Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the much-hyped movie Fifty Shades of Grey releases in theatres nationwide today. The movie reportedly grossed $3.7 million in early release on Wednesday. It’s based on the novel of the same name, the novel that introduced frank sexual discussion of sadomasochism, bondage, and domination to the book clubs of middle-aged, middle-class women the world over. Thanks to Fifty Shades, your mom now knows what “BDSM” stands for, even if you really hope that she didn’t before. A blockbuster movie based and a bestselling book go a long way toward legitimizing BDSM as a mainstream sexual preference.
Just how mainstream has kinky sex started to become, thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey? The Vermont Teddy Bear Company, otherwise known for boundary-pushing pieces like the Hoodie-Footie Pajama Bear, is hawking a Fifty Shades of Grey Bear. The bear comes with a mask and mini handcuffs. (At the bottom of the page, a safety warning reads, “Contains small parts. Not suitable for children.” Because the small parts are what makes a BDSM-themed teddy bear unsuitable for children.)
I confess that I have avoided the book on snooty literary grounds, for the same reasons I avoid Harlequin bodice-rippers and the Twilight series. I don’t object morally. I just like my books like I like my men — pretentious, difficult to understand, and weird. Characters with names as clunky and hamfisted as “Christian Grey” and “Anastasia Steele” — so symbolic! — make me break out in hives.
Whether kink’s your thing or not, the mainstreaming of BDSM is bound (ha!) to change the legal landscape. Much of the potential liability centers around consent — the authenticity of it, the legal validity of it, and the ways to prove it. So, put down the ball gag, lovebirds, and read this first.
Authenticity of Consent
Even plain vanilla sex requires a person to form a reasonable, good faith belief in his or her partner’s consent. Doing so can sometimes be tricky, even in the most bland, typical heterosexual encounters — just ask a college-aged male at the end of a date. BDSM sex, however, raises much greater concerns. It may already be hard (ha!) for guys to know the difference between coquettishness and authentic refusal. This puzzle becomes more complicated when part of the fun can be role-playing non-consent. If a woman asks her boyfriend to act out her rape fantasy, then begs him to stop when he attempts to go through with it, is she withdrawing her consent? Or will she be disappointed if he stops, since she was just resisting as a part of the role play?
Of course, experienced members of the kink community often recommend establishing “safe words” that, when uttered, let the partner know that he or she really, really wants to stop. That strategy may help with the authenticity question among partners, but more on safe words below.
Legal Validity of Consent
What if mature, competent adults want to agree to a BDSM arrangement? Unfortunately for them, the law may not recognize their consent as valid.
Consider a potential civil suit for damages for injuries arising out of kink gone awry. The defendant could argue that the plaintiff assumed a risk of injury by participating in BDSM sex. If you volunteer to have your partner dribble hot oil on your bare thigh, you assumed the risk that you might get burned, right? Maybe. A plaintiff’s knowing and voluntary assumption of risk is only going to stand a chance against ordinary negligence claims. Assumption of risk generally does not apply to claims of gross negligence or willful misconduct by the defendant. ...
Though popular tropes all hold that people interested in BDSM were all abused or are disturbed, the biological basis of kink deserves more study
by Nichi Hodgson
hen it comes to explaining the how and why of sexual desire, there are few answers more reassuring than “because it’s in our DNA”, or “because we’re wired that way”. From why men love boobs to why both partners start wanting to scratch other sexual itches after seven years, a plausible-sounding biological explanation for our sexual predilections is always welcomed – apart from, of course, when it comes to BDSM.
Most general medical discourse about kink focuses on unpicking early childhood trauma, emotional disturbance or abuse (as experienced by the protagonist in Fifty Shades of Grey). Psychological arousal is not, however, just about physical stimulation, and physical reactions don’t confine themselves to psychologically comfortable circumstances. But when it comes to consensual kink, we could greatly benefit from more focus on the physical.
Put simply, there’s a science to spanking, to nipple torture, to candle waxing and to pretty much any other sex act you could name where prolonging the anticipation of touch or relief or safely manipulating blood flow causes the release of neurotransmitters – such as dopamine, adrenalin or serotonin – that result in a chemical high. It’s true that you have to be able to find that kind of physical stimulation arousing in order to be turned on, but if you do, having a person you find attractive putting you over their knee and spanking you in a way that encourages your body to release noradrenaline, adrenalin and dopamine in anticipation of the spank, and then opioids on point of contact is likely to be a pretty positive sexual experience.
