Monday, June 24, 2013

It’s Not About the Toys by Joey W. Hill

A lot of BDSM how-to articles focus on the mechanics. Which can be a lot of fun, of course. Vibrators, floggers, restraints, clamps…who doesn’t love to play with toys? Or learn a new special language? Safe words, topping, bottoming, subspace (happy shudder).
Maybe you’re really intrigued by BDSM, but you find all that stuff a little intimidating. Fear not. At its root, what drives all BDSM practice is the mind. The psychology is the foundation on which everything else is based, which determines whether whatever happens in Dominant/submissive play successfully achieves the desires of the participants. As an erotic romance author, I firmly believe great BDSM erotic romance doesn’t require a single trapping. No restraint, no whip, nothing. Not even the removal of clothing. While I often include those delightful things in mine, if I take every bit of that out of my story and lose the Dom/sub dynamic, that erotic intensity, I know I’ve screwed something up. So much of what gives BDSM play its potency is this psychological focus. The absence of it can make it as two-dimensional as a one-on-one with a vibrator just to blow off some steam at the end of the day. The intimate flavor of the sexual experience is missing.
Here are some examples of BDSM play that don’t require anything but the mind. Though you can certainly enhance them with props and toys, the mindset is the key ingredient:
Roleplaying –Imagine you’re the secretary and he’s your boss, and act it out in the home office. In the kitchen it can be Gordon Ramsay and clumsy apprentice… Or the chauffeur takes the lady of the house out for a drive, but she orders him to stop the car and come back to the rear seat to handle her needs. The car doesn’t even have to leave the closed garage; remember, when we were kids, a cardboard box could become a gigantic castle, complete with moat (wink).
Domspeak–Something I’ve found very arousing, both in real life and erotic romance scenes, is when the Dominant shifts fully into that mode in a non-D/s environment.

