Giving Agency to Women in BDSM Erotica

I’m new to the erotica scene. Or more accurately the BDSM erotica scene. I had my fair share of romance novels back in the day. The ones where the hero ravishes her even though she’s telling him no. I’ve only recently come back to the fold with authors like Sarah MacLean giving the genre a new shine (hello consent!). But BDSM erotica was definitely not something I’d really experienced aside from reading Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy back in my early twenties for which I was extremely ill prepared for at the time. So when Tiffany Reisz was introduced it was an eye opener. I read The Siren, the first book in her Original Sinners series and oh wow.

There’s a lot about the book to talk about, but the thing that attracted me the most was the main character Nora’s ownership of her sexuality. This is no 25 year old virgin who flushes at the idea that she might have sexual feelings, a trope usually found in romances that frustrates me to no end. As soon as Nora is on the page she screams “Not only do I have sex and I enjoy it, but it’s kinky sex.” I was stunned. I’d never met a character like Nora in a vanilla romance novel. I was so stunned it took me a bit after I had finished the book to decide if I liked it (the book, not Nora’s sex positive attitude). Not only is Nora in full control of her sexuality, she’s also a professional dominatrix so she’s also “in control” of other people’s. I quickly read not only The Siren, but the rest of the series. Nora, throughout the series, continued to never doubt her sexual urges. She wrestled with a great number of other things, but not that.  This was amazing to me.

Audrey knows what I’m talking about

I was curious. Did other BDSM erotica writers also have their female characters doing the same thing? Is there something particular about BDSM in erotica that enables this easier by sheer necessity? I did a little nonfiction research because that’s how I roll and the answer was yes. BDSM requires consent from both sides, the submissive (sub) and the Dominate (Dom). The sub is pretty much required to own their sexuality since they have to tell their Dom what their limits are in the beginning (usually but not always done by a formal contract). To do this a sub has to own up to what rings their bells and what makes them flee.

Tickle torture? I’m out.

I hit up Reisz’s website and even the woman herself via Twitter for more recommendations to see if I could find this in other like books of the genre. Two of the names I received were Roni Loren and Cherise Sinclair. Loren writes a series called Loving on the Edge and Sinclair’s is called Club Shadowland respectively. As a note: both series feature women primarily in sub positions which is generally the case in real life. A sub position, most agree is the true power position in a D/s (Dom/sub) dynamic as they’re the ones with the safeword to make the action stop.

There were a few exceptions to the rule, but I did find that the majority of these women owned their sexuality. Even if at first they were a little skittish with the idea of BDSM, they usually started communicating their discomfort which allowed for their Doms to help them figure out how to embrace what they wanted. Often was the case the woman had been harboring the shame for feeling the way they do and the BDSM opened them up to owning their own personal kink or just that they liked sex in general. We have this habit in society to tell women they’re not sexy enough and then once they change to become “sexy” we call them sluts. This is reflected in our media including books.

Alison, you read my mind.

 One in particular that comes to mind is from Loren’s Melt into You. The main character, Evan is very sexual and kinky. She already knows this. The problem is that she’s marrying her best friend who is gay. He’s helped her out in the past and now she’s helping him by being his beard while he gets a television show being a relationship guru. The angst she suffers from the entire time has nothing to do with what she’s into sexually only that she’s in love with a childhood love again who broke her heart (and his best friend) and that she’ll hurt her fiancé. Even later in the series when Evan and her men make an appearance, you see how much she reveals in her sexuality.

I also saw a lot of body acceptance which tied to women claiming their sexuality. It’s hard to feel sexy if you feel you’re ugly. Rainie, in Cherise Sinclair’s Show Me, Baby: 1001 Dark Nights is more lushly built than what’s usually described in romance novels. Even though she struggles with it in flashbacks as a teen, in her adulthood she owns her body. And her Dom, adores her for every curve. This doesn’t happen very often in any genre. The last time I read a full figured character in romance whose lover makes it obvious he loves her for her was in Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me (Min + Cal 4ever!). I loved the ownership she had as she was putting on some sexy ensemble that highlighted her lushness. Also as her Dom points out, he needs a woman who is able to take the “attention” he doles out. A little twig of a woman probably wouldn’t fit that requirement he tells her.

The last example I found of a wonderful example of women owning their sexuality was in Stephan Šejić’s comic Sunstone which is about a lesbian BDSM couple. On both main character’s parts they own who they are and what turns them on. First timers in the lifestyle Ally has brief worries about her ability to Dom (it’s a lot of work, yo) and Lisa struggles with how private or public to make her relationship with Ally, but they have agency in their sexuality.

Have you found this to be the case in any other types of erotica? Do you have any other author recommendations?