“Fifty Shades of Grey:” BDSM Practitioners’ Personality Profile

'Fifty Shades of Grey' still (Lovelace Media)

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ still (Lovelace Media)

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

In the “Fifty Shades of Grey” book, billionaire BDSM sex-god Christian Grey is portrayed as…well, exactly that. But as far as personality goes, he’s shown to be narcissistic (it’s all about him and his pleasure) and obsessive (always harping on Ana’s eating habits), and a total stalker (just happens to show up at Ana’s workplace, a mere 2.5 hours from his home base of Seattle) among other undesirable traits.

A person with no experience or knowledge of BDSM might well believe that these characteristics are typical of a participant in The Lifestyle. That person might have the idea that someone into BDSM is not a “good” person. But this is far from true, as several studies have confirmed. As it turns out, BDSM practitioners possess quite a few beneficial traits:

1. Openness to experimentation:

An Australian study from the University of New South Wales done in 2001-2002, and published by Northern Illinois University in 2008, found that those who participated in BDSM were more sexually adventurous overall. Researchers found that BDSM enthusiasts were more likely to have watched porn, had group sex and/or slept with someone else besides their regular partner within the past year.

2. More socially outgoing:

Related to being sexually adventurous, a 2013 Dutch study found BDSM practitioners to be more extraverted and social (because how else will you find partners for group sex?). They’re also less sensitive to rejection, enabling them to seek out novel (and/or vanilla) experiences with no shame.

3. Less anxious:

The Dutch study also found that BDSM enthusiasts tend to be less neurotic. Roni Jacobson of “The Cut” recently wrote an article in she interviewed doms and subs. During scenes, the doms and subs each reported entering beneficial mental states, such as having “feelings of deep focus and concentration” (termed “topspace”) and an “altered state of consciousness where one feels released from stress and present in the moment” (termed “subspace”), respectively. The mindfulness naturally replaces any anxiety during and after the scene.

4. More relationship closeness and conscientiousness:

A 2009 study by Northern Illinois University found that a good sadomasochism (here abbreviated as SM) scene resulted in decreasing cortisol (stress) and increasing relationship closeness between participants. Likewise, the aftercare (always part of a BDSM scene) also helped aid the closeness:

The increases in relationship closeness combined with the displays of caring and affection observed as part of the SM activities offer support for the modern view that SM, when performed consensually, has the potential to increase intimacy between participants.

The aforementioned Dutch study found that BDSM participants ranked higher on conscientiousness than the non-BDSMer control group. This makes sense, as a mutually satisfying scene involves looking out for your partner every step of the way.

5. Love of language and wordplay:

Kinky sexpert Jean Franzblau of Sexual Esteem with Jean has found, through her own personal experiences, that BDSM enthusiasts are also enthralled with language and wordplay. Even though it might sound harsh to those unfamiliar with The Lifestyle, it’s just part of the scene.

“In the BDSM community, we use very dastardly language. But underneath it, it’s all good,” she said in her “Welcome to Kink” class at the Los Angeles Academy of Sex Education last fall.

6. Holds advanced degrees:

In tandem with loving language and wordplay, Franzblau’s anecdotal data suggests that BDSM practitioners value education, as they are more likely to hold advanced degrees. This would make sense, as education and open-mindedness to new experiences have long thought to be positively correlated.

7. Greater self-acceptance:

Dr. Juliet Richters, author of the University of New South Wales study, told Australia’s “Sydney Morning Herald” that the study’s BDSM participants scored higher on measures of psychological wellbeing. She interpreted that as meaning the participants were happier:

It might just be that they’re more in harmony with themselves because they’re into something unusual and are comfortable with that. There’s a lot to be said for accepting who you are.


With this list in mind, I’d say the benefits far outweigh any risks. Just remember to keep your play safe, sane and consensual.




#ThrowbackThursday: “Secretary,” 2002

Maggie Gyllenhaal in 'Secretary' (Film4)

Maggie Gyllenhaal in ‘Secretary’ (Film4)

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

E. Edward Grey: Look, we can’t do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Lee: Why not?

– “Secretary,” 2002

A forerunner of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie, “Secretary” was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2002 before released to a wider US audience in September that same year.

Recently released from an institution after a bout of self-harm, the socially awkward Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) takes a secretary job with eccentric lawyer E. Edward Grey (James Spader). Her submissive personality entices Grey, and the two enter into a D/s relationship. Holloway gains confidence and falls in love with her boss, while Grey struggles with his own feelings towards her and his urges.

“Secretary” was the most recent film to showcase BDSM, specifically highlighting D/s relationships, and does so fairly sympathetically. It didn’t judge, pathologize or shame its characters, but showed them growing as a result of their preferences.

According to Box Office Mojo, the film made $182K+ its opening weekend, ranking it #31 of that weekend. It was released in 11 theaters, and pulled in $16K+ on average. It ranked #70 of yearly R-rated movies of 2002, and #183 of yearly opening weekends in 2002.

Domestically, “Secretary” made $4M+, grossing 43%+ of its budget. It did better in the foreign market, making $5.2M+ for a gross of 56%. The film took in $9.3M worldwide.

