50 Shades: A Warning for the Curious

Before you jump, keep these things in mind.

photo: wikipedia

I’m probably the last person you’d expect to talk about bondage, whips, chains, or any kind of violence in the bedroom. I’m a two time sexual assault survivor. But, when all the hard work that’s been done to educate folks about consent is threatened, action is needed. My attacks happened a decade ago. Before the cult like phenomenon “50 Shades of Grey” hit the scene as a virtual guidebook for men as to how to get around the whole “consent” issue. So, it’s time to talk about victims, and consent. This book brings up some MAJOR red flags and blurred lines where that is concerned. But, not for the reasons you may think. I need to be clear on this: 50 Shades is not dangerous because bondage is “bad” or a dom/sub relationship is “bad”, but because the way it was portrayed in the book, is not accurate. How do I know? Because for the past year, I’ve become friends with doms, sadists, masochists, dommes, subs, and more importantly…really great people, in order to figure out how to properly protect all the men and women new to the scene.

I’ll admit, I heard the buzz about “50 Shades of Grey” and couldn’t resist. Yes, I read it. The first book. Horribly written, but…that’s another post in itself. Was it exciting? Sure. Did something feel weird in my gut? Yes. Because to me, Christian Grey seemed like a predator, not a lover. He kept doing things against his partners will. After a year of education, I found out my gut was right. It all started as I logged on to a website where the topic was kink. Lots of kink. Kink of all kinds. I don’t consider myself to be naive at all, but…even my eyes were widening, that’s for sure.

So, there I was. Sitting on this website. Who do I ask about the consent issue? Well, that was pretty easy, honestly. There were articles everywhere about the inaccuracies of 50 Shades. Posts of…concern. Angry posts about the book. Which, I found strange at first. Why would a bunch of folks who love the stuff talked about in 50 Shades, hate it? One word:

Danger.

From the Dom Perspective

Yes, danger was the word that kept coming up. And it was coming from men. Dominate men. With profile photos of whips, chains, choking. They were the ones saying things like,

This book puts women new to the scene in danger.”

“How do we protect women who don’t know what they’re doing, if they come here looking for a dom?”

“I think the purpose of the author was to destroy our safe BDSM community. Subs that don’t know what they are doing, are dangerous to doms.”

“You guys know the predators will be out in full force when this movie hits theaters, right? Goddammit. I hate this. That means they’ll take advantage of these women, and all of us will get a bad reputation.”

“Christian Grey is a rapist and should be locked up. That character is not a dom, he’s a coward that took advantage of a virgin. Shame on him.”

In addition to talking about the danger to women, they talked about the danger to themselves. They pointed out that the way Christian Grey acted without consent was against the law. They were worried that women would expect them to go against rules, or expect them to rush into a D/S relationship without getting to know them (since Christian barely knew the main character). Big no-no’s in the community.

A Realization

I stopped to take it all in. I guess, I don’t know a nicer way to say it…I was surprised that some of these men that I assumed wanted to “hurt” women, whip them, beat them, torture them…were so tenderhearted, progressive, and concerned. And, I realized something with shame: as much as I preach acceptance of all people, lifestyles, and sexualities…I had done zero research about the BDSM lifestyle and had instead assumed it was full of screwed up predators. I honestly couldn’t be more wrong.

So, the research began. (no scenes for this gal, just a lot of conversations)

My naive questions were met with enthusiasm, kindness, intelligence, and compassion. It was nothing like most communities are when you’re a newbie. Whether it’s gaming, sports, decorating, etc…usually new posters of any community are met with eye rolls and hateful veterans on different sites. Nope, not there. They were honestly just happy to have an open, honest discussion.

From the Sub Perspective

I also spoke with a few women who identified as submissive. (To be clear, genders can interchange here. A female dominant is called a “domme” and men can be submissive, as well.) Some were masochistic (enjoy pain), others were in what some would call “vanilla” sub relationships, meaning the man is dominant in bed, but does not inflict pain, and roles outside of the bedroom are equal. I asked a lot of them “why” they enjoy what they do. The answers were varied, but none spoke of the act as something they feared, in fact it was all a tender exchange. Things like,

“I want to make my partner happy, and he loves to be in control in bed. It’s like he’s taking care of me. It’s a gift.”

“The pain actually feels good. Like all of my emotional frustrations can be let go in an instant, because I release, then heal.”

“I am in charge a lot at work. For me this is a mental vacation. I get to let go, and not worry about a damn thing for a few minutes.”

The mental vacation aspect was a theme I noticed. Many of the women, director level professionals. Many had zero past issues with abuse, attack, or rape of any kind. They simply liked giving up control of their lives from time to time, and their thoughts about the non-consent in 50 Shades?

“It’s a dangerous fucking book. Irresponsible, honestly. Yes, it sparks interest…but, interest without education can be dangerous.”

Interest without education can be dangerous.

