A look at Macho Sluts, the lesbian erotica featured in Kristen Stewart’s Love Lies Bleeding

We take a dive into Macho Sluts, the book of lesbian sadomasochist erotica read by Kristen Stewart in Love Lies Bleeding.

Kirsten Stewart reading the book Macho Slut and smoking in a scene of the film Love Lies Bleeding.

Love Lies Bleeding is a movie about a lot of things, and one of those things is pain—good pain, bad pain, and how hard it can be to separate those things when love gets involved. It’s 1989, and Lou (Kristen Stewart) is a lesbian steeped in the pain-and-gain world of bodybuilding, surrounded by mottos like ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body’. It’s almost no surprise that we can spot her with a copy of Macho Sluts by Patrick Califia.

Published in 1988, Macho Sluts is a book of lesbian sadomasochist erotica by an author forged in the fires of the 1970s feminist sex wars. Once a lesbian separatist, Califia – identifying as a lesbian at the time but out as a trans man since the late nineties – turned against separatism, gender essentialism, and the censorship of pornography after his public embrace of S/M put him on the outs with much of the lesbian community of the time.

As he writes in the 2009 introduction to Macho Sluts, Califia’s first book, a sex manual titled Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality, “caused a shit storm of angry reaction because it had chapters on transsexuality, butch/femme sexuality, and S/M”.

His fiction work, starting with single short stories that would be collected into Macho Sluts, would also fall under a kind of educational remit, not as an instruction guide to S/M sexuality but as a way for readers to broaden their horizons and potentially get new ideas as to what turns them on.

“I want to create a state of suspended disbelief that allows you to occupy bodies and desires that may be quite foreign to your own,” he writes. “I want to sow some interesting seeds of new thoughts about our bodies, why we want the things that we do, what the line is between the permissible and the forbidden, and why the hell we don’t all have better sex lives.”


The thrill of testing taboo is woven throughout Love Lies Bleeding as Lou and Jackie (Katy O’Brian) constantly push each other’s limits, seeing how far their bodies can stretch, how much pain their relationship can withstand before someone has to tap out.

You can see throughout the film how Califia’s writing is more than just a piece of set decoration, but a piece of Lou’s character. She’s a reclusive butch in the middle of nowhere, stuck in a shitty routine at a shitty job, dating the only other lesbian in town.

One of Califia’s drives to write was being “sick of the ‘truism’ that one woman would somehow automatically know how to get another woman off”, and in 1989 the release of Macho Sluts coincides with Jackie’s arrival: Lou has a hot new girlfriend and some new ideas. We can see her frenzied, Califia-induced excitement in a scene of Lou asking Jackie to show her how she masturbates, then pushing her girlfriend to the edge of pain and ecstasy.

In the original 1988 introduction to Macho Sluts, Califia wrote, “Some people cannot be trusted with a helpless body. […] Some people don’t choose to take responsibility for the pain they inflict on others. […] But if you’d feel safer spending a night with one of them than you would with me or some other macho slut, I’ll remember you in my prayers.”

From Lou’s ex-girlfriend to Jackie’s boss, Love Lies Bleeding is replete with ‘some people’, people who entrap, assault and destroy those they have power over. Lou and Jackie are a couple with problems, but as two outsiders under threat – both macho sluts, in their own way – the pain they cause each other is nothing compared to what ‘some people’ do to those they claim to love.

Two horny women between a rock and a hard place, Lou and Jackie’s romance is equal parts very exciting and very fucked. But in that same introduction, Califia also refers to Dorothy Allison’s “wet test” as the only meaningful way to gauge the quality of a piece of erotica. Briefly set aside all your fears and aversions and just ask yourself: Does it make you wet? Love Lies Bleeding is a violent, exciting, totally bizarre film – so all these years later, that test might still be the best metric to measure it by.

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