Positive Masculinity in Erotica (for International Men’s Day)

As a feminist, I’m in favour of many of the aims of International Men’s Day. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. There are tonnes of really important issues affecting men today – from lack of mental health support which leads to a much higher suicide rate for men, to male victims of rape or domestic violence going unacknowledged.

A man's body in a blue blazer and black tie. For an International Men's Day post on positive masculinity in erotica.

What I don’t believe, however, is that feminism – or women – are responsible for these issues. They’re a symptom of patriarchy, the fucked up system under which we all live, and which also harms men – in different ways to the ways it harms women, sure, but harm nontheless.

But plenty of better writers than me have already said all of these things much more eloquently than I have. And this is a sex blog, after all! So in celebration of International Men’s Day, I wanted to share with you some of my favourite examples of positive masculinity, as portrayed in erotica. Because Fifty Shades of Grey is all well and good[1], but Christian Grey is fundamentally a misogynist and a rapist – literally the embodiment of toxic masculinity in sexy-pants, richer-than-God, sold-100-million-copies packaging.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Bruce Shepherd – The ‘Swingularity’ series by Cooper S Beckett

Anyone who has read these books will be unsurprised to know I have a huge character-crush on Bruce. What I love about him is that he’s confident as hell (to the point of juuuust occasionally coming across a tad arrogant) but is actually a complete softie and quite vulnerable underneath it all. The sex is hot as hell (of course) but it’s the emotional depth of this novel that really gets me. Bruce’s struggle to let go of the past, his enduring love for Paige, and his desire to save everyone – even to his own detriment – combined with the older-man sexiness make him a romantic character I can’t resist.

“Are you still upset with me?” he asks after a long silence.
She turns, surprise on her face. “No, I’m…”
He waits.
“She’s inside me too, you know.”

[Disclaimer: the above is an affiliate link and if you decide to get this book, I would super appreciate you supporting me by buying from Shevibe!]

Neil Elwood – The Boss, Abigail Barnette

If you like billionaire-older-man romance, Neil Elwood is a much more positive antidote to Christian Grey. The romantic relationship between Neil and Sophie is built upon trust, mutual respect and actually getting to know one another, not upon fear and bullying-masquerading-as-dominance.  He’s not threatened by Sophie’s success in her career and explicitly doesn’t use his position to sexually manipulate her. And he’s willing to admit when he’s wrong. Oh, and crucially, there’s tonnes of explicit and enthusiastic consent.

He kissed me hard, his hand tangled in my long hair, and when we were both breathless he lifted his head to answer my question.
“Not now. I thought I’d lay you down on this sofa and bury my face in your cunt first. Unless you object…”

Johnathan – The Adventures of Sir & Babygirl, Kayla Lords

This is a really lovely, sweet-yet-sexy romance about a woman recovering from a broken heart and a Daddy Dom she meets through her blog. What I love about it is how respectfully Johnathan approaches Katie, and how he slowly gains her trust as their relationship develops. There’s a constant underlying thread of consent – even as simple as “don’t feel pressured to answer all the questions I ask you”. The biggest character trait I get from Johnathan is kindness, which is underrated but extremely powerful when combined with just the right amount of sexual dominance – and I am very very here for it.

“Look at me, girl!” Johnathan’s voice took on a feral tone. “I want you as a woman and as a submissive. I will not deny my nature any longer. I also won’t force you to accept something you don’t want. But I think you want this as much as I do. If you do, tell me. We’ll go slow, but just fucking tell me.”

See? Everyone who told you that women only like slathering rapey beasts was full of shit. Give me kind, respectful dominants who value consent and mutual pleasure any day. Who are your favourite male characters in erotica, and why?

[1] *Narrator voice* “Fifty Shades was not, in fact, all well and good at all.”

Yes, I Have a Problem with Fifty Shades… But It’s Not What You Think

It’s actually more accurate to say I have several problems with Fifty Shades of Grey, the infamous erotic trilogy (plus rewrites-with-the-pronouns-flipped) about the kinky-ish love between naive college student Anastasia Steele and young handsome billionaire  Christian Grey.

