Characters in Erotica – Dominants, Submissives, Sadists and Masochists

I have often gone on rants about how poorly non-vanilla characters are portrayed in some erotic fiction. I’m pretty sure we’ve all run across the stereotypical impermeable stay-pressed Dominant, the bratty, navel gazing Submissive, the evil and unprincipled Sadist and the mentally ill and most probably sexually abused Masochist.  Or we are presented with sexual practices we are unfamiliar with which are either misrepresented by people who know little about them, or presented with the insider view by people who are so normalized to the paradigm that their language is almost impenetrably jargon laden and it is assumed any reader who doesn’t immediately recognize the obvious benefits of the fetish and embrace them immediately must be mad. I can say with total confidence that I have written my share of underdeveloped BDSM leaning characters.

The problem is, I don’t think any of this is erotic literature – which should be, first and foremost, intelligible.  It should also, I think, be able to speak to more than just the initiated. If a story on shoe fetishes doesn’t even attempt to communicate the attraction of the fetish, then it’s basically trade literature written specifically for the sub-culture that already practices it.  Also, literature – any literature – should say something true about us. It should speak to us, not just as women or men, kinky or vanilla, gay or straight. It should be able to reach over those boundaries and invite people in to understanding.

This isn’t to say that simplistic portrayals of kinky characters can’t be arousing. They can. But it is objectification – the simplistic representation of what the writer or the reader, or both, desire. And although that might be good fun to read, and absolutely wank-worthy, it isn’t (by my definition) erotic literature. It’s pornography. I don’t mean that in any derogatory sense. It’s not an insult to either the writers or the readers of this type of material. However there is, in my mind, a very definite difference between material that only appeals to the libido and distills desirable character traits down to their essence and that which represents it in a more holistic and multi-dimensional way. Fantasy is very arousing. But for me, the complex truth always has a more lasting erotic impact.

Undoubtedly, erotica writers tend to focus on the type of sexuality that intrigues them the most. So there are lots of kinky people out there who also write erotica, but being on the inside isn’t always an advantage. As a writer, you need to at least have some idea of what the view looks like from your reader’s vantage point. This can be extremely difficult if you have been, for instance, a member of a BDSM community for so long you can’t remember what it’s like to have vanilla sex.

So, in the interests of fostering the writing of more realistic, compelling and engaging kinky characters, I’m inviting people who are practicing doms, subs, masochists and sadists to provide a portrait of themselves as people. If you would like to participate in this, I’d be very grateful. However, I want to limit my portraits to people who have identified themselves within the spectrum of kink for an extended period of time, and have, after a period of introspection, become comfortable in their understanding of themselves. You don’t have to be a member of a scene, or publicly ‘out’ at all. Just be comfortable with your orientation for a reasonable length of time.

I will provide you with a list of questions for anyone willing to participate and I’d appreciate you using it as a guide. You don’t have to answer all the questions, or answer them in the form they are presented, but I would appreciate you touching upon at least some of the issues and subjects I ask questions about.

If you’re up for it, please email me at remittancegirl(at)gmail(dot)com with the word Portraits in the subject line.

  27 comments for “Characters in Erotica – Dominants, Submissives, Sadists and Masochists

  1. March 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    I agree with a lot of this — it’s refreshing to find your blog 🙂 (Incidentally, I posted something very similar yesterday; I interviewed some “alpha” males. The silence on what they have to say has been deafening and I have all kinds of unsettled, subversive ideas as to why that might be. Ahem).

    Anyway — good luck with your project, and I look forward to reading it.

    • March 20, 2011 at 12:29 am

      Thank you! I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will be a really interesting project.

  2. March 20, 2011 at 7:58 am

    This post is perfection! Maybe it sounds effusive, but I’m not gilding the lily – I promise. Your post makes me want to become an erotic writer, which is almost laughable if you knew me. At the very least, it inspires me to step up my blog writing. Not that it’s fiction, but I do like to make it interesting. This is only the first post I’ve read of yours having linked over randomly from a referring blog, but I’m planning to read more now and I hope I can restrain myself from making any more fawning comments. 🙂

    • March 20, 2011 at 9:08 am

      Well, if any of my posts encourage anyone to take their writing more seriously, then I have hit my goal. Thank you.

