Review: Best Women’s Erotica 2013 and Best Bondage Erotica 2013

Pop quiz: what, exactly, is women’s erotica? This is a question I always have to ask myself when I see these “best of” anthologies. I kept it in mind when I read the first of two anthologies Cleis Press sent me to prepare for the new year: Best Women’s Erotica 2013 and Best Bondage Erotica 2013.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a bit of a bias against the first collection’s editor, Violet Blue. What I’ve heard from her just rubs me the wrong way in terms of gender, sexuality, and other things. But I was willing to give her collection a shot, and I found myself pleasantly surprised. From her introduction, it’s obvious that Blue wanted to capitalize on this past year’s Fifty Shades craze and focus on explicit sex aimed at women. The stories she chose are just that, and refreshingly well-written. The language can get a bit romance novel-y at times, but there’s a clear message from Blue’s curation that “erotica for women” has as many meanings as there are female readers. There’s a mix of kinky and vanilla, and though most of the pairings are straight, there are a couple of lesbian stories included. One features a trans woman, which was awesome to see. I even got some guilty jollies from stories that might not seem to comply with my gender politics, such as Serafine Laveaux’s “Road Crew Cock.” The last story did make me desperately hope that the author is a person of color, and I was disappointed in a piece about a secret college spanking society that went from gender subversion to slut-shaming, but on the whole I would recommend the collection to women and other readers alike.

Best Bondage Erotica 2013 is more obviously up my alley, and Rachel Kramer Bussel does not disappoint. Graydancer says in a forward that “The bondage is not the point. […] It’s the other bonds in this book that make it more than porn. The bonds of marriage. The ties of duty and the prison of horrific memories associated with military service. The burden of years wearing down relationships, the tight restriction of repressed desires. You find all of these in the book, and it is the mixture of them with the hot bondage that makes the keepers of the cultural status quo squirm.” As a geeky emotionally-driven player for whom plot is porn, I say bring it on!

Annabeth Leong’s “This Is Me Holding You” does a beautiful job of conveying the emotional significance of rope for kinbaku enthusiasts, while other stories in the collection appeal to the more “tie em up and fuck em” style rope fanatics. Other stories feature handcuffs or more DIY restraint, with first times as well as long-time couples included. I appreciate that the gender and orientation range includes gay male stories, which are often left out of “general” erotica anthologies geared towards female readers. The tone of the stories varies from angry to romantic to melancholy to fun, and I imagine most bondage fans will find at least something they like here.

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