There are dozens of reviews out there concerning Fifty Shades of Grey, so you’ve probably heard almost everything there is to hear about here. Here I want to talk about the issues I had with it and those issues prompted me to take a closer look at the world of BDSM and address my own concerns that I had with it.
Right, to start with, Fifty Shades of Grey originally started out as a fan fiction of Twilight, so it was never going to be War and Peace. This was the state of mind that I approached it with; I expected a fairly shallow piece of writing – like Twilight, only with moar sex. However this isn’t what disturbed me about this book, it wasn’t even the fact that it dealt with BDSM themes – what did worry me was how BDSM was represented in it.
It may help if I first describe the characters a bit. The female protagonist is Bella Ana, a virgin whose closest thing to a relationship is what she’s read in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre (shame the book she appeared in wasn’t to the standard of her own reading tastes). She’s beyond inexperienced; she’s never even kissed anyone and certainly has no idea about BDSM. She’s a complete doormat and spends most of her time blushing and quivering with delight under the creepy HAWT gaze of Edward Christian. Seriously, she orgasms if he so much as farts in her general vicinity. Also she has no gag reflex. Really.
Christian is himself totally abusive and manipulative with Ana. When he finds out that Ana’s a virgin he initially yells at her for not mentioned it before (because it’s obviously so easy to just slip ‘oh hey, just so you know – I’m still carrying me v-plates’ into casual conversation). He then assures her that he’ll ease her into it all and proceeds to bang her like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, (‘don’t tap it, smash it!’) because obviously having sex for the first time isn’t at all painful (bar for a lucky few). Not to mention that he’s already drawing up a contract that’ll basically make Ana his 24/7 slave – pretty sure that drawing up a contract with an extremely inexperienced girl who hasn’t even heard of BDSM would be considered completely out of line. How on Earth can she be expected to give consent to something she doesn’t understand?
What they almost do right was make a list of do’s and don’ts (I say almost right as this list was part of the aforementioned contract and should have been done before there was any sexual contact). He proceeds to completely terrify her with mentions of electrical and fire play (not completely sure but pretty sure this kind of thing would be completely off the books for a first-time, regardless of how enthusiastic they may be) and even tries to pressure her into changing her mind on certain things (she says she’s not sure on anal and he basically turns round and says to her ‘but I really wanna! You’ll like it – promise!). He’s perfectly aware of her lack of knowledge because every now and again he takes the time to have a good laugh about it – because someone who’s entering something as scary as their first relationship, never mind their first BDSM relationship, would feel really reassured by their partner mocking their inexperience.
The only positive I can say here is that it introduces the idea of a list and the concept of hard limits (things you WILL NOT do) and soft limits (things you’re not sure about, but may be willing to try under the right circumstances). I hope people really take that on-board – it could potentially be very damaging to a relationship if one person takes it too far in a scene because they didn’t know how far ‘too far’ was. Couples need to acknowledge that there’s some things that one or the other simply WILL NOT do and that there’s also the chance that upon trying something out something, the reality doesn’t live up to the fantasy – either for one person or both. Of course this is where safe words come in. I personally believe that if you’re doing anything that carries an emotional or physical risk you should always have a safe word. The book does mention safe words, with Christian mentioning that he wouldn’t want Ana to need a safe word when she points out the problems associated with gags (more pressuring? Or trying to make her feel safer by implying that he won’t cross her limits? I’m not entirely sure, but either way I think that at this point in the relationship he should be emphasising the fact that she can always use the safe word when she needs it).
The most important thing lacking her is trust. BDSM isn’t about hitting or humiliating people – anyone can do that. It’s about understanding your partner and their limits and being able to push them in a safe way that isn’t damaging to either of you. The sub needs to trust that their Dom won’t take it too far and the Dom needs to trust that the sub won’t cry rape if things go a little bit wrong. There needs to be communication and complete trust on both sides.
Christian is clearly not to be trusted. Aside from taking advantage of Ana’s innocence he constantly ignores her limits – after being spanked for the first time she asks him not to do it again, but of course, he does. Yes she did enjoy it, but she was clearly experiencing some mixed feelings about it. Any sub with more experience would have been straight out the door the minute their Dom began to ignore their set limits. It isn’t BDSM, it’s abuse – being a Dom doesn’t mean that what he says does. Quite the opposite – it’s usually the subs who set out the soft and hard limits and it’s expected that those will be completely respected and stuck-to. I hate to think of some idiot treating his sub or partner like shit because they think they’re just allowed to do whatever the hell they want.
