Thoughts on Love, Sex, Kink, and Gay Romance Novels

I should also throw in soldiers, athletes and construction workers too.  If in a thousand years people (for some unfathomable reason) try to piece together our culture just from m/m romance novels, they’d probably assume that half the members of all these professions were gay, and that half the population held one of these jobs.

This is not by any means a complaint since I’m also drawn to those books like a hormonal moth to a testosterone-burning flame. But it has made me think about why we love to read and write about these particular men so much.

In some ways, I think this reflects the disparate societal progress in acceptance of gay men. When writing contemporary male/male novels some professions get an automatic narrative tension boost because we intuitively know that it is harder and more dangerous to be a gay man in those bastions of masculinity.

Harder and yet somehow more compelling as well. In these arenas with a much smaller percentage of women it seems somehow natural for us to imagine these men taking solace and comfort from one another. And if those relationships are more risky and dangerous then that just makes the triumph of true love that much sweeter.

Or maybe I’m overthinking things and these guys are just naturally hot.😉

What about you? Do you have any professions or types of men you particularly love reading about?

 

Tying the knot…

… in a more figurative way this time.

I can’t express how thrilled I am at today’s US Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality.

I look forward to the day when the contemporary gay romances I’m now reading are firmly in the historical category, not because of clothes, technology or settings, but because the kind of bigotry and obstacles often faced and portrayed seem so outdated and unthinkable. That day is coming and today was one giant step in that direction.

Congratulations everyone!

And in celebration of the day, here are some reviews for some relevant warm and fuzzy reading:

I Do Anthology

Marriage by Cardeno C

I would love to see more romance/erotica include role-playing between the characters. And while I generally think of it in terms of kinky or bdsm play, it doesn’t have to be. Billionaire seduced by the pool boy could present a hot scenario for a couple working class men to play with, for example.

Top 5 reasons I love role-playing in erotica or romance:

  1. Adds variety and spice to the sex scenes
  2. Provides an interesting window into the characters. What do they fantasize about? If given the chance to be someone else for a while, who do they choose?
  3. Lets the characters out to play. There’s generally a bit of  silliness in creating a scenario and a complete suspension of disbelief and seeing how someone plays and lets go or doesn’t can show you a lot about who someone is and how they see themselves.
  4. Opportunity to play with sexy tropes without having to acknowledge and handle the realities of the actual situation which may be far darker or problematic. (e.g. Being kidnapped and turned into a sex slave for an ancient warlord can certainly work as a premise for a dark erotic novel. But with role-playing, you can play with the concept without dealing with the unpleasant realities if you want.)
  5. Just plain fun to write. No one expects their sex games to be historically accurate or contain completely reasonable actions, so you can let go and write what’s sexy without it having to be completely sensible. (e.g. A real doctor who gets over-interested in thoroughly examining a patient’s genitals is disturbing, but you’re playing at it…)

Obviously, this only works if the characters themselves would enjoy it, but I think it’s an underused tool that I’d love to see more of.

Any recommendations for books that do this well? Opinions on whether you like reading about people role-playing during sex?

All the World’s a Sex Toy

I just finished a scene in my work in progress in which one of the characters has promised he can design a scene with any three innocuous-seeming items the other picks out from a gadgety store. It was a lot of fun to write and it reminded me how much I enjoy improvised sex toys.

Don’t get me wrong–I love leather and chains and various customized instruments of erotic delight as much as the next gal, presuming the next gal also needs a step-ladder for her mind to get high enough to see the gutter.  And yet, there’s also something delicious about perverting the uses of innocent every-day items, using them to create unique experiences and salacious associations.

So, I figured I’d share my top reasons for creating sex toys out of everyday objects.

