Friday, April 5, 2013

Frisky Friday - Limit Negotiations in BDSM Fiction

I'm going to crawl out on a limb, here.  I recently read a couple of M/F BDSM stories where the dominant blatantly disregarded the submissive's set of limits.  By blatant I mean he ripped them up in front of her.  Okay, yes, it's fiction, and I understand the reasons in both cases, but it still bothered me.  Why?  Because the hero was basically saying "I know you better than you know yourself, so we'll play by my rules, not yours.  Take it or leave it.  No negotiation."

Problem was they'd just met that day.  A bit presumptuous, don't you think?

I do realize having a dominant take total control is a fantasy come true for some readers.  In erotic fiction, we want the hero, or Dom, to intuitively sense his lady's deepest desires and know without a doubt what it is she needs and desires, even if she doesn't.  The notion that someone has the ability to fathom our secret fantasies and bring them to fruition is sexy.  But shouldn't he at least know her name, first?  Okay, I exaggerate, but my point is that reality is different from fiction.  And a fantasy on the page could be a nightmare in real life.

Take-charge heroes get my juices flowing, and I enjoy reading stories with them.  However, I also want said hero to value the woman along with her limits.  Because respect is an important issue for me, I'm not a fan of stories where the hero or dominant enjoys humiliating the heroine or submissive, even if she seeks the treatment.  Nor do I especially like stories where the man believes his pleasure is more important than hers.  And a side dish often served with that premise is discomfort.  Yes, pleasure can be received through pain and discomfort, but soreness and irritation can diminish pleasure as well.  So, where do you draw the line?

In her article on the subject, Lisabet Sarai says, "A sub experiences satisfaction and pleasure in surrendering to a master or mistress. Part of the excitement derives from uncertainty. The ideal is that the dominant should do whatever he or she pleases, subject only to the submissive's hard limits and governed by the safe word."  She goes on to say (and I'm paraphrasing) that a checklist tends to dull the thrill of play.

I understand and agree.  The act of total surrender, for some submissives, can offer the ultimate in satisfaction along with a sense of pride.  But that isn't true for all.  Nor should it be.  For some, the pride and satisfaction comes from pleasing the other person, which does not always involve surrendering.

In one story I read, the submissive had been wearing a large butt plug for most of the day and it had grown uncomfortable, so she asked for permission to remove it.  When the dominant asked her why, and she told him, his response was, "Ah. So your comfort is the most important thing?"  A part of me was thinking, "Yes, and it should be for you, too.  Shouldn't it?"  But he was a dominant, and he expected her to want to please him above all else, including her own comfort.  So, she closed her mouth and did what he wanted, even though she received no pleasure from it.  Then again, neither did I.

So, here I am, just like the kitty pictured above, out on a limb.  Only, I suspect I'm alone.  This article is my personal opinion and I do not intend to stand it as a flagpole to measure others against, but if the goal is mutual enjoyment, why should one person demand another's discomfort when there's no pleasure received in return?  That particular Dom admitted to being turned on by the idea of the sub continuing to wear the plug he'd inserted into her, simply because he'd wanted it there, but awareness and soreness are two different things to me.  So, the thought of him enjoying her discomfort made me squirm, and not in a good way.

In my mind, pleasure should be mutual, rules should be clear, and limits understood and accepted, which brings me back to my original topic.  Limits and negotiations.  What are your thoughts?  Do you prefer a fictional Dom to respect or ignore his submissive's limitations?  Do you like Doms or heroes who enjoy watching their women squirm with discomfort because they wished it?  I've given you my opinion, now I'd like to hear yours if you're willing to share.

Below are some articles on the necessity of limit negotiations in real life:

Below is the link to Lisabet's article:


  1. There are nearly as many D/s relationships in the world as there are couples. (Though, of course most would not label themselves that way.) I think the match ups have to involve mutual respect. The Dom needs to understand the sub and her limits, accept that pushing those limits can only go so far and only to give the sub a feeling of accomplishment or physical pleasure. We presume he enjoys this too, or there wouldn't be a couple in the first place. Now, a subset of those D/s couples might also be SM couples, and so what one outside person views as excessive discomfort is really a symptom of the SM nature of their relationship. Again, both parties get something out of it.

    I would ask you, in the fictional couples you are referring to, is the dynamic D/s or SM primarily? A lot of people are very uncomfortable viewing SM in all its glory. If the couples that squicked you were supposed to be D/s, then I can definitely see where you'd have an issue.

    And yes, he ought to know her name. Her birthday. Her favorite color. Her pain threshold. Her humiliation threshold. And how eager she is to please HIM, not just any Dom.

  2. Limits should be accepted, yes, and respected.

    What book was this?

    1. Hi Sonia, they were two different books. If you want the titles, send me an e-mail at krblake at kathrynrblake dot com and I'll give them to you.

  3. Thanks for posting, Trish. You've brought up an interesting point. BDSM to me is both D/s and SM. So, once again I may have difficulty drawing a line between them. These books were BDSM with D/s. Even so, I didn't perceive the women as masochists or the men as sadists, but both the men were Master-type Dominants, so does that put them in the SM category automatically?

    In both books, the hero acted as if he had a right to demand the heroine's pain, and it was her duty to find pleasure in her obedience, whether she did or not was incidental to him. I'm not saying these men didn't offer pleasure at other times and in other ways, because both of them did, but their gigantic egos bothered me.

    Also, I can't say I was squicked as much as I was turned off by the event in the second book I mentioned. I enjoyed the story, but his attitude (regarding this particular issue) sucked in my opinion. I was squirming in sympathy with the heroine's discomfort with the plug, not because of the plug itself. Again, personal opinion and perception. One woman's pain can definitely be another man's pleasure, just not mine.

