After the sensational story of a hot-blooded break-up between a young Manhattan sex slave and her high-powered CEO master -- coupled with the popularity of "Fifty Shades of Grey" -- a curiosity is emerging for New York City's underground fetish world.
And it's prompting those who live it to speak out.
The city plays host to dozens of sex clubs, both public and private, visited by thousands of people looking to quench their sexual desires. Though the mainstream perception of BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism, masochism) and S&M (sadomasochism) is a sexual free-for-all, those who practice it say a relationship formed within these communities is just like any other.
"People fail to realize that BDSM is just a microcosm of the population as a whole," Guy Sanders, spokesperson for The Eulenspiegel Society, a BDSM education and support group, told Metro. "It's kind of like how being gay was years ago. Because people have formulated their own opinions about you and what you are, it's not prudent to allow your sexual history to come out."
And many more Americans have engaged in some type of BDSM sex play than one may realize: According to the 1993 Janus Report on Sexual Behavior, 14 percent of men and 11 percent of women in the U.S. have experienced a sado-masochist sexual experience.
But don't expect those involved in such relationships to be very forthcoming about it. The stigma that surrounds alternative sexuality makes many of those who practice it keep it under wraps.
"One in three people who are kinky are persecuted. That could be losing a job or losing child custody to having troubles with your family," Susan Wright from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom said.
And she applauds books like the "Fifty Shades" for making bondage sex more accepted -- or at least, easier to experiment with.
"[Fifty Shades] has been wonderful publicity for the BDSM community," Wright said. "I'm hoping ... that it will become tolerated that people have kinky elements to their sexual relationships."
BDSM and S&M relationships can be monogamous or polyamorous, meaning couples either swing together or both partners share other lovers. And insiders said plenty of solid relationships and marriages exist among community members.
"It's not all whips and chains and sleeping around," Sanders said, "There is a love and commitment in these relationships." ...
he enjoyed the daily morning whippings — but she did not like being kicked to the curb by her beloved master.
Frankie Santiago embraced a role as live-in fetish slave to dominating Manhattan investment-banker beau Edward Sonderling, playing out a bondage fantasy similar to college student Anastasia Steele and older Christian Grey in the erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
But it all took a twisted turn when Santiago, 27, found out Sonderling, 53, had been training his whips on her replacement.
The submissive Santiago exploded in a fit of rage, law-enforcement sources said, allegedy shattering Sonderling’s car windshield and bombarding him with dozens of text threats.
“If I ever see you with her I will not hold back. I have nothing to lose,” Santiago railed in one text. “I hope she has a disease you catch.”
Santiago — who is known in the bondage-domination S&M community as Althea Lyn — was arrested Monday after what sources said was a knock-down, drag-out fight with Sonderling at the East 57th Street apartment where she once did his daily bidding.
She was arraigned yesterday on charges of stalking, criminal mischief and aggravated harassment.
Santiago and Sonderling — who has the body of a much younger man and is known as King Eddo — were regulars on Manhattan’s BDSM circuit, where Sonderling boasted of being a “whipping aficionado,” said a source who knows the pair.
She was his live-in slave for about three years, the source said. “Basically, she was there to serve his sexual needs. She’s his toy, his fetish slave.”
At one downtown fetish event, a source recalled Sonderling openly whipping Santiago and boasting, “She has had a lot of practice. I whip her every morning before breakfast.”
Scads of photos posted on social media sites show the two — clad in leather, latex rubber and bondage gear — hamming it up and grinning for the cameras.
Sonderling chronicles his escapades, which have taken him around the world, in dozens of pictures on his MySpace page....
Alderman tightened zoning rules for sexually oriented groups and businesses tonight. The zoning regulations that apply for adult bookstores, video stores, escort agencies and strip clubs will now also apply to swingers clubs.
That means swingers clubs will only be allowed in areas zoned heavy industrial, and not within 1,000 feet of a church, school, park, day care facility or residential area.
The changes are nearly identical to the zoning rules Machesney Park adopted in the fall after discovering a swingers club in a machine shop on Product Drive. The club didn’t have a special-use permit and was in a light industrial zone.
The club opted to shut down when the members were asked to apply for a permit, according to Machesney Park officials.
