Review: The Pleasure’s All Mine (book)

pleasureI picked up The Pleasure’s All Mine by Joan Kelly a month or so ago, and it was a pleasing, quick read. Perhaps my hopes were high, thinking she might add to my understanding of being submissive or bottoming, but unfortunately it was moreso a big of a glamorized account of being in a generally dominatrix-dominated field and being submissive.

When I first heard of this book, the idea sent a jolt through me – a professional submissive? Really? I love the idea of a formal study of the skills of bottoming, and I definitely wanted to read that kind of analysis and those kinds of stories.

The memoir, unfortunately, read as a fairly naive linear narrative of her time from discovering that she’s kinky, to working in a dungeon as one of only two submissives on staff, then becoming “freelance,” if you will, and taking private clients. It is incredibly breezy, almost effortless, moving in and out of one place to the next with no change in tone or depth of emotional weight, so I never got the idea that one place was harder or easier than another – even though she’d write “I was happier there than at the first place” for example, there was no emotional connection on my account with the difference between those experiences. She never recounts the problems with professional submission, either – she vaguely hinted at it, and, toward the end of the book, relayed a particularly scary account where she was tied to a shower curtain and seemed terrified. I was very uncomfortable for her, for example, and nothing in the writing told me that she was actually having a good time – I was expecting a few pages of “this is how I recovered from that situation” and “this is what I learned, and I never got myself into such a bad scenario again.” But the situation, once the description of it was over, was barely discussed.

This book got me thinking, too, about the difference between a “sex worker” and a “professional submissive.” I’m not so up on the world of sex work, so do correct me here, but I would guess that sex workers don’t necessarily figure kink or BDSM play into the mix, and professional submissives are more skilled at the various ways to bottom and receive in those scenarios of sensation play or power play. And yet, I went away from her memoirs feeling like she lacked explanation for these deeper BDSM bottoming techniques and consciousness.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. It was an easy, fun read, and I was quickly absorbed in it. But the writing wasn’t anything special, and her selling point – that she’s a “professional submissive” and ooooh isn’t that such an amazing, wild, sexy thing to do – felt underanalyzed and naive by the end. I would’ve loved to see some analysis that was more intentional and conscious, in a greater context of the kink and BDSM communities.

Have you read this? What did you think?

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

17 thoughts on “Review: The Pleasure’s All Mine (book)”

  1. Calico says:

    Heh. This book is next up in my closet-cleaning, and I felt very nearly the same about it.

    What I wanted from it: an insightful, hot and/or eye-opening look into the business and experiences of a professional submissive.

    What I got: a personal memoir of a girl drawn to sexual submission, who finds that commercial channels will provide her the opportunity and motive (cash!) for the sexual thrills that she's too timid and ignorant to seek recreationally.

    And let's not start on the business end. Joan Kelly has … interesting boundaries. She falls for and tries to date her first client at a commercial dungeon? One of her (more disturbing) clients just "decides" that ass-fucking is on her pro-subbing menu? It's very Pretty Woman. But not all sex workers are Cinderellas waiting for our Prince Save-a-Ho. I would hesitate to give this book to a new or curious submissive, or hopeful sex worker. What's hot and ends well makes for a good story, but it's a poor business model.

    I really wanted the promised solution to the problems inherent in professional submission: as the book back reads, "the difficulty of remaining self-possessed, all the while surrendering to the sexual will of others". Not so much.

    If I sound too critical of Marnie/Joan, it's because she scares me a little. I'm glad it worked for her. Things worked out for me, too, and God knows, I've never been a model sex worker. But if I can't read about excellence, at least I want funny and well-examined failure. I wanted more self-possession, more introspection, more direction, more… ownership of her sexuality and desires and her work.

    In a lot of little ways, the messages of this book frustrated me. Yes — I wish that women didn't find it easier to fuck/play for cash than to assert their own desires as worthwhile. I wish that men didn't find it easier to pay for sex/play than to make themselves interested in, and nonjudgmental to, the women who want it. And maybe if there wasn't such stigma, women like Joan could let themselves think more about what they do, and go about their business in a safer, more intelligent, dare I say more defensible way.

    If you're going to promise subversiveness, try harder.