  3. March 20, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Great idea, and I hope you get lots of responses.

    Accuracy in fiction is a funny thing, isn’t it? It’s possible to strive too hard for it and to lose the character in the detail (or it has been for me I think), and you end up with something more like a bad essay. Yet a slip of a detail is like opening the oven door on a half-cooked soufflé.

    • Morag
      March 20, 2011 at 6:26 pm

      Oh yes. I have written what I call erotic literature in the past (though not a patch on RG’s), and found it hard not to slip up on “too much detail. On the contrary, I provide almost none, about the people involved, which forces the reader to use their own imagination. It’s interesting how people read things so differently from the same text.

      Sorry, RG, can’t help with your project – put it this way, my partner is known as missionary man. 😉

      • March 21, 2011 at 9:41 pm

        Oh yes, I know what you mean. Putting in just what the reader needs to see is key. I was sort of thinking of stuff that wasn’t the smutty bits, but the product of research. I research something and then I want to show how clever I am. :$

  4. March 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Dear Remittance — This sounds like a wonderful project, and I will be very excited to see what it produces. I write a vanilla, male-fantasy sex-blog and for a long time have been wondering about the mainstream literary dichotomy you address here. Pornography — what Faulkner called “writing of the glands” — versus what above you call “the complex truth.” (If ONLY mainstream writing were able to capture and hold complexity and truth in the same place!) Don’t you think most erotica tries too hard to be “smart”? As if erotica with intellectual content is somehow not porongraphic, not “just erotica.” And doesn’t this somehow degrade sex writing in a way it doesn’t any other kind of writing? I SO get what you’re writing about here; and I try to write the usual banal male sex fantasy stories in a way that is intellectual and compelling, and, as you put it, wank-worthy. But I wonder if the opposition you imagine here doesn’t hurt erotic writers.

    I’m always amazed by what you write, and you seem to me to run this line with an agility that that blends instead of separating.


    • March 20, 2011 at 7:39 pm

      Fantasy is fantasy, I think. It’s different from storytelling. Good storytelling has characters and conflict and most ‘erotica’ I have read is predictable – characters are going to get laid, they’re going to get off and everything is going to be exactly what is required for an unproblematic wank. I see him – I want him – I fuck him in several positions. To me that doesn’t count as a plot. In my books, that’s porn. I don’t think it’s bad, but I don’t think it’s erotic literature.

      Believe me, there are a lot of writers who say they write erotic literature and do exactly this. And I’m sure I piss them off. And frankly, I don’t care. I think sex and sexuality and eroticism form a very essential part of who we are. I think it informs our motivations, colours the way we see ourselves and speaks to how we interact with others. I see it as a way to approach a description, a discussion of the human condition. But you cannot address the human condition by doling out simplistic fantasy. The objectification may be very erotically gratifying but I think it is absolutely antithetical to really examining the complexity that is the human psyche, so I don’t write it.

      There are lots of good porn writers. I don’t wish to be one. And I’m sure there will always be a far greater market for easy to read, easy to digest, uncomplicated fantasy. So, no, I don’t think I’m hurting ‘erotic writers’.

      However, simply arousing someone and facilitating their masturbation is not my writing goal. It holds no challenge for me. No interest. There’s only so many ways to write a fuck scene. But there is an unending number of ways to examine the human spirit through their sexual being.

