An array of very different sexual practices exist in the world across cultures and societies, BDSM being one of the most notorious and stigmatized practices. This stigma and social disapproval for BDSM is based on a lack of knowledge of the practices and principles, but also on the portrayals of BDSM relationships in the media through TV, movies, and novels. The acronym, BDSM, stands for Bondage, Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism, and Masochism. When people hear these terms, they are most likely shocked and create preconceived ideas and stereotypical images of what these relationships looks like. They make incorrect assumptions about what goes into this structured relationship, disregarding consent and ethics. Groups such as the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom have made strides to increase the general understanding of BDSM practices and to decriminalize BDSM relationships when they are consensual. Although there are clear negative connotations on BDSM in society today, it is curious that the novel, 50 Shades of Grey, featuring a BDSM relationship, was on the top of the New York Times best seller list for weeks.

The novel, 50 Shades of Grey, tells the story of a soon-to-be college grad Ana, and a controlling, mysterious, arrogant, powerful young CEO named Christian Grey. From the moment the two meet, there is clearly some sort of attraction present, able to be seen through Ana’s nervousness and Christian’s brashness. The relationship begins as a professional one, but over short amount of time, advances to something more from flirtations. Christian, who clearly has some sort of unresolved problems and carries a certain darkness with him, knows he is not good for Ana; however, despite his weariness of falling for her, he pursues her, and she falls for him more and more each time they are together. The relationship begins advancing and things become more serious, yet Christian refuses to touch her without “written consent.” Later on in the novel, we find out that Christian’s sexual practices are not that of the norm; he wants to be the dominant and wants ana as his submissive in a BDSM relationship. There is a contract in place with hard guidelines. She must obey him, and if she does not, she will be punished. However, there are hard limits, and she may use safe words stop or slow down any action. This is all very new to Ana, who is actually a virgin, so he encourages her to take her time to consider and research the practices. Reluctantly and after mixed feelings, she agrees, but on her own terms.

Although their relationship may seem unconventional, it works for them. They both understand the implications and limits of the practices, which is very important in relationships such as these. There are clear terms of consent in place, which contrary to popular or stereotypical belief, is a key part of BDSM practices. Legally and ethically, the question of consent has importance that goes further than just between the sexual partners, but also matters in legal terms to assure all parties are agreeing with the actions that are taking place. The practice of being a dominant and having a submissive can be gray area, so terms are essential to the establishment of  relationship like this. Although there are limits, guideline, and rules in place when contracts are made and consent is discussed, there are still risks present that could cause potential issues. Nevertheless, these relationships work and only work with terms of consent.

There are an array of practices included in BDSM, which is a power exchange relationship;  They include a dominant and submissive, bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism. Oftentimes, there are very specific rules in place meant to be followed. Also, many items are used including ropes, cuffs, ties, restraints, blindfolds, and chains. In 50 Shades of Grey, a wooden cross, shackles, riding crops, and floggers were also featured. To many people, the usage of these items in sexual practices seems unusual, or very unconventional. There are many stigmas placed on these practices by those who are uninformed about the mechanics of BDSM relations. Despite the stigma, people are still intrigued by BDSM, and this is why 50 Shades of Grey is as popular as it is. Some people, whether they are willing to admit it or not, are bored with their sex lives and fantasize about these types of things, but do not feel it is socially acceptable to engage in; they can almost experience a relationship like this through Christian and Ana in the novel. People are tyoically lured by exoctic things, and BDSM is definitely one of these.

Towards the end of her four year relationship with her boyfriend before going separate ways prior to college, one of my best friend’s engaged in some BDSM type of activity. At parties, I noticed her boyfriend getting fairly aggressive towards her yet she was completely okay with it, and I was really confused, so I confronted her. Turns out, after four years of a standard sex life, they decided to spice things up by implementing some bondage and discipline practices into their sex life.When I asked her about it, she told me they were taking “baby steps” and experimenting with a couple BDSM type of practices. They were bored with the sex they were having and wanted to try something new. She told me there was biting, hitting, slapping, and choking involved; they would get rather aggressive and mean towards each other during sex, yelling and calling each other awful things. Yet right after, they would go right back to normal and say “I love you” to each other, and everything was good. Her boyfriend got the idea of starting these  practices after watching porn, which I found very interesting. When other friends of ours found out, they judged them and talked about them.

Do you think the stigma on BDSM stems from a lack of knowledge, the fear of no consent, or otherwise?



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