“Fifty Shades of Grey:” The Myths vs. The Stats

'Fifty Shades of Grey' still (NY Daily News)

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ still (NY Daily News)

This week, we’re examining different aspects of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” in preparation for the upcoming movie, opening on Feb. 13th. 

One thing “Fifty Shades of Grey” has done is to start a dialogue around depictions of BDSM in popular culture. With the book becoming wildly popular, it’s only natural that those participating in The Lifestyle would begin to point out inaccuracies about the depiction of Christian and Ana’s D/s relationship.

But it also reinforces some common misconceptions of BDSM. Many people’s only experience with BDSM has been vicariously through this book/trilogy, and E.L. James does a real disservice to those who are active D/s participants, not to mention those curious about exploring it.

I’ve identified some misconceptions that the book puts forth, juxtaposed by what existing research has taught us:

1. BDSM practitioners are usually victims of previous sexual abuse.

In the book, Christian was introduced to The Lifestyle via Elena Lincoln, his mother’s friend. Elena introduced Christian to BDSM and domme-d him for six years (roughly ages 15 to 21; he’s 27 at the beginning of the book). So James draws a direct link between sexual trauma and domination, especially with Christian repeatedly telling Ana he had “a rough start in life.”

There is no link between BDSM and sexual abuse. None. This is a common misconception from people who don’t know much about BDSM (and now this erroneous belief is more prevalent due to this damn book).

An Australian study done in 2001-2002, and published by Northern Illinois University in 2008, was predicated on the hypothesis that those involved in BDSM had histories of “sexual coercion, sexual difficulties, and/or psychological problems.” Here’s what the researchers found:

[The respondents] were no more likely to have been coerced into sexual activity, and were not significantly more likely to be unhappy or anxious-indeed, men who had engaged in BDSM scored significantly lower on a scale of psychological distress than other men.

Can we please put this old canard to rest now?

 

2. Having a BDSM relationship ruins a person for vanilla sex

In the book, Christian tells Ana that he has “singular” tastes, and that he’s not a “hearts and flowers kind of guy.” After he sleeps with her for the first time to get “the basics” out of the way, Christian also admits that he’s never had vanilla sex before…until now (aww!).

Is this standard for most BDSM enthusiasts, that they can’t have “normal” sex?

No. No, it is not. Much like Christian Grey is not representative of the typical self-made billionaire (he’s a 27-year-old in the world of telecommunications), the relationship depicted by E.L. James doesn’t represent reality. Shocking!

The same Australian study found this as well, noted in their abstract’s conclusion:

BDSM is simply a sexual interest or subculture attractive to a minority, and for most participants not a pathological symptom of past abuse or difficulty with “normal” sex.

And they should know: The researchers interviewed 19K+ people.

Now that we’ve cleared that up…

 

3. A good BDSM relationship involves the Dom/me doing whatever s/he wants with no regard for his/her sub’s needs and wants

In the book, Christian repeatedly tells Ana that he chooses when he wants her and what they do, that she’s at his sexual beck and call during her time with him. She wasn’t allowed to argue this point; it was in his paperwork that she read and signed.

Nope.

That is not a healthy BDSM relationship (or any relationship for that matter).

A healthy BDSM relationship involves negotiation. For both parties. On what they will and won’t do, and what they’re flexible on. But all involved have a choice.

Likewise, the purpose of a good D/s session is to make sure everyone gets their needs met. And how do they do that? By communicating. By deciding beforehand what will and will not happen. By setting boundaries. Now, Christian does give Ana a list of limits, both hard and soft, so kudos for that.

Communication is prized, hence the inclusion of a “safe word.” If the safe word is used (a common one is “red,” invoking a stop light), all activity ceases. No exceptions.

Ana isn’t given this common courtesy. She has to do what Christian says, and isn’t allowed to advocate for herself. It’s all about his pleasure, and she’s only allowed to receive the pain and ordered to like it. Even in their very first session in the Red Room of Pain, she’s not feeling up to a second round (and Christian notices this), but keeps going. She clearly doesn’t feel comfortable invoking their safe word (which is “red,” of course).

In fact, a study done by Ohio State University, Columbus in 2013 found that the relationship between Christian and Ana constituted intimate partner violence, rather than garden-variety BDSM. (This is definitely evident in the way Ana is always scared of Christian’s reaction to every damn little thing.) The study, published in the “Journal of Women’s Health,” was titled, “‘Double Crap!’ Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey.”

 

And a bonus!

4. BDSM practitioners are hot, brooding young billionaires.

(How do I know Christian is a billionaire? Because he landed at #8 on the “Forbes” Fictional 15 list with a net worth of $2B+.)

I couldn’t find any stats on this. Shocking, right? There are no definite stats on what multi-million- and billionaires prefer in the bedroom. No self-reporting going on here. (Hey Kinsey Institute, there’s an opportunity here.)

If Mark Zuckerberg (age 30, 2014 net worth $34B+) or Box’s Aaron Levie (age 29, estimated net worth $100M) are found to have elaborate sex dungeons in their homes (or, hell, on the Facebook campus), I guess we can say it’s a thing.

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