      • geos
        March 20, 2011 at 9:30 pm

        Wonderful… I’ve been reading your posts for months and have heard you state your approach many times, but for me this is the clearest and most concise insight into your art and craft. I look forward it seems to everything you write because you are successful in touching through your words the human myth in all of us, all of me. Thank you

      • March 20, 2011 at 11:31 pm

        Thanks for such a thoughtful reply. I think I mean something else. I wouldn’t suggest you’re hurting “erotic writers”; I think you are one. But the binarism here seems to me to militate against the very craft you practice. As you say, there’s only so many ways to write a fuck scene: but isn’t that the challenge. Of all writing? Ramond Carver says all plot lines can be reduced the way you do porn here: I see him, I want him, etc.; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and so forth. King Lear and The Sound and the Fury both have plot lines that show up all over the place. There’s always only so many ways to write a plot line. Isn’t the thing you want to do is to push through, elevate, the banality of the “only so many ways” to something that, to use your words, examines the human spirit? Is there something unique to this type of writing that expresses the human spirit (which, has always seemed to me to be also banal, repetitious, predictable, in its infinite capacity)that cannot be expressed in any other way?

        What if those who write Porn are just bad writers, like the bad writers of drama, tragedy, romance? I know you would agree that “simply arousing” somebody is not as easy as it sounds. No more than making somebody cry or laugh at a story line. And it seems to me that the elements that confine erotica, like Aristotle’s six components to tragedy, are the very things that make it potentially great. When we create, or respond to, a dichotomy that separates out these elements from the “higher” ones, don’t we tacitly degrade the value of the story written to provoke sexual response, as though this were a lower function of the spirit than laughing or crying?

        I think your writing erases the distinction your critique wants to make. I think what’s so lovely about your stories is the way they do both — but I balk at the assertion that the sexual/erotic component is somehow easier to hit, or is less valuable an examination of spirit, or even that there are two separate components at work in your stories.

        Again, thank you for this.


        • March 21, 2011 at 9:38 am

          Hi, Loving in this conversation Papi! A couple of things to address in your respsonse:

          The plot I sketched out for you in a typical fantasy piece HAS no conflict. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t a limited set of plotlines – there are, but if they are to produce good fictional literature, they all include some kind of conflict with some depth. The Raymond Carver paraphrase is perfect – boy LOSES girl. There must be a point at which the reader feels the desired outcome is not to be had. Erotic fantasy simply skips the conflict part. Which is good for masturbation, but not so good for a literary experience.

          I don’t think all people who write porn are bad writers at all! And I agree with you, writing wank-worthy porn is NOT without its craft. But this sort of narrative has ONLY an aim to be an aide or prompt for masturbation. However, what I would say is that the imagery and semiotic vocabulary of porn tends to be limited. If you know it and you use it, it tends to successfully produce the outcome you want in a reader. I doubt very much that most of my work acts as masturbation material. I think there are parts of it that are arousing, but I almost never offer my reader uncomplicated arousal. I always try to ask my reader to examine their own sexual responses. To create a problematic sort of response that may indeed have a sexual dimension but is mixed with self-examination in the reader – that asks them what part culture, identity, public and private issues are colouring or twisting that sexual reaction. Does this make sense?

          I’m not suggesting for a moment that arousing people in writing is easy. But if I am to be totally honest, I believe there really is a gallery of images and bell words and a rhythm and progression of narrative that is not too challenging to produce, that will give the desired outcome in porn. Inviting readers to experience that in a broader context of culture and identity is, I think, harder and more challenging for me – and therefore much more exciting to try to write.

  5. March 20, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    For some reason, I always get the email address wrong here. My wife Fleur does all my web-work, and I’m easily confused. I’ve corrected it here:


  6. March 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    I haven’t been writing a lot of just erotica lately but, the things I have been working on are very character driven. I’ve been experimenting a lot with driving the characters without using a lot of physical description, names etc. It’s been fun thus far.

    • March 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      As a reader, nothing puts me off as much as a long physical description of a protagonist who looks nothing like me. I might still like the story, but suddenly my ability to work up any sexual response is GONE>

  7. vanimp
    March 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Oh now I am curious?

