50 Shades of… Sex?


            Before reading the novel, 50 Shades of Grey by EL James, I had never even heard of BDSM—bondage, discipline, dominance, and submission, sadism, masochism. This concept was more than foreign to me, and to be honest, quite strange at first. I already had many preconceived ideas of what the book was going to be about before reading—a lot of sex and a guy with weird sexual needs (basically porn, as described by many of my friends). Then, after I read the book I did not even realize that BDSM was a real thing, until I got to class the next day (of course). Throughout the novel, Ana is conflicted by Christian’s sexual requests. She often feels uncomfortable with his demands, which is understandable. The book explores the concept of BDSM and portrays what a BDSM relationship may actually entail in real life, including the struggles and successes.

BDSM is an acronym for a bondage, discipline, dominant-submissive relationship. This is a relationship that includes a dominant partner and a submissive partner. The relationship involves the term bondage—so this can consist of any act that attempts to secure a person, whether it be with chains, ropes, or any other creative idea. The D in BDSM, which stands for discipline, applies to when one partner tells the other partner how to specifically behave. When one partner becomes sexually satisfied, by imposing actual and physical pain to their partner, it is considered to be sadism. Lastly, masochism is when one partner reaches sexual pleasure through receiving physical pain. In 50 Shades of Grey, Christian is the dominant and Ana is the submissive. Ana has to obey Christian, since he is the dominant, and he is allowed to punish her when she misbehaves. All of these terms are explored throughout the novel and the story explores the positive and negative sides to a BDSM relationship.


           When I began to read the book I noticed that Ana, the woman, is the submissive partner. Of course the woman is the submissive. Women are constantly thought of as the obedient, passive, and compliant partner in every heteronormative relationship. In a heteronormative relationship the man is, more often than not, thought of as stronger, has more influence, and more powerful (over the woman). So in the novel Christian is the dominant and has complete power of Ana, literally. She must obey everything on Christian’s set of specific rules, and when she disobeys them, she is punished. Now, obviously I understand that this is all relevant to the BDSM relationship Ana and Christian are participating in, but I also think that this book is contributing to the societal normality of the male to female dynamic. It plays off the stereotypical, yet also somewhat accurate, idea that women are the weaker and more insignificant gender. Most male partners have a hierarchy over their female partners—and 50 Shades of Grey reinforces this popular and widely accepted norm that women are unimportant and powerless in sexual relationships. Each time Ana wants something different than what Christian wants, he is taken back and upset by her feelings. He has a desire to maintain complete control and dominance over Ana—just like how there is a strong sense of male superiority in everyday life.

            The novel basically illustrates every male’s sexual fantasy—a woman, as a sexual object and not an actual person, obeying the man’s every wish. Historically, there has always been gender discrimination against women and even today; this continues to stand true, every so often. This romantic novel, which could also fall under the category of erotica, sexualizes women (Ana) into an object of sexual desire. Ana is the perfect, innocent virgin and Christian comes into her life and everything changes. She falls under the submissive identity due to her inexperience and gender role. Christian is able dominate her in every aspect of their relationship—just like he wants to. I think women read this book and probably have one of two reactions. They, either, love and are entertained by the romantic storyline filled with detailed sexual encounters. Or, they hate it and think it sexualizes women with its accurate display of how women are actually thought of in society—weak and less than men. The opinions on the novel could really go either way, but it most definitely explores a male’s fantasy more than a woman’s fantasy.

            BUT the aspect to BDSM relationships I do think is very positive is the fact that there is complete and total consent. Both partners have to agree upon the rules and actions within the relationship. The two partners are very open with on another and talk over the rules and guidelines. So although the woman may be submissive, most of the time, she is consenting to it and not being taken advantage of. In 50 Shades of Grey, Ana does agree to partake in her relationship with Christian, after thoroughly reading over his contract and discussing it completely, with him. She was not forced into doing anything she did not want to participate in. BDSM relationships retain a power exchange within the relationship—meaning the relationship is consensual and negotiated upon. I think the novel portrayed women in a bad way, making females seem helpless and entirely compliant to men. But in reality, I do think people enjoy BDSM relationships. Nothing is being forced upon a partner because there is complete honestly and full consent.


Works Cited


“To the Women of America: 4 Reasons to Hate 50 Shades of Grey – The Matt Walsh

Blog.” The Matt Walsh Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/07/25/women-america-4-reasons-hate-50-shades-grey/&gt;.

“Get My “TOP 100 BLOGS” Book For FREE. Subscribe Today:.” The Producers

Perspective. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <https://www.theproducersperspective.com/my_weblog/2012/09/50-shades-of-play.html/attachment/1155824&gt;.

“Why Are Women Reading 50 Shades of Grey?” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 15 Oct.

  1. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3Xylm_lm28&gt;.

“50 Shades of WTF.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o92hv7La9Sk&gt;.

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