50 Shades of Grey : A love story?

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?

what’s sex got to do with… LOVE

“Sex is not love. Jealousy is not love. Pressure is not love. Possessiveness is not love. Control is not love…

Love is gentle. Love is kind. Love is brave. Love cannot be beat or be beaten. Love is unbeatable.”

This past September a new exhibit opened at the art gallery right here at Vanderbilt University. I AM UNBEATABLE is a new mission to raise awareness, educate and prevent domestic violence against women and children through real stories of real people. One story that this exhibit primarily focuses on is the story of a thirteen year old girl who got pregnant and was forced to drop out of school and raise the baby by her abusive partner. For years following the birth of her first child and even the birth of a second child, she was abused physically, mentally and emotionally by the father of her children. Now 29 years old, the mother of two boys and finally free of her abusive ex, Sarah Augusta’s story is photographed through a series of pictures displayed in this exhibit. Sarah is portrayed as no longer a victim, but a fighter.

As I was reading and examining the various photographs and captions throughout the display, the words which appear at the top of this page (which were presented as an explanation to one of the pictures in the exhibit “I Am Unbeatable”) really resonated with me and got me thinking. What does sex truly have to do with love? Many times in abusive relationships this idea that sex is love, and doing what your abuser desires, is “love”. However, love often times has nothing to do with any of this. There is no distinct description that constitutes what love really is, but if one this is for certain it is that pressure, possessiveness, control and jealousy do not have to do with it. The photograph that accompanies these words portrayed a young girl, Emma, who was the neighbor of Sarah and her two sons. At only 13, the age of Sarah when she got pregnant, Emma strongly believes that parents should start talking to their children from a young age about how to recognize abuse. This is something I completely agree with. It’s never too early to talk and inform people everywhere of the realities of abuse in this world.

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In fact, one in five girls are found to be victims of abuse. Alongside of this, it is said that one in twenty boys are victims to abuse as well. Self report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a sexual abuse incident during childhood. These terrible statistics show the realities of abuse, but sometimes numbers do not always do the trick. Seeing the exhibit, “I Am Unbeatable”, today allowed me to visualize a real family that underwent the atrocity of abuse. How one person be so strong and overcome such adversity? Sarah Augusta and her family are inspiration for us all…and they show us that real love is truly gentle, kind, brave and most importantly UNBEATABLE.