50 Shades is just a starting point for exploring BDSM

With its kinky sex scenes involving whips and rope, E. L. James’s 50 Shades trilogy has certainly grabbed people’s attention. Dubbed “mommy porn” by Ellen DeGeneres, the best-selling erotic novels about a young literature student’s relationship with an older, wildly successful, dominating businessman who likes to tie up submissive brunettes have made its author very rich quickly—despite her writing being critically panned.

So what is it about 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades Darker, and 50 Shades Freed that’s resonating with so many female readers worldwide? And if women want to incorporate BDSM into their own sex lives, what are healthy, safe ways to do so? Local sexperts weigh in on the fire that James seems to have started in millions of women’s minds, if not their bedrooms.

“The book gives permission to more people to talk about sex and BDSM,” says Vancouver-based registered psychologist and sex therapist Marelize Swart in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight. (The acronym BDSM is a combination of words: bondage/discipline, domination/submission, and sadism/masochism.) “The book is respectable, as it’s an international bestseller. This gives women permission to read it or to discuss the subject with friends without being labelled as perverts.”

The trilogy’s success shows just how untapped the female market has been when it comes to porn, notes Vancouver clinical counsellor and sex therapist Teesha Morgan.

“Mainstream pornography is generally made by and made for men,” Morgan tells the Straight. “Women are desire-seeking, sexually driven creatures as well.…Most women want some form of porn as well; they want their imagination fed so that they too—even for a few moments—can step outside the box of their normality, outside their humdrum, monotonous sexual routines. It just has to be packaged to them in the right way.”

In day-to-day conversations, people mistakenly apply the word sadist to any cruel person and masochist to anyone who is a “glutton for punishment”, Morgan explains.

“However, in the clinical world, these words are applied to individuals who are sexually fixated on inflicting or receiving pain or humiliation,” she notes. “Most people are not willing to participate in S & M activities with the intensity or duration that sadists and masochists often desire or to the degree or level that the characters in the book choose to take it to. But getting a glimpse or peek into the lifestyle through this book does appeal to the general population, which is far more voyeuristic in nature. The book feeds our society’s voyeurism.

“People can include sub/dom play in their everyday sexual life without crossing too far into S & M play.” Morgan adds. “Through the use of things such as light bondage, couples can experiment with this lifestyle without pushing too far past their comfort zone. Many people simply enjoy S & M activities as part of a varied sexual diet. This book is providing another source or outlet for those desires and activities.”

Morgan has two words for those who want to try boosting the kink content of their sexual relations: safe and consensual.

“These are two very important words in the kink and S & M community,” she says, urging people to agree in advance upon “safe” terms to be used during sex, such as “yellow” (meaning you’re reaching your limit) and “red” (a signal for your partner to stop right away). It’s crucial for people’s boundaries to be respected.

“Any time a safe word or signal is used, play must stop immediately, no questions asked,” Morgan says. “If a gag or other mouth-covering device is used—so speech is not an option for conveying limits and safety—a sub [submissive] can use objects that fit in the palm of their hand as signals. If an object is released or dropped from the hand, it means stop.”

An unsafe or unhealthy relationship or encounter, she notes, leaves you feeling disrespected, pressured, judged, dismissed, silenced, devalued, or physically or emotionally hurt.

Swart says the 50 Shades books are merely fantasies and not how-to guides.

“This is not a BDSM handbook where the concepts of safe and consensual are central,” Swart says. “If couples want to give this a try, be sure to purchase a handbook about BDSM or join a BDSM group. Couples’ boundaries should be carefully and lovingly negotiated….This book is not good preparation for safe and consensual play. Speaking explicitly and negotiating about what they desire is not very common among couples in relationships.”

Despite the books’ popularity, Swart points out that they perpetuate some misconceptions about people who engage in BDSM: that men like Christian, the central male character who introduces his new lover to sex toys and submission, are somehow flawed and incapable of loving and must have experienced an abusive childhood.

In fact, research doesn’t back up any of those stereotypes. Swart points to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine that surveyed 19,000 people aged 19 to 54 in Australia. Researchers found that nearly two percent of those who were sexually active said they’d been involved in BDSM in the previous year. People who had engaged in BDSM were more likely to have experienced oral sex and/or anal sex, to have had more than one partner in the past year, to have had sex with someone other than their regular partner, and to have taken part in phone sex, visited an Internet sex site, viewed a pornographic film or video, used a sex toy, had group sex, or taken part in fisting or rimming. However, they were no more likely to have been coerced into sexual activity, the researchers concluded, and were not more likely to be unhappy or anxious.

