Kristina Lloyd

Erotic Fiction Author

Erotic Degradation: The Pleasure of Unpleasure

All writers get bad reviews. If you write erotica, your sexuality gets reviewed as well.

Trust me, you sometimes need a thick skin to deal with this.

We are all, as individuals, never more vulnerable than when we reveal our desiring selves to others, and smut writers do this on a grand scale. Sure, it’s framed within a fiction and no one can see us blush.

But with that distance comes a space which allows strangers to pass judgement.

Here are a few things that have been said about me. I mean, about my books:

Most of the sex scenes are degrading – not arousing.

Great if you like the idea of being humiliated and called slut etc., not so great if you don’t.

Ilya is a man who truly doesn’t respect Beth in the least, doesn’t even like her.

That girl needs to see a therapist big time.

You would think that an erotic fiction book would be at least a little bit sensual.

One of the worst Black Lace books I have ever read.

I found some of the BDSM disgusting.

Nothing against a kinky read but I don’t like mental abuse in erotic books.

I think ultimately the book serves as a potent illustration of why in the majority, fantasy should stay exactly that, and never actually see the light of day.

Ouch!

My grumble isn’t really with negative comments; I think it’s par for the course when you’re a writer. And I’m pleased to report, they’re vastly outnumbered by the very many positive, insightful, considered reviews my work has received over the years.

No, my problem is with the way erotic humiliation is so frequently misunderstood, reviled and marginalised. I write a lot about women who get off on being used, degraded and verbally dominated; about rape fantasy; about discomfort, conflict, fear. Pain isn’t my kink. Spanking is off my radar. Rough stuff and psychological humiliation is more my theme although, of course, the physical and the mental don’t form neat parcels for anyone. When I write about this and someone says ‘Ew! Gross!’, it feels as if they’re saying that what turns me on is wrong.

An editor once reminded me that erotic fiction needs to focus on pleasure rather than be a vehicle for dysfunction. I was so stunned I didn’t eat worms for the rest of the week and almost quit my basket-weaving. I am not dysfunctional. I am not damaged. And what on earth is ‘pleasure’ anyway? It sounds suspiciously like scented candles to me. The notion that female erotica should be softer and more romantic is wildly offensive. Ditto the implication that a women who wants to be dominated by a man must lack her own mind. She doesn’t want it. She’s merely a victim and it’s her damaged, self-loathing psyche talking. Oh, purlease.

I get a lot of pleasure from unpleasure, from being made to squirm, from hating it and loving it all at once. All those who are with me, say ‘Ay!’ One of the most moving erotic scenes I’ve ever read is in Stephen Elliott’s My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up. The narrator, a male submissive new to the BDSM scene, after hours of being tied, gagged, hurt and demeaned is fucked with a strap-on. Elliott writes:

I had never been entered before. She leaned across my back, wrapping one arm around my chest and gripping my neck with her other hand, occasionally squeezing my windpipe so I couldn’t breathe for a second. I cried again, but it was a different crying. I was very comfortable. I don’t think I had ever been comfortable before.

‘Comfortable’ might seem an odd word to use in this context but I think it’s perfect.

For me, it’s that sense of dreamy, egoless relief that arises in the tension between pleasure and unpleasure. Subspace, to use the jargon.

A lot of my characters (jeez, I can’t think who they’re based on) get off on being treated badly, on being distressed, reduced, shamed and scared. They’re not screwballs, nihilists, emotional masochists or lacking in self-worth. It’s a sex thang. They can still function.

Beth, my central character in Asking for Trouble, is a woman exploring her taste for sleaze, danger, submission and humiliation. Ilya is the enigmatic stranger she’s newly involved with. She confesses her fantasies to him: ‘I just like picturing things where I’m being used, objectified, degraded, that kind of stuff. It’s liberating. I’m in someone else’s hands. I’m not being me.’

Once upon a time, academics wrote about Black Lace books and the new phenomenon of women writing porn. One academic, analysing Asking for Trouble, quoted the above dialogue and said, ‘So once again then, we see in the woman who liberates her sexuality and embraces eroticism the simultaneous flight from selfhood.’

