Just the Tips: Mr. Grey is not Mr. Perfect

Bestselling book and upcoming film, 50 Shades of Grey, fantasizes abusive sexual relationships

“No really, let’s.”

As a majority of you may know, 50 Shades of Grey is an “erotic” novel that was released in 2011. I put this in quotations because I’ve read fan-fiction more sexually appealing than the series…funny, considering the novel was originally a Twilight fan-fiction. It is now a trilogy, with a movie set to release this Valentine’s Day.

50 Shades of Grey follows the relationship between Anastasia Steele, a senior in college, and Christian Grey, a 27-year-old entrepreneur. The two enter into a contracted sexual agreement that is supposed to be devoid of romance. The book has received a lot of slack since its release, ranging from general criticism of its horrid writing (The Daily Telegraph, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post), to outrage over its explicit sexual scenarios. More troubling however, is the book’s portrayal of BDSM relationships and practices.

Before we delve into this, it is important to understand on a surface level what BDSM is. BDSM stands for “Bondage and Discipline/Dominance and Submission/Sadism and Masochism”. The first thing that comes to most people’s minds is probably something involving lots of leather, chains, whips, maybe even a dungeon setting.

While these things are certainly a part of BDSM, the term actually covers a range of sexual kinks. This range can go from gentle nibbling or fuzzy handcuffs all the way to intense role-play and higher risk sadomasochism. Most important to understand about BDSM is that it is a community that highly values consent, comfort and communication between partners. Considering this, for Anastasia to consider getting through her first “BDSM” encounter as “surviving” it is in itself a critical example of why the book does not portray actual BDSM.

Consent is always necessary, no matter what type of sexual interaction you are taking part in and BDSM practices are no exception to this rule. During a scene, Christian gives Anastasia copious amounts of alcohol while staying sober and then has sex with her. He tells her that he got her drunk because she “over thinks” and is not “honest” when she’s sober.

Later in the same chapter, Christian is angry with Anastasia and she tells him, “You scare me when you’re angry.” So, in just one chapter, we’ve got a lack of consent due to him getting her drunk, as well as a blaring signal for an abusive relationship considering one person is afraid of their partner because they are angry.

There is also an event in the series where Anastasia uses the safe word, an agreed upon word that the submissive says if they feel that their physical and emotional boundaries are being approached, thus stopping whatever action is happening, yet Christian ignores her. When a safe word is used, consent is being retracted; Christian not adhering to that rule makes him a rapist. Rape does not happen in a true BDSM relationship.

There is a lot of misconception surrounding dom/sub sexual relationships, 50 Shades further fuels these problematic ideas and frames dominants as inherently abusive. First off, in the contract Christian wants Anastasia to sign, it states that she will not talk to/seek help from anyone regarding what they do. Isolation is a sure sign of an abusive relationship. At various points in the series,

Anastasia is clearly afraid of Christian and hides things from him so she does not anger him. He’s easily prone to jealousy and even tracks her cell phone at one point. To this, Anastasia’s internal dialogue thinks, “stalker,” but this is brushed away without a second thought. If these few examples don’t scream, “abusive relationship” I must have the wrong idea of what a controlling, manipulative, physically and emotionally abusive person is.

If you’d like to read more about this, Amy Bonomi published a study in 2013 that compared the interactions of Anastasia and Christian to the CDC’s standards for emotional and sexual abuse, as well as intimate partner violence. Spoiler alert: the results found that almost every one of their interactions was abusive.

This is not a dom/sub relationship; this is a textbook case of abuse. Proper dom/sub relationships in fact put the submissive in control. The dominant’s job is to please the submissive because that’s how the dom gets their pleasure. The sub always has the power to stop whatever is going on.

“50 Shades” also gives Christian the back-story of being abused as a child, making the connection that because he was abused he enjoys BDSM…extremely problematic, no?

I would love to say I appreciate “50 Shades” for bringing the idea of kinks and non-vanilla sex to a wider audience, but simply cannot get past the abusive tendencies of Mr. Grey. The thought that so many people possibly consider this abuse to be proper BDSM is extremely concerning.