The 50 Shades movie trailers show restraints and sex dungeons, but why do BDSM-themed books and films get the practice so wrong?
What do Altoids, Axe deodorant, Ikea furniture, Dannon yogurt, and Bass Ale have in common? At some point in the last two decades, advertisers for each have bet on reaching consumers by channeling elements of BDSM, a set of sexual practices encompassing bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism, and masochism.
This might seem like a surprising promotional strategy for such varied household goods, until you consider how saturated pop culture is by one specific brand of erotica.
An Amazon search for “BDSM books” yields 61,562 results as of this writing. TV programs as tame as Will & Grace, TLC’s Trading Spaces, and HBO’s Togetherness have featured BDSM-centric plotlines.
Pop music darlings including Rihanna (“S&M”), Britney Spears (“I’m A Slave 4 U”), and Janet Jackson (“Rope Burn”) have performed similarly themed songs. And then of course there’s E.L. James’ mega successful Fifty Shades of Grey, out on the big screen next week.
Many assume that BDSM devotees are pleased by this escalating attention—that the spotlight must be driving awareness of an alternative lifestyle, thereby freeing the marginalized from judgment. Indeed, aficionados are quick to note the benefits of the broadened scope of dialogue. However, a growing sense of discontent is permeating the community.
According to actual BDSM practitioners, when content creators lean on kink as a device to advance their narrative objective—whether the aim is to inject comic relief, amplify suspense, or establish erotic tension—they tend to do so at the cost of authenticity. The result is that BDSM as it’s depicted in bestselling books, blockbuster films, and TV shows barely resembles the actual practice.
Instead, potentially dangerous, inaccurate information is disseminated while harmful stereotypes are promoted. As dominatrix turned writer Nichi Hodgson puts it, what the masses get from Fifty Shades is “torturous for all the wrong reasons.”
The concern is that such reckless portrayals undermine the advantages of BDSM’s increasing prevalence. But how exactly does the mainstream media, and especially Hollywood, get BDSM so wrong in the first place? ...
To some, the world of sexuality is a black and white one, a place where you're either straight or not. But it's far from that -- the LGBT movement's symbol has long been the rainbow flag, including shades of varying sexual orientations and identities.
Taking it even further, there are even more ways of expressing sexuality and gender, and for 15 years, it's been the mission of the Center for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle.
"I personally do not like the word 'alternative' sexuality because I think that all of our sexuality is legitimate," said Allena Gabosch, the executive director. "But for people in areas of sexuality that are not as mainstream... there's not a lot of space to be that way and be with people that are like you."
Sex positivity, in short, is the idea that if it's a sexual lifestyle where all adults involved are consenting -- whether for pleasure, an expression or love, or part of spiritual belief -- why dismiss it? With its roots in the free love movement of the '60s and '70s, Gabosch says sexual positivity has since shifted from a sexual revolution to its renaissance today.
When the center was formed in 1999, the executive director had no idea that it would become what it is today. Throughout the month, the center hosts socials and meetings for people who consider themselves to be LGBT, polyamorous and polygamist, kinky, asexual, and a litany of other sexual persuasions. Here, people can learn more about a lifestyle they might be interested in or meet other people like them in a safe place where they're not odd.
"The sex positive movement affects everyone," she said. "Those in our community who are LGBT even more so in that sex negativity and sexual shaming seems more prevalent toward those who identify as LGBT."
Today, there are 2,200 active members and over the last 15 years 16,000 people have been a part of the center. Gabosch has also noticed that the movement has become more mainstream as television shows and books tackle BDSM and polyamory. The scripted drama, "Big Love," and reality TV shows "My Five Wives" and "Sister Wives" on TLC have shown the idea of adults being perfectly happy with more than one spouse is possible.
Also, while bodice-ripper novels and pulp fiction have been around for decades, the mainstream "50 Shades of Grey" got more people talking about bringing kink into the bedroom... or talking about how they and their partner had already been doing it.
"Young people today are so much more fluid around orientation, around gender, around sexual interest," Gabosch said. "I've been speaking to colleges for 20-plus years and I've watched students' reactions and I've listened very carefully to the kinds of questions, and the questions I get now are more well thought out. They're less reactive, they're less shamefaced, they're less fearful." ...
“A pervert is anybody kinkier than you are” (Wiseman, 1996, p. 23).
The novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” introduced BDSM into polite public discourse. Since then, hallowed papers such as the New York Times have published articles on bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. Harvard University now hosts a student group for undergraduates interested in consensual S&M. And Cosmo’s sex tips have taken a distinctly kinky turn.
With the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie soon to be gracing theaters, it seems like a good time to take stock of what we know, scientifically, about BDSM. Who does this stuff? What do they do? And what effects do these activities have on the people who do them?