“Fifty Shades of Grey:” What the Hell is BDSM, Anyway?

'Fifty Shades of Grey' still (MoviePilot)

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ still (MoviePilot)

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

“Fifty Shades of Grey” depicts BDSM as pretty hardcore: There are whips, chains and cable ties all in Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pain. A person (let’s be honest, woman) reading the book with no prior knowledge and/or experience of BDSM would likely be inclined to believe that’s primarily what the consensual sex practice about.

But BDSM isn’t just about the hardcore stuff. It encompasses a wide variety of activities. The four letters can be arranged to refer to different practices under the BDSM umbrella: B&D (bondage & discipline), S&M (sadomasochism), D&S (dominance & submission).

Dr. Richard A. Sprott, executive director of the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS), notes that BDSM can be synonymous with “kink, fetish, leather, and S&M.” The term can denote “a practice, lifestyle or orientation.”

Sprott labels the two most important components as “consensuality and mutually defined activities.” Other common aspects include “eroticization of power, role-playing/fantasy, and intense sensory stimulation and/or physical restriction.” Roles include the dominant, submissive and switch (someone who plays both dom and sub roles as needed). A BDSM “scene” (single session of play) has three parts: negotiation (deciding what will happen), play (the scene itself) and aftercare (coming down from the scene).

The Teramis website concedes that “no acronym is ideal in defining” the term, and open communication must be used to find out a person’s specific kink. The most important rules are that things are kept “safe, sane and consensual.”

How widespread is it? The 1990 Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex found the following:

Researchers estimate that 5-10 percent of the U.S. population engages in sadomasochism for sexual pleasure on at least an occasional basis, with most incidents being either mild or stage activities involving no real pain or violence.

As “Fifty Shades of Grey” makes clear, audiences will react to the most extreme version of BDSM. But there are a lot of, dare I say, shades of grey within the moniker for practitioners.

“Fifty Shades of Grey:” SWOT Analysis

'Fifty Shades of Grey' still (E!Online)

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ still (E!Online)

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

We’re only a few days away from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie opening, so let’s look at the movie via a SWOT analysis. Used in strategic planning in business, SWOT analysis evaluates nuances of a project (specifically, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and how they play into how a team approaches the project.

I wanted to see what the film could accomplish, especially aspects that the book couldn’t, and how sex education could play a role.



By now, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a household name. Even if you haven’t read it, you’ve heard about it to the point that you could tell the storyline in a sentence or two. (Bland virgin meets billionaire into BDSM. Lots of sex and bad writing ensue.)

It has the power of name-brand recognition behind it. Since it’s female-driven (and written) erotica, women will more likely go see the movie more than men.

Another point in the movie’s favor is that women are gracing the director’s and screenwriter’s chairs: This will be Sam Taylor-Johnson’s (formerly Taylor-Wood) second feature, after her directorial debut “Nowhere Boy” was released in 2009. Screenwriter Kelly Marcel has previously written “Saving Mr. Banks” and the “Terra Nova” pilot.

But will the movie do what the book didn’t: educate movie-goers on how BDSM really works?



The book took some serious liberties with portraying BDSM and its practitioners (represented as a monolith by Christian Grey). Chief concern among them was depicting BDSM enthusiasts as victims of sexual trauma, and that they cannot have “normal” relationships. Audiences might assume that the movie will also falter in addressing these issues.

There’s also the point of the writing. The terrible, terrible writing. Marcel might be able to only do so much in her adaptation, and that may very well show onscreen.



The movie has the potential to do some good. It could clear up the aforementioned misconceptions about The Lifestyle that the book puts forth, and therefore could be a learning opportunity for audiences who previously had no experience and/or knowledge of BDSM. But, again, the operative word is “could.”

The upcoming movie also has the opportunity to be a mainstream erotic film with a strong female presence behind the camera (noted above in “Strengths”). This could point to a more sensitive handling of the subject matter. Considering the book has been derided for being “mommy porn,” the movie could potentially aid in leveling the playing field in depicting womens’ sexuality onscreen. If it goes well, it could open the door for more erotic films with a more-female friendly bent, as well as more mainstream erotic films.



As mentioned above in “Weaknesses,” the books have already given readers an inaccurate impression of BDSM’s nuances and practitioners. The movie could continue to give audiences the wrong information, and come off as a Did Not Do The Research cautionary tale as much as the book has.

Given the source material, this movie could be really, laughably bad. And that would be really troubling. This would be harmful to the status of mainstream erotic films, particularly those covering BDSM. The last one was “Secretary” in 2002. It’s bad enough that we’ve had to wait 13 years for another one. But if “Fifty Shades of Grey” doesn’t deliver, we may be looking at another 13 years or even longer.

There’s also the issue that there are women in prominent behind-the-camera positions on this movie (see “Strengths”). Much has been made recently about the dearth of women directors, and behind the camera in general. But if the movie fails, then there might be less of a chance for women behind the camera.


Heavy stuff here. Let’s hope “Fifty Shades of Grey” doesn’t screw it up, not just for itself (and us), but for the future of women in film and mainstream erotic movies.


“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.


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.