This summer, I spent some hours reading femdom erotic romance that posters here had recommended, books that featured women who preferred to take the dominant role in their sexual relationships. Interestingly, few of the books featured the wimpy, take-no-charge men I had assumed would serve as the foils to these dominating heroines. Instead, most of the books I read featured men who were heavily alpha in aspects of their lives other than the sexual. Though each preferred to submit to a woman during sex, such submission has more the feel of of strength, rather than weakness; enduring the challenge of a dominating woman, and the pain of BSDM, proves men such as Joey W. Hill's Mac Nighthorse (in Natural Law) and Stephanie Vaughan's Steve Eriksson (Cruel to be Kind) to be just as strong, just as masculine as their non-kinky male counterparts. As Vaughan's Steve thinks, "He wasn't sure exactly what Megan was asking him. What she expected from him. But he knew he couldn't live with himself as a man if he backed away from her challenge." Charlotte Stein's Benjamin Tate (Power Play) came the closest to what I had expected, with the masochistic pleasure he takes in being reprimanded for his goofy fumbling and bumbling by his female boss Eleanor. But even Ben proves to have a core of competence, teaching the self-hating Eleanor how to come to terms with her own kinky sexuality. Ben doesn't struggle at all to reconcile his own masculinity with his submissive sexual needs. My reading made me wonder again: was the only way to write a erotic romance with a submissive hero to either make his submission hyper-masculine, or to have any conflicts between socially acceptable masculinity and submissive sexual preferences already resolved before the book begins?
Reading Cara McKenna's latest erotic romance, Unbound, shows that in the hands of a talented writer, even the most unconventional characters can come to sympathetic life. Rob Rush has secluded himself away in a solitary cottage in northwest Scotland, attempting to dry out after three years of excessive drinking and abusive behavior drove away all the people he cared for. Rob's been an outsider most of his life, "rubbish at friendships as a child... rubbish with girls" as an adolescent, his unconventional sexual interests only exacerbating his poor social skills. Only after discovering alcohol in college had he been able to calm his anxieties enough to "function as a young man was designed to do," to develop friendships, to marry, to start two successful businesses. But drinking gradually shifted, no longer simply "merely a bit of fuel to get the social flames to catch," but now "the means for becoming insensate." Insensate, in particular, to the most "heinous predilections," the "hateful appetites" (Rob's words) a man can have: a desire to be dominated, to be tied up, to be controlled, treated like an object, during sex.
Only by hiding himself away from all humanity can Rob be sure that he won't return to the bottle, won't cause harm to anyone else, he believes. But the arrival of a ill, injured, but quite chatty American tourist on his secluded doorstep forces him not only to play reluctant, grumpy host, but to begin to attempt the difficult work of reconciling his sense of himself as a man with his unusual sexual desires.
Only the morning after their embarrassing tryst, when Rob has had the chance to calm himself after being so awfully exposed, can he admit to Merry that she might have been right. And to see that it might not be his desire that had poisoned him, but his shame. And that's when the pleasure begins...
But can a bona fide hermit and a woman just bursting out of her shell, ready to take on the world, have anything more than a quick fling, no matter how sexually compatible they find themselves? How McKenna turns what could have been simply an erotic episode into a full-blown romance once again proves that she is one of the most honest, and most gifted, contemporary romance authors writing today.
Scotland loch: The Markers Club
Scotland loch: The Markers Club
Cara McKenna, Unbound
Next time on RNFF:
Guest Post by Cara McKenna,
on why she writes realistic sex in an escapist genre