The Pain Game


Following up on Liz’s post from yesterday, let’s talk about pain in erotic romance. This is a topic from which some will run away in fear, so it’s particularly suitable for today since it’s Halloween.

Hollywood “erotic thrillers” have explored this topic thoroughly in several movies, good, bad, and forgettable. The first thing that comes to mind is the pretty wretched Body of Evidence, starring Willem Dafoe and Madonna. I don’t remember much about this movie (thankfully), although one thing that did stick in my mind was the candle wax scene. If you haven’t seen the movie and are interested in the topic of pain as erotic pleasure, rent the DVD and fast forward to this scene. For all the slams the movie has gotten, seeing Madonna pouring burning hot candle wax onto Willem Dafoe’s stomach may be worth your time.

Turning next to choking, I’ve got to confess that this one doesn’t do it for me. There’s a bizarre scene in the movie History of Violence in which Viggo Mortensen’s character has rough sex with his wife, played by Maria Bello, and part of it includes him choking her. Now to be fair, I personally have issues with anything too tight around my neck, including clothing or jewelry so the choking thing is a tough one for me to swallow (ha! I had to say it). But trying to keep an open mind and think about it in an erotic way . . . ummmm no. Nicht. Nein. Perhaps it’s the fact that going over the edge with this can lead to really, really bad things. Hot candle wax might give you a nasty burn, but it doesn’t kill you. Choking on the other hand . . .

OK, moving on. The big association of pain and erotic pleasure comes most obviously via the BDSM culture. We’ve got to give it to Fifty Shades for bringing this topic out of the dungeon and into mainstream living rooms, but BDSM fans have of course been mixing their pain and pleasure for a good long time before Fifty Shades was even a germ of an idea. There are a lot of quite good erotic romances that explore this subject in interesting ways. I recommend checking out Shoshanna Evers’ Chastity Belt or Punishing the Art Thief, Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren, or Jennifer Probst’s Dare Me. The list goes on and on. There are many more really good BDSM romances than I can recommend in this post. I’d love to hear about the ones you love, and why the element of pain and erotic romance work for you.

Also remember, we’re giving away First Drop of Crimson by Jeaniene Frost for the best comment of the day.

Happy Halloween!

Elizabeth

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14 Comments

  • madeline iva
    October 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    What a great topic to bring up — following up on (ahem) Liz Everly’s Tuesday blog.

    There’s an adult animated show called Archer that’s really snarky fun–and one of the female characters has a real choking fetish thing going on. It’s light hearted and perverse and so it brings out the attractions to a degree. Same with another scene where Archer’s had sex with a woman and obviously spanked her with a ping-pong paddle. There’s a reference to “practicing his forehand” and then they move on…

    I’ve had a guy friend confess that about 50% of the women he’s dated have asked for him to pretend to ‘forcibly’ have sex with them. He says as a guy he’s sorta uncomfortable with it–with what it means in a larger sense of things…but also as a guy, he says he doesn’t have that much of a choice. Any squeamishness on his part instantly results in women putting down his manhood or walking away and…he wants to have sex so…he does it.

    For me, the kink has gotta be light, light, light. LIke so light it’s ‘lite’. I call it kinky-lite. Treva Harte, co-founder of Loose Id and an editor says her authors call it “sugar-kink.” Exactly. Flirty and a little bad — but pain….hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Speaking of which: I’m currently reading The Siren by Tiffany Reisz, and her book is light with an edge–until I got to the first sex scene. There’s pain there, and there’s other tender feelings, but man, she goes for the real BDSM stuff. Her book is a great primer, because the men around this woman who relishes her cut lip, her bruises, her hurt face–they’re horrified. I think we’re going to explore what’s leading Nora to this place, and I’m so curious I want to know myself.

    My very good friend Nara Malone always talks about the best erotic romance writers who have characters that have been through much, that have felt the lash of emotions so potent, they won’t feel a light kiss, they won’t register hearts and flowers. I have to say that I shrink away from tortured. I wonder if Reisz is going into a tortured place, and I suspect she is, so I’m following for now, but I’m bracing myself.

    These comments are way too long, but I suspect that we’ll be revisiting this topic over and over at Lady Smut. Liz, Elizabeth and myself are all at the edge looking over with some curiosity, but with caution. What do you think?

  • Pattie
    October 31, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    I enjoyed Fifty Shades. I think the allure of reading about pain mixed with erotic romance is similar to reading about sex in public places and sex with handsome strangers. It’s experiencing something socially taboo vicariously through the characters in these novels.

    It gives some of us, who are perhaps too shy or self conscious to actually experiment, the opportunity to dip our toes into the pool of naughty from the safety of our homes without any repercussions or judgement.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      October 31, 2012 at 7:39 pm

      Completely agree with you, Pattie, and welcome to the blog!

