Critique and Discussion of “Fifty Shades…”

Fifty Shades of Grey is the first book of an erotic trilogy written by E. L. James. Set mainly in Seattle, WA, the story focuses on Anastasia Steele, a naïve college student, and Christian Grey, a young, successful entrepreneur. They meet when Ana interviews Mr. Grey for the school newspaper. When it becomes evident that there may be more between them, Mr. Grey presents Ana with a non-disclosure agreement and warns her that he is unlike anyone she’s ever met. The reader is taken on a journey with the characters as they explore their relationship and this new world (from Ana’s perspective) of kinky sex.

The tremendous popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey is both intriguing and amusing. While I found the first book engaging and found myself getting involved in the evolving relationship of Christian and Anna, other people have told me they either hated it or loved it. Although E. L. James may not be a great writer, she is certainly very smart and knows how to stir up intense emotions and create a buzz. Ultimately, she’s the one benefiting from all our outright indignation or absolute delight.

I listen to “Dr. Dick’s Sex Advice with an Edge,” a radio show and podcast originating in the Seattle area. Recently, he had Shanna Germain, writer and editor  - and Kay Jaybee, author of erotic books, as guests for a two-part discussion regarding the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. What they had to say was quite interesting indeed.  For more information or to hear the show, check out the podcast at Dr. Dick’s Sex Advice. As a mental health care professional, several statements made in this particular episode stood out to me as most useful to people I might see in my practice:

1)    Fifty Shades of Grey is NOT an instructional manual

2)    Recognize that important guidelines help people navigate BSDM with the philosophy of either Safe, Sane, and Consensual, OR Risk-Aware Consensual Kink.

3)    Fifty Shades… tends to be emotionally hollow. While this statement came from one of Dr. Dick’s guests, I understand what she might mean. It is apparent that there are deeper family issues and psychological issues underlying the many conversations, erotic scenes, and email exchanges in the book. The writing, however, never quite illustrates the depth. To a female, vanilla reader, she may not recognize the deeper relationship dynamics of this play or lifestyle, the “subspace” (a delicious and fragile mental state that comes after impact play for some people), or the other psychological experiences to being Dominant or Submissive. There are multiple layers to sharing in this relationship and it deserves a great amount of respect, regard, and consideration.

The point:  Erotic fiction is fun and a great way to entertain your wildest fantasies. This is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I encourage it.

However….

If you and your partner are seriously considering BDSM, be aware of the area you are delving into before racing ahead without consideration.

Read books – preferably those which come highly recommended (I don’t thinkFifty Shades… would make any serious kinkster’s list).

Consider how courageous you are for even thinking about attending community events in this area. For instance, The Center for Sex Positive Culture  in Seattle (http://www.sexpositiveculture.org/) has revolving “tastings” and weekly events you might try, as well as various workshops held throughout the month.

More About Tastings: In “tastings,” experienced practitioners showcase and demonstrate various elements of BDSM sexuality. You may participate in these and receive guidance by an experienced Dominant or Master. For instance, you might observe (or let yourself be the subject of) flogging, whipping, or bondage/rope play. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings as you witness, imagine, or try things out. Do not be afraid to be a student who observes, participates, and soaks up as much knowledge as possible.

Slowly experiment with your partner in the bedroom. Pay attention to what you like, what you don’t like, and what feels safe/unsafe.

When experimenting, communicate  communicate communicate!

–Never should a thought or feeling go unsaid. You do not need to feel embarrassed or ashamed for stating how you feel. This is important –

Most importantly, Doms be sensitive to the needs of subs. Realize the level of trust they are putting into you.

While it may not be immediately apparent, the relationship you are forming is a tremendous privilege. Both parties carry a lot of power, trust, and regard. But, as the amazing Spider-Man so eloquently puts it, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is definitely true in this case.

My Final Note:  Find those people in the community that can be your teachers, mentors, guides, and friends along this path with you and your partner. Then, discover your own truths together. One person’s truth, no matter how expert he/she is, may not be yours. Listen to what is true for you and your partner. Don’t be afraid to network with other people who are engaged in alternative sexuality.

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