“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.
Right now, we’re talking more about rape and sexual assault possibly than we ever have before, and it’s obviously a conversation we need to be having. We also, however, need to be talking about recovery after sexual assault — but for some reason, we’re not. Why? Tracy Clark-Flory makes an effort to break down this taboo in her piece for Refinery29, “What Sex After Sexual Assault Is Really Like”; it introduces an important element to the ongoing conversation about rape and sexual assault, and honestly, it should be required reading for everyone. We’re still fighting an uphill battle with regards to things like legal definitions of consent — but it’s also important to remember that our work isn’t done when that whole part of the conversation has finally been satisfactorily addressed.
One of the things that makes talking about recovery so difficult is that, as Clark-Flory put it, “There are as many different symptoms and coping strategies as there are survivors.” In order to demystify it, though, Clark-Flory spoke both to individual survivors and to Wendy Maltz, a sex therapist and author of the book The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse. Here’s kind of the Cliff Notes version of what I think are the most important takeaways; the whole piece is definitely worth reading, though, so head on over there to check it out. ...
Just a week after her assault, Donna wanted to have sex with her boyfriend in an effort to reclaim it — “It’s important for me that rape and sex are not the same thing,” she said to him at the time. She doesn’t remember having sex with him then, though, and now she says she knows it was too soon. As she worked through what had happened to her over the following weeks, sex with her boyfriend got less traumatic; she learned how to communicate clearly, to set boundaries, and to explain both what she needed and what was OK. Donna and that boyfriend eventually broke up — but afterwards, she met the man who would become her husband. “He’s very passive,” she said, both personality-wise and sexually. “He’s not a dominant force and, for me, that was something I needed. I needed to feel safe.” ...
When toys are made for movies, they are usually intended for children.
But with the Valentine’s Day weekend premiere of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” many of the tie-ins to the film are for adults only.
The sex toy industry is banking on the hope that the Universal Pictures film will generate soaring sales, much the way the blockbuster erotic novel of the same name created thousands of new customers from the female readers who passed the book around their suburban culs-de-sac.
In anticipation of such keen interest, mainstream retailers are stocking up on the pleasure industry’s blindfolds, whips, handcuffs and masks. Manufacturers have designed new packaging and products to fit the kinky tone and theme of the film, which is based on E. L. James’s story about a naïve young woman’s introduction to games of sexual bondage.
Even Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers, recently began selling an official “Fifty Shades of Grey” “vibrating love ring,” an item intended for wear by men, but not on the finger.
“It is the biggest moment for our industry in popular culture pretty much ever,” said Claire Cavanah, a co-founder of Babeland, an adult novelty retailer. “We’re all sort of preparing for what could be another wave of toys.”
Ms. James’s sexually charged trilogy — two followed “Fifty Shades of Grey” — became a cultural phenomenon, and turned Ms. James into something of a legend.
She sold the publishing rights to Vintage Books, a division of Random House, and soon reached even more readers who may never have normally read erotic fiction.
Last year, Vintage Books announced that it had sold 100 million copies of the series. Ms. James, a middle-aged British mother and former television producer, was credited with introducing the concept of BDSM (standing for, loosely: bondage/discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism) into the mainstream vernacular.
She also ignited a huge bidding war in Hollywood. Executives vied for a chance to pitch Ms. James and her literary agent, Valerie Hoskins, on how best to tell the story of Anastasia Steele, a virginal 21-year-old student who becomes the submissive sexual partner to Christian Grey, a successful 27-year-old businessman.
Universal Studios and Focus Features eventually won, and agreed to pay $5 million for the rights to make the film.
The studio wanted to capitalize on the same readers — and others — who sent sales of adult products skyrocketing after “Fifty Shades of Grey” had its debut as an e-book in 2011. Suddenly, retailers had trouble keeping once-obscure products in stock. The novel spurred a 7.5 percent jump in sales of sex-themed products, including toys, videos and books, in 2013, according to a report from the research firm IBISWorld.
“We were kind of taken by surprise when the book came out,” Ms. Cavanah said. “But we’re much more prepared for the movie.”
The movie will not be as graphic as the book. Neal Slateford, a co-founder of Lovehoney, the only company that has the rights to make the official “Fifty Shades of Grey” adult products sold in Target and elsewhere, does not expect certain toys used in the book’s steamiest scenes to appear in the movie. ...