Sexualized Saturdays: BDSM Universes in Fanfiction

It’s no secret at this point that I enjoy the kinkier side of things. BDSM has always been something that has interested me because there is something especially enjoyable about the power dynamics. And I enjoy seeing those dynamics in the fanfiction that I read, even when the fanfiction itself isn’t strictly BDSM.

BDSM

There can be issues with power dynamics, of course; for example, most romance novels have some kind of power dynamics between the couple. Usually, the male holds a good portion of the power. This doesn’t necessarily mean the female love interest is docile in any way, although it is often the case in some novels. It’s been my experience that fandom likes when the less physically and/or socially powerful person is strong willed and intelligent and doesn’t take any crap from their more powerful counterpart. However, they usually still ultimately need their more powerful love interest. Even classics like Pride and Prejudice share this dynamic. Elizabeth doesn’t take Darcy’s shit, but ultimately he has more power in society than her, and it’s only with his help that Elizabeth’s family is able to escape a scandal that would have ruined them forever. The problem with these dynamics is that in mainstream pop culture, we largely see women in the less powerful role. And even in fanfiction, which usually focuses on queer relationships, the power dynamics still come off as heteronormative at times.

I suppose that one of the things that drew me to BDSM is that those power dynamics are out in the open and negotiated before the relationship begins. Rather than deal with societal understandings of who should be the dominant partner (men) and who should be the submissive (women), BDSM allows people to discuss what frankly all couples, whether kinky or vanilla, should be doing anyway. Since BDSM isn’t considered a quote-unquote “normal” part of society, there are fewer preconceived notions of how a relationship should be. But what if BDSM was the norm? Fanfiction often has a lot of alternate universes that I enjoy, but none moreso than AUs where BDSM is the norm. However, they bring with them a lot of interesting and problematic issues.

(A note before we begin: in this post all Dom titles are capitalized and all sub titles are in lowercase because that is how those in the BDSM community tend to do things.)

BDSM AUs can work in multiple ways. Sometimes when authors use the tag BDSM AU, they simply mean a world where normally vanilla characters are interested in BDSM. However, that’s not what I am talking about in this post. Most BDSM AUs portray everyone as either a Dom or a sub or occasionally a switch (someone who can be either a Dom or a sub). Often, like in A/B/O fics, a person’s status as a Dom, sub, or a switch is dependent on their biology. People are tested in some way, usually through blood tests or occasionally some type of magic, to be shown what their designation is. Afterward, subs are usually paired with Doms, whose responsibility is to take care of them. Depending on the fic, Doms and switches either receive no type of care or are apprenticed to someone to train them to be a good Dom or switch. These fanfics can be interesting because in a world where everyone is a Dom, sub, or switch, we inevitably see more non-sexual BDSM. This might seem like a shock to people, but there are many people who do BDSM without sex, because they enjoy the pain, power dynamics, or other things associated with the lifestyle. One way this non-sexual theme can appear is by addressing what is socially acceptable for Dom parents to do with their sub or Dom child. The way a character’s status as a Dom or sub affects them changes from story to story as well. In some AUs I have read, if the sub does not regularly receive some form of domination, they can become sick or even die. The Dom likewise is shown as needing to dominate someone regularly or they could become almost feral.

There are of course some issues that come up here as well, some of which are similar to alpha/beta/omega fanfics. There is still the issue of saying someone’s biology dictates whether or not they prefer to be dominant or submissive, but unlike A/B/O fics, BDSM fics are less likely to show subs dealing with prejudice from society or fighting against being viewed as submissive simply because of their biology. Fanfics like these still exist, of course, but they tend to be more focused on the mistreatment of subs by Doms. In A/B/O fics the omega characters usually fight against the stereotype that they are more submissive. Subs in BDSM fics like being submissive, but still want to be treated with respect and dignity. Because, of course, it wouldn’t necessarily be a BDSM AU if people all hated being a sub. The other issue here is the lack of communication—as being a Dom or sub is natural in this universe, there are rarely contracts and the couples usually don’t discuss kink preferences because it is taken to be a given. There are other fanfics I have read in this vein that do have contracts and kink discussion, but there are arguably fewer. The final issue I have with these fics is the lack of understanding of BDSM. While BDSM does usually have a Dom and a sub in some capacity, how you can be a Dom or sub can be portrayed very differently. This leads me to my favorite type of BDSM AUs.

There are BDSM AUs that show everyone as falling somewhere on the BDSM spectrum, meaning that everyone is a Dom, Master, Daddy/Mommy, sub, little, slave, pet, or switch, etc. There are many designations to choose from. These types of BDSM AUs, despite having wider designations, can still be portrayed almost exactly as the BDSM AUs I mentioned earlier and fall into almost all the same problems. However, I want to specifically talk about one of my favorite fanfics in this vein. Unfortunately, I think it has been deleted, but it was perfect in how I think a BDSM universe could be done well.

stiles bdsm fanfic

In this Teen Wolf fanfic, BDSM was still considered normal, but not biological; in some ways it was more of a mental state. Most teens already guessed how they identified, but are still required to take a statewide exam to help them be placed into a particular designation. This was not so that the government could control them in any way, but simply to help them figure out what they might be suited for. It is much more along the lines of a career placement test. Scott and Stiles both take the test at school and get their results back. Scott is a switch, as he suspected, but Stiles is surprised to be listed as a little. He is distraught enough by this that his father sends him to a therapist to either help him come to grips with being a little or help him figure out a different designation. The fanfic doesn’t mention much about sexual relationships, so contracts and kink negotiations aren’t mentioned, but I love how the different designations are viewed as something more mental than biological, and how there is an element of choice and the ability to change. While the therapist points out that Stiles has certain behaviors that seem to naturally show him as a sub, there is an understanding that a person can change their designation. Stiles sees other older people in the therapist office who either much later in life feel like they don’t fit in the right category or still have simply not figured out what is right for them. In my opinion this is a much more realistic AU where people are on a journey of self discovery and are trying to accept themselves rather than simply being controlled by biology.

Fanfiction doesn’t always portray BDSM well to begin with, so when authors attempt an alternative universe where BDSM is the norm, naturally problems arise. However, occasionally there are also interesting portrayals and discussions about not only the BDSM community in the real world, but the struggles for equality, identity, and self-acceptance that everyone struggles with. Hopefully there will be more BDSM AUs like this in the future.


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