The Beginner’s Guide to BDSM Romance Novels

However many years ago it was now, Fifty Shades of Grey brought the concept of BDSM romance novels to the forefront and into the mainstream (while both the real-life and romance communities were happily chugging along without it). We all have our own opinions on E. L. James’s series, and we’ll just leave those to the side. What you’re here looking for is good, well-written and well-researched, respectful romance that features characters who are into bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism. The core elements of what most consider “kink.”

Amanda Diehl’s list of BDSM romance novels and erotica from a few years ago is a great place to start, but here are some similarly excellent stories to add to your list.

So let’s give you a few options at varying levels of heat and ropes. Shall we?

Bared To You by Sylvia Day

This has been one of the premier go-to Fifty Shades alternative recommendations since its release. Billionaire asshole Gideon Cross meets Eva Tramell, and everything changes. He’s controlling and has difficulty expressing emotions, but that doesn’t stop the pair from developing an obsessive, pretty unhealthy relationship. Their dom/sub relationship isn’t referred to as such very often or very early, but it lives there in every element of their relationship. Much like the Fifty Shades trilogy, the complete story exists over several novels; so Bared To You has more of a HFN than a HEA, but it’s still worth trying out for someone dipping their foot into the pool.

Top to Bottom by Mina Vaughn

For those who want to just dive right in, Delphine Dryden’s second-chance romance about a woman who has just opened her dream kink club and the woman she once loved with all her heart is heavy on both kink and emotions. With one character still grieving for a lost spouse and the other dealing with questions about her sexuality, it’s a surprise that any kink makes it into the story. But it does. Oh, it does. And while it contributes to them both dealing with their own issues, it’s not used as therapy or a crutch.

A Gentleman in the Street by Alisha Rai

Meanwhile, in this story, kink is like the fresh, homemade buttercream icing on an amazing, fudgy chocolate cake. It doesn’t have to be there, but it adds something to the formula to make something wholly different. A Gentleman in the Street, about billionaire Akira and Jacob, the writer she’s always been in love with, doesn’t do boundaries—so while kink isn’t a central component of the story, it also isn’t downplayed, and the places where it happens will stick with you for…a long, long time.

(Side note: Rai’s most recent book, Wrong to Need You, includes hints of dominance and submission, even though nothing strictly kinky is depicted.)

The Professional by Kresley Cole

Alternatively, this novel couldn’t happen without the kink. Also, there’s a reason Amanda didn’t include it in her “safe, sane, and consensual” BDSM list. The heroine is a grad student from the Midwest and a scary-but-hot man shows up and tells her she’s the daughter of a Russian Mob Boss. And he’s her new bodyguard. Not safe at all. The rest of the story can only be categorized as Crazypants (please, please, forgive the ableist term but I can legit not figure out a better description), but it’s a trainwreck that you can’t turn away from, not matter what happens. I’m mostly including it so you can see what some of the darker stuff looks like (though it’s also similarly kinkshame-y to Fifty Shades on occasion). If that’s your style, have at it! Maybe we can look at some more of these later.

How to Reprimand Your Rock Star by Mina Vaughn

Even with the prior categorization, this is probably the most ridiculous novel on this list. Not because it’s stupid, but because it’s just the most amazing thing. This New Adult novel includes a star athlete, the rock god she runs into in the locker room, and some awesome self-discovery. When basketball star Thea ties Keaton up, he decides he likes it—and so does she. What follows are fun, youthful discoveries for both parties, and some wonderful women-helping-women scenes involving Domme lessons. Awesome, right?

Bound to Be a Groom by Megan Mulry

I lied, this is the most fun ridiculousness on the planet. This novel borders on the erotica end of erotic romance, but it has a happy ending so I’ll allow it. The first in Megan Mulry’s Regency Reimagined series, this novel includes a Spain and an England that may or may not have ever existed, and all kinds of sexytimes imaginable, both kinky and vanilla—but mostly kinky.

haven rebekah witherspoonHaven by Rebekah Weatherspoon

When Shepard saves a woman from an attacker in the mountains he calls his home, their immediate connection is not something he expects. When Claudia returns to his home, in need of something to get her out of her head, the two take to alternative activities as they get to know each other better. Some have expressed concerns with using bondage as a mechanism to avoid therapy, but it’s your call.

(Side note take two: Rebekah Weatherspoon also regularly features fairly kinky protagonists, including her older trilogy starting with Fit.)

For Real by Alexis Hall

Older Lawrence, burned out on his own kink, meets the young and earnest Toby and everything changes. This is the only book on this list I haven’t read, but it’s gotten such glowing reviews from people I trust that I feel I can include it. (Also, I only haven’t read it because the list is so damn long, but that’s another story for another day.) Also, the Goodreads “review” by the author just makes everything even more amazing.   

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These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to BDSM romance novels, but they’re a good place to start, if only to figure out what kind of BDSM you’d like—earnest, explicit BDSM with a happy ending like Top to Bottom, or maybe something more BDSM-lite, like Bared To You. Once you’ve figured that out, there are countless directions you can go in, and so so many BDSM romance novels to try out with all kinds of kink—whether you want to follow lovers into kink clubs or hang out with them in their sex-positive homes. 

What are your go-to BDSM romance novels recommendations? If you’re new to the subgenre, where do you think you’ll start?

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