Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ten Things That Turn Me Off

by Annabeth Leong

I want to talk about are things that interfere with my suspension of disbelief while reading romance and erotica, but I'm very aware that people's mileage on this sort of thing does vary. I operate by a certain set of beliefs as a writer, which I can talk about another time if it comes up. In this case, I'm talking about the stuff that bothers me as a reader—what makes me put books down because the spell has been broken. In at least a few of the cases below, it probably comes down to personal preference or experience, so please take this for what it's worth.

1. Alpha Male Jerkface

I almost wrote my entire disbelief post about how I can't personally believe that the alpha male jerkface is as popular as he seems. For a while, I thought this was some wrong-headed imposition on the part of publishers. Then I went to a couple conventions where I met tons of fans who are apparently into this loser and wish they could be with him. Holy Lord, the alpha male jerkface turns me off unless he is recognized as such. If someone is in his horrible clutches and suffering and crying for it, my fetish for extreme pain activates and I can be down. If they think he's romantic or sweet when he's actually being jealous, possessive, and borderline (or outright) abusive, I'm throwing a book across the room. It's not cute, and I can't believe in a hero or heroine who would really be swooning over that crap unless they have a boatload of life issues they're still trying to work out.

Since this is apparently one of the places where I have a strong personal preference that doesn't match the rest of the world, I'll add that I'm the child of an abusive relationship and I've been in abusive relationships myself. I've got a lot of education at this point about how to spot them, and I've got intimate, unfortunate, and painful knowledge of how badly they tend to turn out, even if they look romantic at first.

2. Lack of Protection

I know this one is controversial, but it is a serious, serious turnoff for me (I ignore it as best I can when reading the works of writer friends who believe descriptions of protection get in the way). If there's no protection, I need people to be in the sort of committed relationship where I can believe they've worked out birth control, or I need them to freak the fuck out while it's happening, or immediately after. Maybe it's my age, because I grew up post HIV/AIDS, but I just cannot picture blithely going without protection. I was shown way too many horrifying pictures of venereal diseases in health class. I also spent way too much time having fights with coercive guys who were claiming things like, "When I wear a condom, I could slam my dick in a car door and not even feel it," while I was thinking, "Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, getting pregnant right now would be so fucking terrible."

This is not to say I've never had sex without protection, but I have always found it to be a stressful experience involving coercion or extreme drunkenness and great regret the following morning. It's the opposite of hot to me, and it destroys my ability to believe that characters are having fun. (It's a bit different for lesbian erotica—I'm less upset when people forego the dental dams. This probably has something to do with my memory of walking into a health clinic as a teenager, asking how lesbian safe sex would even work (my conservative high school hadn't taught us anything about non-straight safe sex), and being met with utter confusion).

3. Rapid Fire Orgasms

My body doesn't work this way, and I've never been with anyone whose body does. Also, descriptions of rapid-fire orgasms tend to get repetitive and boring anyway.

4. Extreme Athleticism

I find a number of sexual positions difficult and exhausting when I try them out. When I have sex in the shower, I'm usually distracted by my fear of a fatal accident involving slippery tile and my cracked-open skull. It can be hard, sometimes, for me to believe that characters aren't breaking something or falling on their asses. I give exceptions for people who are, say, trained ballerinas, but there are plenty of positions that I think normal people would find challenging, to say the least.

5. 69

Am I the only person in the world who finds that this position is mostly about trying not to choke? At best, it's very difficult multitasking. It often results in a sore jaw, awkward attempts to balance on one elbow, or a literal pain in the neck if I'm on top, or, if I'm on the bottom, trying really hard not to let my teeth go somewhere they're not supposed to go while my nose is buried in my partner's asshole. It's hard for me to believe people do this and enjoy it, based on my own experiences.

6. One-Night Virtuoso

Things that have happened to me during one-night stands: I think I'm good at sucking cock, but my lover totally loses his erection when I try it. I discover that the girl I'm going down on has her period and didn't bother to tell me, not even after I licked her blood-stained tampon string. The condom breaks and the guy I'm with spends a while whispering about how I'm so juicy and it feels so great, like he's not even wearing a rubber—and then we figure out that the condom is broken and freak the fuck out. A certain brand of condom gives me an itchy, terrible rash, and I dry up completely and have to go to the clinic the next day. The girl I hook up with at a party has secretly invited her boyfriend to watch. She also won't reciprocate and go down on me.

Those are disasters. I've also had plenty of experiences that were just plain awkward—bumping teeth and not finding the rhythm and coming too fast or not coming at all. I've had a couple amazing experiences where things just clicked right away, but they've been few and far between, and I'm skeptical of characters who are consistently virtuosic with people they've just met.