Guh? Flight from selfhood? Isn’t half the point of sex the way in which we can transcend ourselves? (What’s the other half? Someone remind me? Oh yes: cock.) In Split, my spooky puppets and bondage novel, I explore what submission and degradation mean a little bit more. Kate is falling in love with Jake, the strange and beautiful curator of an isolated puppet museum in the Yorkshire Moors. She’s gradually coming to understand how the power imbalance of their sexual relationship fulfils her:

He breaks me down, strips me of inhibitions and when I’ve sobbed and climaxed until I don’t know who I am, he wraps me in his arms, so soft and tender.

Do I sound like a masochist? I don’t feel like one. The point isn’t the pain and I don’t suffer. Or rather, I go beyond suffering and into a new space. If I could get there without it hurting, I would. I think that’s why I like it when Jake calls me ‘slut’ and makes me feel bad. It takes me there, helps me lose myself […] and it’s as if I’m in a nothing space, floating. I am so free there.

It’s such a feeling to be free of yourself. I didn’t understand it at first. I think it scared me but I’m getting to know and understand it. I’m coming to realise that I want this not because I’m worthless and I must suffer. It’s because I’m human and life’s tough. Letting go is so powerful. Surrender transforms me. I adore oblivion.

Kate, like Beth, is a woman conflicted about her sexuality. I think this is true of a lot of people whose kinks are on the dark side, and I think this is OK. We hear a lot about ‘sex positivity’ and having a ‘healthy’ attitude; and while I applaud the sentiment it leaves me feeling a tad uncomfortable. It seems so neat, clean and tidy, and leaves little space for angst or doubt. Where we want to go and what we want to do or be done to us can be disturbing, terrifying, upsetting and exciting. It’s pleasure but not as they know it. Accepting conflict and contradiction is a significant part of accepting our messy sexual selves. I’m sure ‘sex positive’ was originally meant to encompass this but it’s easily miscast to imply unproblematic happy-jolly-fucky sex. It can make me feel dirty, and not in a good way.

I like brutes and bullies with a nice line in contempt. I like back alleys, seediness and squalor. I like scary scenarios that make my heart beat faster. All these things break down the ego and strip away the veneer of the civilised self. And when you’re without that constructed identity, when your dignity and self-respect have been put on hold, then boundaries shift, inhibitions are lost. If anything, those who like to indulge in being broken down need to have a very secure sense of self. They must be continually piecing themselves back together again afterwards.

I imagine a scene. To some eyes, it may look like a woman on her knees in a crack den, sobbing in shame with her hair full of piss, being mocked by a couple of thugs. But for plenty of people, suffering and degradation is intensely erotic. It’s the pleasure of unpleasure, of being split between yes and no. I like it there. I’m comfortable. The scented candles can go hang!


Best Sex 2009This post first appeared on Lust Bites and was selected for inclusion in Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Best Sex Writing 2009.

It was also featured on Your Tango.

18 Comments »

  1. Well put, Kristina.

    What is the turn-on in telling other people that what they do and/or like is not normal, dysfunctional, to be “fixed”? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but the certainty with which the judgment is made is more than a bit weird.

    Are you aware of Esther Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity ?

    I think she does an excellent job of presenting a very logical and yet alternative view of sexuality in marriage specifically that touches on this question of ‘who’s business is it anyway?’

    john

    Comment by john | March 18, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thanks John! I don’t know the book but thanks for the rec.

    Comment by kristinalloyd | March 19, 2009 | Reply

  3. This is my kink too. And I’ve had some minor success in writing erotica, but it seems I stand more chance of getting published if I don’t write about what turns ME on. My first story did deal with these elements and was published by the fun site Ruthie’s Club but I have been told by editors that a man calling a woman names is “not erotic it’s degrading” even in BDSM it seems a lot of editors frown on it. It’s annoying because I’d give a lot to read more books like “Asking for Trouble”! Just finshed it. All my turn ons finally in a beautifully written novel. Stuff I previously had to find on men’s sites that half the time ended up including horrible pain stuff that I’m not into.