On top of all this is Christian’s background. He had various serious issues with his parents and his first sexual and BDSM experience was when he was fifteen years old with a female paedophile that he refuses to acknowledge as such (noooo, he needed what she gave him, he deserved it). So of course, all of Christian’s kinky sexual preferences and his general aloofness are put down to his bad experiences as a child. Moral of the story? The only people into BDSM are the psychologically damaged. Bull shit. (Now I have to be honest and say that I personally believe that there are exceptions to this rule, which I’ll talk about in another post. That’s not me saying ‘people into so-and-so are deranged,’ it’s me talking about the fact that it’s sometimes difficult for me to distinguish between some forms of BDSM and genuinely self-destructive behaviour).
What’s important to take away is that participating in BDSM does not equal damaged. It’s just a preference, same as the type of food or music someone likes – albeit a bit more complex.
It’s here where Ana starts to become manipulative as well. She finds that by agreeing to do certain things she can get Christian to do things he’s not comfortable with – for example, talking about his past. It’s basically prostitution for non-monetary pay. (God, I think they might deserve each other). As it is they do get together in the end. Christian is cured of his unhealthy BDSM issues and they gallop off into the sunset. Well, perhaps not quite what happened as there are two other books full of the same incredibly boring sex scenes. I’ve heard mention of whipping a pregnant belly – something that I have to say I definitely do not find acceptable, although I can’t be sure of how this particular issue is usually approached. That’s assuming that it’s even true of course, I don’t particularly feel like reading on to find out.
All that without even mentioning the appalling writing style (‘holy cow’ is the new ‘chagrin’).
So, how does this all affect me? Quite frankly the thing is that upon reading this book I had some quite serious misgivings about it. I have had limited exposure to BDSM but only in the form of porn, which is hardly reliable source material. It had never bothered me before because I had never considered the mindsets – the fact that people sometimes like to give or receive pain and humiliation. Without knowledge of the various safety nets and the predominance of trust which are the cornerstones of BDSM – those notions were, quite frankly, horrifying. How was I to distinguish between the consensual act and abuse?
The thought of this all was seriously affecting me. Perhaps there is a little in the self-destructive masochist in me in that when I come across a thought that disturbs me, I tend to take a good bit of time dwelling on it and generally making myself feel worse (such as a period in my life where I was seriously upsetting myself with constant thoughts of death. I can’t really say these thoughts have been resolved, I’m not sure they can be resolved as the answers to those sort of questions tend to be worse than the questions themselves. I have however got myself to the point where I’ve not constantly thinking about it and upsetting myself all the time).
But quite rightly I didn’t like being driven to near-sleeplessness and a severe drop in appetite just from merely thinking of the subject. So I decided to go on an epic quest for knowledge as it’s my belief that fear is usually seated in ignorance of that which you are afraid of.
So I got on the internet and googled away, trying to get as many different viewpoints as possible on as many different topics as possible. Everything from what BDSM is, why people like or don’t like it, why people sometimes fear or hate it, what the varying levels of BDSM are, the opinions of vanilla/French vanilla people on BDSM, the subject of trust, responsibilities of the various parties involved, keeping safe, how people approach their vanilla partners with their desire to participate in BDSM, what people can get or achieve through BDSM, what happens when it goes wrong, the BDSM ‘scene,’ the concept of 24/7 slavery, the various mindsets of the people involved and people’s own stories and experiences. God I love the internet – imagine trawling through the library trying to come up with that lot!
What this blog is about is what I discovered and how I feel about what I discovered. Sometimes I found myself with mixed feelings on a subject or feeling very angry about others, without knowing quite why that was how I felt. I want to be able to decipher the reasons behind my anxieties and anger and see if they can’t be turned into something positive. There may be some aspects of sex and BDSM that I can never understand – but I’ll be damned if I won’t try.
