Review: Bound By Lust

I’m in love with Shanna Germain’s mission. In an introduction to her anthology, Bound by Lust: Romantic Stories of Submission and Sensuality (published by the folks who brought you Best Sex Writing 2012), Germain describes the book as an attempt to bring together “Madonna and whore,” “true love and kinky lust.” This spoke to me immediately as someone who would write D/s fanfiction erotica as a teenager, spending a couple of thousand words getting into the emotional significance of a relationship before a character would finally touch his cheek to another’s boot.

The first couple of stories in this collection delivered on the promise, with erotica that clearly hints at the established relationship through a dominant partner’s understanding of his submissive’s motivations and needs, but I wasn’t quite sold. I love that sense of a dominant character who really gets his submissive as a person (nothing is hotter, really) but the lead into the anthology with two male dominant, female submissive pairs in an intense D/a relationship had me a bit uneasy, hoping for balance. With the third story employing that dynamic, Donna George Storey’s “Spring Training,” I hoped for something deeper in the form of a dominant man being realistic about the value of his submissive’s past partners and being willing to engage with her suggestion of a “cleansing ritual” in a thoughtful, psychologically healthy way. I was disappointed by pillow talk that instead went darker and more controlling, as the dominant promises to “train you so that every part of your erotic response belongs to me.”

Fortunately for my personal preferences (though perhaps not for those of who enjoy intense fantasy control scenarios!) the anthology is more varied than I’d feared. There’s a cute little lesbian spanking scene after a Bible study, several varieties of humiliation-focused erotica, a crossdressing and discipline story that combines smut with a lovely tone of acceptance, and a really gorgeous non-chronological erotic and psychological tale that you just have to read for yourself to appreciate. One of the last stories in the collection is a tale of an older couple, written by Craig Sorensen, that’s refreshing to see in a general interest anthology.

One of my favorite pieces is Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “The Heart of Chaos,” a story that really uses language to give us the sense of the relationship between a married couple as we observe a nice drawn-out negotiation around a scene (or technically, an art exhibit) that incorporates a hint of public humiliation and some limit-pushing. There’s switching and wax play, and an entirely three-dimensional femal narrator. “I want these strangers to walk in and see my husband, naked, covered in clear Cling Wrap,” Molly the artist tells us. “I want them to sense what he is feeling, sense what he is offering me, and by extension, them. I want them to go to the heart of chaos with me, live.”

I’m also in love with Justine Elyot’s “Under the Clock,” a story of S/m and kinbaku (rope bondage) and the development of a kind of relationship between a service boy and an older woman who offers him erotic play in exchange for house painting.

Overall, you’ll get the most for your money from this volume as a whole if you enjoy heterosexual male-dom erotic smut, humiliation, and psychological control fantasies. That said, the anthology is quite a mix, and while a little disjointed, I found it worth it for a few really fantastic storytellers. The gems are stories I’ll keep coming back to.

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.