  • LizEverly
    October 31, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    Welcome to our blog Patty. Yes, I think that’s one of the pulls of erotic romance: many of us lack the courage to experiment and can dip our toes in through reading. I also think that it all touches on this down-deep primal aspect of ourselves that goes way beyond what we as a culture thing is correct or even healthy, i.e., Madeline’s example of women wanting that man to pretend to rape them.

  • madeline iva
    October 31, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    Lori Perkins said at the NJ romance convention that this whole rise of erotic romance (and she probably meant BDSM in with it) is just a fifth wave of feminism. We’re exploring roles outside of the box and finding our way….

    Personally, I think what drives me into the kinky-lite realm is contemplating the idea of a female who isn’t behaving, isn’t self-sacrificing, isn’t a mother, a daughter — someone who is raising some hell and causing a bit of chaos. So I definitely think that I fall into what Lori Perkins was talking about…women who are outside the box of societal expectations and who are feeling their way outside of the normal sexual parameters.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      October 31, 2012 at 7:40 pm

      It’s fun to be a Bad Girl . . . even if only in our minds. 🙂

  • Jennifer Probst (@jenniferprobst)
    November 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    This is such a great topic! I have become much more inclined to read scenes that incorporate pleasure with pain, and it pushed me to write Dare Me to explore that scene a bit more. All the books you mentioned I’ve read and loved. I also think balancing the pain with erotic pleasure and opening up emotions is key. The reader wants to go as deep as possible into the characters who are both giving and receiving pleasure. I love this blog!

    • Elizabeth Shore
      November 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm

      Thanks, Jen! You rock for saying so! We’re happy to have you stop by any time. 🙂

  • Kate Kinsey
    November 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    I was poking around the blog (lovely, by the way!) and saw this discussion. Of course, I had to stop and say hello.

    I not only write about BDSM but I practice it as well. In fact, I spend so much time around other “perverts” that I forget how the other half of the world views the erotic see-saw of pain and pleasure. It wasn’t until after I’d published my novel, “RED,” and got my first feedback from “vanilla” readers, that I realized perhaps I’d been a little too extreme, at least from the viewpoint of attracting the average reader.

    So, thank you for letting me eavesdrop. It will help me as a writer to stay grounded in a more non-perverted reality. 🙂

    Madeline is absolutely right. Research shows that the single most popular fantasy for women is the rape fantasy. (And if anybody is concerned about that, I can tell you why I think this is true, but I won’t bore you here, lol.)

    I will beg you, however, to beware the stereotype that being attracted to sadomasochism is always a product of abuse or emotional damage. It simply isn’t true. I grew up in a “Leave it to Beaver” household, and yet, here I am, enjoying having the crap beaten out of me on a Saturday night, lol.

    And thanks for reminding me about “Body of Evidence.” I may have to go back and look at that again, because I’ve always found Defoe sexy. But I wanted to suggest another film you might enjoy checking out that explores the whole pain/pleasure dichotomy in a less “Hollywood” production. “Secretary” stars Maggie Gyllenhal and James Spader in a surprisingly sweet and romantic movie. It’s one of my favorites, even though I have some issues with the way the characters skirt the edges of being “damaged.”

    Thanks again, and happy reading to you all.

    • LizEverly
      November 6, 2012 at 7:42 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Kate, and for the kind remarks about our blog. I’ll check out Secretary.(Love Maggie!) If you’d like to guest post here about the rape fantasy,or anything else, actually, we’d love to have you.

      • Kate Kinsey
        November 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm

        Why, thank you Liz! I might actually take you up on the rape fantasy post. With so many more women being seduced by Fifty Shades and bdsm-themed erotica, I’m sure there are a few feeling at least a little conflicted about why such fantasies arouse them.

    • madelineiva
      November 6, 2012 at 8:46 pm

      So glad to hear your voice on the blog, Kate.

      For me there’s this easy place that’s sugar-kink or kinky-lite that’s all about props and being a little naughty. But then I’ll be reading The Siren by Tiffany Reisz and her character Nora mentions coming home with a split lip and a bruise on her cheek. I have to confess (no judgements–just saying this is my immediate reaction) all my feminist levers start flipping…

      And YES, having more discussion about this would be great. Because I think Liz and Elizabeth question those moments just like I do. We’re all curious. Is there something we’re not understanding? Is the fact that I run aground at these moments revealing the truly avant-garde nature of this kind of sexuality and my own bougie roots?

      But you can’t bore use if you want to talk about why women have rape fantasies — just the opposite. Bring it on, sister!
      I’m going to email you. Let’s talk more and maybe share some of our discussion. xo, M.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      November 6, 2012 at 10:08 pm

      Hi Kate! Oh, “Secretary.” An oldie but indeed a goodie, and one I haven’t thought about for awhile. I saw it when it first came out so it’s high time I give it a spin for round 2! Thanks for your comments!

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