While no such club has been found in violation of any city rules in Loves Park, the City Council wanted to be prepared, Mayor Darryl Lindberg said.
“When we heard of the one in Machesney park we said we needed to look at our ordinance,” Lindberg said. “We thought, ‘you know what, we need to tighten that language up so if (a swingers club) does happen to open up at least we’ve got some force in the ordinance.’”
Heavy industrial zones tend to be farthest away from neighborhoods and shopping centers. The city defines swingers club as any “establishment, whether public or private, where persons and/or couples engage in any specified sexual activities.” ...
... After devouring the trilogy — Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed — Trisha changed her profile on the dating service seekingarrangement.com, where she’s been looking for a “Sugar Daddy” for the past 18 months. In addition to someone who will indulge her with “shopping, spas, getaways, nights out on the town,” she added a new requirement: “Seeking a unique S&M relationship.”
Trisha, a.k.a. BlondeBarbie, explained in her profile update that, “I know there is no such thing as Christian Grey but please at least have a handful of his talents.”
She isn’t the only one who wants to turn the Fifty Shades fantasy into reality.
According to the site, between January and mid-July the words Christian Grey, Anastasia Steele and Fifty Shades appeared in the profiles of women throughout North America, including 4,931 Toronto women, 4,484 women in Vancouver, 986 in Ottawa and 10,657 in New York City.
A poll of its 1.6 million members, conducted by the site, shows 79 per cent of women like the idea of succumbing to a dominant male like Grey and 90 per cent of men find the idea of a submissive Steele exciting. (However, it’s important to note that when it comes to getting tied and whipped, that isn’t solely the domain of the female. Many women enjoy being sexually dominant and many men relish the role of submissive.)
It’s impossible to verify the site’s statistics independently, of course, or compare them with the experience of other dating sites such as Lavalife and Match.com, which told the Star they don’t track this.
But anecdotally, at least, it seems certain that there are lots of women out there who are turned on by the idea of a dominant-submissive relationship....
Not only is it exciting to give up control, but the role-playing and the fetish wear — leather, latex, corsets and clinchers — adds additional layers to the experience.
She says the success of the trilogy has prompted a spike in the number of Americans attending BDSM events.
“Some people just want to spice up their (sex) life, but some people are just hard-wired for more intensity,” says Wright, the group’s spokesperson. “I don’t think we’re hard-wired to be dominant or submissive, but I think we’re hard-wired to want more intensity with our sex.”
One big benefit of BDSM, she says, is that the sex is way more intense than ordinary sex, says Wright, a sexual submissive who’s been married 19 years.
Mary Gonzalez broke barriers when she became her state's only openly lesbian lawmaker when she was elected to the Texas House of Representatives.
Now, however, Gonzalez is going even further, telling the Dallas Voice that she instead identifies herself as "pansexual." As ThinkProgress notes, Gonzalez's admission makes her perhaps the only openly pansexual elected U.S. official.
Though many might describe Gonzalez's orientation as bisexual, pansexuals don’t believe in a "gender binary," and hence can be attracted to all gender identities.
Gonzalez specified to the Voice that she doesn’t believe in a gender binary because “gender identity isn’t the defining part of my attraction," and that she never fully embraced the term "lesbian." Although she came out as bisexual at age 21, Gonzalez said she has also dated transgender and "gender-queer" people, in addition to women.
"During the campaign if I had identified as pansexual, I would have overwhelmed everyone," she said. "Now that I’m out of the campaign, I’m completely much more able to define it."
Gonzalez, who reportedly beat two opponents in the Democrat primary and has no opponent in the fall, continued: "As I started to recognize the gender spectrum and dated along the gender spectrum, I was searching for words that connected to that reality, for words that embraced the spectrum. At the time I didn’t feel as if the term bisexual was encompassing of a gender spectrum that I was dating and attracted to." ...
It goes without saying that the record-breaking sales of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" series are the publishing industry's success story of the year. In addition to the millions upon millions of books sold, E L James' racy and buzzworthy novels sparked a studio bidding war for movie rights and growing interest from various actors and actresses interested in taking on the roles of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.