  4. I agree with you completely.
    Although there can be some overlap, there is a definite distinction between B/D, D/s, & S/m. In a purely D/s or B/D-D/s relationship, the sub is putting complete and absolute trust in the Dom, and in return he is responsible to care for and protect her - and respect her limits. His taking pleasure just in her discomfort is the behaviour of a sadist, not a Dom.
    In 'The Loving Dominant,' John Warren writes, "The desire to help, to enhance, or to make others happy is common among dominants." He also asks, "Do you get as much pleasure or more from erotically exciting your partner as from your own enjoyment of the sexual act? If this is true, you are likely to be a good dominant. The essence of this kind of play is to take another's power and then use it FOR MUTUAL PLEASURE." (emphasis mine)

    1. Thank you so much for your input, Colette. Again, most of what I'm talking about in this post refers back to novels and short stories I've read. I give fictional relationships a lot more latitude than I would in real life, because I realize the author is creating a fantasy rather than taking a picture of reality. Even so, I am uncomfortable with certain fictional situations. I guess they just aren't my fantasy, which is why I find them unappealing, and I wonder if other readers feel the same way I do, or if I'm out on that limb alone.

      Thanks so much for posting.

    2. Oh, yes, I understand and was responding to that one particular scene you referenced, which did not make the Dom out to be a likeable "hero" for me as well.

    3. Yeah, I didn't find him very likable at that moment, either. Thanks again for posting. It's great to here I may not be out on that limb after all.

  5. Hi Kathryn -- I'm late to the party here, but I found you through the Sneak Peek Sunday blog hop today. Love the level of discussion in the post and the comments (and second the rec for "The Loving Dominant.")

    I agree with you -- the fiction that steps too far into the fantasy Dom and away from the SSC reality of a relationship isn't for me, either. It ruins the idea of the hero when he goes from "hot alpha" to "selfish jerk" in the reader's mind. Much as I want the heroine to end up with hot alpha guy, I don't want her to settle for selfish jerk.

    For the characters in my work, the D/s dynamic is much more important than SM. The Dom takes his responsibility seriously and respects his subs' limits when he's fulfilling their needs, and they worship him for it.

    1. I replied to your response separately instead of in the "reply" block. Sorry 'bout that.

  6. Hi M.Q., I don't think you can be late for these sort of parties, so thanks so much for posting. I'm going to have to check out "The Loving Dominant." I may already have it in my TBR and not realize it. So much to do, so little time.

    Wow, I'm pleased and surprised to discover other readers feel the same way I feel about Doms who disregard their sub's limits, at least as far as fiction goes. I don't know if I've read your work, but if you get back here, please give me some titles.

    I'm kind of torn about my own feelings on the subject. I did enjoy both the books I mentioned above despite the heroes' presumptions. I just didn't enjoy some of the things they did. I can't say they were selfish jerks, at least not entirely, and if they realized at some point they needed to dial down their attitude a bit, I would have agreed with them. In both cases, however, the heroine emerged happier and more self-aware for their experience, which is part of the fantasy, of course.

    I don't expect Doms to be perfect. In fact I prefer it when they make mistakes and have to acknowledge their fallibility to their sub. I do enjoy alpha Doms, I just prefer them to put their sub's needs above their own. I guess that's my fantasy.

    Thanks again for stopping by, and I'll go check out your site now.

    1. A lot depends on how the author presents it, I think. I can enjoy something as a reader and still recognize it's bad form to behave that way -- it's like a forensic scientist trying to watch all of the CSI-style television shows. Some things are just irksome.

      If the Dom's behavior is shown in a bad light and it's clear the author is saying the Dom has a personal flaw or made a mistake that will be rectified, that's fine with me. If the Dom's behavior passes without question, though, and he/she never checks in with the sub, I'm more likely to label him/her a selfish jerk.

      In the example you gave with the plug, I think it would be fine if the sub only play-hated it and the Dom was pushing limits he suspected she wanted pushed. If they know each other well enough for that level of trust, go for it. From the description, he sounds selfish. (It's possible that in a later scene he does something fantastic that required him insisting on the plug in that one -- which would also be fine, because I think a Dom withholding motive is good for a sub's mindset -- but it doesn't sound like that's the case.)

      As far as my own work goes, thanks for visiting. "Playing the Game" is my first published work, and it won't be out until September. I'm editing the second book at the moment.

    2. Yeah, I didn't get the feeling she was "play hating" the plug. She decided she was uncomfortable and asked for permission to remove it, and I gave his reply in my post. What keeps him from being a total selfish jerk is that he took her on for the week to train her to be a better submissive. Therefore, I guess he was making the point that a submissive's first duty is to her Dom. He never came out and said that directly, but the whole story was based on the different steps he took to mold her into being a better submissive (at least a better submissive for him). So....
      One of the first things he does is paddle her for not obeying one of his commands immediately. Before he punishes her, however, he asks her to tell him why he is punishing her. Teachable moment. She doesn't come up with the correct reason right away, but after three tries she finally hits upon what it was she did wrong that in his eyes needed correction. Of course, he makes her count through the punishment, etc.
      They do have a few "tender" moments, and he does something for a friend of hers that is extremely generous and downplays it, so that shows he has a good heart (deep down). And, since it's a romance, they end up together in the end.
      I think it's basically me and the sort of Doms I like in my fiction, which isn't the norm. In fact, I've been called on it for my book, so there you go.

      Thanks again for posting.


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