Though Wonder Woman has existed since 1941, no one seems to agree on what she prefers sexually. She’s dated Superman and her primary boyfriend, Steve Trevor, and she’s flirted with Batman; in recent comics, she’s alluded to sexual relationships with other Amazons. She wears bondage-style wrist cuffs, but her primary weapon is a rope she uses to bind people. She’s both a classic BDSM submissive, appearing tied up as often as she does in her first comics standing, and an archetypal dominant, tall, and powerful woman. So, what’s her deal when it comes to sex?
Wonder Woman has deep roots in the BDSM community, partly because her creator, William Moulton Marston, infused her with his own sexual curiosities. In addition to being a cartoonist and psychologist, Marston experimented with sex positivity, building a life with his legal wife, Elizabeth, and their girlfriends, Marjorie W. Huntley and Olive Byrne.
In fact, Wonder Woman was sort of the quartet’s collective baby: Olive, a grad student, published a paper titled ‘Don’t Laugh at the Comics,’ in which she quoted Marston. Because of Marston’s quote about comics as an art form, the company that eventually became DC Comics hired him as a writer. Marston wanted to create the first superhero to use love rather than physical combat, and Marston’s wife Elizabeth urged him to make that hero a woman. The character was based on Olive, and Marjorie helped with coloring and inking. Diana Prince, Amazon royal of Themyscira, using what DC Rebirth writer Greg Rucka calls “loving submission” to subdue foes, was born.
Later, Marston would comment, “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.” He envisioned Wonder Woman’s coded-feminine traits—like patience, empathy, and kindness—never detracting from her power or authority. It was a tricky tightrope to walk in the 1940s, and Wonder Woman’s comics are still complicated today.
This week, Wonder Woman will make her big screen debut, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot. However, the film doesn’t delve too deep into Diana’s sexuality, though the comic that Rucka and his co-creator, artist Nicola Scott, created does. It’s significant because they co-wrote Wonder Woman during DC’s Rebirth, which effectively means their version of Diana wipes out prior canon—like the New 52 comics—and redefines the character across all books. In other words: As of 2016, Wonder Woman definitely likes men and women.
Rucka ignited an online controversy when he confirmed that his Diana was queer. What’s more, he said Wonder Woman had always been queer, an idea he doubles down on now. “I still think it’s an absurd thing to get up in arms about,” Rucka tells Glamour. “People knew. Creators knew. Actually, it’s a very small percentage of people who got angry, but it’s amazing what you can do when you have eight Twitter handles.”
All Scott and Rucka did was suggest through dialogue in their comic that Diana had romantic and sexual relationships with women while she grew up on the island of Themyscira. When Gal Gadot was asked about her character’s sexuality, she said she wished it had been explored in the film and playfully suggested Halle Berry play Wonder Woman’s love interest in the sequel.
But even open-minded fans who took Wonder Woman’s queerness in stride have trouble pinning down her sexual style. First of all, the desires of an always-changing character are hard to pin down, and nothing makes people more nervous than a woman they can’t quite figure out. In Marston’s early comics, Wonder Woman is bound by ropes, hung upside down, and held prisoner—temporarily—by supervillains. “She certainly is wearing bondage traffics from the get-go,” Rucka explains, adding, “There’s no way to get away from that. People want to giggle and blush about it, but it’s there. Marston was coming from a point of view where he could tell this was vital to the character’s message, her sense of trust. Her loving submission was a good, good thing, but now, it’s just not something I’m interested in exploring.” In Rucka and Scott’s new comics, Wonder Woman takes on a more dominant role—both physically and conversationally. Even her partner, Steve Trevor, appears in Rebirth comics as Chris Pine plays him in the film: confused but charmed by Diana’s eccentricities and determined to prove himself to her.
So when did Wonder Woman change from a submissive into a more dominant woman?
The rise in dominatrixes who incorporate Diana’s image seems to suggest Wonder Woman is the ultimate dom. In fact, NYC-based professional dominatrix Mistress Stella says Wonder Woman is absolutely not a submissive to her or her friends in the community. “I’ve considered Wonder Woman as an archetype, and a lot of people do, of the dominant woman. She’s an Amazonian goddess. Sometimes people test the Amazon’s strength, and she wins out and humiliates them. In the BDSM community, not many doms even enjoy that testing process, but Wonder Woman does it with villains. If she were actually a submissive, she would leave it at being submissive and give up.” Stella identifies as a dominant woman and maintains relationships with several submissives, working out relationships with them ranging from withholding enjoyment to controlling their finances. “One way to look at it is, [Rucka] could be misinterpreting ‘loving submission’ to mean Wonder Woman is the submissive, when in fact, it’s the other people who are lovingly submitting to her because of her kindness, competence, and strength.”
The flip in Wonder Woman’s role as a sex symbol might explain why the character appears so sporadically in sex toys and pornography. No one, including audiences, knows exactly what to do with her. You can trace the change in Diana across many appearances in the past few decades. Wonder Woman has obviously appeared in many porn films, often as a sexual submissive. In 2015, porn parody filmmaker Axel Braun introduced Wonder Woman as a submissive in his Batman v Superman porn, though he actually made a solo film for her (way more quickly than DC Entertainment) the same year, giving her a host of female characters to seduce and dominate. Weirdly enough, there are multiple versions of Wonder Woman in porn, enjoying either end of the BDSM spectrum.
But if you want to experiment as Wonder Woman in the bedroom, you may be out of luck. Katy Zvolerin from sex toy manufacturer Adam & Eve says the company has no plans for Wonder Woman tie-in sex toys, though she sounds curious about what those products would look like. One fan-made mock-up of a sleek Wonder Woman vibrator is popular on Pinterest, but the real thing doesn’t exist yet. “People who are seriously into the [BDSM] lifestyle,” Zvolerin says, “might have whole rooms devoted to their equipment.” Adam & Eve offers what Zvolerin calls “introductions to light BDSM”, but the spreader bars, gentle paddles, and bonds are very feminine looking and clearly not meant to forcibly tie anyone up.
Even if Adam & Eve and other sex toys retailers didn’t jump at the chance to creator Wonder Woman-inspired bondage gear, it seems strange that one of the first symbols of female empowerment doesn’t have a vibrator of her own. Let’s hope that changes after the film’s predicted box office success.