A Virgin’s Insight into Sex and BDSM – Introduction
CAUTION: This blog contains themes of a very adult nature. Please do not read if you feel that any of the following issues may cause you discomfort: sexual situations, BDSM, personal experiences.
Hi, this blog is about my story as I explore BDSM and sex in general. As someone who is inexperienced in either field I feel I can provide a different kind of insight for people who want to understand more about them, whilst I myself try to come to terms with the various aspects of either which make me uncomfortable. I have a lot of negative feelings regarding sex and BDSM, and I feel that with a bit of soul-searching I can at least lessen these feelings, or even turn them into something positive. The reason I’m making this blog is that I think reading about my experiences and thoughts on these topics; I’ll be able to help others in similar situations. It’s important to note that advice from people experienced in these areas is absolutely invaluable; as such I’ll try to post as many helpful links as I can. If there’s any particular questions you have, or certain areas that you may want me to look at feel free to e-mail me and I’ll do my best to help. I want this to be a free space for everyone to talk about their opinions and issues, regardless of age, race, sexual orientation or anything else (of course I cannot condone underage sex, but learning about the various elements involved and potential problems you may as an individual need to overcome is something that can only help a person who wants to later have a safe and enjoyable sex life). If you disagree with anything you see here, by all means feel free to say so – debate is healthy, but please no personal attacks, having a different opinion from someone is not the same as looking down on someone for having a different opinion. It’s essential that everyone feels able to air their opinions without worrying if they’ll be attacked.
In this blog I’ll be making several types of post. The first will be an explanation of why I started to explore BDSM – largely prompted by the best-selling book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ I’ll explain why this book made me feel very uneasy and how it motivated me to learn more about BDSM in order to find out if my worries were unfounded. I found that many issues I had with the book are things that wouldn’t be considered acceptable in any way by practitioners of BDSM, but as I ventured deeper I inevitably found other aspects of BDSM that made me uncomfortable – thus beginning my journey to make peace with my own feelings about all sex, including BDSM.
In the second type of post I’ll explain my views on various aspects of BDSM, what I found out, what I agreed with and what I wasn’t sure about. These posts could be on something as specific as the safety issues that need to be acknowledged in the use of gags, to something more broad, such as the intrinsic role of trust in all BDSM (and I’d like to think in all non-BDSM) relationships. If someone requests that I research a particular topic it will appear in this type of post. I’ll try to cover as much as I can, especially issues which I think aren’t very well-covered – such as how to deal with the various emotions that you may feel if your partner has discovered and conveyed to you an interest in BDSM in an otherwise vanilla relationship. I feel that there’s a lot of support for those coming out about their desires to participate in BDSM, but not as much advice for those who aren’t sure it’s for them when their partner expresses an interest.
If someone asks a direct question, I’ll treat it as an agony aunt situation with the question, answer and links to relevant information on others sites in the post (if you would prefer that I didn’t post your question then just mention it in your e-mail and I’ll simply e-mail you answer back without posting it). It will be treated as completely anonymous and I won’t laugh or be offended at any questions you send (unless it’s obvious that you’re just sending something to wind me up). Everyone has different thoughts, feelings and levels of experience with sex and you won’t be persecuted for them.
The last kind of post I’ll be writing will detail my personal feelings, thoughts and obstacles that I encounter. If you feel uncomfortable with reading personal stories or are sensitive to potentially distressing scenes you may want to exercise caution before reading these posts. If I feel a particular post will contain potentially upsetting content, I’ll put a trigger warning at the top of the post.
Discussion is encouraged on any type of post – feel free to offer your own opinions and advice. Remember to respect other people’s input and everyone will be able to take a lot from these discussions. While I did primarily start exploring BDSM for my own reasons, this blog is also intended to assist the readers – if you feel that I’ve been unfair or unreasonable in a post, then pull me up on it! It could be that I’m being too brash with my opinions to the point of coming across as offensive without realising I am. I do have a lot of mixed feelings regarding sex and BDSM – this blog is partly about my coming to terms with and understanding aspects of them that distress me or otherwise make me uncomfortable, so I may come across as very negative about some aspects. I believe that fear is founded in ignorance or lack of knowledge of that which you fear, so I am hopeful that my negative feelings will eventually be overcome and that I can help others in defeating their own demons.