Wednesday, July 11, 2012

More Shades of Grey

Back in March, when I first began to hear a "buzz" about the Shades of Grey novels by E.L. James I was intrigued.  I asked Serafina to read the series as one of her slave assignments, and she did review the first book in April, but we've not made much special reference to the books since.

For the record, after reading the first book myself, I withdrew the assignment, I no longer saw any point in asking Serafina to continue.  The word I believe is the best descriptive for Ms. James work is execrable.

I'm not alone.  Well known BDSM author Laura Antoniou wrote a short parody, titled 50 Shades of Sellout, that I found very amusing.

Pamela Stephenson Connolly, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who is a specialist in treating sexual disorders, just put forth her two cents worth in a piece that was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, titled - Fifty Shades of Grey giving bondage a bad name.
The bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by EL James has reportedly already sold up to 20 million copies worldwide. Having read the three novels in one sitting, I very much doubt it is the sex that did it. I found it boring, repetitive, and leads women to aspire to undesirable - and frankly unattainable - goals, such as simultaneous orgasm, which occurs between the protagonists most of the time.

But, most annoyingly, the story demonises BDSM - the term for the erotic style comprising bondage, domination, and sado-masochism - and those who enjoy it. The male protagonist, Christian Grey, is portrayed as a cold-hearted sexual predator with a dungeon (that word has been wisely swapped for "playroom"), full of scary sex toys. Worst of all is the implication that his particular erotic style has developed because he is psychologically "sick".

Frankly, in BDSM terms, Grey is a lightweight. He eschews many fairly standard interests, although he is an expert at the "mindf---". Even novices, however, would know that his use of cable ties is a very bad idea (to avoid nerve-damage and scarring, soft, thick rope is de rigueur).

Grey's lack of competency in his chosen erotic arena is most apparent, though, in the way he fails to assess his potential new submissive's naivety. Experienced BDSM practitioners are acutely aware of the gulf between cognoscenti and others, and would not dream of terrifying a novice by bringing up such advanced techniques as fire, electricity and gynaecological play.

Ten years ago, I carried out an extensive psychological study of people in the BDSM community - the largest empirical study ever done at the time - to examine their psychological attributes and determine if there was any justification for the notion, commonly held, even within my field, that they were all psychologically disturbed. After giving each of the 132 participants four hours of psychological tests, as well as a face-to-face interview, I found that, in fact, the group was generally not mentally unhealthy, and the instances of early abuse that had long been associated with the adult practice of BDSM were present in just a few.

When I presented my findings in 2003 at the annual conference of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counsellors and Therapists (the full study was published in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality in 2006), the jury was still out as to whether BDSM and psychopathology went hand in hand. But since then, it has been firmly established - through the work of Peggy Kleinplatz, Charles Moser and others - that BDSM, played in a safe and consensual manner, is not proof of mental or physical illness, essential badness or emotional damage from trauma or abusive parenting, and that people cannot - and should not - be treated to cure it.

All the work that has been done to establish that BDSM is not a pathological symptom, but one of a wide range of normative human erotic interests, is in danger of being undermined by the success of Fifty Shades. Let's hope we do not return to the days when people were discriminated against - losing children, property, jobs - for their interest in BDSM. Remember, Fifty Shades is just another bodice-ripper. With cable ties.

I'd like to thank Ms. Connolly for her dissection of the 50 Shades series.  Frankly, the tripe being sold these days as some kind of prime delicacy is making me sick.  I'm glad I'm not alone in thinking so!

With that said, let us not demonize cable ties while we are dissecting Ms. James' work.  While BDSM as "taught" in workshops and seminars might consider soft rope to be "de rigueur", I'm not positive that the occasional careful use of an item like cable ties will inevitably lead to some kind of nerve damage or scarring.

I believe that workshops tend to be taught, for reasons of liability and public relations, totally geared towards the lowest common denominator.  Techniques are taught that tend to be as idiot proof as possible.

I'm not saying that safety should be thrown out the window, but I'm also of the studied opinion that items like cable ties can be used in a safe, sane, and consensual manner.  Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water, and replace BDSM that was condemned as a sick perversion with a sanitized version filled with a myriad of rote rules as taught by pretty presenters in their late 20's with (at most) a whole decade of BDSM experience.


  1. I decided not to read this series of books today! In a car on the way to a meeting, the won I travelled with talked excitedly of the book she was reading. The hero (or anti-hero) if thats preferred, not only is he around 30..sorry I am strictly a 45+ woman in all things Dom..but he is a Dom because of D/s abuse when he was a teenager..sub abuse at the hands of a 'twisted' Domme.

    It was very hard for me to hide my secret while arguing..'so the premis is that BDSM is not a helthy activity between consenting adults but a product of deep seat torment from child abuse!'

    She looked at me as if I was mad...i decided to be quiet lest my secret be revealed.

    ps I have participated in the one lovely blog award and named your blog in my list of faves.

    I hope thats ok?

    L x

  2. Of course it's ok that we were named among your faves, Serafina and I are both honored.

    I LOL at you saying you are "45+ woman in all things Dom" - laughing in a good way - because I'd commented to a friend the other day about my disdain for self-appointed experts who are in their 20's . . . or even 30's . . .

    I'm a much better dominant today than I've ever been and it's all simply due to experience!



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