And the research backs it up. Take some conducted by Meredith Chivers of Queen’s University, for example, which found that vaginal blood flow in women interested in BDSM increases when they watch kinky porn – at the same rate as it does for non-kinky women who watch vanilla porn. Conversely, blood flow does not increase when kinky women watch vanilla porn, implying that the brain has a part to play in controlling that blood flow, and that the brains of people who respond to kinky stimuli fire up the way those who respond to vanilla sex do. The pending fMRI scans of kinksters are expected to confirm what sexologists already hypothesise: there’s nothing neurologically or biologically dysfunctional about kink-related desire.
Most of us have demons and neuroses, swallowed frustrations and some of us act on them more than others and at different points in our lives. For a minority, BDSM may be a way those are expressed – as vanilla sex is for many others. But most of us lack the self-awareness necessary to pick apart the vagaries of our psychological motives and sexual peccadilloes. If you and your partner walk away from a sex act both satisfied and unscathed – or at least with no lasting emotional or physical bruises – perhaps that’s an outcome that needs no further probing.
Fifty Shades may certainly have opened up the general debate on kink, but social and legal prejudice still prevails. In the UK, December amendments to laws governing online porn fell disproportionately on kink acts. In the US, the First Amendment still does not apply to all sexual communications under the Communications Decency Act, if they are “patently offensive under local community standards” and cannot be proved to have “redeeming social value” by the author – particularly if they are kinky and non-heteronormative. And while the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders may no longer consider sadomasochism or fetishism to be medical conditions, it still lists paraphilias such as sadomasochistic disorder and fetish disorder.
And the systemic prejudice against BDSM affects the funding of research that would help us better understand it. Off the record, American academics at major colleges have told me that their sex research projects remain on ice for months, sometimes years, and many American sexologists decamp to Canada where the liberal climate – and budgets – better facilitate research. Yet if the US National Institutes of Health won’t even fund, for example, research on the intersection of gender and health despite the massive current discussion around transgender identification, it’s unlikely to fund research on spanking and health. ...
In some states you can watch the movie, but don’t try to act it out.
The Marshall Project
by By SIMONE WEICHSELBAUM
Dildos or any object used for “the stimulation of human genital organs” cannot be made or sold in Alabama. The Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act says that anyone caught with such tools could face a fine up to $20,000, a one-year jail sentence or 12-months doing hard labor.Contemplating bondage? Be warned that it is against New York state law to possess a pair of handcuffs unless you are a law-enforcement officer, private investigator or a security guard. The penalty for illegal possession of handcuffs: a fine of up to $200 and/or 10 days in jail. And in Florida, it is a felony to carry a concealed handcuff key.
BDSM (abundant in “Fifty Shades”) is an acronym with interchangeable meanings — bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism. Even if sexual partners both agree to engage in such edgy behavior, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom warns that consent is not enough to avoid possible assault charges if your partner has second thoughts.“Consent is not a defense,” said Susan Wright, executive director of the organization, which promotes — well, pretty obvious. Wright says that the enjoyment of flogging, whipping or dripping hot wax can be short-lived.“Injuries can happen and then 911 is called,” Wright said. ...
On Valentine’s Day weekend last year I found myself at Paddles, the local dungeon in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, for the first time. I was perched at the alcohol-free bar when a man politely introduced himself as a human carpet. He asked that I tread on him and lay on the floor to demonstrate. A professional dominatrix-in-training stepped onto his chest and buried her stilettos deep into his belly. His eyes were closed and he looked calm—blissful, really. As a medical student, I winced, imaging the arrangement of his delicate organs in relation to her vicious heels.
Just an hour before, I was in a Hell’s Kitchen diner chatting with a group of people interested in kink or BDSM (bondage-discipline, dominance-submission, and sadism-masochism), which includes consensual yet unconventional sexual behaviors that allow participants to experience different roles and sensations.
The monthly novice “munch” was hosted by the Eulenspiegel Society, one of the oldest and largest BDSM organizations in the US that promotes sexual liberation by holding classes, workshops, and social events around New York City.