  1. Exercise your Creativity. I love the challenge of coming up with something new and interesting. I remember having conversations with my boyfriend at 16 and we’d take turns saying an item and the other would have to come up with a way to relate it to sex. I’ve been thinking this way for a long time.
  2. Create New Associations. This is possibly my favorite benefit. Whatever items you choose will forever remind you both of the scene and create a fun shared association that you can allude to in other settings. Even though the relationship went badly, I still smile whenever I see certain items.
  3. Surprise. If you pull out a flogger, it’s relatively obvious what’s going to happen next. If you pull out a sharpie, some rubber bands and a refrigerator magnet, the intent will be less clear.
  4. Discretion. You don’t have to worry about people stumbling across your sexy stash if its composed of normal household goods, though they might wonder why you’re keeping certain things in the bedroom.
  5. Cost. Custom sex toys are often a lot more expensive than other items you can find.

So does anyone have any favorite pervertables? Or if you have a list of 3 items that you think can’t be perverted, put them in the comments and if they inspire me I’ll try to design a scene with them and post it here.

Part 1 of this series is Kinks, Fetishes and Roller Coasters. In this discussion, I’m going to use all male pronouns because I’m thinking of it in terms of m/m romances, but really the pronouns are irrelevant and interchangeable.

I don’t have to search very hard to find a book with a sexy dom restraining and spanking, flogging, caning and generally causing delicious pain to a delighted sub. And I am very happy to find these books (as long as they’re well done) and I enjoy them immensely, but there are other ways to play and it surprises me how seldom some of these other areas seem to find their way into the m/m romance/erotica, at least outside of the porn without plot realm.

Humiliation play tops the list of kinks I expect to see in fiction a lot more than I do. In fact, Jeff Erno’s Puppy Love books are the only ones I can remember reading that had this type of play in any sustained way. These books impressed me by really pushing that edge. Usually, if I see it mentioned at all it takes the form of, “I’m not in interested in humiliation play,” or “I’ll do anything but humiliation play.” I wonder if a basic misunderstanding of the nature of this play accounts for the general lack of inclusion. And so, to hopefully rectify this knowledge gap, I will attempt to explain.

For ease of discussion, I’m dividing humiliation play into two types. As with many things, these types really exist as ends of the spectrum with a continuum between them, but that doesn’t really change the explanations. One end I’ll call “humiliation/praise” and the other “humiliation/insult.”

“Humiliation/insult” to me means that the dom insults the sub, sometimes having the sub perform actions around issues the sub has strong conflicted feelings about. The sub sexualizes these strong feelings and ideally comes to some kind of acceptance or peace about them. I believe that the sub has some sense of atonement for these perceived ‘flaws’ which allows an ability to move past them. It can also help build defenses for dealing with people in the outside world. These ‘flaws’ can be specifically sexual or not. I have never actually played this way on either side of the coin. I’m basing these suppositions on watching this kind of scene and talking to people who have played this way. I must say that these scenes can be the most difficult to watch, since they seem very harsh and unkind to an outside observer, as well as very difficult to understand. I also suspect that most people think of this kind of scene when they think of humiliation play and so tend to react to it negatively. For some reason, most people can more easily imagine letting someone strike them with flogger than letting someone, much less wanting them, to poke at their most vulnerable psychological buttons.

The other end, in my own personal dichotomy, is “humiliation/praise.” This involves taking traits and actions, usually at least somewhat sexual, generally portrayed in a negative way by society and turning them into positive, praise-worthy things. For example, “I love how eager you are to be fucked – such a sexy slut,” said in a tone of obvious approval, may be part of mild humiliation play, but it is meant to encourage behavior society generally finds shame-worthy. I said “may be” in the last sentence because humiliation play is first and foremost about an emotional and mental state and connection. Any activity that some people engage in for this type of play, other people engage in for complete different reasons. The emotional state, not the type of activity, determine whether people are engaged in humiliation play.

To get a better sense of this distinction, think about the following list of types of scenes that can involve humiliation, but may also just involve the fetishes for that kind of play.

