“It changed my life,” my friend announced at dinner a few months ago. The “it” in question was a book, which she described as orgasmic. My interest was certainly piqued. In furtive late-night conversations and mid-day lunches over the next few months, the transformational qualities of the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, by British author E.L. James, spread among the wives and mothers all over New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County. The series, which began as online fan faction before racking up hundreds of thousands of e-book downloads, are about an S&M relationship between a billionaire and a virginal young college student. What started across the Atlantic as one woman’s desire to bravely express her lurid desires, had created sensual upheaval—as well as an ad hoc community of empowered women bound by their shared discovery of pleasure—in the unlikeliest of places: the suburbs. And I just had to document it.
The end of Fifty Shades of Grey has stuck with me. I'm still disturbed by the hero using a belt on the heroine. Yes, she asked him to do it, so she could "understand" what he went through as a child and therefore, presumably, understand him better. That's a weak premise to begin with, frankly. I don't need to be shot in the head to know that it would hurt like H-E-double-hockey-sticks and maybe leave me brain damaged and scarred for life. So I really didn't buy the "you need to beat me with a belt so I can understand you" argument.
Other than that disturbing scene, the rest of the book was certainly compelling enough to keep me reading, It was also the first BDSM erotica I'd ever read. Which raised lots of questions in my mind about the genre. So I consulted with another expert on erotica and BDSM. (I also consulted with the wonderful Raelene Gorlinsky of Ellora's Cave. The link to that interview is at the bottom of this post.) Rachel Kramer Bussel, an author, editor and blogger, has written for several publications, including The Huffington Post, Salon, New York Post and San Francisco Chronicle, and is an editor at Penthouse Variations and a columnist for SexIs Magazine. She's also edited more than 40 anthologies devoted to erotica. In other words, she's an expert.
Joyce: Welcome to HEA, Rachel! What's your take on the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena? It seems awfully tame to me, overall — but maybe that's why it's become so popular? It's like a mainstream (light) version of erotica?
Rachel: I think it's not that unconventional for romance, both the BDSM scenes and the storyline, but it's obviously struck a nerve, and with the print and audio versions and movie deal, will surely be reaching more people. Maybe the average reader just hasn't known where to look to find romance with a kinky twist, because there's plenty of it, from Megan Hart to Maya Banks to Emma Holly (and many more). Romance and erotic romance have both gotten much kinkier so people who are used to reading this type of material have been, on the whole, nonplussed by Fifty Shades of Grey, but I believe the appeal is the overall fantasy of giving up control and getting sexual satisfaction and love, not so much the specifics of how that happens. ...
Poorly written. Utterly ridiculous. WTF. These are just a few of the choice phrases unhappy readers are tossing around in response to the astoundingly best-selling novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
Others insist the story is flawless, heartbreaking and deep despite the pornographic prose.
And whether you love it or hate it, there's no doubt this Twilight fan fiction has created a sex-crazed frenzy and made BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism ) the hot topic of discussion after kindergarten play dates (hello, mommy porn).
So what's the real story behind the appeal of this deliciously dirty novel?
Let's start with the taboo factor. There's no question Fifty Shades is dirty, raunchy and sexually charged—some critics even call it "exploitative, sadistic porn." But ultimately, the secretive factor is part of the appeal. ...
Rachel, a 39-year-old mother and lawyer from New Jersey, specializes in medical malpractice and often asks "intimate" questions in obstetrical cases, but scenes from the new erotic trilogy, "50 Shades of Grey," shocked even her.
"I am not a prude and I am not shy," she said. "But this [book] made me blush."
The romance novels of EL James are heating up bedrooms across the country, and fans can't seem to get enough of what is being called "mommy porn."
Anastasia Steele, 21, and a virginal college student, can't say no to dashing 27-year-old Christian Grey, who insists she sign a contract that allows him to submit her to his every sadomasochistic whim. In their first sexual encounter, Grey unveils his silver tie and binds her wrists in knots, and Steele does as she is told. ...
In different columns in The New York Times last weekend, Maureen Dowd and Frank Bruni suggest the submissive female phenomenon may be linked to women's rise to economic and political power. After taking charge in the workplace and bossing the children around at home, women can be turned on by surrendering that control. ...
he bondage community knows to be extra-careful about sexual activity to make sure nobody gets hurt. Their advice can be useful to anyone having sex, whether or not that's your thing.
BDSM has gained mainstream attention lately, thanks in part to "Fifty Shades of Grey," a book with an S&M relationship at its center. Maureen Dowd even devoted her latest column to the book and the criticism it's garnered from actual practitioners of BDSM (which stands for bondage and domination, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism). And this weekend, safe and consensual BDSM sex was a major topic at MomentumCon, a yearly convention on sexuality, feminism, and relationships. Shift talked to some of the presenters from that conference and other experts about what everyone can learn from bondage and the people who do it.
1. Learn to be okay with "no."
Kitty Stryker, a sex worker and performer who's an expert on bondage and kink, among other things, tells Shift that if someone says "no" to you in a sexual context, "it doesn't mean you're a bad person," or that "you're hideous." It just means they don't want to do what you want to do right now. For kinky and non-kinky people alike, says Stryker, learning to be okay with this and not take it personally is key.
2. Make it okay to say no.
This one goes hand in hand with the first tip. Stryker explains that if someone says no to something you want to do (whether it's kissing or dressing up like superheroes), you shouldn't say "aww, that's okay" in a way that sounds "really bummed." That sends the message that it is not, in fact, okay. Instead, she suggests something like "thank you for taking care of yourself." The point is not to make your partner feel bad for setting boundaries. Says Stryker, "I think we forget that if someone can't say no, their yes isn't really meaningful." ...
