Know your B from your D, S and M? The Fifty Shades franchise doesn’t seem to. We asked a proud kinkster to illuminate where it goes wrong.
EL James’ Fifty Shades Darker is out in cinemas today and I’m already rolling my eyes, Ana Steele-esque, at the deluge of skewed BDSM ‘advice’ that’s going to be shovelled out by vacuous magazines, cashing in on the poorly sketched S&M relationship in the first film.
When the books came out, I had close friends telling me to read it. Not because they thought I’d like it, but because they knew I’d be raging. For many years, I’ve been involved (privately) in the BDSM scene and am a proud kinkster.
Since my early 20s, I’ve been exploring the side of my sexuality that enjoys the mixture of pain and pleasure and all things S&M. For those of you who don’t know what any of this means, I’ll show you the ropes (and whips and anything else you fancy…).
BDSM is an overlapping abbreviation which stands for Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission and Sadism and Masochism, and covers a huge range of kinks for many people of all ages and walks of life. At the heart of it, it is all about power and power exchanges in relationships and, done well, is the most fun you can have with your clothes off.
It is nothing new: for centuries, people have been getting their rocks off with a lot of slap and tickle. There are tops (dominants), bottoms (submissive – of which I am one) and switches (can vary from dominant to submissive) and it doesn’t matter which gender does what – it’s whatever turns you on.
Most importantly, there is a little saying that is the mantra of the BDSM community and it is that play should be “safe, sane and consensual”. And, EL James, there’s the rub.
I’m not knocking EL James for her book success – hey, if you can make millions with some poorly written wank fodder, then go for it.
But the discussion of women enjoying BDSM could have brought about some interesting conversation, particularly the acknowledgement that you can be a feminist (which I am, and a fully paid-up member of this magazine too) and yet enjoy being a submissive in your sexual relationships.
I’ve always found it bizarre that people think you are reneging on your beliefs if you’re a strong woman who enjoys being in a D/s relationship with a man. Because it doesn’t mean you have to choose: it’s fantasy, it’s sex, it’s fun! If it’s two consenting adults and you are enjoying it, you should not have to explain or second guess your kinks for anyone.
Fifty Shades of Grey blurs the barriers of what’s consensual (and not) and what’s fun (and not), and that’s where my problems lie.
The image of Christian Grey as this mysterious, sexy, passionate man betrays his actual behaviour in the novels. Christian Grey is a terrible Dom – and a dangerous one too. He is the type I avoid like the plague, making the whole glamorisation of his character type as the ideal man beyond reckless for those uninitiated in the realms of S&M dynamics.
Grey is the type of Dominant that never takes no for an answer; the type of guy I’ve met who feels that because you’ve played with one person, you are duty bound to play with them again. In short: an absolute twat.
In the first novel, he stalks Ana, sells her car without her permission, gets her to sign a contract that gives him the right to decide what she eats and wears and even controls her contraception.
“At no point does Ana ever seem to get any pleasure from the submission, which is really disappointing for a self-confessed perv like me who would have loved to see her actually get her rocks off.”
Here’s an extract from Fifty Shades Darker, just to whet your appetite for a thinly veiled controlling relationship. Let me set the scene. Ana has just been told that Dr Greene has been requested to visit her by Christian because he wants her to take the birth control pill due to the fact that he “hates wearing condoms”. That old chestnut.
“It’s my body,” I mutter, annoyed that he hasn’t asked me.
“It’s mine, too,” he whispers.
If Christian Grey was a real person, he’d have voted for Trump. He’s overbearing, obsessed with Ana’s emails and doesn’t like no for an answer. All he’s missing is orange skin and a shit combover.
He also seems unwilling to really acknowledge the importance and relevance of a safe word, which for any Dom or Domme worth their salt is the bedrock of a strong D/s relationship.
In my experience, my Dom (an absolute sweetheart and responsible play partner) respects my boundaries completely and gives me two safe words to use: AMBER if I want things to slow down slightly, and RED if I want something to stop instantly.
I’ve used them many a time and he stops Every. Single. Time. It’s me who gets to control the pace of the situation. In fact, it is the submissive that is really in control of the whole scene – it just appears to be the Dom who is in charge. And that’s the fun.
In Fifty Shades, Ana never seems to feel in control and often appears afraid of Christian. When she discusses safe words, he discusses how he will see her use of the safe word as just a reason to persuade her further for him to do what he wants. He knows she is an S&M virgin and yet he still pulls that coercive, intimidating shit.
What’s more, at no point does Ana ever seem to get any pleasure from the submission, which is really disappointing for a self-confessed perv like me who would have loved to see her actually get her rocks off.
I know I’m not the first one to call out EL James for her novels sending out the wrong messages about BDSM and relationships in general, but I feel horrified that due to its Hollywood makeover, complete with Jamie Dornan brooding away as the titular twat, this brand of abuse will just be wrongly viewed as ‘passion’ or even worse, what BDSM is all about.
The Byronic Grey, we discover, is a damaged character (oh, of course he fucking is) who was abused terribly as a child and ‘seduced’ (eurgh) at 15 by an older woman who introduces him into BDSM. It seems to be this tragic upbringing that stops Ana from running a mile and from Grey ever really owning up to being a colossal cunt.
In fact, it is framed in the novels that his years of neglect and degradation are the reason for his fetish. Gee, thanks EL James! What a wonderful message to send out to the world: people who enjoy S&M are damaged goods. Utter bollocks. It is not any ‘daddy’ or ‘mummy’ issues that lead people into enjoying an alternative sex life – just personal preference. Variety is, after all, the spice and nipple clamp of life.
I have a professional job, a wonderful relationship with my loving parents and a penchant for very kinky sex with trustworthy, reliable, fun partners. I’d never let a Christian Grey get anywhere near me… and I know he’d get a very bad reputation on the BDSM scene, which is, for the most part, incredibly accepting, friendly and safe.
Yes, Fifty Shades might be seen as a little bit of risqué fantasy for those more vanilla than Mr Whippy, but let’s not get all dewy-eyed over the Christian/Ana love plot. At its heart it’s pretty screwed up and more damaging than dreamy. Take it from a kinkster: give Mr Grey a wide berth.