An assigned reading for this class that I found very entertaining was E.L. James 50 Shades of Grey. The book, in itself has received a large amount of attention nationwide, both positive and negative. The book, itself, was not praised for its sophisticated writing as its attention was paid due to its provocativeness and sexual content. I found the book to be poorly written and quite shallow but nonetheless I was entertained and it evoked a response from me personally. The book tells the story of a man and woman that engage in a BDSM relationship. As we discussed in class, this type of relationship involves practices involving dominance and submission. In the book, Anastasia is a woman with little to no sexual experience, being a virgin, and Christian Grey is a man that practices this type of sexual behavior already. Anastasia ends up engaging in this type of relationship with Christian Grey and their experiences are depicted throughout the book.
The scenes within the story that describe in great detail these BDSM practices received a lot of attention because of its provocative and controversial nature. A focus point from the story that was paid much attention is the “contract” that was presented to Anastasia by Christian that explained the terms of the relationship and gave her certain restrictions or behaviors she had to agree to participate in and confidentiality that accompanied all of it. The fact that she was a virgin before Christian also sparked controversy.
As discussed in class, we referenced certain interviews and reactions from critics that described the book as equivalent to pornography or even claimed the book told a story of rape. The arguments I found most interesting were those that were skeptical of BDSM and its nature of dominance and submission. The book has been critiqued and analyzed in terms of Anastasia’s lack of “consent” for these BDSM practices and question her actual and realistic desire for it. Since Anastasia was a virgin prior to Christian Grey, the argument of whether or not she knows that this is the type of sexual relationship she wants to be in or not because she is “inexperienced” and has not been exposed to anything else. The other argument that the contract provoked was one that questioned whether or not signing that contract is considered a form of consent if its content in its raw content indicates submission to the other person. The reactions to this book, I feel were more indicative of society’s view of BDSM than the actual story or book as a form a literature.
I feel that the book was beneficial in that it created controversy. It brought about a form of sexual practice that may seem “taboo” or one that is usually behind the scenes and got America “talking” about the topic and for me at least, provided insight on the feelings and drives behind it. I think a limitation that the book has is it’s unrealistic plotline in that the woman is swept off her feet by a man and how they defeat all possible odds and conflicts because of their infatuation with each other by the end of the trilogy.
A connection that I made with this book was the reading that was assigned titled A Loving Introduction to BDSM, that explained the nature of the practices and gave more insight on how and why it provides pleasure for both individuals in the relationship. The article touches on trust as a key element of the relationship and describes the behaviors as “completely consensual.” These practices are considered to be completely non-abusive and merely used to create more sexual excitement. The article connects to the book clearly by its expansion and explanation of where the practices derive from in terms of desire and sexual pleasure. It tells almost a “dummy” version of BDSM that give insight to the book and the behaviors in general. Another topic that I feel connects with this book is the discussions from class that focus on consent and sexual violence. After reading this book and the article, I have a more informed perspective on BDSM and its separation from abuse. As stated in the article, the submissive partner is not free from pain but has consented to the pain and even provided his or her own specifics about the type of pain inflicted upon him or her. Safe words are established and the focus is on pleasure and excitement that is intended to be consensual and desired by both partners in the relationship. I think sometimes there are misunderstandings or questions about BDSM and its “painful” nature and these articles, book, and discussion address some of these.
An example that I found relevant to this topic of BDSM and 50 Shades of Grey was a quote that I came across on the Internet.
This quote addresses the idea of pleasure and pain and how they interact within a person. Although this quote does not imply anything about BDSM it references the supposed basis of the sexual practices. The relationship between pleasure and pain is quite interconnected. I can relate this to the simple act of running. A personal experience of mine would be being instructed to run fitness tests at soccer practice. Running through and past the point of physical achiness and pain is not something that I would immediately describe as pleasurable however there is an aspect of it that I do find exhilarating. There is something about running through pain that I would deem as satisfying, whether during or afterwards. This quote highlights that idea that pleasure and pain often go hand in hand and can provide a basic insight on how and why BDSM exists in society.
Would you consider BDSM to be something that would be shameful?
Is consent valid if you are consenting to pain inflicted on by another person?
To what extent is 50 Shades of Grey a “love story” in your eyes?
What deems a relationship between two people as “sexually normal” or acceptable to society?