As a kink friendly sex therapist I’m frustrated with the book Fifty Shades of Grey. I understand the book has assisted many women in reawakening their sexual side but after reading it, here are my concerns. Simply stated, Fifty Shades romanticises an abusive relationship under the pretence of it being BDSM.
1.) Consent is sexy! Consent has to be clear, not assumed. Consent can be withdrawn or mediated at any time. If your choice to say ‘no’ is not respected or listened to, then it becomes violence. In the practicing BDSM community a “submissive” (like Ana supposedly is in Fifty Shades of Grey) always has the right to say no to sex. Engaging in sexual activity you’re not comfortable with simply to please your partner is not BDSM.
2.) Intimate partner violence and abuse can be physical, mental, sexual and emotional. Abuse in a relationship goes through a cycle: the honeymoon stage, planning, set up, abuse, guilt, excuses and then straight back to the honeymoon phase again. This cycle is played out throughout the book. In the honeymoon stage an abuser is affectionate to their partner as an apology for what they’ve done. In Fifty Shades, Christian often compliments Ana after he’s forced her into a non-consensual sexual situation.
3.) You cannot rescue an abuser. Ana wants to save Christian. Despite the temptation of many of us to fall for someone damaged in the hope of changing them, it is just not possible. A broken person can only fix themselves when they’re ready and willing. Christian says he’s ‘fifty shades of f**ked up’, admits he was sexually assaulted by an older woman when he was a minor and calls his mother a ‘crack whore’. Christian oozes psychopathic and sexually sadistic symptoms, and has extreme mood swings, which terrify and intimidate Ana.
4.) A healthy BDSM relationship is about consent, communication and negotiation. BDSM is a process of continuous communication that moves through a sequence of stages – an agreement between parties moves to a certain scene or play and then to an after-care and debriefing session. You don’t see this in Fifty Shades of Grey. In a BDSM relationship no submissive should ever feel terror at being beaten by their angry partner if they do the “wrong thing.” Walking on eggshells is a common feeling in an abusive relationship, not a consensual one.
5.) Abuse is about control. Christian wants to control what Ana wears, eats, what contraception she uses, how many hours she sleeps a night, who she sees, and whether she drinks or takes recreational drugs. Christian bugs her phone so he can track her down in his trademark all-or-nothing manipulative style. Christian also buys Ana very expensive gifts that make her feel pressured and obligated to him. The controlling aspect of their relationship facilitated by Ana and Christian’s different access to power. Ana is a young, sexually inexperienced student, on the other hand Christian is an older male billionaire.
I hope this gives insight about healthy relationships and BDSM for any lover in the Inner West, especially those who have read and thought about Fifty Shades of Grey. Rather than take the text as representative of a desirable relationship, use it to start a conversation about safe sexual and relationship practices.
If you are confused or unsure about an unwanted sexual experience or think you are experiencing abuse, call:1800 RESPECT (737 732) for phone counselling and referral services.
Cat O Dowd
Sexual Health Therapist – Relationship Counsellor – Transpersonal Art Therapist