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Okay, to start this one out, let me be very clear: I have never, at least up until this moment in my life (you never know what the future holds, I suppose), actually taken part in the BDSM lifestyle. All information presented here will be secondhand from research. I'm not saying this to distance myself from BDSM because I believe it is something shameful; I just want to let people know that even though I did adequate research, there may be errors, because I have no practical experience and there's only so much you can learn from the internet.

Secondly, the main reason I'm writing this is because I am so very tired of hearing about 50 Shades of Grey. It was bad enough when the books first came out and it was trendy to talk about; now that there is a movie, it's even worse. I was thinking about a way to express my dislike for the series in a constructive way when I heard some lady complaining on some random TV show that a woman allowing a man to dominate her (in a bedroom type environment) is basically undoing all the progress womankind has made over the decades.

This declaration bugged me a little because I had, regrettably, read the books a while after they came out to see what the hubbub was about and as you can probably guess, did some extremely cursory research on BDSM so that I could have a grasp at what I was reading. Even with my rudimentary knowledge of BDSM, I could tell that there was something caricaturistic about the way it was portrayed in the books, but I was too distracted by the annoying characters and subpar writing in the book to really dwell on it, and put it out of my mind until it was jogged loose by the lady on TV. I decided that since I wanted a justifiable reason to rag on the 50 Shades series, pointing out the misconceptions that it has either caused or had added to would be a good way to spend my time. So I fired up Google (very carefully mind you, because due to the subject matter it would be very easy to stumble into an endless swamp of porn) and did some more research into the real life aspects of BDSM, and compared them to the book.

Terms to know:

D/s: Dominant/submissive; the DS part of the BDSM acronym (the other pairings are BD for bondage/discipline and SM for sadism/masochism, just in case you were wondering)

Dominant: also can be known as the "Dom" or "Domme." The person in the D/s relationship who in control.

submissive: can also be referred to as the "sub." The person who gives up control to the Dom; the lower case "s" is on purpose because this denotes the "lower" status of the sub (air quotes are sarcastic, FYI, I'll explain how this concept isn't demeaning here in a minute).

Misconception #1: The Dominant has all of the power.

In the books, Christian clearly has all of the power with regards to the BDSM aspect of the couple's relationship (and a good portion of the regular aspects as well). All of the insane rules that he has in the contract for Ana, such as what car she will drive, her eating habits and her workout regime, are not part of a typical D/s relationship. In real-life D/s relationships, most of the domination is restricted to certain times and/or places agreed upon by both parties. 24/7 relationships are not as common as most people assume. The fact that Christian is controlling every aspect of Ana's life points more toward the controlling boyfriend side of the scale because, contrary to popular belief, the submissive holds most of the power in a D/s relationship.

The submissive is willingly giving up the control to the Dominant, who is now responsible for the well being of the submissive. Essentially, the Dominant is caring for the submissive and meeting their needs; one of those needs just happens to be the desire to have someone else make the decisions for awhile. The submissive may take control back whenever they wish to; that is what differentiates at D/s relationship from the abusive relationships that it is usually compared to.

Misconception #2: BDSM relationships demean women.

Like the lady on TV pointed out, a large portion of people think that being part of a BDSM relationship, specifically, one that focuses more on the D/s factor, is a step backward for female equality. The 50 Shades series really does not help make BDSM look good in this regard. Due to the skewed portrayal of BDSM in regards to how Ana is treated by Christian, to an uninformed observer, it would look like a D/s relationship is demeaning to women. But the problem is that it is not BDSM or the D/s relationship being demeaning, but Christian himself, under the guise of being a "Dom." Most of the articles I found indicated that most people who are active in the BDSM community (and some who aren't participants) think that women who are able to admit that this is the type of stuff they are into and being able to choose to participate is actually empowering women, since they get to break through the unspoken guidelines that society has set forth regarding what women should want in their sex lives.

This misconception also ties into the misconception that women are always the submissive in the relationship; the relationship can be the other way around as well. During my research, I found quite a few blogs where the author was a female Dominant (or "Domme") whose partner was a male submissive.

Misconception #3: One has to have some sort of childhood trauma or some sort of issue to be attracted to BDSM.

This misconception can't be placed solely on the shoulders of the 50 Shades series, but it is something to point out, since the series plays into it, giving Christian a damaged past that put him on the path to BDSM. During my research, I looked up other popular BDSM novels and read the blurbs to see what they were about. A lot of them featured main characters that had some sort of malfunction that influenced them to either be attracted to the BDSM scene or to be introduced to the BDSM lifestyle. I think that this misconception is really just caused by the fact that any romance novel has characters that are "damaged" or have some sort of issue in order to make an interesting story. However, when they are presented in a book about BDSM, having some sort of psychological issue and enjoying BDSM get tied together due to preconceived prejudices.

Most practitioners of BDSM are average, everyday people. Some people partake in aspects of BDSM without really thinking about it. When they try and spice up their love lives with handcuffs or role-play they are, in a very small way, taking part in the lifestyle. In a study conducted, during which 132 people who participated in BDSM practices were given psychological tests, the stereotypical damage that has been connected to BDSM was only present in a few individuals.

Misconception #4: There has to be pain in BDSM.

A good portion of the BDSM in 50 Shades is centered on the pain that is, according to the books, common in BDSM culture, but this is not the case. There are different levels to BDSM, and different focuses. This misconception can really be put to rest by understanding what BDSM stands for. BDSM is not one solid thing, but a variety of focuses, Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sadism and Masochism. There are some people who only focus on the SM portion of the acronym and they do focus on either inflicting or receiving pain, but if they follow the BDSM credo (Safe, Sane, and Consensual) and know what they are doing, there should only be enjoyment on behalf of all parties involved.

On the other hand, some parts of the acronym, such as the DS part, don't have to have any sort of pain involved. Since those who are attracted to D/s relationships are aroused by the power exchange that comes from either giving or taking control, they may have no use for flogging, spanking, or any of the other practices shown in the 50 Shades series. Bondage and Discipline may contain some pain depending on what sorts of punishments both parties in the relationship have discussed and agreed upon, but once again, it wouldn't have to be the sort of pain that the 50 Shades series implies should be present in a BDSM relationship.

So there you have it: some of the misconceptions about BDSM caused by the 50 Shades series, debunked. For a book series that tries to romanticize BDSM, it didn't seem to do a very good job of portraying its subject in a positive light. Then again, the series really didn't do much well to begin with. Hopefully I have gotten my facts straight, and if I haven't, maybe someone more knowledgeable than me who will let me know where I went astray.

 

Sources:

http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/shortcuts/2012/jul/08/fifty-shades-grey-bad-bondage

http://www.divinecaroline.com/love-sex/6-myths-about-bdsm-inspired-50-shades-grey

http://sfappeal.com/2009/12/the-sexual-manifesto-can-bdsm-be-feminist/

https://www.xeromag.com/fvbdsm.html (this one has some, shall we say risque, ads on the page so click at your own risk)

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