There were people from all walks of life—artists, educators, scientists—who ranged in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and relationship style. Some had been practicing kink privately for years, but were seeking to connect with the larger community. Others were curious and, after mustering up enough courage to attend the meeting, were ready to explore BDSM. I was the lone medical student who wanted to learn from this highly stigmatized group. How can healthcare professionals speak frankly about sex and better care for our patients, of whom a significant number are kinky?
Although studies vary, an estimated 10% of the population has engaged in kink activities, with a much larger proportion interested in it. Those who engage do so along a broad spectrum of activity type and intensity, from a one-time experience to a lifestyle. To bring those numbers into perspective, the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report (pdf) announced that 9.3% of the US population has diabetes. Think about how many people you’ve met who have diabetes. When you compare the two, kink-oriented people aren’t as rare as they seem. ...
Ham Mason, a queer submissive activist and person of color who has been practicing kink for 20 years, said that there also needs to be more awareness of diversity in the community. “When you think about the face of BDSM, it’s usually either a gay man or straight people and usually the face is white,” she told Quartz. Because of this stereotype, healthcare providers may assume that people of color aren’t kinksters and think that disclosures of kink activity may be a “cover story” for abuse, Mason said. “It could be a matter of having your children taken away or not.”
Her concerns are not unfounded. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom’s Incident Reporting and Response said it received 178 requests for legal assistance from kink-oriented clients in 2014. These requests involved 73 criminal, 33 child custody, and 15 discrimination issues.
In addition to becoming more kink aware, providers should “assume the potential for abuse exists in all patients” regardless of their social identity or sexual behavior, and screen appropriately, said Lewis. ...
The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is fighting for your rights. Please support us by joining today!
For the month of February, as Fifty Shades of Grey sweeps the nation, NCSF is holding a membership drive in honor of the BDSM activists, authors and organizers who have helped pave the way for greater tolerance for all kinky people. As a coalition, NCSF is proud to bring together groups, businesses and professionals so we can work together to eliminate discrimination.
If a woman regrets and later reports consensual acts—BDSM or not—as rape and it comes down to her word against his, then he will lose.
By Leslie Loftis
The “Fifty Shades of Grey” hype has started its saturation run-up to the movie release this week. I expected the music video releases, the Super Bowl commercials. I did not expect the branding promotions.
I am a lawyer. Ever since their first year of law school, lawyers see liability. And in this bondage-for-amateurs fandom that is 50SOG (hat tip to Tracinski for the abbreviation) liability lurks everywhere.
We live in an era of “yes means yes” and “always believe the woman.” Fun or not, consent or not, signed document or not—no man should ever engage in bondage sex behavior. The best of the law doesn’t allow contracts for bodily harm, no matter the parties’ intent. Some of the worst law throws out the constitutional standard of innocent until proven guilty. If a woman regrets and later reports consensual acts as rape and it comes down to her word against his, then he will lose.
In this legal environment, this sort of sex play is high-risk. So I was shocked to learn that mainstream chain Target was selling 50SOG-branded toys. I saw the 50SOG display and my mind immediately went to the McDonalds’ coffee-burn case. They are selling candles…for bedrooms…next to blindfolds. No potential problems here.
Imagine, if you will, a conference call. On this conference call are the public relations and legal departments for the company making the erotic pleasure items Target is selling and for the hospitality management companies of the hotels offering various promotions for 50SOG after-parties.
The PR pitch: “Alright everyone, we have these really great black and purple products—lube, vibrating rings, blindfolds, and hot pourable massage-oil candles—to sell at Target. Then, for the big release, we will team up with the hotels offering 50SOG after-party rooms for couples—or whoever—and sell them the toys for their promotions. They are offering promotional room rates, other bondage toys like handcuffs and paddles, themed drinks like cosmos renamed ‘The Red Room of Pain’—”
The lawyers interrupt, standing up with both arms braced on their desks, leaning over the speaker for the conference call, no longer doing mostly mindless menial tasks that lawyers typically do on conference calls, because the PR people had their full attention at blindfolds and candles and pourable oil. One voice is finally is heard over the clamor of interjections: “Let me get this straight. You want to sell oil candles, as in the items with an open flame and that are a common cause of house fires, especially when placed in bedrooms, and you want to instruct people to pour the melted oil onto their partners, possibly on sensitive areas.