1) How many people are into S&M?
According to researchers, the number likely falls somewhere between 2 percent and 62 percent. That’s right, somewhere between 2 percent and 62 percent. A pollster who published numbers like that would be looking for a new job. But when you’re asking people about their sex habits, the wording of the question makes all the difference.
On the low end, Juliet Richters and colleagues (2008) asked a large sample of Australians whether they had “been involved in B&D or S&M” in the past 12 months. Only 1.3 percent of women and 2.2 percent of men said yes.
On the high end, Christian Joyal and colleagues (2015) asked over 1,500 women and men about their sexual fantasies. 64.6 percent of women and 53.3 percent of men reported fantasies about being dominated sexually. On the other side, 46.7 percent of women and 59.6 percent of men reported fantasies about dominating someone sexually. Overall, we can probably conclude that a substantial minority of women and men fantasize about or engage in BDSM (Moser & Levitt, 1987).
2) Are they sick?
For Sigmund Freud, the answer was a clear yes. Anyone interested in S&M was in need of treatment (treatment that, by fine coincidence, Freud and his contemporaries were qualified to provide).
But recent research tells a different story. Pamela Connolly (2006) compared BDSM practitioners to published norms on 10 psychological disorders. Compared to normative samples, BDSM practitioners had lower levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychological sadism, psychological masochism, borderline pathology and paranoia. (They showed equal levels of obsessive-compulsive disorder and higher levels of dissociation and narcissism.)
Similarly, Andreas Wismeijer and Marcel van Assen (2013) compared BDSM practitioners to non-BDSM-practitioners on major personality traits. Their results showed that in comparison to non-BDSM practitioners, BDSM practitioners exhibited higher levels of extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and subjective well-being. BDSM practitioners also showed lower levels of neuroticism and rejection sensitivity. The one negative trait that emerged was agreeableness: BDSM practitioners showed lower levels of agreeableness than non-practitioners.
This is not to say that everyone into sadism or masochism is doing so for psychologically healthy reasons. The latest version of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (the DSM-5) still includes Sexual Sadism Disorder and Sexual Masochism Disorder as potential diagnoses. But a diagnosis now requires the interest or activities to cause “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” (or to be done with a non-consenting partner). BDSM between consenting adults that does not cause the participants distress no longer qualifies. ...
The B in BDSM is having a moment. Fifty Shades of Grey, the film version of which is opening on Valentine's Day, has sparked a loud cultural discussion about kinky sex. FKA Twigs is into bondage, too, and HBO's new show Togetherness has also dabbled. Given that more than half of all men and women admit to having some sort of domination-and-submission-related fantasy, it's unsurprising that pop culture is starting to reflect — and spark increased interest in — what was once a rather taboo subject.
Whatever one thinks of BDSM, given the pain and intensity associated with it, it certainly doesn't come across as a stress-reducing activity — to most outsiders, there wouldn't appear to be anything relaxing about whips and handcuffs. And yet practitioners say that BDSM is more than just kinky sex. Some practices, they argue, can enhance the psychological well-being of their participants. And recent science has started to support these claims, suggesting that certain forms of BDSM may have anti-anxiety effects, as well as other mental health benefits.
The transformative effects of bondage are well known within the BDSM community. “We call it ‘rope space,’” says Roxie, who leads the New York chapter of Hitchin Bitches, a rope bondage group for women. Also called “subspace” or being “rope drunk,” submissives describe entering an altered state of consciousness in which one feels totally released from stress and present in the moment.
“There’s this ripple through your body. It’s like a drug,” said Christy, 23, who was tied up at a recent fetish party at a bar near the base of the Williamsburg Bridge in Manhattan. A Lynchian red light bathed the scene as a tall person with a husky voice in a white gimp mask and full body latex French maid outfit stood watching a few feet away. Christy looked dazed and dreamy as her partner, Dan, a banker, wound rope first around her waist and then in a tight criss-cross pattern down her leg. They were practicing Kinbaku, or Shibari, a form of Japanese rope bondage popular in some BDSM circles in which subjects are intricately bound and manipulated into strenuous positions, sometimes while suspended in midair.
Once the rope was unwound, the spell seemed to lift quickly. There were indentations on Christy’s thigh, and while bound her skin had bulged around the rope's edges — yet despite the physical stress involved, Christy's bliss is a common experience during this type of activity. While subspace can supposedly occur during any type of bondage or submissive activity, practitioners say it’s most easily achieved through rope. “It’s very tactile, very sensual, more so than say handcuffs or other forms of bondage,” said “Ratie,” an international-relations expert at a large NGO and longtime BDSM practitioner, at another bondage event on a recent Friday evening (she didn't want her real name used).
