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"Fifty Shades of Grey critics slam bondage stereotypes"

on Thursday, 12 July 2012. Posted in Front Page Headline, Media Updates

CBC News

Booksellers recently reported that E.L. James’ erotic trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey accounted for up to 20 per cent of all the print novels sold in the U.S. this spring.

While the series has obviously titillated readers, sex experts and members of the alternative sexual community say the books draw a problematic and unfounded link between sadomasochism and mental illness.

“As a researcher in this area of sexuality, it doesn’t sit well with me,” says Caroline Pukall, director of the Sex Therapy Service in the Department of Psychology at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

The best-selling books focus on an enigmatic billionaire named Christian Grey, who becomes romantically involved with a sexually inexperienced young woman named Anastasia Steele and asks her to become his “submissive,” or sex slave.

The virginal Anastasia finds the world of handcuffs and leather whips both alarming and arousing. She soon learns, however, that Christian’s predilection for bondage and spanking is a consequence of being sexually abused as an adolescent.

While the books are fiction, this explanation plays into stereotypical attitudes toward the alternative sex lifestyle, says Tristan Taormino, a U.S.-based sex educator and author of The Ultimate Guide to Kink.

“There is an assumption that the reason he’s kinky is because he is damaged, because he had a rough childhood,” she says.

“There’s this assumption that there’s this one-to-one correspondence, which in real life there’s isn’t.” ...

BDSM attracts all kinds of people

She says people who are into BDSM run the gamut from doctors to kindergarten teachers to organic farmers. The one generalization she will make is that most of them are in a higher income bracket, because kink events often “happen at really nice hotels, and there’s all this gear.”

Nonetheless, the stereotypes around BDSM remain strong. Last week, the RCMP announced it was investigating one of its own officers, Cpl. Jim Brown, after violent and pornographic photos of the officer on Fetlife.com, a social networking site for sexual fetishists, came to light in the media.

While acknowledging Cpl. Brown’s personal right to freedom, RCMP assistant commissioner Randy Beck said, “I am personally embarrassed and very disappointed that the RCMP would be, in any way, linked to photos of that nature.”

Caroline Pukall of Queen's University says the book’s attitude, as well as public reaction to Col. Brown’s extracurricular activities, reflects a widespread belief that BDSM relationships are inherently abusive.

“It’s because people confuse BDSM with sexual sadism,” says Pukall.

“We think of Paul Bernardo, we think of these criminals who violate other people and cause pain during sexual acts and a lot of suffering and death, in many cases. But these are two very, very, very different phenomena — they are not the same at all,” Pukall says. ...

 

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