“Furthermore, you want to sell these flaming sex toys next to blindfolds…at Target where impulse dabblers—not actual dominates and submissives, who at least have some previous knowledge and experience with bondage sex play—shop. Then, when the hyped bondage-for-amateurs movie comes out, you want to have these items available at hotels—hotels which have essentially advertised ‘Go see a bondage movie and then come to our establishment for a night while we ply you with drinks, give you implements of restraint and violence, and encourage you to get it on.’ Do I have all that correct?”
The PR team: “Yeah, basically.”
The lawyers: “No. Just no. The products alone are a lawsuit waiting to happen. Hot oil? Doesn’t anyone remember what happened to McDonalds and the coffee? As for the hotels, we could draw up a liability waiver for customers to sign at check-in, but it’d be longer and possibly just as flimsy as the notorious contract from the books that inspired this event movie. (Common law doesn’t allow people to contract for bodily injury. It’s a contract for show. You know that, right?) The waiver would have to cover fires, burns, injuries, and sex crimes.” …
There are plenty of things I like about Fifty Shades of Grey. It's a hot romance novel, which is always good, and it has kinky sex in it, which is even better. But E.L. James fell into the classic stereotype by making Christian Grey the dominant one in the relationship.
Just take look at him: Christian is a sexy 27-year-old billionaire who runs his own business empire. As unbelievable as that is, if you took him at face value and dropped him into any kink club in the country dressed in his Armani suit and grey tie, what would most kinksters think? He's a submissive.
In fact, I'd be more likely to believe that E.L. James' husband -- the middle aged man in tweed in the background -- is the real dominant of her fantasy.
That's because you can't judge a book by its cover when it comes to kink. The surface image doesn't tell the true story because you can't see what's going on in our minds and hearts, and that's where kink really happens.
Submissives are often very powerful in their careers and personal lives. They are good at taking control and getting things done, so when it comes to sex, it's time to let go and let someone else do the work to take them on the fantasy ride of their life. The submissive sits back and just enjoys it.
Pop culture gets it wrong because you can't judge a person's sexuality by what they do. That's why you might see a feminist CEO of a Fortune 500 company who is submissive to her husband, as well as a broke college student dominating men twice her age.
If you dig deeper, many powerful people are sexually submissive because the submissive is the one who is really in control. The submissive can stop whatever's happening at any time. The submissive decides on their hard and soft limits of how it's okay to play.
That's the paradox of kink: the person being stimulated is the one who can stop it at any time. If you don't know that about BDSM, then you don't know what kink is. It has to be consensual. Safewords are key, and people talk about their limits and desires before doing anything together. …
A U.S. grassroots movement is urging people to send $50 to women's shelters rather than see "Fifty Shades of Grey," while a Midwest child protection league argues the film blurs the lines of what is healthy or harmful in sex.
With its whips and chains and a sexual relationship based on domination and submission, the first film in author E.L. James' "Fifty Shades" erotic romance trilogy appears headed for the same kind of runaway success as the books that have sold 100 million copies worldwide.
Its arrival in U.S. theaters on Friday, however, comes in the midst of a national debate about sexual violence and domestic abuse, sparked by high-profile incidents plaguing the National Football League and U.S. colleges last year.
Just four days ago, President Barack Obama appealed to musicians and their fans at the Grammy awards to help stop abuse against women and girls.
To be sure, "Fifty Shades" is a tale of consensual sex between two adults.
Formed out of "Twilight" fan fiction, the story follows naive college student Anastasia Steele, 21, who undergoes a sexual awakening at the hands of seductive 27-year-old billionaire, Christian Grey, a practitioner of bondage and domination.
But some activists say the message is still wrong.
"This is about a seasoned predator who is a stalker and an abuser and sadist, honing in on a much younger woman," said Gail Dines, professor of sociology at Boston's Wheelock College. Dines founded the "50 Dollars Not 50 Shades" campaign that urges people to donate to women's shelters, rather than buy a movie ticket.
"It's a fairy story in the sense of it's not real, but in reality, it's a horror story that many women live."
Dakota Johnson, the actress who plays Anastasia, said people should see the film before coming to that conclusion.
"Everything that Anastasia does is completely her choice and it's consensual and no person is abused in the movie and I think it's kind of a closed-minded outlook," Johnson said at Wednesday's "Fifty Shades" premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson said she feels like "I empower this woman and I give her the final word and the message is very strong.
"That end message is really 'no' when someone crosses a line," she said. ...