Archives for May 2016
In Bare to You by Sylvia Day, we have the hero trying to persuade the heroine she’s a submissive even though she’s telling him otherwise; and even though he’s a refined billionaire, he keeps referring to her vagina as cunt.
In Bang by E.K. Blair (which I loved for other reasons), the infuriated hero beats up the heroine with a belt; later he urinates inside her to “mark” her as his. In Echo, the sequel, he’s enraged and brutally rapes her in the ass even after having learned that she was sexually abused during her entire childhood. She’s also raped by another character with the handle of a gun.
In Echo: A Dark Billionaire Romance by A. Zavarelli, the blurb reads: “He says he owns me. And it’s true … I’ve signed over complete control of my body and life for six months to a man I don’t know … He likes to hurt me. I love to let him. He brings me to life. He sets me free.”
In Owned by M. Never, the hero says, “I like you collared, baby. I like you naked, I like you mine.” He drugs her, and she wakes up in a cage to be raped every day until her will is broken, for her own safety because he’s “protecting her” from a terrible danger.
I also remember reading the synopsis of a novel where the dominant hero for some reason could only experience pleasure through anal sex, so the girl went along with that. I didn’t read the novel, but I can imagine all the lust and backdoor activities happening on a regular basis.
Do we see a pattern here? Keywords: submission, property, rape and, of course, anal sex all over the place. Some of the details in the books I’ve mentioned are so out there I won’t even comment on them, as I don’t mean to be harsh. My only goal here is to detect elements in those stories that connect to porn. And keep in mind that there are gazillions of similar novels in the mainstream market.
The problem is also that, just like porn, many erotic novels portray actual-life role playing—in which no actual harm is done—as the real thing. So they glorify sexual violence I remember watching the 2014 documentary Kink about the homonymous BDSM porn site kink.com. The pain is real, but they’re all very professional and respect the performers’ boundaries. There are two things, though. One, performers feel they have to endure as much pain as possible. Two, there are rape scenes in some of the films. The usual yada-yada, the rape occurs and in the end the victim enjoys it (I am so sick of repeating this over and over, it’s past getting old).
When you see the shooting, it’s clear no harm is done. But when you watch the scene, even though you know it’s a performance, it sells you the idea of the real thing: that rape is normalized as something acceptable because it’s exciting and the victim likes it. It also reinforces the notion that when a woman says no, she actually means yes because she will eventually enjoy forceful sex. So those films are not selling a fantasy, they’re selling an idea. The same goes with erotic novels. And that can be very dangerous.
Even novels without blatant violence such as Burning Offer by Audrey Parker reveal a strong porn influence. Here the heroine literally drenches her panties just by looking at the hero. A couple of characters have sex on cue and the guy penetrates her in a rough way (apparently, it’s the only way to penetrate a woman these days). A girl screams she wants the guy to come all over her face. The hero ejaculates on the heroine’s back over her dress, and later he threatens to stick his cock down her throat and fuck it until she learns to listen.
To fuck a woman’s mouth. How sweet. As I remember, fellatio used to be a way for a woman to express herself and actively pleasure a man all the while having pleasure in the process of giving. Now, thanks to porn, it has been reduced to “mouth fuck,” meaning the woman is again a passive hole and gets nothing out of it except for a sore throat and a very unpleasant chocking session. What was once a sensual expression bonding a woman and a man turned into punishment creating distance. That’s how fucked up porn is. That’s how it fucks up our sexuality.
Have we become so colonized by male porn that romance authors are compelled to write that kind of stuff and readers are compelled to love it? Just like male porn molded men’s sexuality, it seems erotic romance finished the job by molding women’s sexuality. Research shows that, unlike men, women don’t enjoy extreme porn. But now extreme porn comes to women in the form of books sugarcoated in romance, and it desensitizes them just as filmed porn has desensitized men.
I highly doubt women would enjoy watching a film with a heroine being painfully raped in the ass, but in writing there’s a whole backdrop to that scene, the hero is hot and has a thing going with the heroine, and he will inevitably root for her at some point, so rape becomes acceptable and readers forgive it—some simply brush it off and forget about it in face of the happy ending. While the violence becomes ingrained in men’s brains through sexual gratification, in romance books it becomes ingrained in women’s brains through a romantic backdrop. In both cases, violence gets inextricably linked to sexual pleasure and titillation.
When you sexualize violence, it becomes invisible.
