Fifty shades of a reality check

I was always going to see Fifty Shades of Grey. I must be one of the few who actually wanted to see it. I have to admit, while certainly no masterpiece it was much, much better than the emotionally abusive how-to guide that it was based on. I read all three books. My belief that you must indulge yourself in something and educate yourself on it before judging it, coupled with my rule about finishing every book/series that I start lead me to finishing the books in a few days. It isn’t difficult reading. It isn’t really even enjoyable reading. The sex is sometimes a turn on (when consensual), but for the most part you’re so turned off by their relationship with one another and the terrible literary skills of the author to focus on it.

I had the same problems with the novels as most feminists/people with common decency. Christian Grey was a horrible romantic partner, taking advantage of the naïve girl who had unwittingly fallen in love with him. He also ignored all the basic rules of a BDSM relationship. I am no authority on the subject, nor am I even really that well informed on it in comparison to many of the people who have commentated on this topic already, but even the most novice of the BDSM world know that after-care is a huge part of the relationship between dominant and submissive. After their shared (consensual) activities the dominant will care for the submissive, dressing any wounds and spending time with them. Each making sure that the other knows they’re loved and valued. Never would the dominant leave the submissive immediately afterwards, as Christian frequently does to Anastasia. Not only does he leave her alone, he forces her to sleep in a room in isolation, refusing to share a bed with her. Hardly a safe or loving environment for someone to live in and not only does Ana live with Christian most of the time, but he forces her to sign a confidentiality contract which prevents her from talking about their relationship with anyone. So not only is she isolated within their relationship, he actively isolates her from everyone in her life.

However, as I stated earlier, the movie (although not without its faults, which I will elaborate on later) is a far cry from this drivel.

Thankfully the motion picture version of Ana and Christian’s relationship distanced itself greatly from the abusive behaviour exhibited in the novel. The final scene of the film, the only one that involves any conflict or complication, almost seemed out of place due to the lack of build up to Ana’s anguished and confused demand that Christian show her how extreme BDSM can get.

In the novel Christian pushes Ana’s resolve and manipulates her into taking part in his sexual activities with emotional blackmail, she even says no during one scene trying to kick him away before he soothingly convinces her to continue. He becomes more and more sexually aggressive and controlling and Ana’s reluctance to take part becomes increasingly more obvious. In the movie, however, she was completely into it. She was tentative at the beginning, as anyone who has not taken part in BDSM before would be, especially someone who has never had sex. But she was completely open to the idea. Not once does she resist, complain or show any signs that she’s not totally enjoying herself.

And really, why wouldn’t she be? The sex in the film is extremely tame by BDSM standards. Not only that, but it is all about her. I defy anyone that has had a guy go down on them to say that they wouldn’t be okay with it happening once or twice a day. Christian takes care of all her sexual needs and Anastasia doesn’t have to put his junk in her mouth once throughout the film.

I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of turned on by S&M. I actually experimented with it with a long-term partner after we got a little bored with our completely ‘normal’ sex life. I think we were both surprised that we enjoyed it so much. I am hardly a submissive person by nature, nor he a dominant one, most of our relationship issues actually came from my stubbornness and his laissez faire attitude toward our future. But in the bedroom, (or the kitchen, wherever we happened to be at the time), we found that we fell pretty easily into our respective roles. We never went to any extremes, preferring to keep things relatively tame (each too embarrassed and shy to admit to the other that we were actually really enjoying this unconventional sex life and wanted to take it further) but I have enough experience to know that, when done well, BDSM can be great.

There is certainly a lot of focus on the submissive’s pleasure within BDSM. When you’re tied up or gagged you’re not really in much of a position for pleasuring the other person. They take their pleasure from their power over you, the control they have over your sensations and orgasms. You take pleasure from, well, the orgasms – and the pain. What a lot of people don’t know is that when endorphins are released into your body they prevent pain by blocking the pain signals sent to your brain. Your body releases endorphins when you’re in pain to protect you, it also releases them during pleasurable activities such as, oh I don’t know, sex. So the pain you feel during S&M activities is not only less painful than you’d expect, but quickly becomes affiliated with pleasure. (Fun fact: I learnt about this in an extremely awkward meeting with my neurologist who was educating me on the different ways to ease migraine pain.)

In the book the focus on her is not always so positive. He pleasures her a lot, sure, but he also uses her orgasms against her during one session in the playroom. Repetitively preventing someone’s orgasms after working them up to climax is a relatively common act within BDSM, (to my understanding, I could be misinformed), but the end game is to make the eventual orgasm a strong and pleasurable one. However, it is obvious in the book that Ana is far from enjoying the experience, holding out from using her safe word only because of her fear of Christian’s reaction should she not meet his sexual expectations. She eventually breaks down and uses the word but it went on way longer than any self-respecting lover would allow.

The movie, although better than the book, has its own shortcomings. Christian still refuses to sleep in the same bed as Ana, effectively abandoning her after their sexual encounters. He also steps over some boundaries as far as personal space and freedom are concerned, rocking up unannounced in Georgia where Ana has gone to visit her mother just because he suspected she was upset with him, for example. But something to keep in mind with the film is that it is a representation of an imperfect couple. The main complication of the film is the build up to Ana realizing she is unhappy with his expectations and treatment of her and walking out on him. It is a fictional story about a couple, and individuals, with flaws. To say that there are no couples out there like the one portrayed in the film is unrealistic and naïve. The BDSM community were offended by the novel and the film, and rightly so. However, I feel pretty safe in saying that there are almost definitely plenty of people who practice BDSM and do not follow the common guidelines respected by the general BDSM community. Many people would dive into experimentation with no research, for example. I’m certainly guilty of this (and not proud of it). So why are Ana and Christian any different? By no means does this make his treatment of her right, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an accurate representation of the way some mislead people practice the art of S&M.

Christian is, as we know, hardly a traditional dominant. He turned to this lifestyle as a result of his torturous upbringing. As a child he was starved and ignored by his prostitute mother, spending days on end in his own filth, and physically abused by her pimp. A cliché storyline it might be, but someone who turns to BDSM because he is, in his own words, “fifty shades of fucked up”, is hardly going to end up practicing it in a healthy way. It is worth noting that by the end of the series after a lot of therapy and time with his family, Christian grows and actually does reform. He and Ana end up with a child and a very healthy relationship, sharing a bed and a home and a marriage, while practicing safe and consensual BDSM together. I am not saying that people should remain in unhealthy relationships in the hope that the person will change, or even if they do. I am simply noting that the author of the novel was completely aware of Christian’s flaws, they were in fact a huge part of the plot along with his reform, and was therefore at no point condoning his behavior.

If you read the book or see the movie and are turned on by it and want to experiment with these styles of sex in your own life, I’d hope you would make educated and safe decisions and not try to emulate a fictional and dangerous relationship. It can be a lot of fun, just do your research and make sure to love and care for each other, no matter what role you each choose to take on. Fifty Shades of Grey is not the first novel to depict an unhealthy relationship, or dangerous ideas and it certainly won’t be the last. I have more faith in the literary community than to think they’re all going to start looking for a prince charming who they want to emotionally black mail them. If you’re still offended by the story, ignore it and go have sex of your own.