A block of grey paint samples in reference to Fifty Shades of GreyYes, I’ve read the first book, and enough of the second and third to get the gist. I’ve also read Cliff Pervocracy and Jenny Trout’s recaps (which are hilarious, by the way). Make no mistake: these books are horribly written and I did not find them erotic in the slightest. The sex depicted in them is either boringly vanilla, dubiously consensual (or straight up rapey), or both. The main characters are both awful people and the dialogue is about as sexy as a root canal. As a kinkster, I hate that people think this is what we’re about. As a writer, I think it’s a travesty that Ms James has made more money than anyone ever needs in a lifetime, while genuinely talented artists are underpaid and undervalued every day.

So yes. I have issues with this book. But they’re not that it’s an unrealistic kinky romance between a virginal college student and a vampire billionaire.

“But it’s fantasy!” fans cry.

And yes. It is. Look, I’ll be the last person to tell you that you can’t have your fantasies, even your problematic ones. Fantasy is not reality and fantasy exists to enable us to escape from the real world for a while. And nowhere is that more true than in sexual fantasy.

A huge part of the reason that erotica and porn should only be accessed by adults is that adults, typically, understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Jaime Mortimer wrote a really good post on this recently.

I’m not going to infantilise everyone who reads Fifty Shades or any other problematic book and tell you that it’s going to turn you into a rapist or make you leave your husband for an emotionally stunted billionare (or a vampire in a Volvo). I read plenty of erotic fiction and plenty of it has themes that would be super problematic if they were real – doctor/patient scenarios, professor/student scenarios, consensual-non-consent roleplay, voyeurism and exhibitionism, public sex and more are just some of the themes I’ve enjoyed in my sexy fiction.

Guess what? Fantasy. And again: adults, overall, have the capability to understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

So enjoy Fifty Shades, if it’s your thing, as a fantasy about a naive young woman being seduced by an dude with more money than God and pants that hang from his hips (yes, this is an actual line in the book). Enjoy the light BDSM, the sexy  helicopter rides, the grumpy, brooding, damaged male lead if you want to. I’ll be the last person to judge you for enjoying some silly escapism or some improbable erotica if that’s what gets you off.

My problem with Fifty Shades is actually in the social and cultural narrative surrounding Fifty Shades.

Because this is not a great love story. This is not something to which young women should aspire! And the problem is that it’s being sold that way.

There is tonnes of erotica (and straight romantic fiction) out there that relies on problematic tropes and scenarios that are hot in fiction but would be a terrible idea in reality. That’s fine. Again: fantasy is cool, y’all!

But none of that has the marketing power behind it that Fifty Shades does. Ms James and her publishing team have made their collective fortunes not on selling Fifty Shades as fluffy erotic fantasy, but on selling Fifty Shades as a style of relationship to which we should all aspire.

And that is what is dangerous about this book. Not the fantasy it depicts, but the marketing power that sells that fantasy as genuinely aspirational. Because make no mistake, the relationship between Christian and Ana is very often abusive.

How many young women do you think have watched this movie, and decided that if this is romance, my boyfriend obviously only super jealous and controlling because he loves me? Or, Ana loves Christian out of abusing her, so if only I behaved better my husband would stop hitting me? Maybe not in quite so literal terms, but make no mistake – these messages are out there, and victims of abuse are listening and absorbing.

You might think this is hyperbole, but it’s not. This is the kind of power that massive marketing budgets, ingrained cultural narratives about love, and a total lack of sensible sex-and-relationships education has.

I don’t blame Fifty Shades for my own experience in an abusive D/s relationship, of course. But I do partly blame growing up surrounded by the idea that if a man hurt me, my job was to heal him so he could love me properly in the end.

Fifty Shades is far from the only story to suffer from this phenomenon

We have always built collective cultural narratives around these deeply problematic stories. I am reasonably confident in saying I doubt that Shakespeare intended Romeo & Juliet to be considered the greatest love story of all time. If you read it as a love story and analyse it for more than three seconds, it’s a ridiculous play. If you reread it as a satire about “love at first sight” and teenage stupidity, though, it becomes utterly brilliant. (While we’re at it, Wuthering Heights isn’t a great love story either. And Christian Grey bears a passing resemblence to Heathcliff in a variety of ways.)

