Sex Therapists on “Fifty Shades” and BDSM

Sex Therapists on “Fifty Shades” and BDSM February 14, 2017

With the new “Fifty Shades of Grey” sequel movie set to release around Valentine’s Day, it’s important to ask: what does this representation of kink get right or wrong?

Photo in public domain (from Pixabay).
Pixabay

My stance, as a scholar and sex educator, is always that I don’t care how kinky something is as long as it’s consensual. But the “Fifty Shades” franchise, both movies and books, has famously muddled messages about consent. And yes, I read all the books. I guess I could see where some people like them, but I think there’s better-written erotica out there.

In terms of whether the depictions of kink in the movie are accurate or not, this CNN article actually does a great job of surveying some of the experts in adjacent fields to mine. The consensus is that while the fictional kink scenes aren’t terribly realistic, they overall do a good job of de-stigmatizing a heavily misunderstood subculture.

For instance, I took a fantastic workshop on BDM and other alternative sexual modes with sex therapist Margie Nichols, and so I was gratified to see her quoted in the CNN article saying that “Fifty Shades”

brought BDSM out into the light of day and gave it incredible visibility. Readers got turned on by kink, so now they know what that’s like. It’s hard to demonize something after you’ve been turned on by it. It creates an automatic kinship.

My other favorite quote comes from sex therapist Russell Stambaugh (who I’ve been meaning to read:

‘Fifty Shades’ is to kink what ‘Star Wars’ is to space travel, a kind of romantic heroine’s journey with about as much realism relative to sexual science as the Death Star has to NASA…It is not representative of BDSM, but was never written to be, either.

Ultimately, I believe that media that encourage us to have open discussions about sexuality can initiate more sex-positive dialogue, and hopefully help make it a better world. The “Fifty Shades” franchise has plenty of problems, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to engage with it, but ideally it’s moving us in a direction where more conversations about consent and acceptance can happen.

(which, if anyone’s wondering how I’m celebrating Valentine’s Day, I’m teaching about gender and sexuality in fairy tales and getting some of these conversations started among my students… and I know it’s corny, but imparting knowledge is the best gift of all in my mind!)

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