7. Women Who Get Raped and Decide 10 Seconds Into It That They Love It

I'll be clear that I read and enjoy nonconsent. I'm also a feminist with some strong opinions about rape culture. Stories that have women decide that they actually love being raped manage to piss me off on both counts, in opposite ways. When I'm looking for nonconsent, I want it to stay nonconsensual, because that's my fetish. If she decides she loves it, that's a total buzzkill for the fetish. As a person who is familiar with realities of real-life rape, it's just irritating bullshit to assert that a woman being raped actually wants it. I've read a few very fascinating explorations of the mixed feelings of a person with a rape fetish in a nonconsensual situation, but I'm not talking about that sort of sophistication here. In its blunt, simple form, this is more stupidity that makes me want to throw something.

8. Infinite Pain Tolerance (and its companion, Terrible Things That Don't Make People Cry)

When someone gets caned, like, 50 times full-out without passing out, my eyebrow climbs into my hairline. A lot of BDSM writing seems to involve very little understanding of how things actually feel or how much they hurt. This is a place where I really want realism, or an acknowledgement that the character in question is extreme for some specific reason. I'm also frustrated by flat emotional reactions to terrible dilemmas (another thing I've noticed a lot in bad BDSM writing).

9. True Submissives

Here's another thing I could write a whole essay about. I am incensed by the idea that certain people are "true submissives" and therefore are naturally inclined to do whatever they're told by a "master," without question or concern for themselves. Asking questions or looking out for oneself does not mean one is not submissive. People who do submit without question are taking part in very extreme behavior. If they are healthy, they do that knowingly, not under a lot of coercion about how a "true submissive" would just do as they were told. This riles me up because the "true submissive" phrasing is often used in a way that portrays abuse masquerading as BDSM. It destroys my belief because in most communities of BDSM players, people won't let that sort of thing fly (or, if they do, it's because something is wrong). Again, sophistication can help. Greta Christina, for example, has written interesting explorations of the line between abuse and BDSM, sometimes involving this sort of unquestioning submission. I'm talking here about non-sophisticated uses of the concept.

10. Things That Would Get Your Ass Arrested

I get distracted by descriptions of behaviors that I don't think a person could get away with in public. My disbelief is especially activated by types of coercion that are so blatantly illegal and visible that I don't think anyone would actually try them. I know people do get away with things and do abuse their power, I just prefer when stories recognize that a risk is being taken.


There's my long post, set to maximum curmudgeon. I'm sure some of these things don't bother other people, and that there are things I love that would totally throw someone else out of the story. I'll be interested to see what people think in the comments.


  1. Annabeth:
    As usual you are so articulate and so passionate it's hard to find any fault with any of your turn-offs.

    1) The alpha male thing. I'm a guy. I particularly don't like it. But look at the anthology calls, coming almost exclusively from female editors. They want hunks with an attitude who will be cured by (my turn off) the magic twat. Somebody, no a lot of somebodies buy it. All those people being wrong doesn't make it right.

    2) Protection. Condoms are better than nothing but not by much. It presumes you get it on having not had any contact with female parts. There is enough semen in pre cum to cause pregnancy. I know a couple of guys who are called dad because they didn't believe it. And the damn things break. Still the emphasis on protection is so strange to me. I guess its the age we are in. I agree this is a long endless discussion.

    3) Rapid fire orgasms. I don't have much trouble suspending disbelief for women but as a guy, an older guy, I find recovery times to be unbelievable.

    4) Athleticism. I really do want to have sex in the shower but have always been blessed by partners with better sense.

    5) 69 that's one number before 70 right? It's not a good number in my book.

    6) One night virtuoso. Thank you.

    7) The raped and loved it thing drives me crazy. Talk about sending mixed messages to guys. I'm sorry to say I have heard guys brag about it. I think date rape is more common. My wife had that happen on several occasions when she was younger. At a certain point she just gave up resisting. It makes me want to cry.

    8) BDSM. Still trying to get it. Went thought all 69 tales in RCB's anthology searching for understanding. It's not like the sex I like. It seems to be about trust but too many author focus on the pain.

    9) Submissives. Unqualified to comment

    10) In public. Fogetaboudit.

    1. What an awesomely complete reply. Thank you!

      Brief responses:

      I would totally add magic twat to my list of turnoffs. Thanks for reminding me.

      As far as sex in the shower, I'll give a hell yes to groping and hand jobs for any gender. So it's not a total lost cause.

      Rape: I've also heard guys brag about it. And date rape is very common. I'm sorry for what happened to your wife.

      BDSM: I note the occurrence of 69 again.

  2. 1. Alpha Male Jerkface

    Personally I recoil from that, too, though I'm not surprised it's popular. Those types of "heroes" have been all over popular culture forever, and I think I can see why the trope would persist even in (especially in?) a society that has taken some steps toward gender equality.

