Wednesday, October 3, 2012

5 Levels of BDSM Fantasy



(See also the video version)

I wanted to share this scale I’ve been working on to best analyze BDSM-related fiction according to different levels of fantasy. I suspect I’ll have to make some changes as I continue to review BDSM fiction. For now, this is what I have:


  • Level 1 – Story is verisimilar and involves a character encountering BDSM that may or may not become involved with it. Examples: Bones, Weeds, Castle
  • Level 2 – Story is verisimilar and involves a character getting involved with BDSM and having unrealistic relations that fulfill the author’s fantasies while staying within the confines of reasonable behavior. Examples: Exit to Eden (arguably Level 3), Nana and Kaoru (mostly, partially Level 3), When They Cry
  • Level 3 – Story is verisimilar and involves a character getting involved with BDSM and having unrealistic relations that fulfill the author’s fantasies without staying within the confines of reasonable behavior. Examples: Fifty Shades of Grey, Secretary, Sundome, The Pet (sort of, as it's extremely anti-BDSM)
  • Level 4 – Story is fantastic and BDSM is not clearly defined, so submissive characters encounter controlling dominants in abusive scenarios, yet there is plenty of BDSM imagery (leather, collars, whips, etc.) to indicate to the consumer of such media that they are experiencing a BDSM fantasy. Examples: a lot of vampire stuff including True Blood, Goth
  • Level 5 – Story is fantastic and BDSM is not clearly defined, so submissive characters encounter controlling dominants in abusive scenarios without BDSM imagery or other indications that the author has an understanding of BDSM; unless presented simply as an over-the-top fantasy as with ecchi manga, this kind of story can be problematic and worthy of criticism. Examples: Twilight, Atlas Shrugged


I will often encounter feminist criticisms of BDSM fiction where my go-to response is “it’s just a fantasy”, but there is a problem in the different kinds of fantasy that make it hard to communicate effectively. Fifty Shades of Grey often falls under fire for having a creepy Dom by people who expect a Level 1 fantasy, but as a Level 3 fantasy, it’s more “just” a submissive fantasy than with the Level 5 Twilight, which may resonate with submissives but as Stephenie Meyer gives no indication of understanding BDSM and how it relates to her fantasy, it is more problematic that Bella just devotes her life to the creepy vampire Edward and that this is all cast as a beautiful romance. The similar vampire fantasy True Blood is different because it is Level 4, and the vampire bar Fangtasia is decked out like a BDSM tourist trap, making the "Sookie is mine" stuff readily come across as a BDSM fantasy and not just an abusive scenario that would deserve more criticism at the higher Levels 1 and 2. Arguably, the goal should be to have decent BDSM fiction mostly occupy Levels 1 and 2, but sex sells and sex motivates writers, so we will see a lot in the deeper levels of fantasy.

So, those are my thoughts on the BDSM Levels of Fantasy. If you have any suggestions to refine it, please share them.

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