1)      For instance, at a neighborhood party, a woman tells her lover he will bring her food, drink, whatever she needs. No one else realizes they are engaging in Dom/sub play, but every time he brings her something, anticipates her needs, it reinforces it for the two of them. When she’s sitting on a lounge chair on the lawn, he sits on the ground next to her. Again, nothing that would really cause much comment, but the significance to them increases the tension and arousal. (Note: This is NOT a way to get your significant other to handle the bulk of the household chores. That WILL backfire on you.)
2)      A little more provocative - You and your significant other are traveling in the car. You’re wearing a skirt, and your partner tells you to remove your panties and then part your legs, keeping yourself accessible to him while he drives. He might occasionally reach over, slip his hand under the skirt to stroke you, or simply lay a hand high on your thigh. He doesn’t have to touch you intimately to have created a very arousing scenario, because your very position is bending to his will. Try doing that on a thirty minute drive. I guarantee you’ll be ready to jump one another when he stops that car (laughter). A win-win for you both!
Mindfucks – in BDSM, this often refers to a situation where the Dom makes a sub believe something dangerous or excessively painful is about to happen to them, when in fact that is not the case. The adrenaline or fear drives the response higher. Obviously, this is a scenario where fear is a turn-on for both participants. There are Doms who enjoy higher levels of sadism and subs who have deeper masochism needs, or who only reach subspace through sufficient fear or adrenaline rush.
A great example of a mindfuck for a therapeutic purpose happened in one of JR Ward’s awesome Black Dagger Brotherhood books. There is a scene where Butch does this to Vishous to help him exorcise some personal demons. When it’s all over, V finds he’d been touched by nothing but a simple kitchen utensil, though in his mind it was a much sharper implement, with a far more malevolent purpose.
All that said, to my way of thinking, there are gentler levels of the mindfuck, where the Dom gets a sub to suspend disbelief enough, or makes the sub genuinely believe something that’s not true, to enhance pleasure. Here are a couple examples (using household items only):
1)      The Dom blindfolds and binds the sub and, through multiple opening and closings of the front door, sounding like he’s talking to someone, creative use of audio and/or wearing different shoes into the bedroom, introducing different scents, etc, he makes her think he’s brought other people in to watch his sub be at his mercy, even though there’s no one in the room but them. This can be a way to safely pursue a sub’s voyeur fantasies, if the Dom doesn’t feel comfortable with the reality, or the sub prefers it to stay a fantasy.
2)      A Domme knows her blindfolded sub is scared of needles, and she makes him believe she’s going to be using them on his sensitive parts, when in fact she’s pricking him with the stem of a feather. Suggestion is a very powerful tool.
Just remember, if you proceed to the more edgy forms of mindfuck, you are messing with a person’s psyche. As a result, the one in the Dominant role needs to be pretty confident of his/her relationship with the sub and know what truly arouses the partner to proceed with this kind of session. However, it is an intriguing and usually safe one to explore at the more sensual layers, as noted above with these examples. However, if a person doesn’t associate arousal with fear, a mindfuck like the needle idea tends to work better when there’s a higher level of trust. When the participants have embraced their Dom/sub roles more deeply, the sub will shift more easily into a mode of wanting to please the Dom, meaning he/she will trust them further to convey that.
Now, despite what I said at the beginning, I want to add a word about tools and trappings. They can definitely help with the psychology, where the mechanics and the mind tangle in wonderful ways. For instance, I have a lovely silver collar and cuffs that pin latch so it is difficult to remove them without a mirror or assistance. When my husband puts those on me, the very act shifts my mind into a deeper gear, putting me in touch with the submissive side where I will let go of control and be more receptive to the session. Seeing me react that way intensifies his response as well. 
A lot of things I’m mentioning above will work for people who are just using BDSM to spice up the relationship, but often that will reveal a deeper desire to Dominate a partner or submit to one. If that happens, BDSM practice will often become the expression of a true Dom or sub orientation.  In those cases, the mind is particularly important. I remember a BDSM con where a Master and sub talked about how vital reinforcing the psychology is. They’d been together awhile, having a 24/7 Dom/sub relationship. She knew how to keep his boots shined, what chores in the house were her responsibility, what was expected of her sexually, but she performed all of these so well, the Master had simply stopped reinforcing her role. She found herself getting unhappy. When they finally talked about it, the Dom realized that even beyond the service, she needed to feel the pull on the collar, so to speak. Meaning she needed periodic reinforcement/acknowledgment of her submissive status, whether by reiterating the rules, giving her different things to do, coming up with a punishment to remind her of her place, etc.
If you’re just starting to explore whether you have a true orientation toward Dominance or submission, the roles you prefer may feel a little awkward at first. Do you ever start a book and think in the first chapter, “Hmm…not really getting into this”? However, when you hang in there, by chapters three or four you are hooked, all the way to the end of what you decide is an awesome book. Same thing for BDSM play. Be encouraging. For instance, if you’re in bed reading, and your lover comes in and orders you on your knees to suck him off in an authoritative way and you start laughing, there is no way that mind shift will happen. Feelings might get bruised and he says to hell with trying the Dom/sub stuff.
On the other hand, it may underscore that a different approach is needed and constructive criticism can be offered. Perhaps the above would have worked if he’d come in, removed the book from your hands. Giving you a level look, he props a hip on the edge of the bed, his other hand braced on the other side of you, somewhat caging you in as he leans forward and gives you a deep long kiss. Then, leaning back, he tells you in a low voice he wants you on your knees. Now. Did we all feel a little more zing there?
Either way, you have to help each other figure out what works to shift into the mood you desire. It’s often not very intuitive at first, so you have to trust one another enough to communicate clearly, and let it result in better BDSM play, not hurt egos. You have to both develop confidence, and working on your respective responses helps with that. Remember also that not everything is going to work for both of you, no matter what you do. For instance, I don’t care what my husband does, there is no way I will ever find the “doctor giving me a physical” scenario arousing in the slightest (laughter). Don’t take such lines in the sand as setbacks, but as learning experiences, part of progress toward a mutually beneficial place.
Hope this helps you look at BDSM as a way to intensify and enhance your lovemaking that doesn’t have to be intimidating or require a lot of trappings. D/s play can be fun, pleasurable, and often turns into a far more positively intense scenario than expected, as you explore deeper levels of trust with one another.
To finish, let me give you an example of using the mind alone to build D/s intensity in a scene – just because it will be fun and Ben and Marcie volunteered (grin). This is from the first chapter of Hostile Takeover, where Ben discovers Marcie, a young woman he hasn’t seen in several years, has been assigned as a temp to his office. He’s always seen her as a kid, but that’s about to change…