    (I ignore it as best I can when reading the works of writer friends who believe descriptions of protection get in the way).

    Question: Do you differentiate at all between "lack of protection" and "mention of protection elided"? Not that one can always tell the difference, of course; but both as a reader and as a writer I will often assume (or, when I'm the reader, reassuringly tell myself) that the putting-on-the-condom business has simply been omitted from the description, the same way someone peeing before sex is often omitted from sex scenes (though often not in mine! (:v>). The one context in which I've made sure to mention the "rubber" during every detailed sex scene is my work set in earlier decades, because in those settings the assumption, alas, might be otherwise.

    3. Rapid Fire Orgasms

    You forgot this: "That was amazing." (:v>

    1. Hi! You're probably right about the alpha male thing, but it makes me sad.

      As far as protection, I've been thinking about this today, and I think what it comes down to is the nature of one's fantasy of not having to worry about it. I think everyone wishes they didn't have to worry about it. For me, that fantasy comes out as "it's taken care of," not as "there's no protection" (the latter makes me feel very worried).

      I'm trying to think of examples, but I think I can deal when I can read it as the putting-on-the-condom bit has been left out (or when I can convince myself that these people have been tested, are fluid-bonded, whatever). What totally gets me are descriptions of someone coming inside someone else in a way that rubs my nose in there being no condom (and it's clear from context that these people just met).

      I should certainly add "That was amazing," though I may be guilty of it. :)

    2. As long as you don't italicize the "that." That's what puts the cliché over the top, imho. (;v>

  3. P.S. Has anyone noted the problematic nature of e-books with respect to the "throwing the book across the room" moment?

    1. Oh God, yes. Because I don't want to break my Kindle, my computer, or my smart phone. But I still do want to throw it. Usually, I deal with this by growling or talking at it.

  4. I think we all have enough specific squicks and turn-ons to make lists of our own. For one thing, i do use the punk, the asshole you mention, and although he occupies a spot in many of my stories, he isn't presented in a positive light, more like something to be dealt with on some level.

    I think if a condom is written as an afterthought to add a 'message' to a sex scene, it will often pull me out of the story. Now, if I want to portray someone as responsible, that may be the device I'd use to illustrate that. If I had two 18 year-olds making it in the back seat after the prom, I probably would have the boy clumsily putting one on. In other words, there's a place for condoms and a place for not using them. Depends on the story you're trying to tell.

    I've used condoms and not. Depends on the character you want to portray. Of course, it would be a stretch to call most of my stuff "romance", so I'm often not dealing with lovey-dovey.

    And# 10 I'll outright disagree. There are persons who get their rocks by *almost* getting caught. Remember-- There was a Fellini movie. I forget which one, but the protagonist was a guy who liked to fuck in stairwells and while the woman's husband's in the next room. He came closer and closer to getting caught, and that was the heat, both for the character and for the movie. I am one of those people. Have compassion for the lumpen exhibitionist. :>)

    But I'll agree with most of what you say--especially the 69 deal. Christ, nobody gets to enjoy because we're both trying to do stuff. Not enough concentration on either aspect. But in fiction, the best writers can pull anything off.

    1. Hi! I'm totally fine with the asshole when he's not being presented as a romantic ideal. There are assholes in the world, and they can be interesting.

      And you're totally right about how protection (use or lack thereof) is characterization. I think that gets at the sophistication thing I mentioned a few times. Any of the turn offs I mentioned above is a different matter if they're used consciously for a purpose. What bothers me is when there's nothing being said, the protection just isn't there, and I'm left wondering why no one is upset or even pausing to think about this thing that was totally drilled into my head (again, as a person who grew up post HIV/AIDS).

      On the disagreement with #10, I think we actually agree. I love exhibitionism and voyeur stuff, and I get the turnon of risk. What I was clumsily objecting to (perhaps clumsy because I was getting tired at the end of my list) was again doing this with a lack of sophistication. I don't believe people blithely have sex in public or what have you. It ought to feel risky. It makes it hotter and more plausible.

      And for 69, I'm glad I'm not the only one. :)

  5. A great take on this topic, Annabeth. I've definitely been dragged out of a tale by almost all of these items, though mainly when they are handled in a clumsy manner.

    I'll comment on a few.

    - Unprotected sex. I definitely think this is partially generational. Almost all of the sex I've had in my life was unprotected, in the sense of not using a condom. (I was on the Pill from the time I was 18.) When I was in my sexual prime, before AIDS became an issue, I rarely thought about this issue.