    Comment by L | June 26, 2009 | Reply

  4. L, thank you so, so much! It’s always great to get supportive notes about AFT – and implicitly about my sexuality. It does mean a lot to me. And you know, I’d forgotten how exciting it felt to be writing a book that didn’t feature the usual d/s scenarios of spanking, whipping, bondage etc. Sure, all these things are fine and often hot (I do like bondage!) but they’re not at the heart of my kink – and to the heart is where I wanted to go with AFT. I knew I was doing something different when I set out on the non-pain track but had no idea if it would be popular. I’m currently collecting some thoughts on AFT because (OMG) it’s 10 years old this summer. And yeah, I’d forgotten this one.

    Totally sympathise with your frustration at hearing ‘but it’s degrading’. That paradox of getting off on nasty stuff has a sort of easy, in-built criticism. No one would ever say ‘but it’s so *spanking*!’ And yet some people who don’t get the erotic aspect of degradation seem to think it’s OK to just return the word and the kink back to you. They don’t even need to criticise and say ‘ew! nasty!’ – because of course, it is exactly that and their criticism is in the thing itself. (I hope that makes sense.) The point is, degradation also means something *else* to very many people. And as you note, a lot of this stuff has traditionally been male-owned, male-driven and there are overlaps with genuinely misogynistic porn. When women stake their claim to it, a lot of people, perhaps understandably, get very uncomfortable. Femsub (esp forced submission) is a complex and fascinating subject.

    I’m lucky in that I’ve mainly had negative reactions from reader reviews more so than publishers. I hope you can keep writing what turns you on and find a home for it. The more women writing and enjoying this stuff, the more acceptable it becomes. And that makes me happy! Again, thank you. Much appreciated.

    Comment by kristinalloyd | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  5. I just bought Split! Now I have to wait for it to arrive. It’s the first new print book I’ve bought new since my husband was laid off. I can’t really afford it. lol
    This article it timely. I just found my first semi bad review online. Not that bad 3 and a half stars, but she said she didn’t “connect with the characters.” 😛
    My other two reviews for the book were 5 stars so that sucked to come across. lol
    Since I’m so poor I bought AFT as an ebook (shipping to my country makes book prices very expensive.
    Hopefully somewhere down the line I can buy your Victorian book as an ebook too from Fictionwise.
    Another thing that made AFT such an amazing book tooread was that there was so much tension about what would happen between the two main characters. This is rare in erotic fiction and erotic romance where the story can get quite boring even in beautifully written pieces.
    I’d say Tabith Flyte’s Coming Around the Mountain is another rare example where the relationship between the two main characters was complicated enough to have that kind of page turning tension. And although that story didn’t particularly deal with my kinks it was one I read every word of and couldn’t put down for that reason. Most erotic novels I end up skimming in parts because they don’t have that.
    I actually was kind of hoping Beth would get into a serious relationship with Martin at the end of AFT, having enough fantasies from Ilya to keep her in orgasms, but wanting a life with someone who truly loved her. I would have liked that happy ending.

    Comment by L | June 30, 2009 | Reply

  6. Another annoying thing is that erotic degradation seems to be a perfectly acceptable kink in fem-dom and gay erotica. Those are not my kinks, but since I write erotica I read a wide range.
    I have read the kind of things I would like in male-dom in fem-dom and gay stories.
    An unpublished novel of mine has been rejected with one of the reasons being that the kink is too degrading despite the fact I think I made every effort to show that it was consensual and the heroine liked it. I am not sure if I am going to change that in order to get in published. Perhaps when I am a more well known author I will be able to get away with more.

    Comment by L | June 30, 2009 | Reply

  7. Sorry I stumbled onto this article so late. I just finished your “Looking For Trouble” and I’m glad I did because, I can see where the remarks your book precipitated came from and also why it is easy to personalize them.

    I have to say I really enjoyed “Looking for Trouble” as a work of fiction, even though humiliation/degradation is not my particular kink. One of the wonderful things about well-written erotic fiction is that it allows you an insight into the psycho-sexual mechanisms of turn-ons that you don’t necessarily possess yourself. I found some of the book very hot. And although some of it did not turn my crank at a groin level, it was well enough written to act as a portrait of the mind of a person with different kinks to my own.