Marcie was coming around the desk, giving him a warm look. Since Ben hadn’t moved, he saw a flash of uncertainty behind it, something hard to pin down, as if she wasn’t sure a hug would be welcome. Get up, asshole. Say hello, be nice. What the hell’s the matter with you?
He’d had hammered courtesy into him as a mandate, the instinctive breeding of a Southern male rising above the circumstances of his birth. But Ben was also a Dom with extreme preferences, whose radar was on full alert. Something was keeping him right where he was, studying her with firm, unsmiling lips and a calculated gaze he intended her to see.
It was a weighted moment, that indefinable quality teetering on a scale between them. When her gaze shifted to the floor between his knees, her lashes lowering, it hit him in the solar plexus. But then her smile became a wry twitch of her lips. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she gracefully squatted and picked up the pen by his polished shoe. Her fingers slid down over his biceps, an exploratory touch. When she placed her palm on the desk to lever herself back up, she caught the edge of his notepad, knocking it off as well.
“Oops.” With a glance at him beneath those long lashes, she knelt fully to reach further under the desk. As she did, she walked over his polished shoe, stretching out to retrieve the pad. He got an eyeful of Marcie on her hands and knees before him, her ass turned up, her back that shallow valley that made him imagine caressing the sweet, naked line of it. Her skirt was pulled drum tight over those toned cheeks, the cleft nicely teased. His palm would make a firm smacking sound on it if he gave her a swat for dropping his papers.
She’d knocked that pad off deliberately, was doing this deliberately. Holy fuck. She was teasing him the way a sub did, trying to goad a Dom into action. He had to be mistaken, but the set of her chin said she could get more determined about it, until she’d be outright bratting, blatantly topping. What the hell was going on here?
He didn’t know, but while one part of him was reeling, the part of him that was sure of this ground, as sure as breathing, steadied and locked like a collar clamping around a pale white throat. He knew this terrain, even if being on it with Marcie was unexpected.
“What are you doing?” As she rose, he met her eyes squarely.
“Just helping.” She wasn’t up to that direct stare. But that only made it worse, because what she did wasn’t calculated. She responded the way a natural submissive did when a Dom finally got his shit together and took the reins.
She looked down.
* * * * *
The whole chapter is on the website here if you’d like to read the rest. Thanks for letting me visit with you today!

Twitter: @JoeyWHill
Fan forum:


Jennifer Leeland said...

I've always loved the way you've done this with your characters! Thanks Joey!

Jennifer Leeland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Betty (Sun) said...

Excellent article. Whether a blog or a book, you have the gift of taking the reader on a wonderful journey.

Anonymous said...

We need to see more posts/articles like this one. Lately, I have seen one too many books that are so focused on "toys" that the entire mental/emotional component has been lost. Toys are great, but not necessary.

Joey W. Hill said...

Jennifer, thank you! It's kind of a way to inspire me as well. If I can't get into the heads of the characters, if it's all about this flogger or that butt plug, it's not interesting enough to hold my attention to write about them. So how could I expect it to be interesting for the readers, no matter how fascinating they find floggers and butt plugs? (laughter)

Betty, I appreciate that greatly! Writing non-fiction has always been difficult for me, so am glad to hear I muddle along well enough not to put you all to sleep or get a WTF? emoticon. Is there a WTF emoticon? I eexpect it would look something like one of the Despicable Me minions, if so (grin). Thanks for coming by and posting such a nice compliment!

Michelle, I agree. I think it's very important to understand mechanics, since BDSM does have levels of risk to it, and it's also fun to know what all the options are out there for administering pain/pleasure, but there are also limitless ways of exploring this kind of play without the first trip to the hardware store or online shop (though when you do decide to visit a place like The Stockroom or Extreme Restraints, best to have someone else hold onto your credit cards - just a personal observation - ahem.) ;>

Anonymous said...

You're so right! My credit card would take a beating (no pun intended) at one of those sites. LOL

Do you plan to write about more Dommes? I would love to see more women represented that way.

Moira said...

Love the article Joey and the psychology of BDSM in your books is what makes them outstanding. It is also one of the reasons your characters seem real, even the vamps. I can't seem to put what is in my brain into words that would make sense.

Joey W. Hill said...

Michelle, definitely. I go back and forth between male and female Dominant protagonists regularly in my books. There's no rhyme or reason to it (smile). I'll be working on the next Nature of Desire book this fall, which will be my first F/m/f ménage. The main character, Gen (who was introduced as a secondary character in Ice Queen and then reappeared in Mirror of My Soul and Branded Sanctuary) is finally getting her love story. She'll be connecting to the mysterious Mistress Lyda and her sub, Noah. You can check on the status of all my upcoming stuff on the In the Works section of the website,

If you haven't already read them, my vampire series is of course rife with Dommes - Lyssa, Daniela, Anwyn, etc (wink).

Oh, and I have some free download novellas on the fan forum that also feature Lyssa, Marguerite (Ice Queen), etc that you might enjoy. Access info here -

So in short, yes, I anticipate always writing a good mix of male and female dominant stories. I enjoy both dynamics. :>

Joey W. Hill said...

Moira, I think you said that perfectly. Thank you so much - you know I love having readers like you, because you all keep me from getting lost in the business of writing, where I can forget why I write and why it's always important to make that connection. :>

Desiree Holt said...

Joey, this is so right on. And so very well explained. I hope a lot of people who have a skewed view of BDSM and a D/s relationship read this blog because it really tells it like it is. And your books? They are and always have been my inspiration.

Joey W. Hill said...

Desiree!! Hey, girl! Thank you for stopping by. You're one of those authors I love - not just because there are so many things I personally love about you (beaming) - but because you take the time to research what D/s is all about in the heart, mind and soul, and put it in your writing along with the mechanics. That's what makes good D/s fiction.

Tasman Gibb said...

