Jun 212012

Before we go any further, I want to go on record about a few things.

First, I don’t like the term “mommyporn” that is being applied to the Fifty Shades trilogy. Mommies have as much right to sexual pleasure as anybody else, and they don’t need snobs looking down at them for their interests.

Second, I don’t like the judgment that, because this series was originally Twilight fanfiction, it is automatically and obviously subliterate trash. I’ve enjoyed reading fanfiction, and written and posted it too. Lots of fanfiction writers have graduated to writing professional fiction.

The relationship between original fiction and derivative fiction is a complex one, and worthy of at least a few posts, but isn’t really in the purview of this blog. Suffice to say, if a writer alters his or her fan work enough to not be blatant plagiarism, I say go ahead and publish  it (or at least try). If by some fluke the work becomes a bestseller, well, ride that train.

If I could say anything to the millions of people who have bought millions of copies of these books, it is that there are BDSM erotica/romance books out there that are so much better in every way than this, and please give the authors and publishers of those books some of the financial support you’ve given to EL James.

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Jun 012012

Christian flies Ana in his private helicopter to his private building in Seattle. Christian keeps dangling his Gothic secret before Ana, who keeps batting at it like a not-terribly-bright cat pawing at a string.

They also talk about Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which is supposed to be familiar to both of them. Not only do I not think either of them have actually read it, I wonder if E.L. James the author has read it either.

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May 252012

So, why a read-through on EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey? And why should anybody listen to what I say about it?

I’ve been involved in the BDSM culture for twenty years. I’ve organized parties, served as communications coordinator for organizations, and was a founder of Metro Vancouver Kink, and then served on the board for three years.

I have a parallel career in studying the history of BDSM, since at least 2005. I also have a BA in History and a certificate in journalism. This blog is to document my research towards a finished book on the subject.

I’ve also been writing BDSM erotica for about the same time, including a story in the Circlet Press anthology S/M Futures, entries in several other Circlet anthologies, and a collection of steampunk erotica short stories, The Innocent’s Progress & Other Stories.

I’m writing this series because, first, this book is a matter of historical interest. This is a book that has bridged the gap between the mainstream and BDSM erotica.

Second, for better or for worse, this book will be a lot of people’s first exposure to BDSM, and past experience has taught me that people tend to “imprint” on whatever they encounter first, and retain those ideas later in their BDSM careers. Fifty Shades needs to be scrutinized and, if necessary, corrected in order to properly educate people new to BDSM.

I should also mention that I have not read any of the Twilight books, or seen any of the movies, or even read the Twilight fanfiction, “Master of the Universe”, upon which Fifty Shades of Grey is based.

So, come and join me as we walk through the story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey.

Apr 112012

Two women in fetish clothing, one bound

The Seduction of Venus blog has a more detailed discussion of Penthouse magazine’s first BDSM pictorial in the February 1976 issue. It includes some unpublished photos from the same shoot.

Taking a very different approach to the likes of Jeff Dunas’ and Earl Miller’s location-based, soft-focus romanticism he [photographer Stan Malinowski] posed his unnamed models in a studio with just a standard studio backdrop and bright, even harsh, lighting.


The text, as it is, consists of a number of four line verses of poetry (you can see some examples further down) which are very much themed on the idea of one woman inflicting pain on the other. No lovey-dovey “friends who became lovers mush” or, indeed, any suggestion that really the ladies, of course, prefer men, as most of the other girl/girl sets suggested. So the text is as radical for Penthouse, as the pictures.

While it may be a bit of a stretch to associate Penthouse with progressive views of female sexuality, this pictorial and its accompanying text at least breaks with the idea of female-female sex as an adjunct to heterosexuality or associated with pastoralism and coy “friends become lovers” narratives. Despite apparent reader approval, Penthouse did not take a turn to the hardcore after this.

