Sunday, May 6, 2012

'50 Shades of Grey' & BDSM

***Spoiler alert. I will be discussing plot points and details of the book in this post. If you do not want to read them, please read other posts in my blog :)***

So, I just finished E.L. James' 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' the book that has taken women of most ages by storm and is commonly being referred to as 'mommy porn.' Why is this? Because at first glance, it may appear to be a typical romance novel with the targeted audience being middle-aged stay-at-home-mothers in need of a fantasy, but a closer look shows that this is a book filled with chains and floggers and explicit sexual scenes. And when I say explicit...I mean explicit.

The book is told through the voice of 21 year old Anastasia Steele, who follows her fate to interview 27 year old (I think this was his age?) CEO of his own company, Christian Grey, when her roommate becomes too sick to do it herself. She is immediately taken aback by his dashingly good looks, and is entranced by him. In the interview, she is extremely nervous and answers all his questions with, 'yes, sir' and, 'no sir.' After the interview, Grey shows up at her work, hours away from his home. The two keep encountering each other, until he invites her to his home. This man is mysterious--he's very strong willed and though introverted about his life, very to the point. Ana makes it quite obvious that she's interested in him, and he into her. But he says he has a secret that will make her want to run for the hills.

The first time you really see into his personality and how this will all go is in a couple sentences when Ana arrives at his building in Seattle.
"“Does this mean you’re going to make love to me tonight, Christian?” Holy shit. Did I just say that? His mouth drops open slightly, but he recovers quickly.
“No, Anastasia it doesn’t. Firstly, I don’t make love. I fuck… hard. Secondly, there’s a lot more paperwork to do, and thirdly, you don’t yet know what you’re in for. You could still run for the hills. Come, I want to show you my playroom.”

Christian is into BDSM. If you aren't familiar with BDSM, it's about bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. Christian is a dom, and he wants Ana to be his sub. What this means is that he has almost total control over the things she does. If she disobeys his orders, he gets to punish her. Punishments include spanking, flogging, chaining, blindfolding, etc. He doesn't do this to hurt her per say, because he does want to hurt her, but not in a painful kind of way. The threshold between pain and pleasure is very thin, as he explains to her at one point. He shows her a contract of sorts, listing all the things that will be expected of each of them, should she agree to be his sub. Grey is not new to this. He has had 15 subs before Ana, whereas Ana has never had a boyfriend. She has never had sex, and has certainly never seen anything like this.

If I had known as a small child this was BDSM, I would have liked it.
She is a fairly natural sub. Even though the whole book follows her constant inside battle about whether or not she should 'submit' to this man, she is very good at following his orders. Most of the book, the two refer to each other by formalities, 'Mr. Grey' and 'Ms. Steele.' Grey has a 'Red Room of Pain' as Ana calls it. His room is a BDSMer's dream. It is a room filled with whips and floggers, ceiling suspensions, a giant bed with chains on each post, and more. Grey does not like to be touched. He likes to do the touching. He commands Ana to do things for him, and she replies with 'Yes, sir.' She allows him to spank her, flog her, tie her up and blindfold her. They both have hard limits (things they absolutely will not do), such as suspension (for Ana) and anything involving blood, animals, children, urination or defecation (Christian).

The book is all about Ana trying to come to terms with the fact that she's fallen hard for this sexy man--but he's not normal. He wants to hurt her, and she doesn't understand why he gets off on the things he does. The two have an extremely strong physical attraction, but as the book goes on, their overall relationship becomes stronger.

Now, I'm going to talk about my opinion of the book. Just a reminder--this is my opinion. Please don't let that discourage you from reading the book and forming your own idea of the what this book means to you.

Note: Christian Grey does not sparkle.
Christian is insanely controlling and jealous. This is normal in a dom, but his personality--so intent on Ana's life and what she does--seemed familiar. The way he would show up places suddenly, or seem to have no real connections with anyone but Ana, reminded me of someone--Edward, from Twilight. Shortly after beginning the book, I found out this book was originally a fanfiction of Twilight. This makes a lot of sense, seeing how the two characters act. However, there are big differences. Though the two have this "electrical" attraction that they can't seem to stay away from, much like Bella and Edward, they also have independent lives of their own. Ana misses him when they are apart, but she doesn't loose the ability to function. She questions him and herself. She doesn't know how to feel about being a submissive. She's young and naive, Grey is wise and cultured. The point is, they have their own personalities, whereas I feel Edward and Bella just kind of became enveloped in each other and ceased to be their own person. Also, Christian Grey doesn't sparkle (at least in the literal sense).

But now I want to talk about the biggest theme in this book--BDSM and control. First I want to say that I find nothing wrong with kinks, and I think that BDSM is one that doesn't get a lot of attention. That's a great thing about this book. Sex in our culture, for whatever reason, is still so taboo. Everything around us is doused in sex appeal, but we still shy away from the whole of it. And when we see it in the movies and on tv, it's all vanilla (plain ol' regular penis-in-vagina intercourse). And the fact is that so many people are into other forms of it. This book becoming as popular as it is is a huge 'in' for the kink crowd. People are seeing that this exists, and that the people who are into it are not freaks, they are just like everyone else, they just get off on this kind of stuff.