My personal experience
Even review submission forms in romance blogs sometimes state that the staff won’t accept books with rape perpetrated by the hero but “forceful seduction” is okay. What the hell does that even mean? Forceful is forceful and is NOT okay. It implies that a man is entitled to a woman’s body no matter what. I have a confession to make, though. After reading books of that kind, I myself fell into the trap once. I’ll share my personal experience to illustrate how easy it is for that to happen.
After reading those books, I questioned for a moment if my novel RED wasn’t too tame. Although graphic, it didn’t include anal sex, and the BDSM in it was light and not too detailed, focusing rather on pleasurable foreplay and emotional connection. Now I’m actually happy it stayed that way.
When I wrote a Fifty Shades of Grey spin-off for a contest, however, I knew it would have to be very steamy, so I created a scene where the attraction between the main characters had the hero immobilizing the heroine and fingering her while she protested: he aimed to prove that she wanted him as much as he wanted her. I was aware the scene was over-the-top but it felt tongue-and-cheek to me, since there was humor in it. The copy editor, a middle-age man who obviously has never read erotic romance, pointed out that that was rape. I dismissed his comment, as readers raved about the story and I had no time to rewrite that whole scene. I opted for the easy solution of stressing how much the heroine was attracted to the hero, conveying she was sending mixed signals to him—which is a dangerous notion nonetheless, as interpreting signals is subjective, in which case any man could force himself upon a woman with the excuse that she had sent him mixed signals.
If I were to write that story today, I would do the scene differently.
Before reading contemporary erotic romance, the inclusion of rape in one of my plots would have never crossed my mind. But on another occasion, I caught myself considering a rape scene—or “forceful seduction” if you will—for a short story. It would be a disguised role play session, so the hero wouldn’t be actually forcing the heroine to have sex, although the unaware reader would have that impression. It seemed to me like a way of adding tension and excitement to the plot. It’s a common gimmick: include rape in a story, and you’ll immediately create conflict, interest and empathy. Then all alarms went off in my head. Why on earth would I resort to a rape scene to promote sexual titillation through a non-consensual act, even if it wasn’t real rape?
There you go. In spite of all my preaching against that sort of message, I almost fell into the trap. Authors, like everyone else, are not immune to cultural indoctrination.
On my next post I’ll talk about something that is becoming the norm in mainstream erotic romance, just as it is mandatory in mainstream porn: anal sex. I read somewhere that it has turned into the “new virginity” in erotic romance. Let’s take a closer look at that butt, shall we? I will not be discussing romance further: on my next post I’m going strictly anal—for your reading pleasure.
My very first post on this blog was about heroines in romance novels. I felt compelled to write it after reading a number of erotic romance novels and detecting a pattern of heroines being sexually abused by their heroes. I began to wonder why and, among other reasons, concluded the authors—all of them women—had been colonized by male porn to such an extent that they were reproducing it in their stories. Readers, colonized as much as the authors, bought the idea and created the necessary demand to make that sort of material thrive in mainstream erotic romance.
At the time, I was surprised but hadn’t really paid close attention to porn. Now that I have, I can understand the reason why male porn is so pervasive in romance novels written by women for women: it is the major reference for sex available, and it has already expanded to pop culture as I’ve mentioned in another post. Here I will analyze some of the stories I came across.
Fifty shades of female frustration
I will start with Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, the erotic novel whose success inserted male porn in mainstream romance and opened the gates to a deluge of similar stories. It’s all about female submission, exquisite pleasure mixed with pain and the notion that a woman is a man’s property. Female readers found the novel to be empowering and liberating for women. I’m not so sure about that. Fifty Shades more likely provided women with an outlet to their sexual fantasies and a titillation of transgression, since BDSM deviates from regular sexual practices—when the novel first came out in 2012, BDSM wasn’t prevalent in pop culture as it is today. In that sense, the novel validated women as sexual beings entitled to have pleasure and break free from the boundaries of convention. Finally, women had found their own porn in the mainstream.
If you strip off Fifty Shades of its sexual content, however, what’s left is a very traditional love story, with conventional male and female roles of dominance and submission. But the novel didn’t stay at that: when it reinstated the notion that a woman is the property of a man, it actually took women’s rights and freedom backwards, making us go back a few hundred years. In old times, women were indeed the property of men, with their sexuality tightly controlled to protect property and make sure they didn’t generate illegitimate heirs.
Moreover, I don’t see how a heroine could be possibly empowered when she’s afraid of the hero, begs him not to hurt her, and is subjected to sex as punishment for his pleasure. Christian Grey, nevertheless, is rich, handsome and emotionally damaged, so all is forgiven. Ana can’t resist him, and in spite of her reluctance, she always experiences glorious orgasms no matter what he does—here, we have the typical male porn scenario, when the man imposes acts the woman doesn’t want and doesn’t like, but eventually enjoys.