  2. Adriana says:

    I read this a few years back and basically agree. To me, she was more a sex worker than anything else. She just tossed some kink into the mix and that's it. I was surprised that she had sex at all, honestly. To me, that's not what being a professional submissive would be about but I am neither a professional nor submissive so what do I know?

  3. Well, a) I am enough of a narcissist to still be able to appreciate that someone read my book and talked about it, even if they didn't like it and b) thanks for the positive things you did say, both the original poster and the commenter. I got here via the $pread blog.

    I have to ask you guys – and if this feels like too combative of a thing to talk about publicly, I am okay with talking about it privately via email too – but I can't for the life of me understand how, of all places, among all people, I am getting things like how there was something indefensible about the way I did business? I did what I wanted to do. The only poor business model part of it is that, as I would guess any sex worker knows, you can't make a great living doing *only* what you want to do with men for money. You have to be willing to do things you're either not that into or outright could do the fuck without. For a while what I felt like doing coincided with enough people wanting to pay me for it that I could support myself via sessions alone. After six years, not so much anymore, and partly because my tolerance for doing anything I didn't really enjoy went way down.

    It's my impression that some pro kinksters or even non-pro perverts disapprove of what I did because I don't have the same boundaries many people have between fucking and being tied up, spanked, etc. Or, to put it more succinctly, I don't have the same reluctance to fuck people I want to fuck, regardless of context, that some kinky people do, in and out of the professional realm.

    And for me, there is no such thing as "deeper bottoming techniques and consciousness." To me, that's like saying there is something like a "deeper heterosexual female technique and consciousness." My sex drive and urges and the ways I choose to act on them are simply that – they do not make me some specific breed of person, "a submissive." I get that many kinky people disagree – that there is this idea of "the submissive mindset" or experience or whatever. I wrote my book in part because of other people like me, women specifically, who feel and have always felt alienated by that idea of having to fit into a role, having to strive to meet other people's definitions of who I am because of what gets me off.

    You're right that it's a fairly fluffy book – I sold my soul to the (ironically non-paying!) publishing devil just to get published, and edited out most of everything they considered "too dark or heavy." But it's not accurate to say that I was ever too timid or ignorant to seek the kinky sexual encounters I wanted recreationally, let alone by the time I started doing pro sessions. My difficulty was in finding tops who didn't get the fuck on my nerves, and being tired of sucking cocks I didn't want to suck just to get someone to spank me already. Hard to sell the whole "I want you to do things that make me come but I'm not attracted enough to you to want to touch *you* at all" motif when you're seeing people in your personal life. Hurts people's feelings, naturally. Professionally, "I don't do that" is taken at face value. "I *will* do that with you even though I don't with anyone else" is, as a result, a much freer choice. In so much as anything in the context of sex and money can truly be described as free.

  4. Yin says:

    I read Marnie/Joan Kelly's memoir a few years ago and enjoyed the fact that I was finally reading a close account of a woman's experience in the professional BDSM realm, stripped of glamour and full of the confusion that is very much a part of balancing one's desires in the kink lifestyle with the desires of making a living with one's own and clients' perversions. I will agree that the text left me wanting more introspection, not necessarily conclusion (does literature really need tidy conclusions?), but a deeper dive into every aspect of her experience that was touched upon. I also didn't get a strong sense of "ownership" and that bothered me, but it didn't offend me because, through the years, most of the women I've met in the scene don't "own" their decisions in the business. I know that that is a really shitty, anti-sorority thing to say, but the truth is that most women are directed by the industry and not vice versus. I am glad that this is changing. There is a very different atmosphere in the sex industry now that uplifts and connects through blogs, journals, and online communities. I applaud these arenas, but even five years ago, support and information was not as accessible. Sex work feminism came in books, but the discussions that we are able to have now online were only shared in small groups, often with women in houses who were competing for the same clients. I didn't read this memoir as an instructor's manual of how to be a sex worker or as a model for sex worker's ethics and I didn't expect it to be. I read it as one woman's truth of the raw vulnerability that is inherent in sex work, the loss of self-possession, and the courage to put it all on paper.

  5. james says:

    I've read it just recently. Great book and a very interesting story of a real woman. It is hard to write a book about such very personal experiences and I think the author did an awesom job.

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