How Fifty Shades of Grey Got BDSM Relationships Wrong

The insanity has started, and it’s all I can do to not hide my head is disgust. Fifty Shades of Grey has been officially made into a feature length motion picture, set to be released on Valentines Day. Joy of joys. The novel has become well known for its portrayal of a BDSM relationship; however, it is a severe misrepresentation of one.” The relationship in the novel perpetuates the trope that a woman is a doormat to be walked over by the man in her life — that this is where women should be — and reinforces to men that it’s their inherent right to do the things that Grey does. This is abuse, not kink or BDSM, but abuse, plain and simple. The added “BDSM” overlay only makes things so much worse.  These novels, and now this movie will throw the BDSM community as a whole further back into the closet than where we were previously. As someone who lives within the lifestyle, I am far from pleased.

I am a strong-willed, stubborn woman. I am Dominant in everything that I do, and I must control everything that I personally do in my life. By this description, one would assume that within the BDSM world, I would be Dominant. I am not. I am a submissive/Dominant Switch, which in layman’s terms means that with the right Dominant I am submissive, but when I find the right submissive, I can be Dominant. Primarily though, I am submissive, so I will speak from my experiences as a submissive. To be respectful to everyone, I will attempt to keep to neutral pronouns, save for specific examples from my life.

A BDSM dynamic can vary greatly.  If you put together a group of kinky people in a room, I can almost guarantee that, while some dynamics will be similar, they will not be the same. There are those who live in their dynamic 24/7, while others prefer to keep things in the bedroom or at events or conventions. Paired with a healthy relationship, any and all of these dynamics are good. Generally, my submission is fluid. For example, I could be making a meal for myself and my Dominant, having a normal conversation with jokes and banter. However, when it comes to bringing them their portion of the meal, instead of simply placing it in front of them, I would kneel and offer the plate to Them. Or perhaps while socializing at home in mixed company, instead of sitting next to Them, I could sit at Their feet with my head or hands resting on their knee. Other moments, I am in a fully submissive mindset for the entire day: speaking to my Dom via texts or instant messages with a highly submissive tone which carries over at home (if I am living with a Dom) and is  expressed in similar ways to what I’ve already described. These dynamic variations of submission are what work for me and the Dominants that I have/have been with. It by NO means invalidates those who have a different dynamic; everyone lives their life differently.

There are two core principles to the BDSM lifestyle that the Fifty Shades series doesn’t even attempt to explain: SSC, also known as “Safe, Sane, Consensual” and RACK, which is “Risk Aware Consensual Kink.” Both terms are very commonplace within the community, though RACK is geared more towards the sorts of fetish/kink that are not classed as “sane.” Examples of both will be discussed shortly. Any “kinky” act is not without some sort of risk to one’s personal safety, which is why there are several ways for a situation to be modified to each person’s comfort level. In an ideal BDSM situation — be it with a long-term Dom or a friend at a party — those involved generally discuss the who, what, when, where, and how. Some examples of kinky acts that can be put under the SSC umbrella could be as simple as sensual play with a feather or fur glove, or spankings. RACK is on the more extreme side, like violet wands, floggings, rape play (also known as consensual non-consent, which is very controversial within BDSM communities) or breath play. These and many more are classified as RACK kinks because there is a lot of risk for physical, mental, and emotional injury. This  is why I and many other stress that if one wants to explore their kinks, learn how to properly use the tools you want to try from someone who knows how. Do NOT use crap movies or books (like Fifty Shades of Grey) to act as your guide on to how to flog or spank someone. There have already been news stories of women being raped and killed because of “sex games” inspired by Fifty Shades.

The length of the negotiations can vary depending on the situation, for example: a submissive is at a fetish party with their friends, all of whom are Dominant. This submissive can go to each Dominant in turn and say that they are the ONLY ones they would allow to scene with them that night and use whatever tools they had brought with them to the party. These tools can be leather floggers, riding crops, paddles, or whatever tool they may have. Quick, easy, and painless right? This example comes from knowing the Dominants for a length of time and experiencing multiple scenes with them, either publicly at a party, privately, or both. However, when it comes to a new Dominant and submissive getting together for the first time, it is not that quick.