Something else is going on with Fifty Shades. In his own words, Christian Grey is a sadist. Why would any woman in her right mind find it so hot to be around a sadist? Yet readers rave about the novel. As I mentioned, Grey is very handsome. I doubt women would be so excited to submit to his whip if he looked like an ogre. And what’s with the contract he wants Ana to sign in order to become his property? That doesn’t make any sense. Imagine a lawyer in real life writing such contract. Wait: a lawyer wouldn’t write a single line because that’s slavery and, according to the Constitution, it’s illegal.
So that begs the question: why, oh women, why are you so drawn to Christian Grey and the damn contract? I have a guess. Maybe women are tired of decades of double shift, working hard to make a living and then going back home to take care of endless household chores. In that light, the thought of having someone free them of that burden is appealing. Let alone someone handsome and filthy rich like Christian Grey.
There’s an archetypal dynamics in romance novels with alpha males that goes like this: the abusive hero resists his budding love for the heroine and mistreats her as she endures it and quietly gets under his skin. Maybe that goes to teach female submission or the lesson that love conquers all? There’s also the irresistible appeal of a damaged hero that makes his bad behavior forgivable: it speaks to the feminine nurturing nature while tickling it with the challenge of winning the hero’s heart.
I see countless women over the Internet that are addicted to romance books. They say they need them to escape the chores and worries of their daily lives. Have women become so worn out by double shifting that they desperately need this outlet? Or are some of them still eternal princesses in search of a prince?
The next book I’m going to peruse is Sweet Temptation by best-selling author Maya Banks. Here, the heroine Angelina is offered by the hero Micah to his pals Rick, Chris and Cole. He doesn’t ask her permission or warns her about what’s going to happen since he can do whatever he wants because “she belongs to him.” The scene goes on for several chapters. It starts with Angelina bare naked, with a butt plug stuck up her ass, bringing beer to the men at Micah’s command. I describe what happens next in the section below. The passages in italics reflect the same kind of wording used in the book. I warn you that the scene is quite graphic. If you like, you can skip the details—just ignore the section below marked with stars.
* * * Warning: graphic content * * *
Angelina sucks Rick without being allowed to use her hands. He yanks her down, forcing her into his erection. After a while he says, “Holy shit, she’s magnificent.” Then he pulls away, forces her mouth open, jerks off and ejaculates in her mouth. He commands her to hold it all. He commands her to swallow it. Then he calls her a sweetheart. Chris is next and has vaginal intercourse with Angelina. He’s huge and stretches her impossibly to the point of pain and it’s delicious. At one point he says: “You can’t take all of me, baby? Not many women can. Before the night’s over with, you will. You’ll take me in every one of your holes.”
He ravages her nipples, she whimpers in pain but wants more. He hammers all of his dick into her as she cries out in pain. She orgasms. He says it was amazing and is careful not to hurt her when he withdraws. After a brief break for rest, Cole kisses Angelina, moving his hips forcefully over hers. Micah (the hero) stares at her with approval and desire. Cole orders Angelina to kneel down and ties her wrists up to some sort of BDSM apparatus. He says, “I’m going to mark you, Angelina. Not just a red welt here and there.”
He adds she can stop him but he doesn’t think she will. Then he starts whipping her. Micah presses his cock to her mouth. He’s deep in her throat in a second. She makes a choking sound and he grips her tighter. Rick says “that’s fucking hot.” It’s Chris turn to fuck her mouth brutally. She chokes and coughs, he fucks harder until he orgasms. The front of Angelina’s body is covered in his and Micah’s semen, “rivulets over her skin, warm, soft, evidence of their passion.” Rick rounds up the “passion” by ejaculating over her breasts. Cole stops whipping her at this point and proceeds to spank her with a wooden beam. It hurts like fire but soon Angelina is taken by sweet pleasure. The blows continue to land hard. Cole kisses her abused flesh.
Angelina is released and then tied up by two ropes hanging from the ceiling. She’s balancing on tiptoe. Cole takes her in the ass while tenderly stimulating her in the front—a demonstration of his caring and regard for her. She orgasms. Micah releases her and kisses her gently.