    Now I choose carefully whether to include a condom or not in my stories. That choice depends on the characters, their relationship, and the overall tone of the story. It's interesting to note that one can achieve very different narrative effects by including as opposed to omitting at least a mention of protection.

    - "True" or "Natural" submissives. I agree that this trope is mostly nonsense. However, I still find the notion arousing - the idea that a dominant can instinctively recognize the latent desire to submit, even when the sub acts quite assertive. The idea also appeals to the perfectionist element in submission. A sub *wants* to be perfect and true, to please her master. How lovely to believe that one is born to that role!

    1. Writing this post was what made me realize that the unprotected sex thing was probably generational, which was interesting to figure out.

      I definitely think there's something arousing about recognizing the latent desire to submit (when correct and consensual). And the way you put it is very lovely. I'll call on sophistication again. When done well, it's a portrayal of deep accord. When "true submissive" is done bluntly, I've seen it become, "Don't ask questions, bitch," or something similarly repellent.

  6. The submissive thing can be complicated by several factors, including age (or "age play," come to think of it.) I've known young people who seem like natural submissives, or at least think of themselves that way, and people who outgrew feeling like submissives and sometimes became charismatic dominants. Then there's the "topping from below" phenomenon, when a submissive has a certain fantasy about being submissive and demands (in a passive aggressive way) that the top adheres to that fantasy. Being a top is hard work. But all this is based on my observations of the "play party" sort of BDSM, with only slight (very secondhand) exposure to the life style kind. I should probably add that my observational experience has been almost entirely pertaining to women or transwomen. When it comes to male domination of females, there are different complicating factors.

    1. Totally agree on all these complicating factors. I specifically object to "True submissive" when the phrase is used to beat someone up, disqualify someone, or portray an utterly unrealistic (and dangerous) idea of what submission ought to look like.

  7. Am I really the only person in the world who loves a good ol' fashioned 69? Crikey.

    I'm with you all the way on the alpha male jerkface. He's the reason I've pretty much stopped answering calls for submissions these days... and probably why my book sales have fallen off the face of the earth. I'll pretty much blame him for anything. I just hate him SO MUCH. There isn't even the slightest part of me that understands his appeal.

  8. Hi everyone. Sorry for no comments for a few weeks. Working 3 jobs, then I got slammed with a pile of books to judge for a contest, and oops! There went any "free" time and my on-line time was spent reading. I've been trying to play catch-up the past coupla days, when I'm not working one of my 3 jobs. But I always love to read your blogs!

    I just had to comment here!

    1-Alpha-holes...God, yes! I HATE them! I try not to judge books too harshly that have them, but when he's treated like a god, he's a gazillionaire, he's the leader of his "gang", etc, and the "little woman" is not only physically smaller than him, but less important in every way, then I want to puke! That's not love, that's servitude! That's Stockholm Syndrome!
    I write Beta males, with alpha-females. (The only biker story I wrote involves a female biker queen who's introduced in the previous story as one of the bad guys. Hey, even bad girls can fall in love.) Or as close as I can get away with as alpha, considering that strong women are always called names. I've had reviewers find my heroines unpleasant. I can only write the stories that grow in my head, and believe me, I've had enough of alpha-holes to last a lifetime! (From back in my single days, when my sole criterion was them being male.)

    2--Protection, yeah, I write it into the stories all of the time. That's why I was so perplexed when a reviewer specifically mentioned that I didn't have the characters talking about it in one of my books. I actually did, but maybe she never read that part?

    3--Rapid-fire hand) Now you've met one. That's why I write most of my females as being like me. It's the only way I know how to be. But I certainly understand what's called "refractory time", which in men takes longer as they get older. In fact my next book has a couple who are both in their 50s, and the vagaries of having sex in older bodies is part of what they talk about as they fall in love.

    As for 4 and 5, I prefer realism in my erotic scenes. 69 is awkward at best. So much to focus on, involving not biting while the other person is making you come so hard your teeth naturally want to grind. Then there's the whole "money shot" thing, which always makes me gag just thinking about it. I read somewhere about the speed at which ejaculate shoots out, and it's no wonder I once puked on a guy who didn't think to warn me ahead of time. Definitely a turn-off for me.

    I agree with your opinions and the other comments about all of the rest. I don't have any opinion on the BDSM, since I've not had any experience in that, and despite reading many books focusing on this as a part of the romance, I still don't get the attraction. To me, any guy that would raise a hand to hit or hurt me, would be singing soprano tomorrow. Or I'd have him arrested. I guess I'm not the adventurous kind of gal...I just like sex and lots of it. But I will take a pass on the pain, which I don't find arousing at all. I guess that's why, despite knowing what I was like when I was younger, my brother calls me "vanilla". So I stopped giving him free copies of my books. Don't want to bore him or anything.


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