Some negotiations should involve getting to know not only each other as people but also what each other’s kinks are, generally within the first few meetings between a Dominant and submissive who are new in their dynamic. Now a Dominant and submissive are effectively brought together by one or two common kinks. The submissive likes being flogged and whipped while tied up in rope; the Dominant is an expert rigger and enjoys flogging the submissive once they are bound.  While highly enjoyable for both parties, it can get old quickly. So what’s a couple to do? Some couples, like one of my friends and His new submissive, choose to create a contract that is  read, filled out, signed and — by personal preference of my friend — notarized. However, if a contract is notarized, it does not mean that it is legally binding in any court of law; it is binding within the actual community but not outside of it. What is in the contract generally is a list of kinks, both sexual and non sexual in nature, similar to one that I found online HERE. Additionally actions, rituals, and tasks that the submissive is expected to perform, either day to day or when the situation calls for it, depending on the couple or the expected dynamic, may be noted in the contract. Some kinks on here are on the highly offensive side, if not ethically questionable. However, here’s a reminder that someone else’s kink may not line up with your own, and that is okay. Also, that link is only one of several variations that you can find on Google.

Limits are generally classed between “soft” and “hard” limits. Soft limits are those limits that a person is hesitant about trying, but is willing to explore, while hard limits are something that will not by any means be even considered. A personal example: I used to be very wary of violet wands, since electricity play is something that can very easily go wrong.  But, after finding out that a very close friend worked with violet wands and was very good at what they did, I gave it a go.  Now I LOVE them, but I will only allow that one friend to use a violet wand on me. An example of a hard limit for me is needle play or play piercings. While absolutely beautiful when done right, I have an extreme fear of needles and will not even consider allowing a needle anywhere near my body. These limits must be respected by either party — especially those hard limits — because, if they are not respected, either person has every right to end things right then and there without a backward glance. Negotiations can take a few days, if not longer, depending on the limits both parties have.

The term “safeword” is one that is commonly seen in a lot of books, proper BDSM websites, and various other texts. It does not necessarily have to be a word spoken aloud or be a ridiculous, out-there phrase that needs to be written down in order to be recalled. The simplest safeword structure would be the “stoplight system:” green for “I’m okay,” yellow for “I’m uncomfortable/need to take a break,” and red for “STOP NOW.” Granted, if a submissive has a gag in their mouth, it would be hard for them to vocalize their status. Common physical signals can be a dropped napkin, splaying fingers in which the “degree of spread equals degree of distress” (Jay Wiseman – SM 101), or, something that I tend to do, if possible, is stomping on the ground. Generally, one stomp is an “oh wow that hurt but I liked it,” two is generally an “OW, let me process that,” and three is an “okay that’s enough”. Dominants may also safeword out, for the sake of themselves and their submissives.  If a submissive is so deep in their headspace and asks for something they will regret later, a Dominant has a right to safeword. They also have a right to “tap out” if they get overwhelmed and need a break or need to stop completely. Failure to adhere to the safewords is serious misconduct, and one of the few times someone else should interrupt a scene. It easily justifies never sceneing or playing with that person again, and/or ending the relationship.

One term that I have yet to define is “sceneing,” also known as “playing.” A scene for me is generally playtime while at a public event, be it at a fetish party or at a private event with several people besides the playing couple present. I think of a scene at a party or event as something out of a play. You can sit back and watch the scene play out, but don’t touch. It is highly taboo to interfere in a scene when you have not been given permission beforehand to participate. In an article on Submissive Guide, the author explains how interrupting a scene, even if one is trying to “help,” is not only an insult, but is disorienting for those involved. Barring imminent equipment failure, blocking exits, or creating a scene that falls outside of established house/dungeon rules, the only time that you should interrupt a scene is if you observe the submissive signal or safeword and the Dominant either does not see or refuses to acknowledge it. If one sees it, the best place to go at personal events is to the “dungeon master,” party host, or the closest staff/security member (if at a public party). These people are better equipped and more experienced to deal with those who are breaking rules or are confrontational. For either participant, an interruption can throw them out of their own headspace and kill the mood of the scene. Some people can choose to continue with the scene after an interruption but it generally is not as fulfilling as it would have been without the interruption.

