50 Shades of Grey explores BDSM culture by introducing the somewhat naïve and inexperienced protagonist, Anastasia Steele, to Christian Grey, an avid member of BDSM culture. By introducing Ana to Christian, E.L. James introduced millions of readers as well to BDSM. Yet the view of BDSM culture that James presents in 50 Shades of Grey is rather narrow. Inexperienced Anastasia Steele enters in to a BDSM relationship without much understanding of what it will entail, and once she does, she realizes that she enjoys it far much more than she ever imagined, or thought was socially acceptable. As part of their dominant/submissive relationship, Anastasia and Christian draw up a contract that lists the rules and limits of their relationship. They discuss the contract many times so that Anastasia knows what to expect out of their relationship and what is going to happen. Yet when Ana experiences pleasure through pain, she is upset with herself and afraid because it is not what she considers to be normal. The argument that E.L. James presents about BDSM culture is very skewed. Based on the novel, BDSM culture is something enjoyable yet stigmatized when there is not a thorough understanding of what it involves, and even when there is. Anastasia probably has a better idea than most of the general public about what occurs in a BDSM relationship, yet when Christian spanks her and she enjoys it, she still feels like she is doing something wrong.
The issue with the novel is that although Christian explains the contract to Anastasia, they never go over all that BDSM culture consists of, or what BDSM even stands for, but the reader is left to believe that Ana learned a significant amount off of the internet, thanks to the laptop Christian bought her. The novel never touches on the different aspects and variations of BDSM culture. James never gives her readers a thorough understanding of what BDSM culture is, except for what she portrays in the novel. As a result, the majority of her readers may have gotten the wrong idea. They may see BDSM as simply a practice and not as a culture, and as a result, completely ignore all that it entails. Some may even come to the conclusion that only individuals who were abused as children find pleasure in BDSM, or that in order to gain pleasure from it, something must be wrong with an individual. In a way, the novel presents BDSM culture in a somewhat negative light. By having Christian Grey essentially accepting BDSM culture because of what he experienced as a child, it presents BDSM culture as something that lacks love and can only occur when there is the absence of love in the relationship.
In Michael Castleman’s “A Loving Introduction to BDSM,” he gives his reader a much more thorough understanding of what BDSM culture contains and how it is actually something that can bring individuals closer together because of the trust and discussion that goes into creating a BDSM relationship. Individuals can successfully enter into a BDSM relationship when they completely trust their partner. It is not something that is done easily. Castleman points out that it is normal for individuals to be aroused by pain, especially when it is from someone you are in a relationship with. The discussion that is involved before engaging in BDSM drives couples closer together. Knowing that there is complete trust and understanding can strengthen a relationship and allow both individuals to enjoy the experience completely.
In the television show, Supernatural, one of the main characters, Castiel, is an angel who lacks knowledge of humans and their behavior. He would be equivalent to a young, inexperienced individual, yet one who rarely passes judgment. In one of the episodes, he happens to across porn on television and begins to watch it. In it, the man is slapping the woman’s behind. To him, it is completely out of the ordinary and he does not understand it. To someone that lacks much knowledge about humans in general, sex is something loving and intimate that occurs between two individuals. Castiel and his short introduction to one aspect of BDSM culture relate to how many individuals see it. Without full knowledge of what it entails, or why it is occurring, many individuals question BDSM culture because they do not understand it. They allow their lack of knowledge to influence how they perceive it. When people do not understand something or have not experienced something, they often see it as being not normal. Anything that is not normal is seen as a threat to what is normal. As Castiel sees it, inducing pain onto someone that you love, is not normal. To him, it is not the proper expression of your love and pain is only inflicted when an individual has done something wrong to deserve it. Without experiencing BDSM culture firsthand or researching it, many individuals may develop ideas about it that are completely incorrect or unsubstantiated.
Due to the lack of BDSM culture portrayed in the media, the few bits and pieces individuals do see will significantly influence their view of it. Individuals often take what they see on television or in movies for fact without doing much research beyond that. How can BDSM culture become more accepted in society? Or because it is not “normal” to individuals will it be nearly impossible for most people to accept it?