    I have to come back to a point of fact often lost in this discourse: fiction is fiction. Adult fiction is for adults who, it should be assumed, will make decisions for themselves and not allow a single piece of fiction to determine how they live their lives. Are there people who court the situations you describe in your fiction? Certainly there are, but that is their prerogative as adults, and I’d be very surprised and somewhat disturbed if a grown adult of moderate intelligence would go looking for the kind of sex Beth is interested in, prompted solely by reading a piece of erotic fiction.

    I also find the inference that exploring kinks of this kind in fiction is unfeminist extremely annoying. I’d argue that it is the opposite. When we don’t feel we can explore our sexuality – in all its myriad flavours – in writing without fear, then what freedom has feminism bought us? The freedom to conform to some new hegemony?

    But ultimately, your essay reminds me of a sign-off line used by one of my very favourite erotica writers, Mike Kimera: “What you read is not what I wrote.” A large part of what a reader takes away from any piece of fiction will depend on his or her own understanding of the world. This is going to include their cultural values and critical judgments. This is something, as writers, we just have to suck up. We are only the meaning makers of our texts until someone else reads it. Then the reins are in their hands. However, this also means that they are responsible for putting aside a text that offends them.

    Some readers are simply going to ‘read’ back to you things you don’t like. But the majority of them, the ones who enjoyed the work, found insight in it, got aroused by it, are not going to even communicate that to you. Complaint is a far greater motivation for feedback than is satisfaction.

    Comment by remittance girl | July 5, 2009 | Reply

  8. Thanks L and RG (ahem – *asking* for trouble!).

    The point you both pick up on is one that fascinates and frustrates – that straight women who enjoy this kink are more frowned upon than others with sub proclivities. Ironic that feminism is often called upon to justify criticism of femsub when of course, as RG says, exploring one’s sexuality and gaining sexual fulfilment is surely one of the very freedoms afforded by feminism.

    Mike’s sign off line is nice and yes, reader interpretation rather than authorial intent is at the heart of any reading experience. I can steer and seduce in my writing – that’s my job – but I can’t brainwash. And (picking up on L’s point about tension), as a writer, there is some gleefully evil part of me which makes me want to compel people to read about my kink, wants them to get helplessly drawn into and then go Holy shit, I liked that, I couldn’t help it, I got off on that filth! Of course, some people won’t find it hot. Some will and then hate me or themselves for it. Others will be very happy. As a reader, I find it completely wonderful when I’m turned on by something unexpected.

    But I have had many more positive comments on AFT than negative. Interestingly, the positive comments are invariably way more articulate. Anger and exasperation seems to underpin some of the negative comments – which I think says a lot.

    Comment by kristinalloyd | July 6, 2009 | Reply

  9. Excellent I read it in one night I could not put in down from start to finsh It is the first time I read one of your books I`m about to go to amazon to buy more of your books.
    Jean

    Comment by Jean | March 12, 2010 | Reply

  10. I’ve spent a year trying to find more books like Darker than Love with no success. Even online erotica doesn’t come close. They either beat the shit out them w/ whips and canes or it’s openly acknowledged as “pretend” which takes the whole fantasy away for me. Reminds me of window shopping which I hate. Why look if you KNOW you will not buy? Even if you didn’t want to, but you can’t. BORING!
    Even worse, when I checked out Powerone’s stuff (crazy hardcore just touches the surface of this guy) it got just too sick for me with him using 12 year old girls and mom/daughter combos. Really?!?!?!
    Anyway, I read all your books immediately and than ran into a drought.
    I’m going to check out your short stories now and will be keeping track to see if you come up with anymore demeaning, humiliating hot books. Please?!?!
    I’ve used Amazon’s “Customers who bought this item also bought…” to no avail. They’re ok, but I think you must be in a class by yourself.
    Thanks for the great books and get to work! Please…..

    Comment by Jennifer | March 31, 2010 | Reply

  11. Hey Jennifer, thank you so much (and belated thanks to Jean too).

    I’m totally with you on appreciating ‘realistic’ sexual fantasy within fiction. It often seems to me a waste of fiction to keep the action at a second remove by filtering it through role play. We are adults, we know fiction is make-believe. And yet I do think authors have certain responsibilities, or ought to have. So yeah, I checked out Powerone – yuk.

