My Problem with Kink Erotica

Long before I began actively exploring kink, I was consuming kink erotica (both novels and video porn), although it often made me uncomfortable because I hadn’t really recognized my interest in kink yet. When I finally realized I was kinky and started actively getting involved in bdsm play, I had some confusion, because I had absorbed a lot of problematic ideas from porn, and it took a lot of thinking, reading, and discussing things with kinksters before I was able to get myself on a stable, healthy foundation with bdsm.

As I say in the postscript to Leather God Descending, “Bdsm erotica generally does a very poor job of showing novice kinksters what healthy bdsm actually looks likes. Dominants in these stories rarely pay attention to issues of consent, almost never negotiate the scene before starting it, rarely offer any substantive aftercare, and show only the most minimal signs of worrying about safety. The implicit assumption seems to be that things like consent, negotiation, and safewords are not sexy, and therefore should simply be left out, the way they’re generally edited out of most porn videos. While a dominant who ruthlessly breaks the sub to his or her will is tremendously hot in theory, in practice, such a dom would somewhere between criminal and sociopathic. The result is that novice kinksters are often badly misled into thinking that actual bdsm play looks like what they see in the porn videos; novice subs fail to realize that they have a right to say no, and novice doms are left thinking that they automatically get what they want from any sub they are interested in. Much of the existing porn may be hot, but it’s also probably unhealthy for many inexperienced viewers who don’t understand what safe, sane, consensual play ought to look like.”

Eventually I starting to notice another problem with kink erotica, namely that nearly all of it is directed toward subs. Again, quoting from that postscript, “the overwhelming majority of [kink erotica] is written (or filmed) from the sub’s point of view and is therefore primarily of appeal to submissives. There is often a good deal of exploration of the sub’s fears and doubts as well as his or her pleasure and desires. The typical narrative follows the sub’s journey from discovering their submissive desires to a sexual awakening at the hands of a powerful and experienced dom whose pleasure and desires are nominally the center of the story but who is in fact really just a vehicle for exploring the sub’s pleasure and desires (or, as Adam says, “just a human vibrator”). There’s nothing wrong with these stories; their popularity demonstrates there are a lot of eager submissives out there who want to read and write such stories. But where, I kept finding myself asking, are the stories about the doms? Where are the novels that explore power exchange from the dominant’s point of view, looking at their fears and doubts and seeking to understand their motivations? The sub-centric story usually objectifies the dominant as all-powerful both in the sub’s mind and in the reality of the story. He’s usually rich, always handsome, and inevitably confident in who he is and what he wants. But this tendency to tell the story from the sub’s point of view can mislead novice doms, who are encouraged to think that they must know everything, be good at every form of play, never experience uncertainty, and never express any form of emotion other than the harsh demands doms make during play. Such a high standard is extremely intimidating, and may well discourage kinksters from exploring their dominant desires because they feel incapable of living up to the image of the dominant they see in novels. The famous imbalance in the numbers of doms and subs may be encouraged by the erotica we consume.”

Several years ago, after I had embraced my identity as a leatherman, I had the pleasure of an extended visit with david stein, an important figure in the New York gay bdsm scene in the 1980s and 90s and 2000s. (If you don’t know who he was, you’ve probably still felt his influence. Among other things, he’s the guy who coined the phrase “safe, sane, and consensual”.) He and I shared a mutual interest in erotica; he had the largest personal collection of erotica I’ve ever seen. He had written some of his own, and had edited and published the work of others. When I pointed out the fact that nearly everything is written for subs and suggested he write something from a Dom’s perspective, he replied, “I don’t know how to do that. Maybe that’s something you ought to do, Sir.”

His encouragement that I try my hand at writing erotica for dominants is ultimately what got me started writing erotica. (I have to confess, I don’t really think of myself as writing ‘erotica’. I write porn. There are lots of hard cocks and cum-filled assholes in my writing, and to me, that’s porn. ‘Erotica’ sounds like something middle-aged housewives write. But everyone calls it ‘erotica’, so that’s what I call it.) They say you should write what you know. While I know the submissive experience to some extent (my bondage mentor taught me by tying me up and then having me duplicate the tie on him), what I really know is the dominant experience: how doms think, what turns them on and off, what their fears and concerns are, and so on. So I write about men who are like me, who have the kind of sex I have (or in some cases, want to have) and who respond to the kinds of guys I respond to. I want to fill a unserved segment of the market, and at the same time, I want to write a more ethical kind of bdsm fantasy, one that tries to educate readers and model more healthy types of bdsm relationships for them.

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