Despite being for children, even Disney movies sell us some pretty horrible messages about relationships. Think about it: marriage is the ultimate goal for any girl. Once a man chooses you, you’ll live happily ever after.  Cinderella tells us to be good and subservient and pretty until a man rescues us; The Little Mermaid tells us that what we have to say is the least valuable thing about us; Sleeping Beauty suggests that kissing a sleeping stranger is totes a sensible and romantic thing to do… and so it goes on. We’re drip-fed these messages from earliest childhood, so is it really any wonder that so many of us grow up with totally screwed up ideas about what relationships are actually supposed to look like?

Don’t ban – educate

In closing: I don’t support the banning of Fifty Shades or other problematic stories. Fantasy is important and something we should all be able to have access to. Instead, we need a greater cultural understanding and greater education around separating fantasy from reality, and understanding what healthy relationships actually are.

I’d be much happier with the thousands and thousands of twenty-something women enjoying Fifty Shades as sexy, escapist fantasy if they weren’t already surrounded by a culture that teaches them if he hits you, it’s your job to be better so he can heal from his fucked up past.

[Toy Review] Fifty Shades Freed ‘Lavish Attention’ Vibrator

First, let’s address the elephant in the room.

I thought long and hard (stop snickering at the back!) about whether or not to request, or accept, any of Lovehoney’s new Fifty Shades Freed line of toys for review after attending their recent affiliate product showcase. In the end, I made a balanced decision that yes, I would review this line. Let me tell you why.

A close up of an elephant. For a review of the Fifty Shades Freed Lavish Attention vibrator.

To say I have issues with the Fifty Shades franchise is an understatement. I believe those books are not just poorly written and questionably researched portrayals of bad BDSM – I actually believe they’re really harmful. The way they’re written, and marketed, passes off stalking, psychological abuse, disregard for consent and even rape as romantic. Check out Jenny Trout’s series or my friend Christine’s blog if you would like to learn why more and more sex-positive feminists are speaking out against this series.

However. A terrible first introduction though it is, more and more people are finding BDSM and the kink and sex-positive communities via this franchise. They read the book or watch the film and get turned on by all the kinky sex. “I want to do that!” they think. Okay. So where do they go? Maybe they search online. If they’re lucky, they’ll find brilliant educational blogs. If they poke around for any length of time in the internet kinkosphere, they’ll probably land on Fetlife sooner or later. They might come to a munch. And they might go and buy a sex toy, possibly for the first time ever.

The seasoned kinksters among us may roll our eyes each February when the newest film brings the influx of “the Fifty Shades crowd” to our online spaces or our local munch. But if we do not welcome these people, we are doing them a great disservice. If we push them away or look down on them, we’re completely failing to live up to our purported values of inclusion, respect and community. Not only that, but pushing them away means they’re more likely to practice kink in unsafe and uninformed ways, imitating what they’ve read in that trilogy. If we welcome them in, they will have access to tremendous resources of knowledge, experience and education. I’ve seen plenty of people who came to kink via Fifty Shades grow into fantastic, skilled, responsible kinksters.

People who come to kink via less-than-ideal source material deserve resources and information. They deserve support, a loving community and the same access to education that every single one of us needed when we were new, regardless of our route into the community.

They also deserve safe and quality toys.

The way I see it, the majority of people who are likely to gravitate towards Fifty Shades branded toys will probably fall closer to the “new/inexperienced” end of the demographic spectrum. They may never have purchased a vibrator or dildo before in their life! They’ll probably be completely overwhelmed by the sheer quantity and variety of toys on offer. If Fifty Shades was their way in – or even if it wasn’t, but it’s still the main current cultural touchstone for “kinky sex” – they may well gravitate towards these branded toys. People feel comforted by the familiar.