    Anyway, thank you again. You reminded me of one of the reasons I write erotica the way I do. You should enter my competition to win a couple of anthologies I’m in! It’s here! I’m going to draw a winner next week. Hurry, hurry!

    Comment by kristinalloyd | April 1, 2010 | Reply

  12. Great article. The range of human sexual experience and tastes, and the vast disconnect some people feel towards other people’s sexuality is always a fascinating subject.

    “I was so stunned I didn’t eat worms for the rest of the week” cracked me up.

    And the tape blindfold & gag picture — so hot!

    Comment by Esmeralda | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  13. I find it disgusting that society has degraded women for so long that women themselves have internalized this degradation. You’re justifying the mistreatment of women. Why should I respect a woman who wants to be mistreated?

    Comment by C.M. | February 2, 2013 | Reply

    • In reply to C.M.:
      Spock to Captain Kirk: “Fascinating… a totally parochial attitude!”

      Comment by Esmeralda Greene | February 2, 2013 | Reply

  14. I would like to thank you for helping me put my fantasies in focus as well helping me understand erotic humiliation as a lifestyle a little bit more. I have researched fairly extensively and up until this point, haven’ been able to find much in terms of useful detailed information on the subject, so I am truly thankful for this article. I’m sure all I need to know is out there. Erotic humiliation has been a central part of my life for the last few years, for better or worse. I feel that I am a well rounded individual who knows exactly who they are but I find the constant process of breaking myself down and building myself back up again fairly distressing. To avoid being subjected to the consequences that letting my bedroom secrets affect my career would have, the stress in my life is at an all time high to keep my fantasies a secret. The fact is that this is a very misunderstood practice if you will. Look how long it has taken society in general to accept homosexuality! After indulging in my fantasies, there is always a one to two week refractory period before I regain my full confidence. Nobody would ever be the wiser to this of course. It’s just that I always feel sort of uncomfortable. I guess I’m just confused. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that I have not been performing these fantasies with a partner but rather, have been viewing erotic humiliation pornography online. You can subject yourself to fairly cruel things when blinded by erotic temptation. I think I will figure this all out, but its just nice to know that someone else out there understands what I’m going through.

    Comment by Anonymous | June 2, 2013 | Reply

    • Thank you so much for this comment. It really does mean a lot to me to know I’m making a positive contribution by putting certain taboos on the page. I totally agree it can be hard to take ownership of and have pride in a kink that many are quick to criticise. In BDSM communities, the concept of YKINMKBYKIOK’ is fairly well established, but step away from that and you often have to draw on your own resources.

      One of the issues I’m always conscious of as a writer is how do I responsibly portray D/s, degradation, rape fantasy etc without erasing the elements that make it hot? I’m always keen to show that this is a kink a woman can actively desire. Mainstream humiliation porn often frames it differently, and yep, agreed, that can make us feel grubby as viewers. But I mainly feel the way to respond to that is to acknowledge it gets you at the groin level, because genitals don’t have brains, and then try and seek out or create ways to get the thrill without sanctioning the overt misogyny and sexism which often accompanies this stuff. It’s tricky though, and there are no easy answers.

      On the whole, I feel that women have been made to feel so fucking guilty about and ashamed of their sexuality for far too many decades, that I’m more than prepared to cut us a bit of slack and say, Hey, I’m having this, thanks!

      Comment by Kristina Lloyd | June 23, 2013 | Reply

  15. […] • The Village Voice – Tomatoes Can Be Torture Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 • A Submissives Journey – Humiliation and Degradation in BDSM • Human Bondage – Humiliation and Degradation • Seekers.org.uk – Humiliation Play • Xero Mag – Humiliation? Why Would You Want To Do That? • Kristina Lloyd – Erotic Degradation: The Pleasure of Unpleasure […]

    Pingback by Erotic Humiliation and Degradation - BDSM and Mental Health | April 22, 2015 | Reply


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