Tag Archives: sexuality

the closet Masochist

I had an enlightening conversation with a friend today.

I was, once again, ranting about what didn’t work about¬†Vishous‘s book for me. I explained to her his Domination/Submissive sexuality, and how it worked when he was verbally controlling, but not when he let her strap him to the table and drip wax over him and whip him.

This was an emotional climax (apparently), as he never, ever allows himself to be submissive to anyone. I know it worked for some readers. Didn’t for me.

This was when the conversation got interesting. My friend said:

“A sadist has impulses that can’t be expressed, because they’re violent and illegal and they would hurt people. So they create these ‘games’ which allow them to safely enact what they will never be able to act out.

“But fiction is already make-believe, so to just have the fantasy and not the act itself seems like a waste of time.”


We went on to talk about whether it’s possible to have real sadistic acts in a romance context. She made the point that most sexuality in books is closet-masochistic, because most people have masochistic tendencies, to whatever degree.

A sex scene where no means yes, or where boundaries are getting challenged and stretched and comfort zones intruded on all have elements of (mostly) masochism already.

She also made the point that sadists are only ever brought in as a means to subjugate the masochist. “How can I put this?” she said. “If the masochist is getting off on it, then it’s not giving the sadist what they need.”

I don’t quite know what to take from this conversation, except that it was enlightening, and just adds another layer to what I think romance novels are able to explore.

is romance soft porn and does it really matter?

I realised I don’t really buy into this debate much because I feel like I’m not educated enough about porn.¬†Like is it pro- or anti-feminist these days? Is it exploitative or empowering?

But I think that not knowing what academics and politicians and other vocal, public people have to say is a really bad reason not to figure out what I think.

Firstly, I haven’t looked at much traditional porn in my life, but I’ll admit that the few times I did it kinda turned me on. And if they weren’t terrifyingly seedy I would probably go to an x-rated cinema in the middle of the day one time all by myself to satisfy my curiosity. But I guess aside from having a mildly benevolent outlook, that kind of porn doesn’t really interest me.

As far as I can tell, most of the problems people have with that kind of porn is the exploitation/objectifying of women. And maybe further down the list (much further down) comes an unease about feeding purely physical sexual desire.

When people call romance novels soft porn, their problem seems to come from the idea that women sitting and enjoying (often graphic) sex in the privacy of their own brains is somehow wrong/distasteful/degrading/unnatural, maybe even scary? No one’s being exploited here, as far as I can tell.

I’m really curious – does it matter if someone enjoys a sexual fantasy?

Personally, I love skin and boobs and bums and all the other lovely, fleshy bits of the body. I think desire is healthy, and romance novels promote a healthy, adventurous, brave relationship to desire that is rarely voiced elsewhere.

(For those of you who’ve never picked up a romance novel, the non-consensual quasi-rape thing really isn’t in fashion anymore. I don’t think it has been since the 80s.)

I love the idea that, thanks to the more than 200 years of women who stood up for all women, I have a real say in my sexuality. I also find the idea that I can be a woman to my husband’s man disarming and wonderful.

What I don’t like is that it’s hard for me to say that, for fear that I’ll sound unempowered, unemancipated. Like I’m undoing all the work of all those women.

I think romance novels these days are exploring that fine line between being sexually powerful and acknowledging what fantasies are made of.