  • Human ponies
  • Human puppies
  • Boot-licking or other types of body worship
  • Watersports
  • Cross-dressing
  • Infantilization
  • Nudity/Display/Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • Crawling
  • A wide range of verbal play that can reinforce embarrassment or just represent someone enjoying “dirty talk”

Though very different, a general sense of societal disapproval binds these activities. That disapproval makes them ripe ground for using them to play with feelings of intense embarrassment. However, people may also just sexualize and enjoy these activities for their own sakes without necessarily caring much about any embarrassment aspect. And of course, as with almost everything with humans, you also have every point in between.

That still doesn’t answer the question of why people enjoy embarrassment. This goes back to my theory in part 1 of this series. If you take an intense emotion and put it in a safe setting and make it feel positive, the feeling can be incredible. And embarrassment is an intense emotion. The phrase “I thought I’d die of embarrassment,” exists for a reason. Embarrassment is also fascinating because it is an entirely social construct, which adds to its fluidity. Different cultures, different groups, different people all have unique norms and expectations as to what is acceptable behavior. Realizing this and playing with this can feel very freeing, as can embracing feelings that you may believe you shouldn’t have.

Any thoughts or questions? Any recommendations of good m/m fiction that deals with humiliation play?

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with people both in and out of the overall kinky leather crowd about why we do what we do. Through these conversations and probably way too much time spent thinking about it, I’ve developed my Unifying Theory of Kinks and Fetishes. Your mileage may vary, but it works for me and helps me to explain things to the more vanilla members of society.

Every single time I get on a roller coaster, as soon as it’s too late to change my mind, I start thinking “What the hell am I doing and why am I doing it?” All the way up the first hill (if it has one), I keep thinking that. Then the speed kicks in and I scream and yell and laugh and am terrified and exhilarated all at once. And at the end I’m left with a heady sense of power and survival and a sense of having conquered. What I conquered wasn’t so much the roller coaster as the fear.

Roller coasters provide an illusion of danger while still providing safety. Your logical thought processes tell you you’re safe, but millions of years of evolution aren’t quite so convinced, so you still get the rush and adrenaline and the feeling of accomplishment at having survived a fearful situation intact. I think of this as taking the intensity of fear and flipping it from a negative emotion to a positive one by putting it in a safe context and allowing you to prevail over it.

The other part of the puzzle is humanity’s ability to sexualize pretty much anything. If you take a strong emotion or association and sexualize it, you turn it pretty easily into a fetish. And if we’ve learned nothing else from the internet, we should now know that this has happened to pretty much everything in the universe and there’s a web page to prove it.  I think this is the brain’s version of a peanut butter cup. “Hey,” says your brain, “I like sex and I like shoes, so shoes and sex together must be awesome.” And a shoe fetish is born.

Now, what if we combine these two ideas? Flip a negative feeling to a positive one by putting it into a safe context and then sexualize it. Out spring a whole host of interesting kinks: pain, bondage, submission, humiliation, edge play, piercings, orgasm control, etc.

Now I’d actually started out to write a post on humiliation play, but then realized I needed to explain my theory first. So, next up humiliation play… (which makes me feel like a conductor on a very kinky train)

Nothing breaks my rapport with a book faster than taking a subject I love and making it into essentially a caricature of itself.  Though I read many types of m/m romances, the kinky ones will always catch my eye, and I’m likely to go get them unless something in the description turns me off. And here we come to the problem- I’m a big proponent of safe, sane and consensual, and if the characters break this without  a compelling reason, I have trouble continuing to identify with the characters and situation.

I want to make clear that I’m talking about contemporary characters who identify themselves as dominant/submissive and seem to have knowledge and interest in the lifestyle that should lead to them knowing better. I view stories billed as dubious consent or historical or fantasy master/slave relationships as completely different entities. If the author presents the sex games as being for mutual benefit and enjoyment though, certain guidelines apply to real life and would be much appreciated in fiction:

  1. Safety: I don’t care how comfortable or well-provisioned the house/room/cage is, you can not leave your sub unattended without a way of freeing himself. He must have a means of escape in an emergency. This one always makes me start yelling at the book, and makes it very hard to forgive the main character.
  2. Consent: Just because you are absolutely certain that he’d be the perfect submissive, does not mean that you get to start ordering him around before he’s actually agreed to your brilliant plan. So many characters seem to manhandle someone into place, somehow proving in the process that the object of his desires really wanted that all along. In real life, that’s assault and not a real good way to start a relationship.
  3. No discussion: I’ve read several books in which as soon as the supposed submissive agreed to a potential romantic relationship, the so-called dom started laying down rules and handing out orders. No discussion of whether the other man wanted this power exchange, and the dom brushed all objections aside. A hard-on does not grant automatic permission.
  4. Healing abuse victims: This one is tough. Yes, people sometimes do therapeutic bdsm play to work through trauma, but it is a delicate situation and those involved need to take it seriously. I’ve seen this done very well, but not often. If someone just decides that the best way for this sub to get over his experience with a bad dom is to find a good dom, that will strain my credulity from the outset.
  5. Deep end: Do not throw the brand new submissive into the deep end of the kink pool. Cock & ball torture- really not on the syllabus for the first day of class. (As a side note, that’s what prodded me to write this post now. I was reading a review of Take Me, Break Me at Joyfully Jay, which I’d recently read. I started to reply over there, but it was getting too long, so I decided to make it a full post here.)
  6. Physical Realities: I love when an author acknowledges little things like ‘your knees are going to hurt if you spend an hour kneeling on tile flooring.’ And when authors completely ignore the physical situation it makes it harder to empathize with the character. I don’t need to know every likely twinge and ache, but enough to know it’s real.
  7. The Helpless Sub: Especially when paired with the predatory club doms. If someone warns a sub that it’s not safe to wander around a club unattached or uncollared, I’m rolling my eyes unless the author set the scene really well. Any reputable bdsm club will quickly ban anyone behaving the way the “villains” in many of these stories behave. They certainly won’t just look the other way while warning the subs to stay close to a dom. Most of these clubs have people wandering around ensuring that members follow the rules and play safe.
  8. Variety: I admit this isn’t a peeve, so much as a request. I love the spanking and flogging and bondage scenes, but can we have other fun too. I’m always pleased when an author shows they know what they’re talking about by veering off the beaten path (or beaten sub, as the case may be). And please feel free to throw suggestions into the comments for books that do this.

Despite my complaints, if pressed, I could probably come up with a counter-example for all of these that worked extremely well. Just not most of the time.

When I first started devouring m/m romances, I was perplexed by the sheer number of stories involving other-worldy creatures. I did a lot of shopping at Bookstrand and it seemed every other book in my search results had some fantasy element. And that’s where I drew the line. Humans only. Not that I had anything against the other books being out there, I just wasn’t interested.

And yet, so many of the descriptions were intriguing and hit all my other buttons. But I was steadfast. For about 8 months. It was getting harder to find books I really wanted to read and I hadn’t yet discovered Goodreads with their tons of recommendations. So I gave in. Just one, I thought, to see what it’s like and why there are so many of them.

I picked up the first in Lynn Hagan’s Brac Pack series. And I think I lost some sanity points and about a month of my time by the time I looked around and found that I’d consumed 52 of that and the related series. (Yes I did go to work and do things that had to be done, but pretty much read every spare second, and many that should have been otherwise spent.) The reason I know the number is because I created a spreadsheet to keep track of the characters and their books, so I could look back if I needed to. For proof of my insanity, you can see the spreadsheet.

Now you might expect me to gush about how wonderful these books were and how everyone should read them, but I won’t. These weren’t amazing works of literature that touched me deeply or anything, but I found them somehow addictive. Like junk food or popcorn without the calories. You know there are better choices out there, but they are easy and comfortable and you know what to expect. Yes, they’re formulaic and not likely to cause any major surprises, but sometimes that’s what you want, or at least that’s sometimes what I want- fun crazy stuff, decent dialogue and a guaranteed happy ending.

I’ve read other popcorn series since then and not all of them involve supernatural elements, but for some reason a lot of them do. I’ve thought about why and I think there are some good reasons for that.