“I do a lot of yoga and meditation,” she said. “I think rope can have the same effect. When you’re tied up it’s like you’re not responsible for anything else that happens and there’s a sense of freedom in that. It’s one of the few moments where I don’t have to worry about all of my responsibilities.”
“It's presence. It feels like an opportunity to completely let go and to be completely present at the same time,” said Gorgone, a 22-year-old Shibari model who was tied up that night. “There’s a certain release from anxiety you get from it. Some people do it by drinking. They are looking for something that is going to take them away from themselves,” she said. With bondage, though, she said the high is also clearer and perceptions can become sharper — closer to a state of mindfulness than inebriation.
Doms are supposed to experience a corresponding mental state called “topspace,” described as feelings of deep focus and concentration. Both doms and subs say that they feel closer and more emotionally attached to their partners after engaging in BDSM.
Although preliminary, there is growing scientific support for some of the BDSM community's observations. In a study from 2013, researchers surveyed 902 BDSM practitioners and 434 “vanilla” people, asking them questions about their personality, relationships, attachment styles, and general well-being. Practitioners of bondage reported less neuroticism, a trait similar to anxiety, and more security in their relationships than people strictly into vanilla sex. Since this was a survey, it doesn't show that BDSM activities caused these effects, but it does indicate that people who practice BDSM seem to be calmer and more comfortable in their relationship than people who don’t, lending some weight to the idea of a link. ...
The latest in the “Snowpiercer” hell train barreling toward the opening weekend of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is here, and it’s messy.
Some anti-domestic violence activists and anti-pornography activists, including Antipornography.org, the London Abused Women’s Centre in Ontario, Canada, and the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan, are calling for a boycott of the movie, arguing that it promotes violence against women.
They’ve rallied around #50dollarsnot50shades and #FiftyShadesIsAbuse, and are pushing the idea that people should donate $50 to women’s shelters instead of buying tickets for the movie.
Even Jamie Dornan, the actor who plays Christian Grey — the dom who introduces Anastasia Steele to his Red Room (that’s what he calls his den of iniquity) — expressed discomfort with “Fifty Shades.”
“Some of the Red Room stuff was uncomfortable,” Dornan said in an interview with Glamour about scenes with co-star Dakota Johnson. “There were times when Dakota was not wearing much, and I had to do stuff to her that I’d never choose to do to a woman.”
There’s a lot to unpack here because the coalition of parties opposed to this film is vast and their reasons for wanting to boycott can hardly be quantified as homogeneous.
“The idea of not supporting the movie 50 Shades of Grey is great but supporting these anti-sex work organizations is not,” wrote artist Creatrix Tiara, referring to Stop Porn Culture and Pornography Harms, two organizations that have also condemned the movie.
There are anti-porn and anti-BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism) activists who refuse to draw distinctions between physical abuse and consensual BDSM play. There are those who are fine with BDSM, but who think the specific relationship depicted between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey is abusive. And there are others who are horrified either by author E.L. James’s writing or her apparent lack of knowledge about BDSM and who think the book and the movie represent an irresponsible and inaccurate depiction of BDSM. Grey’s predilection for BDSM is “explained” by his abusive childhood, which makes it seem like people who engage in BDSM play only do so because they’re somehow damaged. People in the BDSM community argue that’s not the case.
It’s been poo-pooed as “The Story of O“-lite.
“‘Fifty Shades’ has been roundly criticized by the BDSM community and its depiction of the lifestyle is inaccurate,” Susan Quilliam, a British relationship psychologist and sex advice columnist, told ABCNews.com. “Christian Grey’s initial seduction of Anastasia breaks every rule in the BDSM book.” Quilliam also called Steele and Grey’s relationship “emotionally unsafe and not sane.” ...
The Fifty Shades of Grey movie is finally released on Thursday but since late last year this trailer and several others from the movie adaptation of E.L. James’s first best-selling erotic novel have been reawakening lustful thoughts and deviant deeds in the suburbs.
Or perhaps not?
Has the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy really spiced up the sex lives of millions of couples around the world since it was released in 2011? Are Australians really having more great sex with more partners than ever before? And what’s polyamory and why are some people opting for open marriages rather than the secrecy of infidelity?
The Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR) survey provides one of the most significant overviews of our nation’s sexual behaviour and attitudes.
The first ASHR survey was conducted a decade ago, and the findings of the second survey in November show we’re having more sexual partners, more oral sex and more sexual role-play than ever before.
But, on the flip side, those in committed heterosexual relationships are having less sex each week than they would like.
ASHR researcher Professor Juliet Richters, from the University of New South Wales’ School of Public Health and Community Medicine, says people have been keen to know if Fifty Shades of Grey has boosted the percentage of people practising BDSM (bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism).