    • March 22, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      I don’t know – are you? 😛

      • vanimp
        March 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm

        That would be a hell yes! 😀 Count me in if I can be useful …

        • March 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm

          Do you think there is a correlation between kinky people (who by definition reject societies standards of sexual behaviour) and an inability to follow directions, Vanimp? I believe I devoted the whole bottom of this post to explicitly explaining what to do if you wanted to participate. 😛

  8. March 25, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    My Dear RG.

    I’ve taken a while to reply here because I wanted to read some of your longer works from Amazon as work points from which to think about our topic. As with the short pieces I’ve read here, I find your writing to be complex, intriguing and, in spite of what you’ve said here, wank-worthy.

    But I would ask that you consider the distinction I’m pushing for here. If you want to distinguish between erotica and porn, okay by me; but I think the idea that it is necessarily not literary or is lower to write “just sex” or having “just sex” is, first, wrong, and, second, an idea that degrades the complexity and challenge of sex writing. My argument here is that “just sex” has plenty of conflict in it — muscle walls conflict with the fluids passing through tubes; tension builds, is relieved; comes back again to fill us with need, aggression, rage; the meaning of all this is felt in the moment. Sex is what drives erotic writing; sex is enough. I’m not sure how there is less tension or conflict in Fleur’s desire to have unprotected sex with all the men in the club to see if she can feel their individual come inside them, and Sophie fucking Mok after having an orgasm getting her ears cleaned. I think there is transgression and a compelling story, and that it is pretty much the same one, in both of these places.

    All genres have their limited vocab and bell words: when John Milton has Raphael tell Adam about the War in Heaven he opens the book (Bk VI of Paradise Lost) with “the rosy-fingered dawn” because he wants to throw the reference to Homer. I think the limits of this genre, like all genres, are the challenge and are what makes it great.

    Lastly, here’s John Updike’s “Love Poem.”

    In Love’s rubber armor I come to you;
    Does this poem call us to reflect on the predictability and banality of the sex act? Does it mock fucking and the attempt to write about it? Or are the lines left blank because fucking, just plain fucking, unfolds a mystery that Updike wants us to think is ineffable and profound, like Dante going blank when he tries to describe what it was like to look at God. Like Ronald Wallace’s “You Can’t Write a Poem About MacDonalds,” does this poem say that fucking is too small or too big to be a literary genre of its own.

    I understand your point here completely. And read your work with real admiration, and now also with affection and in collegiality. I hope you’ll consider that I have an idea what my writing is trying to do and that, win or lose, I’m doing it for reasons that make sense to me and I hope also to you.

    In friendship,


  9. March 25, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    The line-wrap on your site put the rhyme letters of “Love Poem” at the start of the line. They need to be a the ends of the lines, since they represent the rhyme scheme of the sonnet. I tried to get a version that would do this properly.

    • March 26, 2011 at 8:33 am

      Yes…grrr. I can’t seem to make it fit right either. hence the link

  10. March 31, 2011 at 5:15 am

    I really liked this post simply because I enjoy reading erotica and have also created my own blog to post my erotic works. Too often I read people’s stories that have abusive doms, whimpy subs making the story just seem (in my opinion!!!!) spineless and weak.

    It will be interesting to see the results of this study!!!! Thank-you for your words!

  11. Kathleen Bradean
    April 4, 2011 at 12:29 am

    RG – you’ve certainly hit on a peeve of mine.

    I wish I could remember the name of the French director who defended his art film as erotica rather than porn when he said “porn has no suspense.”

    If you’re a writer who cares about sales (I know that you don’t, and I have ambiguous feelings about it) you write the cardboard characters because that’s what the largest percentage of readers are looking for. They don’t want a conflicted dom with self doubts and personal issues who makes mistakes. They want perfection. They want, in essence, a fantasy, not a person. However, if you’re a literary writer, the character as a person is your focus, and you don’t want perfection. Far from it. You want messy. You want flawed. You don’t want easy answers, and sometimes, you don’t want answers at all. And if you find that sliver of readers who want that too, then you have a story as a dialog.

    Keep me posted about your results. You know I’m interested.

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