5 Things About BDSM 50 Shades Got Wrong (And What It Got Right)

When Fifty Shades of Grey first came out, the book topped almost every Bestsellers’ List. The first out of three hugely successful movies broke records. Fifty Shades of Grey is still among the most-watched R-rated movies of all time.

Even now, it’s still an immensely successful franchise. It may be far from the first novel to center sex in its themes. But whenever BDSM comes up in party conversation, it’s the title on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

It was only to be expected that more conservative consumers would slam the book. But here’s the funny thing. Despite the promo and the branding, Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t exactly claimed by the BDSM community, either.

“Not BDSM at all,” and other bad press

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

Early on, critics, evangelists, authors, actors, and even a few plucky DJs from Wisconsin who threw a “burning book party” would decry E.L. James for ‘glamorizing abuse’ and ‘promoting sexual violence.’

The kink community itself would be used to and bored of these accusations. But that’s because prior to the pop culture movement Fifty Shades would trigger, it was massively misunderstood.

Whether the creators intended to be accurate or not, BDSM practitioners had good reason to fear its popularity. They were worried Fifty Shades would perpetuate harmful ideas and negative stereotypes that were already circling BDSM.

Debunking Misconceptions

1. BDSM scenes are not always extreme.

BDSM is not a catchall phrase for everything sexual that’s nontraditional. What does belong under the umbrella are Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sadism and Masochism — which means it deals with physical or psychological control, power dynamics, and giving or receiving pain.

That said, while BDSM as a keyword would conjure up all manner of bondage and fetish gear from ball gags to whips, BDSM is still BDSM without props. If you’ve ever gotten turned on from being spanked, tied up, or called a ‘bad girl,’ congrats. You’ve dipped your toes into BDSM.

In the first book, there’s a part where Christian ‘gives in’ to being gentler with Ana because she was a virgin. This scene completely runs afoul of the fact that (a) dominance doesn’t automatically equate to rough, and (b) ‘vanilla’ sex is in any way inferior to kinky sex.

2. BDSM doesn’t always involve physical pain.  

BDSM is an umbrella term, but that doesn’t mean one size fits all. Everyone has their own set of preferences and kinks. Respecting those of your partner’s is the key to a healthy relationship — D/S or otherwise.

There’s a psychological element almost always, especially when power dynamics are involved. Take bondage, for example. Even the simple act of handcuffing someone, which may seem purely physical at first, requires trust and giving up control.

There are other nonphysical ways to be submissive, such as performing a service or following instructions. Unless you’re intentionally exploring it, scenes don’t ever have to include inflicting or receiving pain. 

Photo by Emiliano Vittoriosi on Unsplash

3. Doms are always on top.  

The terms ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ were originally used to differentiate positions in gay sex. But in BDSM, ‘top’ refers to who controls the scene, and ‘bottom’ refers to who receives the action. In bondage, for example, the one getting tied up would be the ‘bottom.’

BDSM, in reality, is incredibly LGBT+ friendly and diverse and not the heteronormative picture Fifty Shades of Grey wound up portraying. Doms can be masochistic and prefer to receive pain. There are ‘service subs’ who ‘top’ because it’s their kink to follow instructions and be of service.

4. BDSM is not an effect of childhood abuse. 

One of Fifty Shades’ biggest sins is how it contributed to the unfair linkage of BDSM to child abuse. Around the second book, it’s a major plot point that Anastasia meets up with Christian’s old domme Elena, who seduced him when he was only fifteen.

While there are people who engage in BDSM as a means to explore their own trauma, they’re the exception, not the rule. There are many different and varying reasons to try BDSM, and the truth is that — and studies can back this up — BDSM and other kink practitioners are not significantly any more likely to have experienced child abuse.

On the other hand, much of what adult Christian does to 21-Year-old Anastasia Steele is scarily downright abusive behavior. From breaking into her home, ignoring her objections, to touching her without consent. That brings us to:

5. Consent should always matter.

It doesn’t matter that Anastasia signed his ‘sex contract’ at the beginning of the book. On the one hand, sex contracts as legally binding documents are not a thing. On the other, she was sexually inexperienced and wouldn’t have been able to give informed consent.

Furthermore, a good dom should know better than to ask for blanket permission. Circumstances can change, and it’s impossible to gauge whether your partner is ready or prepared unless you ask.