  1. It’s easier to have a bunch of related romances if you have a well-defined set of characters who all need to get matched up with someone, and having defined groups of clustered supernaturals fits this need nicely.
  2. You need ready sources of external conflict to keep the interest going over a long series. Conflicts between human groups can make the book heavier than one really wants in this type of read. The supernatural elements remove everything a step to keep the angst removed from more real-world concerns.
  3. Similarly, you can deal with weighty issues like discrimination and prejudice without adding the extra baggage that comes with very real human experiences with that. (i.e. most people aren’t going to complain to you that you’re portrayals of werewolves are racist or demeaning.)
  4. A lot of these stories have a concept of a mate- a person or persons you are destined to be with. It’s a compelling concept for a romance novel and it’s interesting how different authors implement it.

While I still read mostly realistic contemporary, sometimes I find another series like this and devour them all until my vision starts to blur and I feel a little loopy. Then I go back to reading the literary equivalent of balanced meals until the mood strikes again.

 

I don’t have much interpersonal conflict in my life. I tend towards easy-going and diplomatic and try to spend most of my time with people who are the same. And so, when it comes to writing and developing these conflicts in fiction I find I’m struggling with it. I throw a conflict at the characters and then try to solve it for them in the mediation style I would use if I were trying to help them in real life, which makes good reality, but boring fiction.

So, I’ve been thinking about ways of broadening my character and conflict types and have found inspiration in some interesting places. These sources can also provide great inspiration for dealing with writer’s block.

1.  Personality Type Assessments. The realm of popular psychology has more type assessments than you can shake a writer’s dream stick at. Whether you buy into any of them or not, they provide a rich source of common collection of characteristics which you can kidnap and make your own. Many people have written books and other interpretations of The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, making it one of my favorites. Please Understand Me 2 by David Kiersey has not only detailed descriptions of each type with strength and weaknesses, but also a section on relationships and the types of conflicts different pairings are susceptible to and ways to resolve them. Reading that chapter was almost dangerous since story ideas started attacking me as I read and I really need to finish one of the in progress works before starting something else.

2. Tarot Cards. I know this sounds strange, but stay with me. Each tarot card represents a character archetype and/or a universal theme of conflict or desire. As such, I find them great for brainstorming for fiction or real life. There are many free online places that you can get these readings. For example, I just went to Llewellyn Worldwide, chose a Celtic Cross pattern (because it provides a lot of variety) and skimmed through the results looking for combinations that seemed interesting to me for current or future projects. I like to read a card’s description and position and then think about whether or how it might be applicable and what implications it might have.

3. Zodiac and Chinese Year signs. You can easily find lists for both of these which will paint in broad strokes the characteristics for people born under these signs. I’m not suggesting you match your characters to these signs, just that it can help to have a basket of grouped strengths and weaknesses to start from to build your own unique character. It can also help identify when you the flip side of characteristics you may be painting as purely strengths.

So, what do you use for inspiration?

Have you ever had something that you’ve been meaning to do for a long time, but had never gotten around to until you got that last little push? For some reason when this happens to me it often ends up triggering a minor obsession for a while. Enter Goodreads. This site really is just as awesome as everyone told me it was.

I had plans to write about finding the m/m romances you’re most likely to like. I’m sure that I will still use some of that content later, but some of it now seems superfluous now that I’ve really spent some time at Goodreads.

I’ve just spent 6 hours going through my list of books purchased from Amazon, Bookstrand and Allromance ebooks, adding most of the books to my Goodreads account. I added 525 read books and more than 100 to my want to read pile, because what I needed most in my life was to increase my to-be-read pile. On the other hand, it is really cool going through its book recommendations, which I’m finding more pleasant to work with than the recommended books features at the places I usually buy books.

Now that I’ve gone through the tedious up-front work, I’m going to try to keep my list up-to-date. I Promise I’ll write about sex next time once I’ve recovered from the information overload.

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