Full disclosure: I didn’t read the Fifty Shades of Grey books. Okay, I only managed to get to page six, but I didn’t try all that hard. Sometimes I have a very low attention span. With that in mind, I was actually really looking forward to the movie! Maybe now I will end up reading the series. There may be spoilers peppered through this post.
As a sexologist and sex educator, I was pretty nervous about this movie. There are millions of ways it could have been terribly wrong and bad. Just as a movie, it could have been awful, let alone the topic. I am not sure whether the good outweighed the bad. Please keep in mind that this is one person’s opinion. Read it/see it yourself and come to your own conclusions.
One of the biggest issues I have with the story is the fact that Anastasia is so sexually inexperienced. Now, that in and of itself is not the problem. However, leading someone into activities and lifestyles they have no clue about is, perhaps, not the best way to go about it. It’s not to say that such a person wouldn’t enjoy themselves and feel right at home, but it is not a very good example of informed consent. Not just consent. Not even simply enthusiastic consent, which is super important, but I’m talking Informed Consent – actually knowing what you’ll be getting yourself into. [UPDATE: Upon reflection, I think the informed consent discussion is up for debate. When Christian gives Anastasia “homework” to search what submissive means that is a part of it. And the detailed contract certainly had a lot in it that adds to being informed.]
Christian Grey clearly has had a troubled past and as a viewer it was a bit tiring that he would not let Anastasia in. He shies away from true intimacy and reciprocal touch. He repeatedly says he doesn’t do romance. [P.S. There’s more to romance than just flowers and chocolate.]
From there, I also have concerns around specific methods of kink.
- How Christian tied Anna’s wrists. It’s not awful, but it’s not great. Doing that palms up makes nerve damage more likely to happen. Having palms together reduces that risk.
- How Christian suspended Anna in the Red Room. Again, not terrible… If it was for a shorter length of time. It would be better if there was some slack (or length) to the cuffs so that she could bend her elbows.
- Flogging the belly. Yeah, not a great idea. You want to stick to flogging meaty areas and the larger muscle groups. Butt and thighs are delicious spots, as is the upper back (being careful to avoid the neck).
- Lack of real aftercare. Aftercare is a HUGE cornerstone of BDSM. You don’t just beat people and leave them – that is abusive. Scenes can be lighthearted, or really heavy (“extreme”) and intense, some kind of aftercare, whether it’s a blanket and cuddles or just a glass of water are paramount.
- The belt whipping. Anna wanted to see “how bad it could get.” And without any warm up, Christian lays into her. This is not something that typically happens in healthy BDSM. It’s never a rush, it’s not a sprint. It’s more like a longer distance, marathon with a slow buildup.
- Angry BDSM. No. Just no. BDSM is not a place to vent your anger or work through your stuff.
If you’re looking for a 101 guide to rope bondage, this one includes info on rope materials, negotiations, safety, and perspectives from the Top and the bottom. Remember to always keep some scissors nearby if someone needs to get out of their binding quickly.
Things in Fifty Shades that made me happy:
- Condoms! I totally cheered for every condom I saw used. Yay safer sex!
- The contract negotiation scene. I thought it was adorable. Again, just one example of a D/s contract, not necessarily typical. I especially loved the reactions to anal fisting and vaginal fisting. (Why’d she say no? How about “Not at this time?”)
- Pubic hair! Fifty Shades of Grey is rated R (in the USA) and not NC-17. I feel like they got away with a whole lot, which is awesome in this sexologist’s opinion. With that still being the case, it was pretty exciting that in the little bit we could see Anna was sporting a bush! The bush may be making a comeback.
- Panty sniff! Christian full on sniffs Anna’s panties in one scene! This is a thing that I saw in a mainstream movie in my lifetime. Awesome!
- A movie that has sex in it! It kind of hearkens back to the 1970s where there were some movies that happened to have full-on sex in them. Fifty Shades is still miles tamer, but it was nice to see a mainstream movie that had a plot and had sex, but wasn’t just porn.
Keep in mind that this movie is not a how-to!
It is a fantasy. It is fiction. In the same way as the Fast and the Furious franchise is not to be watched to learn about driving, so too, Fifty Shades is just one depiction of a specific scenario. There are many shades of how to participate in kink safely and skillfully, whether one does it privately, one-on-one, or among community at events and dungeons. This is but one example of a Dominant/submissive relationship and there are as many varieties as there are Doms and subs.
With all of this in mind, there are few examples of BDSM movies (or novels) done exactly right. One of my favorite (nonfiction) kink books is The Ultimate Guide to Kink, BDSM, and the Erotic Edge by Tristan Taormino. It’s seriously worth a read. I have other suggestions in my recommended reading tab. Some people swear by the movie Secretary starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader. It’s a fine movie, but it’s not one that I would recommend as “healthy” BDSM.
Other things that make me nervous
Jamie Dornan (the actor who portrays Christian Grey) has been, shall we say, less than sex positive in some of his interviews leading up to the movie release. This sends me into a rage. Don’t you fucking dare rag on the people and the lifestyle you’re about to make hella money off of. Sit down. You can read more about that in these two articles.
I have three videos for you. The first is a playful video where the Buzzfeed Try Guys test out kinky acts pulled directly from Fifty Shades of Grey with educational instruction from ProDomme Hudsy Hawn (who is seriously cool, fyi). The second video is a quick peek into motivations around BDSM and commonly asked questions. This third video is so good, I’m embedding it.
Below are other articles written with thoughts from luminaries in the sexuality field. They are certainly worth a read as they offer varying perspectives and call out other highs and lows to the Fifty Shades of Grey movie and books.
My Final thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey (for now)
As a movie, Fifty Shades of Grey was a romping good time. I actually enjoyed the hell out of it. Disregard my running commentary which took place for at least the first half of the film, which mostly just annoyed my sister. (Occupational hazard. Sorry, Naomi!) It was sensual, erotic, had a pretty good plot, and just happened to have some sex and kink in it. I may see it a second time. It isn’t without its flaws, but it is starting a conversation that is normalizing variety in sexuality.
And since we’re talking honestly here, let’s get real: Who wouldn’t want such an elegant and well-appointed playroom? It had everything you could wish for. I might not want it all in red, but come on!
As long as we keep in mind that this movie is not the be-all, that it’s just fantasy and not a how-to guide, it’s just fun. Consider that any BDSM, fetish, and kinky activities must be done with Caring, Communication, Consent, and Caution (4Cs), remember that it’s on a spectrum, and take your time.