“Indeed, men who had engaged in BDSM scored significantly lower on a scale of psychological distress than other men,” the authors wrote. “Engagement in BDSM was not significantly related to any sexual difficulties. Our findings support the idea that BDSM is simply a sexual interest or subculture attractive to a minority and for most participants not a pathological symptom of past abuse or difficulty with ‘normal’ sex.”

Clearly E. L. James wasn’t about to let the facts get in the way of a good fantasy.

Comments (11) Add New Comment
wait
woman's body but man hands., something is wrong with that picture, now thats a different shade of grey all together. not my cup of tea but to each their own. they are your fantasies.lol
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FWP
"wait", those are not men hands..
I read the book, I was addicted for about a week. and I hated it at the same time. the writing is abysmal and she has a repertoir of 20 odd words she chooses from. Hope she doesn't write any further books.
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jack thompson
badly written but hot. and badly written. and hot.
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guest
thanks Jack, I agree, the books are awful writing but very hot.
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straight up
ditto, Guest and Jack.. which goes to prove that the ability to be a literary success has very little to do with writing OR editing... find content that all the women in the world will be instantly drawn to and you will make millions.
Try the trilogy on audio book... although the reader isn't great either, listening is very much like voyeurism.. commute hours fly by...
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Straight up
What this book has been able to do is bring female sexuality "out of the closet" - for the first time women are openly discussing their desires. It is astonishing to chat with coworkers who have read the book to learn that many find this type of erotica particularily appealing, and interested in exploring it further.
I think this evolved out of the progression of the book - it starts off with Christian (and just for fun, picture Eduardo Verastegui as Christian drool) in total control and ends with a very open, respectful collaborative , and wonderfully loving relationship. Like the book or not, it has done for women what Kinsey never came close to doing.
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bexrhymeswith
hey straight up,

I had a really hard time imagining Christian, just wanted to give a shout out that you nailed it with Eduardo. Thanks for putting a face to the name for me.
I thought the trilogy was silly like Twilight, but doesn't mean I didn't devour both series equally. Hot, inspiring sex scenes....I keep trying to get my boyfriend to read them so he'll get inspired also....this has yet to happen.
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arron
And this is why those Slut Walks will never succeed. Because, ultimately, women will throw money at books about dressing provocatively, being tied and beaten up by men. The signal these books give men is: go ahead and abuse women for your sexual pleasure all you want, because deep down, that's what they really want.
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Straight up
Arron.. get with the program. Read the books.. because the woman overcomes the man and ultimately calls the shots..

As for your last comments about the signals men get - if you actually READ the books you would see that THIS character is about as respectful, courteous, adoring and loving as any woman could want a man to be. And whatever he actually does do, it's because she has agreed.. no one is abusing anyone - not in these books and not in a consensual BDSM relationship.

Agreed, there is work to be done for the image of women globally, but I suspect women may just be more vocal about what they DON'T after they have read these books.

From what I hear, men who have read 50 Shades end up feeling quite inadequate indeed.
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arron
Are you kidding me, Straight up?!?! Have you read the book? Throughout it, Christian basically stalks Ana.. now wait... STALKS ANA, shows up at her store, FORCES HIMSELF on her and tells her to take it. Which she does.

In real life, this would be 100% unacceptable, but in "fiction", it's romantic. Or wait... is it? What are these books trying to tell us, anyway? It's okay to stalk women half your age then confine and beat them?
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Jamiesgirl
These books are chameleon in nature, if you are open and honest with yourself when you read them then you get the message you need from then. In my opinion it was refreshing to read a novel for once that concentrated so completely on real masculinity. Every day, in nearly every way Life tears men down, "your not good enough to support a family" "kill chivalry or be slammed, oh wait, where are your manners" "be sensitive and emotional". Then, even the women that hold these ideals as truths are pissed because all the "good" men are taken and the rest are all pussies. Guess what, can't have it both ways so when an opportunity to reverse some of the damage everyday living does to a man's sense of worth, I say Vive la Shades!!! P.S. It’s hard for an educated woman to turn her head off. That’s part of the joy of being a submissive. None of the decisions are yours. When you can’t refuse anything and can’t even move, those voices in your head go silent. All you can do, and all you are permitted to do, is feel. - and its a glorious thing!!
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