After scenes, aftercare is vital for all parties involved. A cold water bottle for everyone so that they can rehydrate and cool off is a good way to start, as well as a blanket or a jacket draped over the submissive’s shoulders as the endorphins fade. Snuggles and massages are nice as well, especially massaging the hands and wrists of the Dom if there had been a strenuous scene with tools like floggers or a whip that requires a lot of wrist action. This aftercare helps not only bring each person into the present and out of that fuzzy happy place, but also strengthens the bond between each other. Aftercare will also prevent a “drop” (this link is for the submissive side but is relevant for Dominants as well) from becoming too severe later down the line. A drop is something that can happen immediately or even days or weeks after a scene. The general drop feelings would come along the lines of depression, feeling like one partied too hard, or being moody for a few days while the hormones and endorphins come back to a normal balance.

Within all of this — everything that I’ve discussed about what goes on within a BDSM dynamic or scene, both public and private — is trust and communication. Even if it’s between a newbie submissive and an experienced Dominant, or an expert submissive and a new Dominant, feedback and trust that those who are more experienced know exactly what they’re doing and that the information being communicated is correct are necessary. This trust should not be placed blindly, though: taking your time, doing research, and asking around for feedback from others active in the community is a great start. Finding your local munch (a google search of “-your city- munch” should do the trick) is also a great way to find out what’s going on and to meet kinksters and others within the BDSM community. Communication does not stop with the signals during the scene. Just like any relationship, open, honest feedback and communication will make the relationship and the dynamic so much more fulfilling.

I run my own resource Tumblr Blog that will have a more involved FAQ and resource page, and I am more than happy to answer any questions. Most of this article is referenced from Jay Wiseman’s SM101 which I linked above but will include again here. A second book that I would recommend is “Screw the Thorns, Send Me the Roses” by Philip Miller.  A website community that I can accurately recommend is Fetlife, which is a worldwide online social community for everyone in the lifestyle no matter their level of experience. Submissive Guide is a wonderful resource and blog that one can get daily emails from on various subjects. I linked one specific post in this article, but I highly recommend going through the website and the posts and reading the information you are looking for. Dominant Guide is the companion website, and gives articles and blog posts from the Dominant perspective.

This article and the resources that I have listed and linked within it just barely scratch the surface of the intricacies and the reality of the world of BDSM, and what the lifestyle is like. Dynamics can vary from person to person, and kinks can range from mild to more extreme, parties, events, and playtime. These are just the bare bones basics. The specific details of the BDSM world are so much more than one badly-written novel series and a more-than-likely equally bad movie adaptation. This book reinforces the assumption that BDSM submissives are vapid doormats that take everything their so-called Dominants dish out, even when they don’t want to do it, and then keep coming back for more in the name of “love.” Ignoring limits, contracts, safewords, and not explaining how things are done, then forcing someone to do those things when they might not have consented to them otherwise is abuse — more specifically, rape. That is NOT what BDSM is about at all. Whether or not Fifty Shades piqued your interest in the lifestyle, it’s important that you do your research, explore your local community, and learn from those who know what they are doing.

Alethea Noir
Alethea Noir is an avid fiction and poetry writer, as well as a self-proclaimed gamer. A native Floridian, she has been an active member of the BDSM lifestyle for close to 6 years, as well as dabbling in the arts of dance with focuses in ballroom and belly dance for most of her life. She also runs her own BDSM resource blog on Tumblr titled “Truth In Darkness.” With a gentle soul and curious mind, she seeks to create a more peaceful and beautiful world around her through any medium she can. She currently resides in South Florida with her family and budding cat army.
Alethea Noir

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