But what is perhaps most intriguing about the "Fifty Shades" phenomenon is how the sexually explicit, borderline X-rated BDSM (a blanket term for erotic activities that include bondage, dominance/submission and sadomasochism) material in the books crossed over into the mainstream. MTV News spoke with several publishing experts about the "Fifty Shades" effect and why it's such a positive thing for fans and authors of erotic fiction.
"We've been [publishing] erotica since 2006, so you can imagine our kind of shock, but we're really excited about it," said Michelle Renaud, senior manager of public relations at Harlequin books. "It's bringing more readers into the genre and more women are getting excited about it and kind of returning to reading and using reading as an escape. It's been very, very positive for us."
"It's a sign that we are actually getting new readers to the industry," added Cindy Hwang, executive editor of Berkley Books, a subsidiary of Penguin Books that publishes a variety of romance and erotic fiction. "That is always gratifying, because there's been a lot of concern that there haven't been new readers coming in for a while. I think the 'Fifty Shades' trilogy has been a great entry point for people who may not have been more than casual readers before but [are] intrigued enough by the experience of reading 'Fifty Shades' to go back to reading."
With James' books flying off the shelves, mainstream retailers have started trying to fill readers' needs with storefront displays of other titles in erotic fiction, something that used to be reserved for the back of bookstores or specific "romance" sections.
"Once the media picked up on it and then people were talking about it in daily casual conversations, merchants were like, 'Wow, there's really a demographic that would like to get this and we should probably be serving them.' And they made room on their shelves where they didn't before," noted bestselling author Sylvia Day, whose latest novel "Bared to You" has received "Fifty Shades"-esque buzz. "Previously you're writing erotic fiction, you're in trade paperback, and the covers usually, you know, left very little to the imagination and they were only stocked in traditional bookstores or you had to buy it online at the e-tailers. That really limits impulse buys. It limits recognition among the populace that it's out there, so now the books are in the grocery stores, they're in Target, they're in Walmart. All of those places would not stalk erotic fiction before and now they do, and that's huge." ...
E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey series has sold an astounding 20 million copies in the U.S. alone. We asked Passional Boutique and Sexploratorium’s resident sex educator Andrea Renae, who’s hosting a more realistic workshop on BDSM play titled “50 Shades Safer” this weekend, to help us navigate the hype.
City Paper: Why is this book so popular?
Andrea Renae: This is not the first book of its kind, and won’t be the last, but the media coverage and discussion around this particular series is undeniable. The book is written more like a romance novel than erotic fiction, which is far more accessible to the general population. For those who were intrigued by the 50 Shades series, I recommend Please, Sir: Erotic Stories of Female Submission by Rachel Kramer Bussel or The Beauty series by Anne Rice.
CP: How realistically is BDSM portrayed in the book?
AR: Like all romance novels, this book is based on fantasy. It is entertaining, but it is not a realistic guide to BDSM. When practicing BDSM, it is imperative that all play be safe, sane and consensual. Certain aspects of 50 Shades definitely go against that creed. Even though [the protagonist] consents to it, asking someone to sign a slave contract before getting properly acquainted is unsafe and negligent. Think of it like dating: You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you before dating them for a little while, right? I was pleased to see how communication was presented. People think the submissive partner doesn’t have a say in what happens to them. Yet, prior to a play session, hard limits are discussed and agreed upon, including a pre-determined safe word. Throughout the book, [the dominant character] promotes [the sub’s] use of safe words and encourages her to verbalize consent — definitely the most realistic part of the book.
CP: What are some tips on introducing BDSM in the bedroom?
AR: Take things slow and communicate. BDSM can range from light and sensual to heavy and extreme. It’s a good rule of thumb to start with something simple and work your way up as you explore different types of play. One idea could be as easy as introducing toys, such as blindfolds, fuzzy handcuffs and gentle teasers. But remember, your partner is not a mind reader. Make sure to constantly communicate your fantasies ... and your limits. BDSM — and sex in general — is always more enjoyable when everyone involved is on the same page.
Profit-minded people are rushing to capitalize on the erotic trilogy’s huge success. From allegedly real-life versions of Anastasia Steele to Fifty Shades vacations to a kind of Fifty Shades Kama Sutra, see nine attempts to rip off the global phenom. ...