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

Posts tagged ‘m/m romance’

Kinks Part 2: Intro to Humiliation Play

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?

8 Pet Peeves about Fictional Kink

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.

8 Advantages of Gay Sex in Fiction

As a bisexual female, I have to laugh at myself sometimes that I spend so much time reading about sex between men. At first I thought novelty explained it, but I’ve come to believe that the power of gay sex extends further than that. Gay male sex provides more opportunities for narrative milestones. Generally, in heterosexual non-kinky romances intercourse commands center stage and most of the other stages as far as the physical relationship goes. The characters may certainly have variety in their sexy times, but for the most part this variety does not represent separate steps in the relationships.

So, what sexual milestones and extras do m/m romance authors have in their writing toolboxes?

  1. Kissing: Yes, yes I know all romance novels have kissing. However, in gay romances the characters sometimes have issues with kissing and so it can come later in the courtship, making it, to my mind, an interesting twist.
  2. Handjobs: Gay Sex 101 for those characters who may not yet have come to terms with the whole sex-with-another-guy experience. Also good for those in a hurry or in a public place.
  3. Frotting: Have a character not ready for any type of penetration yet but wants something a little more advanced than a handjob? Try experimenting with rubbing those cocks against each others’ bodies in a variety of ways. Also useful when unprepared with lube and condoms.
  4. Oral Sex- giving and receiving: Often a first step in the story for more experienced partners. In stories with men just figuring out their sexuality, this still can present progress in character and relationship development. Add in to swallow or not and you have even more possibilities.
  5. Anal Sex- giving and receiving: Some couples switch easily and without drama. For others, a change in the way they normally do things signals an important development in the relationship. (For a hysterical article on the realities of anal sex, check out Numb Shots)
  6. Giving up condoms: In contemporary fiction, set in the age of AIDS, condoms understandably abound. And so, going bareback shows that the relationship has moved to a higher level of trust and commitment. It also makes the scene extra-hot as far as I’m concerned.
  7. Shared bathrooms: Same sex partners can manage sex in a public bathroom much more easily. Contrasting my experiences with boyfriends and girlfriends, I can state this with a high degree of confidence.
  8. Rimming- giving and receiving: I confess that these last two don’t fit in the milestones category, but they provide great spice options anyway.

While readers would probably find it tedious if an author hit all of these in one book, the possibilities lead to a lot of potential variety across books and interesting conversations and struggles for the characters. It also makes it easier to write a lot of sex scenes with each of them moving the relationship/plot forward.

Opinions? Did I miss anything?

8 reasons I’m hooked on M/M romances

M/M romances provide a built-in set of potential interesting and compelling conflicts and drama. These certainly don’t all show up in every example in the genre and do show up outside of it, but gay romances are certainly fertile grounds for these conflicts (fertility of other types- not as common). So, on to my top 8 reasons I’m hooked on this genre:

  1. Coming Out Process: People often talk in the media about coming out as if it is a simple 1-step deal. In these books, though, you can see the complexity and diversity of the experience. Everyone experience this process differently and the fiction reflects this reality beautifully.
  2. Revealing Secrets: I love secrets in fiction. Watching the ways in which people keep and reveal these secrets, both ones that the reader does and doesn’t know, draws me into a story. M/M romances generally have a lot of this going on, often with unpredictable results about how the people learning the secrets will behave.
  3. Professional vs. Personal Desires: We often see a conflict between someone having a job they love, but feeling that they either couldn’t keep it or would be made miserable or unsafe if they came out. Any profession can have this risk, but stories involving with stereotypically masculine jobs – police, firefighters, soldiers, cowboys, construction, etc. – often make the choice feel more dangerous.  Something about this conflict snares me every time.
  4. Family Dynamics: Gay novels have amazing potential for family freak-outs and angst. Yes, you can still have issues of class, race and age among other things and I realize for some people these are still very real, but for some reason they just don’t resonate with me as much. On the other side of that coin, I enjoy it just as much when someone expects rejection and finds acceptance instead.
  5. Social Context and History: This is an exciting time in the history of gay rights. The world is changing and changing rapidly. When I read contemporary gay fiction I sometimes think about how these things will feel in 20 years or 50. Will people read these books and think how strange that someone worried about telling his family or co-workers he was gay? I believe/hope this will be the case. At the same time, books set even 20 years ago feel completely different being out was a much scarier choice then. And so it feels exciting reading these books now. The range of likely reactions today to revelations of being gay is so broad that it provides a fascinating array of options for writers and thus readers.
  6. Explorations of Sexuality vs. Masculinity: I like watching the struggle as the protagonists and those around them deal with their preconceived notions of what it means to be a man and how being gay doesn’t change that.
  7. Introspection: I’m an introspective person and I like to analyze things. (This will not come as a surprise if you stick around long.) And I like reading about other people figuring things out about themselves. Most of the points above tend to lead to this kind of process.
  8. Sex: Yes- the sex is important. From a narrative perspective, I think that the descriptions of gay male sex are just more interesting, but that’s a post to itself. So, stay tuned for the next installment: Advantages of Gay Sex in Fiction.


Stumbling in to the M/M Romance World

I used to read mostly mystery and fantasy and I still do occasionally, but now my big addiction is male/male romances and it started in an odd way.

My mom convinced me to read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and I fell in love with it quickly and devoured it and all of its related series in a few months.  If you haven’t heard of them I highly recommend them no matter what genre you like. To avoid confusion, these are not romances- these are hard to define, but I’m going to go with historical/adventure/time-travel/mystery/romance/epic tales spanning lifetimes/character-driven masterpieces. They are unique and wonderful. And one of the main secondary characters who got his own set of smaller books is an 18th century gay male- Lord John. I quickly fell madly in love with him. And while he had relationships and dalliances, he has not, to date, gotten the sort of permanent connection I so want for him. I was getting a little obsessed with his romantic life- or lack thereof- and decided that what I really needed was to read stories with a gay male romantic lead who did get his HEA.

So I started looking and discovered that there were a LOT of these books out there. I had no idea. I was lucky and got some good recommendations for my first books (the first several I read were by Josephine Myles, who I adore) and I was hooked. I had never even read many straight romances before, so I tried a few of those, but found they strangely didn’t hold my interest the same way. I have more thoughts on the why of that for a later post. Several hundred books later, I’m still devouring this genre and have decided to write about some of my thoughts on it along the way.