh (and granted, the vast majority could use editing), but there are some wonderful, very hot and very romantic, very harsh stories.

So, while I may be in the minority of BDSM readers (or not, it was just a panel, after all), I'm hardly alone. At least there's me and the other Anonymous on this blog, right?

Dannah said...

I am loving this discussion!
Actually, I spoke with a few Doms this week and discussed the SM part of BDSM (research--I swear it was only research! lol!). One man made an interesting comment:
"I think there is a time and place for everything - and used as part of the path and used properly, SM can be of value. But sadism for the sake of being cruel? No, I see no purpose in that other than destruction."
Just some food for thought. Very good thoughts ;)

Annabel Joseph said...

I get frustrated as a BDSM romance reader because the BDSM in romance books is always so soft. It's like the "Dom" is so busy catering to the sub's needs and pleasures that the dynamic is skewed in the other direction, where the sub is the dom and the dom is the servant of the sub.

What I like is Doms taking what they want and subs surrendering it. (according to pre-negotiated limits, of course). In my books I try to make it clear, though, that what is going on is pleasurable to both parties. That the sub enjoys the pain, degradation, humiliation and/or not having her needs met at the dom's discretion, etc. I know that is hard for some readers to understand if what they really want is silk ties and fuzzy handcuffs, but I also know I have a pretty loyal niche of readers who are into the more intense BDSM play.

It is frustrating though because 95% of the BDSM romance out there is way too soft for me. And then I read things like this and realize it's because readers want it that way. :(

Debra Glass said...

I write light bdsm and enjoy exploring the characters' psyches, especially the heroine's.