This is obviously a much more professional piece of work than was probably common in BDSM porn of the time, and also in a publication that had a much wider distribution and larger readership than your typical under-the-counter bondage magazine. It may have been the first-encounter for a lot of people.

Mar 312012

The Venus Observations blog focuses on the history of American newstand porn magazines, particularly the competition between Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler and their various spin-offs and competitors. In the mid 1970s, the major magazines were in a one-step-forward, one-step-back dance between the softcore, soft-focus, lots of pubic hair, arty aesthetic and the harder, sharp-focus, exposed labia aesthetic of later decades. Fear of alienating advertisers and censors kept editors nervous, but fear of losing market share made them experiment. E.g. a nude pictorial with a 22-year-old, very young looking model wearing a tank top with “12” on it.

Two women in fetish gear, one sitting astride the other on all fours

In February 1976, Penthouse ran its first fetish-themed pictorial.

The real barrier breaking pictorial for February, however, was one called My Funny Valentine. Penthouse had had a (comparatively) few girl/girl pictorials before but this month they published their first fetish photographs. Dressed up in leather and vinyl the girls were depicted by photographer Stan Malinowski indulging in light bondage and whipping each other.


This pictorial, in the days when this sort of fetish was very underground and not displayed as a matter of course by female pop stars, caused some controversy in the press. Letters to the magazine, however, were universally appreciative (and Penthouse did, as we have seen, publish critical letters at this point) and asked for more.

At the time, mainstream magazines were nervous about showing a woman’s anus or labia in interior pictorials or their nipples on the cover, so this must have been a bold experiment for the publishers to show this kind of underground sexuality. Perhaps they discovered, as Irving Klaw and others had discovered in earlier decades, that fetish pictorials could tap a niche market without being sexually explicit.

Mar 022012

The history of obscenity and censorship is the history of drawing and redrawing very fine lines in the ever-shifting sand, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors.

Consider the recent case of Michael Peacock in the UK, charged under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 for distributing allegedly obscene DVDs. (Peacock sold DVDS via Craig’s List and his own website and magazine ads, which seems like an oddly old-school way to do a porn business these days.) The Crown Prosecutor presented two lists, one of things that would probably be prosecuted (“sadomasochistic material which goes beyond trifling and transient infliction of injury”, “fisting”, “torture with instruments”) and those that usually would not (“mild bondage”, “fetishes which do not encourage physical abuse”)

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Guest post on BDSM Book Reviews: The Archaeology of Erotica

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Jan 072012

My brief history of erotica has been posted on BDSM Book Reviews:

I would argue that the bulk of what is categorized as erotica today can be traced back to two highly influential books, one from the early twentieth century, the other from the middle, both by women, both with women protagonists being initiated into exotic realms of pleasure, both widely dismissed as sensational, pornographic, misogynistic trash.

Karen Halttunen’s “Murder Most Foul”

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Dec 212011

Halttunen, Karen. Murder most foul: the killer and the American Gothic imagination Harvard University Press, 1998 Google Books

Halttunen’s book is about the transformation of how American society handles social deviance (violent crime, particularly) from the pre-industrial to the post-industrial.

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Nov 242011

Davis, Tracy C. “The Actress in Victorian Pornography” in Garrigan, Kristine Ottesen. Victorian Scandals: Representations of Gender and Class Ohio University Press, 1992

It was a widespread assumption in the 19th century that actresses were whores. The actress was the most common female occupational type in pornography of the period, and some pornographic works explicitly referred to actual actresses. Actresses in turn danced on the edge of decency in see-through white dresses, body stockings and “breeches roles,” i.e. cross-dressing as men.

In the weekly serial magazines, available for as little as one penny and with circulations of hundreds of thousands, actresses were depicted in knee-length skirts, exotic Oriental harem trousers, men’s fencing costumes or breeches, intermixed with nude or semi-nude pictorials included spanking and lesbianism. The sexualization or fetishization of the costume itself is what’s at work here.

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