Hi Joey, Great article. For me it is the psychological aspect of BDSM that I find so intriguing, and you are certainly one of the best at writing it. Lately I have come across a lot of writing that is simply restraint, flogging, finish...with about as much passion and powerplay as a supermarket queue. Right now I'm reading Afterlife for about the seventh time because I adore the psychology in that one (though Ben will always be my favourite).

jaycee said...

Geez Joey, even in a blog post you create the aura of a relationship out of the response. Deep. Committed. Enhancement.

Not, "OMG! Toys!"

You should try this writing thing for real you know. You're pretty good at it...


Joey W. Hill said...

Tasman, I love Jon and Rachel's story! I was just talking about them with another reader at this past weekend's Romfest. We were discussing Rachel's perspective in particular, how damaged she was emotionally from her marriage, and how Jon helped her find her confidence again, the inner strength a truly cherished sub finds under the hand of the right kind of Master.

Anyhow, I digress (I often do - wink), but I'm so flattered to hear you're re-reading the stories. And you're not alone in having Ben as your favorite - I think that boy has his own fan club (I actually am a member, but don't tell him, because he's arrogant enough already - plus to keep him in line in stories he has to believe I'll kill him off in a heartbeat if he annoys me too much - grin)

Seriously, thank you for that incredible compliment. I always want readers to have that experience, so if you ever read that flog/finish spin cycle in my work, you let me know right away! :>

Dang, Jaycee - you know, I keep thinking I might try my hand at the whole writing thing, but I don't know, that Walmart greeter job keeps calling my name (lol).

Tasman Gibb said...

... and in keeping with the title of the post, the scene in Jon's office where he has Rachel kneel at his feet while he works on his drawing is one of the hottest scenes ever! But it's all in the telling ;-)
Clever you. Thank you.

Joey W. Hill said...

Tasman, excellent example. Those scenes where the Dom is exercising his influence over his sub in such a casual, seemingly detached way (which just makes the arousal factor all the more explosive), are some of my favorite scenes to write.

I was writing one today where the Dom had her tied in a chair, blindfolded, using low level electric stimulation on her while he was watching Force Ten from Navarone and drinking beer. His seeming indifference was balanced by the fact she felt how intent he was on her, on every reaction she had. Just love those scenes...

Delilah @ Riverina Romantics said...

Hello Joey!

Thank you for sharing with us yet another wonderful and informative post! And may I just say how much I adore the lovely (and well deserved) compliment you received from the beautiful and talented Desiree Holt. :)

I wouldn't count out that Walmart greeter position you mentioned just yet. You know that could score us a deep discount on that $5 bin we are so fond of. *grin* Bet you fished Force 10 from Navarone out of there! Oh the joys of Harrison Ford!

All the best! Delilah

Terry said...

OMG!! Is that a hint at Dale and Athena in "Unrestrained"????? Talking about no toys involved hot as hadies their 1st meeting is perfect. Well not the reason for the meet but you know what I mean. I love what you do with cars *wink*

I do believe if more people knew about the psychology aspect they would not be thinking everyone who likes or is interested in BDSM was either on or headed for the FBI top 10. Love ya Master Ben *grins* You also get into the heads of all your characters which lets us. Thanks for sharing them!!

Joey W. Hill said...

Delilah, you have revealed why I eye that Walmart greeter position so covetously. Not just the discount on the great 87 cent Thor cups (with the awesome Chris Hemsworth depicted), but they might just give me those $5 DVDs for $2.50! The possibilities are endless. But alas, for now, I guess I'll stick with writing. I think there's a waiting list for that job a mile long...(lol)

Joey W. Hill said...

Terry, that's a good point - and thank you for that lovely opportunity to spout off about the new book (whispers - I'll slip you that $20 later - lol). Seriously, what Terry is referencing is I recently posted Chapter One of the December 2014 book Unrestrained on my website and the fan forum, and there is definitely a lot of psychological stuff going on between Dale and Athena in that one. As well as something with restraints, canes and other props happening between dale and another sub (lol). You can read the full excerpt and blurb here if you like -

And you make a great point. There are a lot of misconceptions about BDSM. Healthy BDSM practice does not involve criminal activity or abuse, though I get that it's often very hard for folks standing on the outside to understand that when they're watching some of the more extreme edge play. That's why understanding the psychology is so vital, not just for good erotic romance writing, but to educate people about those who embrace a Dom or sub orientation. If the psychology is understood, it's a lot easier to see past intimidating acts or trappings to what it's really all about - trust, connection, emotional release, lowering of shields and getting in closer touch with your inner self so you can really open up to another. And that's just the tip of the iceberg (wink).

Sheri Vidal said...

What an amazing and informative post. THank you! :)

Joey W. Hill said...

Sheri, you're very welcome, and thanks for coming by!