The chains and whips and spanking and flogging and suspending--none of it is meant to physically harm the other person. This is hard to explain, because the intention is to hurt, but not in the way you might think. This is something that Ana doesn't seem to understand. The punishment is attractive--seeing the person getting hit or become red or bruised--it's sexy to them. And it's all safe. There are 'safe words' involved in these kinds of play, meaning that you can say the safe word during a scene and it will stop. As Christian explains to her, it may seem like he (the dom) is in control, but the control is really all hers (the sub). If she says no to anything, or she says the safe word, he will not continue. He wants to hurt her only to the extent that she can handle it.

One problem I have is the control of it. I think dom/sub relationships are perfectly acceptable IF both partners are aware that it is happening and are okay with it. Christian treats Ana as his sub before she knew anything, and I think that is wrong. In a way, it's like assault. She's playing his own sexual game without giving her consent. And it's difficult too, because in public, Christian just seems like a controlling asshole towards her. Ana's best friend, Katherine, thinks that Christian is bad for Ana, but really, it's just his dominance.

This book is also difficult because of the dom/sub relationship being a typical man/woman one. The feminist side of me had a hard time accepting Christian's treatment towards her. But, BDSM is not always that way. There are subs who are men. And personally, the way Ana has been taking all this, I could see her being a switch, meaning that she could be a dom or a sub. When you get past all of that and realize that it's just a game for pleasure, it won't matter as much. Again, if both parties are okay with it, then it's fine.

And BDSM is not as far out there as some people might think. The topic of control is not as awful as it may seem, either. Someone telling you what to do is easy. You know what the other person is into, what they want. Things like chaining or blindfolding are suppressing one (or more) of your senses. When one or more of your senses gets taken away, your other senses become more defined. If you can't see or hear, your sense of touch or smell or taste becomes stronger. The whole 'game' of it is meant to be pleasureful. And like Christian says, pain and pleasure are actually very closely related. Though it might sting for a moment, the pain is mostly in your head, what you're expecting to feel. If you allow yourself to think of it in a sexual way, the pleasure becomes stronger.

Now, I'd like to talk about some silly details in the book that I had a problem with. The first is something that could so easily be fixed--editing. There are so many words & phrases constantly repeated. All I heard was my high school english teacher yelling, "WORD CHOICE!" A thesaurus could have helped with this. I understand that 1. it's supposed to be Ana's thoughts, and our thoughts are fairly repetitive and circular sometimes, and 2. it's very difficult coming up with different words when writing a sex scene (I've found this out myself), but I still think it could have been better. And the way the two correspond with each other is strange. They use words not typically used in conversation, that if you read it out loud and imagine yourself saying to another person, it just sounds strange.

The second is Ana and Christian's sex. The first time they have sex, she doesn't really get into the pain factor much. I know there are women out there who do not experience pain, but Ana makes a comment about their being blood on his sheets after her first time I feel like if she was bleeding, there was a decent amount of pain. Anyone's first time is going to be nerve-wracking, but she was so in lust with this guy that it was like she didn't want anything but him inside her. It just seemed a little silly and unrealistic.

The third is how naive Ana is about sex. In our society, I feel like she was too in the dark. She claims to never have been attracted to anyone besides Christian, which very well may be so, but I do not believe she had no drive at all until she met this guy and it suddenly, out of nowhere, became insatiable. She had never had sex, kissed much, had an orgasm, or even masturbated. And this is a college graduate. It just seems kind of weird.

The last thing I have a problem with is upon their completion of sex--they both come at the same time. Ana, who has never had sex or an orgasm before, has at least one every time she is with Christian, and every time, he finishes at the exact same time as her. Not to mention this guy can have sex anytime, anywhere and as often as he wants. He never seems to have a recovery period. I know this is supposed to be a sexy book, but even so, the whole 'she-orgasms-every-time-and-he-finishes-with-her' thing is just too out there for me, especially since only some 20% of women have ever even had an orgasm during sex.

And here's a pic of Paul Rudd being a Sex God.
But on that note, Christian is basically a sex God. He knows what he's doing, how to manipulate her mind and her body to succumb to complete and utter pleasure for herself and himself. And in that it makes a captivating read. It's refreshing to read a story littered with sex that is different than what you're used to seeing and hearing all the time. Sex can be fun and a main staple in our day-to-day lives, and what we're into doesn't mean it's wrong or strange or that we're alone in enjoying it. These are things to take away from this book. It might also be good to have a partner waiting in the other room while you are reading, or a substitute for a partner, as this book gets pretty damn steamy.

I recommend this book. Like I said, it's very graphic. If you are not used to communicating about sex or seeing/reading/hearing sexual things, it might be a little much for you. She gets into nitty-gritty detail. But as an overall story, it's compelling and sexy. Read it!

No words need to be said.
One last thing. Universal Pictures has won the rights to make the movie. I really have no idea how they will make an interesting movie out of this book, unless they intend to give it a NC-17 rating. The internet is booming with ideas and suggestions for who should play the main characters. My vote is for Alexander Skarsgard as Christian (Come on, his character Eric on True Blood is basically the same personality, and he does it wonderfully) and me as Ana. Come on, I could make myself look pretty, I'm brunette, and I could easily act like a nervous, naive, innocent sub. So, if anyone has any connections to Universal...;)