“Before we had the result, people were saying to me, with Fifty Shades of Grey, is there a big increase in BDSM?” Richters says.
“And there isn’t. The BDSM stayed more or less flat at 2.8 per cent of the population.
“But we had a slightly different, broader question that we asked first, which was: ‘In the last 12 months have you been involved in role play or dressing up?’
“That was the practice that more than doubled in the 10 years, from 4 per cent (in 2004) to 8.3 per cent,” Richters says.
“I think that role-play is where we are picking up the Fifty Shades of Grey effect. It’s safely naughty without getting mixed up with weirdo guys with leather masks on.”
The ASHR survey of 20,094 men and women aged 16-69, via landlines and mobile phones, was conducted between October 2012 and November 2013.
Richters says both men and women are having more oral sex. A decade ago, among people aged
16-59, 79 per cent of men and 67 per cent of women had had oral sex, but now 88 per cent of men and 86 person of women have done so.
“The oral sex change is a generational change,” Richters says. “Oral sex moved with the people who came of age in the ’70s from a slightly shocking practice that the more sexually adventurous did, or sex workers did, into something that became a fairly ordinary part of what people might call foreplay.
Australian sexologist Lynda Carlyle says the world’s largest experiment on human desire, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, found the most common sexual fantasy is domination and submission.
“It is the only sexual interest that we all have in common — gay, straight, everybody,” Carlyle says. “We are talking about power roles in sexual relationships, the sense of one person having power and the other person willingly or unwillingly submitting to that power. ...
When it comes to love and sex, "polyamory" is today's "it" word.
Poly relationships, meaning romantic connections involving more than one person at a time, seem to making more headlines each day. "I have a fiancé, a girlfriend and two boyfriends," states one recent CNN headline. "Jealous of What? Solving Polyamory's Jealousy Problem" reads one in Salon. "Should We All Be in 'Monogamish' Relationships?" asked Yahoo recently. "Sex and Polyamory in the Hashtag Age" was a Good Morning America segment just this week.
"There's this huge group of younger people that are involved in these things," one 20-something told Rolling Stone in its big "Tales From the Millennials' Sexual Revolution" investigation.
What's great is the ubiquity of polyamorous relationships in the media and pop culture. But there's a prevailing problem that cannot be ignored: their whiteness. And that standard of whiteness not only erases the experience of people of color; it reflects the actual exclusion of these people in poly life and communities.
A hot "trend" portrayed as sexy, youthful — and rich and white: Polyamory may be more accepted than ever, but it's still largely portrayed as an exotic, vaguely kinky alternative to the institution of monogamy. Purposefully or not, when media and pop culture portray polyamory as something practiced mainly by affluent white people, it makes the image of the movement more accessible and acceptable to the mainstream.
Just take Rolling Stone, which made a point of noting of its subjects: "They're ... both young professional types. She wears pretty skirts; he wears jeans and trendy glasses. They have a large, downtown apartment with a sweeping view." The same archetypes are prominent in pop culture portrayals, like in Showtime's Polyamory: Married & Dating.
The perception of poly as white extends beyond media and pop culture and into academia, where nearly every study of polyamorous people to-date focuses on white subjects. A 2011 study by professors Elisabeth Sheff and Corie Hammers found that in 36 studies of polyamorists/kinksters that noted participants' race and class, only an average of 10.8% of respondents were people of color, while 76.8% were of middle-class status or higher and 78% had at least some college education.
But not only is polyamory neither a new development nor a hot "trend," it's been on the spectrum of human relationships since the beginning of civilization. Andy Izenson, an associate attorney at a firm specializing in nontraditional families, told Mic, "Living in chosen families, living in collectives, living in multiple-parent parenting situations ... calling those things poly is what's new, not doing those things." And poly lifestyles have also long included people of color, something the media dialogue seems to be missing.
One explanation is that white researchers may have difficulty convincing people of color that they have good intentions in studying their sexual habits. If so, the sentiment shouldn't be too surprising given the current state of poly communities.
A white, affluent image that reflects a troubling reality: A 2013 survey of polyamorous people from online groups, mailing lists and forums found that almost 90% of the participants identified as Caucasian. People of color, especially black polyamorists, report feeling "othered" and excluded in poly environments such as meet-ups, with women feeling especially at risk of being objectified and fetishized as an exotic sexual plaything. ...
Bennett is the lead sponsor on a bill to disallow private clubs from opening on properties zoned for office use, as is the case at 520 Lentz Drive in Madison, where The Social Club has applied to open.
Bennett laughed about appearing on the club's website but declined comment.
A first reading on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday night, with a public hearing to follow in March.
Goodpasture Christian School leaders, who don't want the club to open next door to their campus, will host a meeting for the school's parents and local businesses at 6 p.m. Monday at the school.