Angelina kneels down, Chris penetrates her ass while Rick penetrates her mouth. Chris praises her obedience to owner Micah and says she’s wonderful, Rick says “Suck my dick. He’s going to fuck your ass until you make me come.” He forces himself deep into her throat. Chris hammers into her, knocking her forward. She would have screamed as pain lances through her throbbing anus, but Rick’s cock is buried so deep she can’t even breathe around it. Chris says he has some bad news for Angelina: he’s only halfway in. He hammers forward again, she rips her mouth from Rick’s cock and Rick grabs her hair, yanking her head back down and forcing his cock back into her mouth.
The thing goes on, she wants more, she feels “beautiful” and “alive.” I thought they were already going at her as hard as it gets, but apparently not, because they go even harder. Chris touches her clitoris and she orgasms, bursting “like an overinflated balloon.” Rick brings her a drink and apologizes for coming in her mouth, saying it was “kind of uncool.”
Angelina is sprawled and tied up on a table. Cole kisses her, and she thinks he tastes of “comfort” and “love.” He explains he will use safe candles on her and proceeds to drip hot wax all over her body. Micah caresses her between her legs, Rick and Chris suck her nipples. It goes on, and this is how she feels: With four sets of male eyes admiring her naked, wax-splattered body, she felt beautiful, desirable. Ultra feminine and powerful. “And now we’ll all have you, Angel girl,” Micah says. Coles fucks her hard in the vagina, then is replaced by Rick and finally by Chris. Then Cole takes her ass while Micah takes her vagina, in double penetration, and Rick and Chris make her suck them. Afterwards, still in double penetration mode, she gives both Rick and Chris simultaneous hand jobs until they ejaculate on her. Cole ejaculates in her. Finally, Micah’s friends thank Angelina for a wonderful evening, pet her gently and say she’s amazing.
After his friends leave, Micah prepares a bath for Angelina. When they go to bed, “he hovers protectively over her, a shield between her and the rest of the world,” and takes her slowly. They reach orgasm. She falls asleep, “surrendered to the velvet clasp of his protection.”
* * * End of graphic content * * *
There’s more stuff happening with Cole and apparatuses and whatnot in the next chapters, but I think you get the gist. I apologize for the graphic details, but I included them to illustrate the violence and how it is delivered to look acceptable and desirable. This is always done in romance novels that feature an abusive hero. He hurts, he kisses, he mistreats, he brings flowers.
I don’t even know how to begin with Sweet Temptation. It’s pure porn. Just film it and you’ll have the perfect gonzo video. The only thing is, no real woman would survive that. Just like in a staple gang bang scene, Angelina is reduced to a body for abuse and a set of holes for ad nauseum penetration. We have in one single evening fifteen penetrations, one of them double vaginal-anal, and on top of that whipping (blood drawn), spanking with a wooden beam, hot wax play, lots of ordering the heroine around, hair gripping, gagging, forcing and hammering, as well as the classic money shot featured in every porn film on earth. In addition, there’s the message that, if a woman is beautiful and behaves like a good object, she’s praised and desired, which means she’s loved—is she?
Since this is a romance novel and not a porn film, instead of spitting on her face, the men make compliments to Angelina and have bouts of “tenderness” in between forceful acts. Here’s an example from my description: He hammers all of his dick into her as she cries out in pain. She orgasms. He says it was amazing and is careful not to hurt her when he withdraws. Or: Rick’s cock is buried so deep she can’t even breathe … he grabs her hair, yanking her head back down and forcing his cock back into her mouth … he apologizes for coming in her mouth and says it was “uncool.”
Does that even make sense? What difference does it make that guy #1 withdraws carefully after hammering into her as she cried in pain? What difference does it make that guy #2 apologizes for coming in her mouth, when he’s already forced himself into it with such force she could hardly breathe? Such scenes require a good coat of sugar and “exquisite pleasure derived from pain,” or else they won’t sit well with female readers.
It is, once again, the usual porn routine: the reluctant woman always ends up enjoying whatever the guy is imposing on her. The whole scene still feels pretty violent to me albeit much less disturbing than the first time I read it (thanks to the nefarious effect of desensitization after repeated exposure). Some readers hated the book, but most found it hot and gave it many stars. To me, it all goes to show how colonized by male porn our whole society has become. Male porn has created demand for more extreme material. Now this romance vein of male-porn-turned-female-porn is going down the same route.
Female sexual freedom?
Sociologist Gail Dines, the author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, has an interesting take on that. In the fifties women were portrayed on their knees waxing floors. Today they wax their pubic hair and are displayed on their knees to fulfill male fantasies.
Before ending this post, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not criticizing the authors mentioned here. My point is to highlight how porn has pervaded mainstream romance novels. On my next post I’ll wrap up this subject with additional examples and my personal experience.