The difference between sex and abuse is clear, explicitly communicated consent, whether it’s vanilla sex or extreme BDSM. It’s even a draw for many people that BDSM comes with strict rules, guidelines, and clear negotiations. For them, the only way for them to truly consent is to be 100% aware of what they’re getting into.

Now, as much as I want things to be black and white. There was one thing I felt the novel tried to say that I would agree with. If only it had been a little better expressed.

BDSM can change you.

At the end of the third movie, a shirtless Jamie Dornan says ‘”You’re topping from the bottom, Mrs. Grey. But I can live with that”.

I think it was trying to show that they’d both grown and that their relationship had evolved. Ana’s more confident, and Christian’s more open. While I don’t particularly appreciate how the franchise portrayed it, BDSM can absolutely be that transformative in real life.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

There’s a lot BDSM can teach you about how and when to communicate your needs or desires. Whether negotiating a fantasy or knowing when to stop (or add to) a scene, it’s paramount that everyone involved is on the same page.

Second, the emphasis may be on the dom being in control. But scenes are built around what the sub can and can’t handle. It’s about giving the sub what they want — even if it’s for pain or to be punished. 

Sometimes there’s no just better way to explore your own limits than to (safely) experience them.

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9 Ways to Enhance Intimacy in BDSM

The concept of intimacy in BDSM is the desire for two people to be sexually intimate and it is not limited to sexual intercourse. In a vanilla relationship, intimacy means being passionate with your partner. However, in BDSM, it often means being more intimate with your partner than with just your body. This can be dangerous because you are playing with your partner’s feelings and violating their trust. You must carefully choose intimacy in BDSM if you want to experience this type of relationship play.

Both you and your partner must be comfortable with being intimate. The person who initiates intimacy must know that their partner will not like the new intimate behavior immediately and may even react negatively. Don’t force the issue if they don’t want to, or you will end up hurting your partner emotionally. If you are having problems initiating intimacy in BDSM with your partner, you need to work on these nine communication issues before proceeding further.

1. Be Patient.

This may take time, and it can be hard at first to let go of your inhibitions and fears. However, it would be best if you become comfortable with sharing your feelings with your partner. When you feel safe enough to talk about your feelings, you can share deeper, more intimate thoughts and feelings, which result in stronger intimacy.

2. Be specific.

Always tell your partner what exactly makes you happy and satisfied. This will help you avoid engaging in intimate behavior that you are uncomfortable with when you are not sure that your partner’s desires are the same as yours.

3. Be vocal.

This means that you must let your partner know what you are feeling and thinking, and you must be vocal about it. Being a silent partner is often a key to avoiding boredom and can cause your partner to become frustrated with your lack of communication. Also, part of the appeal of role-playing games is the ability to express your sexuality while having fun with your partner. Be vocal about your desires and your needs. Let your partner know what is happening in your head and on your body. Allow them to experience what you are feeling.

4. Learn to listen.

This is often one of the most challenging things to do when one is involved in an intimate relationship. However, learning how to listen properly is a skill that will significantly enhance intimacy. By listening to what your partner has to say, you will become a better lover because you will pick up your partner’s needs.

5. Use the space around you.

BDSM practitioners often find that their relationships grow stronger when they can give time to each other. By giving yourself time to listen to your partner, your feelings, and your own needs, you become more tuned in to each other, and the process becomes less complicated. As a result, intimacy is more easily developed and maintained.

6. Never discount your feelings.

Your emotions are valuable, they are essential, and they should never be ignored or passed over. When you are actively engaging in sex, your feelings and desires will be genuine to you. Be sure to share them with your partner. Remember, emotions are integral to intimacy.

7. Explore fantasies.

The most exciting aspect of role-playing is finding ones that you can engage in together. Find fantasies you’d enjoy engaging in with your partner and start exploring those together. By sharing these fantasies, you will increase your passion for each other and will have more fun when you make love to each other.

8. Take a role.

Some people assume that when they engage in a BDSM relationship, their partner will automatically take on all of the responsibilities and skills associated with such a lifestyle. This is not the case. Take on some of the responsibility yourself. When you are enthusiastic about your sexual relationship, your skills will grow, and you will better meet your needs.

9. Develop boundaries.

If you both have a strong sense of boundaries, you are less likely to experience non-consensual sex or “rape.” When there is no clear sexual boundary, there is a greater chance for things to get out of hand. Take a role in how much of the physical intimacy you share. It will make your relationship stronger in the long run.

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