I arranged a phone call with a man from Minnesota who arranges BDSM meetups and parties to find out more about the specific dangers. I explained my past to him, and my disdain for force, attack, and pain due to my history of assault. First, he asked me a bunch of questions. Why I wanted to know more, how I had found out about the lifestyle, and how he could help. I explained that I wanted to know as much about BDSM as possible, since I don’t participate in the scene…so, I needed his help. He enthusiastically agreed. Through our conversations, and my conversations with others…they offered these tips (many of which I think normal dating sites should adopt, lol!):

  1. Do not meet someone alone to get to know them. It must be in a public place.
  2. Do not play with anyone you haven’t known for an extended period time. Strangers are not an option for d/s.
  3. If you are considering becoming involved in BDSM or wish to do a “scene”, you need to first get to know the community, the players involved, and their reputations. Anyone who offers to take you up on participating without doing this, could be a predator.
  4. Safe words don’t always work. Yes, you should have a safe word. But, I learned that many women reach a place called “sub-space” which is euphoric when they are in a scene. It means they are almost hypnotized. When I asked women what it felt like, they used words like, “Heaven.” “Floaty.” “Out of control, but controlled.” “High as hell.” “Unable to speak.” He said that your dom/domme partner needs to know your hard limits before you play, in case you get to a place where you are unable to speak. Whoa.
  5. Communication is key. I was told by many, that a true dom will not force. They listen. They contemplate. They help. And then they will do things you’ve only agreed upon ahead of time. They do this, because experienced doms are very scared of being falsely accused of assault. Consent is important to them. Read this again: consent is important.
  6. If nobody in the local community has heard of the person you are interested in playing with, they very well could be a predator. I was told that predators, and rapists do frequent message boards looking for people new to the scene who do not know the checks/balances it takes to find a partner, and that they will pounce on new women and convince them to meet alone. Be careful. In fact, the man I spoke with on the phone said usually when he sees a newer woman on a message board, he will send her a personal message warning her about predators, and to contact him with questions. (much more helpful than most online communities I’ve seen)
  7. An experienced dom will not start a relationship with aggressive behavior. If the person talking to you is using deragatory or demanding language like, “Meet me now. Know your place! Shut up!” etc…they are trying to take advantage.
  8. Women (or if the dom is a domme, the sub would be a man) are allowed to set limits. If you are uncomfortable, tell them. You are allowed. Communication is the number one thing to keep in mind.
  9. As in all relationships, listen to your gut. Did you make a date to scene, but have a change of heart? Then don’t do it.
  10. Always tell someone else who you are playing with. Have a “safe call” person that knows where you are, and that you call at certain times before and after the scene to check in.
  11. You need to talk to your dom about aftercare, before you attempt to scene. Make sure they are aware that you will need it. Doms I talked to insisted that most subs don’t think about this or double check ahead of time, and it’s important. After care is the process of bringing someone out of “sub space” in a gentle way when a scene is over, because some subs describe it as a big emotional dip that ends up in temporary depression/emptiness. They also liken “sub drop” to being high, then coming off a euphoric drug. Feeling empty. If you aren’t held, or taken care of in the process they say it can be very traumatic.

I learned a lot during my conversations in the past year. Did I scene? Nope. Will I? Never say never, I suppose…but, that’s also my business. The bottom line is, that Christian Grey’s character is not a true representation of the BDSM community. Being forced into things that are outside of your hard limits is never acceptable. The BDSM lifestyle has structure, rules. And, if doms/dommes don’t adhere to them, they are flagged for danger or banned from websites/meetups. The other thing I learned, is that the community I stereotyped as “messed up” or hateful, was filled with some of the nicest, most respectful people I’ve interacted with. Did dickheads send me messages? Of course. But, I get worse come-ons on online dating sites, honestly. Also, I cannot stress enough that this post isn’t meant to be a “BDSM for Dummies” how to guide. If you are interested in the things mentioned, you really need to do more research than I did. Take it slow. It’s important. VERY important. Obviously, I couldn’t talk to *everyone* in the scene, so thoughts and opinions vary. ❤

A Bonus

Acceptance seemed to be the theme of the community. Not everyone had the same kinks, but…they didn’t make fun of, or harass someone for liking something different. Most of the time they encouraged others with phrases like, “Love who you are! We are proud of you! Be safe!” Men and women of varying body types, heights, and gender were everywhere…and, always being built up, never torn down. I befriended a few women who are overweight like myself, and whenver they would post a new photo, I’d wince and hope people were being nice. It was always so refreshing to see the comments, “You are beautiful.” “Love you, gorgeous!” “Elegant and sexy, hello friend!” It made me smile for them. If there ever was negative talk, then the moderators must either do a hell of a job policing, or…this community is just that, a community. Of really open people. What a life lesson, realizing that I was the judgmental jerk from the outside. But, it was quite the educational process…and now being able to relay what I learned, will hopefully help keep someone from making mistakes or getting hurt.

Play safe, folks.