I’m grateful for Fifty Shades of Grey. It is low-grade, escapist smut, filled with misconceptions and wildly inaccurate portrayals of BDSM but as the French dominatrix Catherine Robbe-Grillet has said, it has “opened up new possibilities that did not exist before” to its female readers.
As a professional dominatrix and lifelong kinkster, I welcome this but also offer a warning. While Fifty Shades can be hot, it is designed to arouse, not educate, and in doing so it leaves out the things that differentiate BDSM from abuse, as the newly previewed film trailer has highlighted.
Foremost among these is consent. Consent isn’t merely the absence of a no, a contextless acquiescence. For the kink inclined, it’s explicit and ongoing. Consent can make anything within the bounds of safety and reason fair game – from an hour’s experimentation with handcuffs and a riding crop to a considered, long-term agreement to cede a great deal of your personal power to someone else.
It may be awkward to sit across from someone and admit you like a good spanking, but communication undergirds safe kink. Being open to talking about mutual likes, dislikes, needs and limits gives you and your potential partner the confidence to explore more fully when play begins. Over time, respected consent builds trust, which is what unlocks the true intensity and power of kink.
Consent must be informed. Before play, you should know what you’re getting into and with who. Thus, we kinksters have something else that is absent in Fifty Shades – a community. At regular casual meetups (called munches) and at organised play parties staffed with experienced monitors, we get to know each other. We teach and learn the skills of BDSM; there are practical lessons, such as caning or rope bondage, and intangibles such as negotiating a play or screening a new partner. We watch each other’s backs, freely offering a listening ear or frank advice. Our community is far from perfect, and it’s often a tall order for a socially anxious person – or one with a sensitive job or home life – to meet in public. But we give what has been a private practice an institutional memory and we self-police to keep bullies and predators out. ..