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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.