This, in a nutshell, is why I am glad that Lovehoney have made this Fifty Shades Freed line in the way they have. Having seen most of the products in the flesh (um, as it were,) I feel happy to say they’re a body-safe, user-friendly and just flat out good quality line of toys. I’m glad that inexperienced folks, new to the world of sex toys, are going to get quality products and not some shitty jelly-rubber, phthalate-ridden piece of crap when they Google “Fifty Shades sex toys”. (And yes, this is the first link that comes up when you do that search. I checked.)

With that out of the way… what did I think of the actual toy?

The |Lovehoney Fifty Shades Freed Lavish Attention vibrator. A half moon shaped vibrator with a handle in a lovely plum colour;.The Lavish Attention vibrator is a dual clitoral and G-spot toy. Its shape is like a half moon on top of a handle. The internal part is nice and slim, with a circumference of about 4 inches at the widest part, and flexible. When this is inserted, the external part – which is more rigid – rests against the clitoris. Both vibrate. The Lavish Attention has 3 constant vibration speeds and 7 patterns. It’s USB rechargeable, waterproof, travel-lockable, and comes with a handy – and stylish – purple storage bag.

I loved using it. I wasn’t sure I would, as dual-stim toys often aren’t very effective for me, but I like to broaden my horizons and expand my preferences. Personally, I found the shape and size of the Lavish Attention perfect to comfortably stimulate both my G-spot and clitoris without much weird maneuvering required.

Unusually, I enjoyed the vibration patterns on this toy. I think having internal stimulation slightly changes how my clitoris responds to things, though I am still figuring out exactly how this works. There are some caveats – read on for those! – but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Lavish Attention to anyone looking for a good quality dual-stim toy.

My Ratings (all scores out of 5★)

Price: ★★★★
This toy retails at Lovehoney – currently the exclusive carrier! – for £54.99. This puts it squarely into the mid-price bracket, and in my opinion it’s reasonable value for the quality. I note that Lovehoney have a stellar returns policy.

Materials: ★★★★★
I can’t praise this enough. It’s premium quality matte silicone and feels absolutely gorgeous. It’s the kind of toy you just want to stroke again and again because it feels so lovely.

Appearance: ★★★★
One of the big plus points for the whole Freed range, for me, is how pretty they are. They’re all the same plum silicone with rose gold accents. The look is classy, sensual and sexy as fuck. If it didn’t have the Fifty Shades logo emblazoned upon it, it would be the perfect aesthetic for a sex toy in my opinion.

Ease of Use: ★★★
I generally find dual-stim vibes take some practice and some experimentation to find the best position to use them. This was no exception. I also found it slightly awkward to hold due to the positioning of the handle. It is nice and light, which is a big plus and particularly relevant for anyone who struggles to hold heavier toys due to disability or injury. My biggest gripe is that you can’t turn the speed and pattern settings down – if you want to get back to the previous setting, you have to cycle alllllll the way back through.

Ease of care & cleaning: ★★★★★
You can clean the Lavish Attention, as with any silicone toy, with a sterile body-safe wipe. These are available cheaply in bulk from medical suppliers. This toy is completely waterproof which means you can submerge it to clean. The internal piece can easily be covered with a condom, but it’s not so easy to use with a barrier externally.

Versatility: ★★★★
The Lavish Attention has 3 speeds and 7 patterns, making it nice and versatile whichever you prefer. One feature I would have liked would be the option to control the internal and external vibrations independently of each other. The shape makes it safe for anal use, and I imagine the external stimulator could feel really nice against the perineum during anal play if that’s your jam. It is fully waterproof, so safe for bathtime play.

Intensity:
★★★★
As ever, please remember I am the biggest Power Queen who ever Power Queened. The vibrations were more than adequate and got me off, but I would have liked one or two higher settings. Considering that my preferred power level is “Doxy on speed,” though, I might be an outlier here. The vibration quality is a little buzzy, but not numbingly so.

Overall Score: ★★★★
A very solid dual-stim toy which I enjoyed using. Not perfect, but perfect doesn’t exist anyway. I’ve marked it up for being body-safe, fully waterproof, gorgeous looking and relatively quiet. It lost a few points for the annoying lack of a “down” control.

