50 Shades of Desire?

Before enrolling in Sex and Society, I had always wanted to read 50 Shades of Grey but was too embarrassed to buy the book or be seen reading it. I thought the book came with a particular stigma, one that alluded someone being overtly sexually active and I was afraid that I would be labeled in that way (this seems to be the opinions of others as well). However, I found that I enjoyed this book for a couple of reasons. First, it took me back to the days of reading the Twilight series. Both books were light-hearted, fun, and entertaining, but they both created this different idea of love. Something that was forbidden and desired all at the same time. Bella and Anastasia (the main characters of both books) had lovers that were not your “typical” boyfriends. One was a vampire and the other was obsessed with BDSM. But, why is this so desirable for women to have? OR why is this so desirable to read? Without 50 Shades of Grey, I would not have known about the BDSM culture the way that I do now, or been able to explore how it comes into play with other factors in the media.


In this clip, we see Bella and Edward’s awkward first interaction together from the Twilight movie. This reminded me of Anastasia and Christian’s first encounter from 50 Shades of Grey because she was so awestruck over his looks and his success that she had a hard time being her self around him. Christian had this effect on her that made her unable to think clearly and fell into his wants and needs without hesitation. This set the tone for the remainder of the novel because it made the dominator/submissive role seem understandable based on Ana’s reactions. Both men in the books have a different type of personality and both women realize this early on in their relationships. The women do not full understand what they are getting themselves into, until they have fallen in love with the men and can’t imagine leaving them.

Secondly, I enjoyed reading this book because it opened a door to something I never knew much about, nor heard about. The BDSM culture is something very different and unknown to me because it is not portrayed in different media aspects, for the most part. It is not typically depicted in your romantic comedies, songs, or media that otherwise portray sex, love, and hooking up. So, reading about it really made me wonder who participates in it and how common it was.

In the article “All About Sex” that we reviewed in class, the author gives an overall explanation about the BDSM culture and defies the myths that are involved in this culture. For example, many people associate BDSM with chains, whips, and bizarre toys. Though it does encourage these toys, it is more centered around trust and being able to be fully intimate with your partner. BDSM can be broken down into a few different words and phrases. The D/S in BDSM represents domination and submission by the partners (We see this throughout 50 Shades of Grey because of how much it turns Christian on). The BD stands for bondage and discipline and this can be found through different forms of restraint.  BDSM creates a different type of relationship for a pair because it requires preparation in advance, a lot of communication of what each partner will and won’t do (hard and soft limits), and this ultimately creates a special, erotic bond. Without fully committing yourself to this lifestyle and truly understanding what entails a BDSM relationship, the relationship could fall apart.

There is over five million people that participate in BDSM sex according to Michael Castleman, so it seems as if more and more people are being encouraged to try it. 50 Shades of Grey has really brought it into the light, by truly describing what the culture is really like in a romanticized book. It is not a perverse act, it is just another outlook to view sex, and takes “vanilla sex” to a whole new level. The book really portrayed BDSM as something to try because Anastasia was a virgin and had to trust Christian that he would not really hurt her. It was a way that both Ana and Christian could bring their level of arousal to a new level. Because of Anastasia being the character that she is, BDSM became easily relatable in the sense that if Ana could do it, anyone could participate in these acts.

Not only is 50 Shades of Grey discussing BDSM, but in the song “S & M” by Rihanna, she talks about BDSM and how much she likes the “feeling” of it. She sings about chains, whips, and how “pain is her pleasure.” In her music video, she also uses various toys and even plays the role of dominator and the male partner as the submissive. With the combination of songs and books, BDSM becomes more socially acceptable and becomes more normal when it becomes more famous in the media. Without more exposure to this culture, people will have a biased view about BDSM and how unacceptable it is. In reality, it is so much more than sex.