WHEN I was 14, I sneaked into the empty bedroom of my scholarly older brother to poke around in his bookcase. Tucked behind his law school tomes and Winston Churchill memoirs, I found the “Story of O.”
I was quickly submerged in the submissive: masks, chains, brands, whips, blindfolds, piercings.
In the classic bondage novel written in 1954 by the French author Anne Desclos under the name Pauline Réage, a beautiful, young fashion photographer agrees to be the slave of a powerful master who turns her into “a mannequin of perversion,” as The Times’s 1966 review said.
Even skimming, the book was too scary for me, so I stuck it back in its hidden spot and scampered away.
Now comes the story of E, a London writer named Erika whose pseudonym is E L James. The plump, happily married 40-something mother and former television producer seems like “a normal lady,” as one shocked Hollywood agent put it. ...
The past few weeks have been incredibly exciting for anyone following the curious case of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, the sexually adventurous stars of E.L. James’s erotic romance e-book Fifty Shades of Grey. What started off as a Twilight fan fiction has turned out to be at the center of an American literary explosion not seen since James’s own inspiration was up for auction at Little, Brown, and Company in 2007. Now the foreign erotica import has not only been snatched up for seven figures by a literary arm of Random House Publishing known as Vintage (I am shocked, honestly), but as Kate Erbland mentioned Monday it has also been optioned by Focus Features and Universal. This has been a very busy month for the British author, and I don’t even have the heart to hate her for it.
As an unabashed fan of erotic romance novels, I was taken aback by the fervor this bondage novel has caused, but not for the reasons many of my colleagues and friends share. Although I do tend to favor BDSM in cinema, bondage in erotic literature has never been my favorite. I’ve often felt it to be far-fetched, overly clinical, and even a bit stale. I mean, as clinical and stale as sexual power play, leather cuffs, and object insertion can possibly be when story and character development take a back seat. This isn’t to say something like Fifty Shades of Grey couldn’t change my mind, because it instantly intrigued me a few months ago when Good Morning America and The Today Show both discussed the book’s popularity amongst book clubs like it was some dirty little secret. As if women had never before fantasized about being sexual dominated.
The subject matter within its digital pages is nothing new or particularly fresh for anyone who has read Shayla Black, Emma Holly, or if you need me to go modern classic, Anais Nin. The fact that it began as fan fiction also didn’t make me feel the way many non-erotica readers have felt, in a word, duped. Hell, I’ll admit it. I can’t possibly be the only one who has spent late nights surfing fan fiction forums for just a little naughty taste of what some of my favorite characters might get up to when the scenes faded to black.
But what is fresh about this book is the mainstream attention it is getting, especially from the film industry. If Fifty Shades of Grey is actually relinquished from Option Hell, it would be nearly impossible to make it anything but NC-17 without jeopardizing the integrity of the story. I would even venture to say a film version wouldn’t fare as well as an HBO or Showtime series – two networks well known for profiting from the salacious. Sure, the spicier bondage scenes could be filmed from a male gaze perspective of Ana, where we see her reactions to her punishment rather than the actual spanking, binding, and choking exacted by dominant partner in crime. But that sort of visual treatment would not be fitting of a book whose language is so sexually blunt and provocative. No, this film needs to be honest to the book’s genre and show all the dirty bits in a way no film (not even Shame) has done before. Popcorn erotica is the last frontier of mainstream American cinema. ...
Discussing masochism and more in Harvard’s kink community.
The Harvard Independent
BDSM. For some the concept repulses, for others it excites. Encompassing a wide variety of kinky activities, BDSM is usually thought to exist on the peripheries of sexual practice — a voyeur’s sport rather than a participant’s. Yet, 22% of Sex Survey respondents regard themselves as kinky or very kinky, and a full third of respondents’ reported kinks lie in the BDSM category. Clearly, Harvard students aren’t afraid to get freaky, and neither is Harvard’s very own munch (informal lunch for kinksters) group, which is currently seeking student organization recognition. The Indy sat down with a freshman member of Harvard’s kink community this weekend to discuss all things BDSM. From safe words to sadism, here’s what she had to say:
Indy: How do you define BDSM?
Kinky: A good place to start is the acronym: bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. I guess that if I’m explaining it to people, it’s playing with power, or pain, or both. It includes everything from spanking and biting to suspending people from things with rope, with piercings. There’s playing with knives, or master and slave relationships where one person is completely in control. There’s a really wide range of things, and I think the purpose of the BDSM label is really to build a community around doing some of the things that are less mainstream. It serves the purpose of uniting people.
Indy: What’s really interesting and, perhaps, not generally known about BDSM is the amount of community that actually goes into it. There’s the kink community in general, and then there is a kink community here at Harvard. What does the community here look like?
Kinky: We’re organized around an e-mail list that announces munch events, speakers, workshops, movie nights, shopping trips — it’s all pretty new. There are people who do unofficial parties, but that’s of course outside of any Harvard sanctioning. The community is new, but I think that in terms of diversity, you’d be surprised. There’s quite a lot of it. Having people who you might know come out to you as kinky…one of the things about having different sexual interests is that people tend to feel alone and that they’re on the fringes of society when, in fact, there are a lot of people who like things that fall under the category of BDSM — and these are things you’d read about in Cosmo. ...