I don’t recommend this toy to lovers of girth – it’s definitely slimline – or those who can’t stand their vibrations being even slightly buzzy. But if you’re looking for a good quality, mid-priced clitoral and G-spot toy from a trustworthy retailer, and don’t mind the Fifty Shades branding, I suggest giving Lavish Attention a try!

The good folks at Lovehoney sent me the Lavish Attention vibrator in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinions which are, and will always be, entirely my own. Buying your sexy products through Lovehoney helps support me with a small commission and keep the blog going.

Elephant image is courtesy of Pixabay, a fab source of copyright-free images. Toy image belongs to Lovehoney and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

The Price of Admission

Anastasia: And what do I get out of this?
Christian: Me.
– Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James

It is no secret that I am not a fan of those books. I might eventually write more fully about why, but other writers have already done this so beautifully I’m not sure I have anything to add to that particular conversation. However, the above quote captures the essence of this topic perfectly. Hmm… maybe Ms James did have some insightful moments after all!

An admission ticket torn in half

When we’re children, we’re taught that no-one’s perfect. It’s a platitude, though a truism, perhaps to encourage us not to criticise others – or ourselves – too harshly. And because no-one is perfect, I firmly believe there is no such thing as a Perfect Relationship. There are amazing, incredible, wonderful relationships – and I count myself lucky to be in one of these. But perfect? With all our flaws, foibles, beautifully messy humanity and inevitable mistakes? No.

My relationship has imperfections. So does yours, I guarantee it.

We come, all of us, with our Price of Admission. These are the things about us that are imperfect, maybe even problematic, that someone must live with in order to be in a relationship with us. These are the things, be they big or small, that we don’t see eye-to-eye with our partner on. The things that, if you dwell on them, form the end of the sentence “the relationship would be PERFECT if only…

We all have to pay a price of admission to be in meaningful relationships with another human. Whether it’s as relatively benign as putting up with your husband’s snoring, or as troubling as knowing your friend has a serious drug/alcohol problem but being unable to intervene, every relationship has one – or more likely, several of varying degrees of significance. But here’s the thing about prices of admission. We get to choose whether to pay them or not.

One of the major problems in my relationship with my abusive ex was that he believed that no matter the price of admission, I would continue to pay it regardless. And for many years, I did. I was madly – and I mean that in the literal, not-quite-in-my-right-mind-when-he’s-around – in love with the man. As such I felt I had to do absolutely anything to keep the relationship. When the price of admission was putting up with lies and half-truths, I turned a blind eye. The times that the price of admission was him screaming at me for a tiny perceived infraction, I tried to harden myself to the yelling. When the price of admission was an uneven, enforced mono-poly dynamic, I pretended I didn’t want anyone else anyway.

And what did I get out of all of that?

Him.

Which was enough… except that it wasn’t. I convinced myself I was happy as long as I was with him, this person I idolised. But he didn’t meet my needs and he didn’t hear my voice. If I complained the price for the relationship was getting too steep, he might as well have laughed in my face and said, “but you’ll pay it, because the other choice is walking away and we both know you don’t have the balls to do that”. It was years before I finally decided the price had become undeniably too high.

In our final make/break conversation, with all the characteristic arrogance that believed I would never be the one to walk away, he laid out his Terms for continuing the relationship. And for the first time, I refused the offer. The price was too high and I wasn’t buying. It was no longer worth it.

The point of all of this is to say: you get to decide when the price of admission into any given relationship is too high.

However much you love this person, however much you think you absolutely need them no matter what, you do not have to accept the terms they are offering. You do not have to pay a price of admission that includes abuse of any kind, that includes being cheated upon or lied to, that includes a relationship structure that is unworkable for you, that includes sex acts you can’t or won’t consent to, that includes losing yourself or your self esteem, that includes fundamental differences in beliefs or values, that includes anything that makes the relationship unhappy or unhealthy for you.

You don’t have to.

The image featured in this post was offered for use under Creative Commons Licensing.