18th Sep 2012
Fact vs Fiction: Fifty Shades and Real Life Submission
Just four months ago if you asked most people what a sub was they’d have said a sandwich. But thanks to EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey suddenly people you don’t expect are having casual conversations about spanking, bondage and jiggle balls.
With friends after a few glasses of wine, at the water cooler at work and even at my mum’s slimming class, suddenly everyone’s got an opinion about something previously mostly only discussed in BDSM circles or in relation to a Rihanna video.
It’s all a bit surreal, not least because the latest big thing (this week Amazon UK announced the first book of the trilogy was its biggest selling book ever) is something that’s been important to me for most of my adult life. Suddenly, and trust me when I say that this is incredibly rare, I am oddly in fashion. Sort of.
I am a submissive. When you put it that way it sounds terribly big and significant, not least because if everything you know about BDSM comes from Fifty Shades of Grey, then you’re probably assuming I spend most of my life connected by a digital umbilical cord to my dominant, only a helicopter ride away from fulfilling his every sexual whim.
But being submissive is only one facet of the person I am – and not even the most important. I’m a girlfriend, daughter, sister, friend, journalist, Scrabble fiend, caffeine addict and dozens of other things besides. And, despite what you might have read to the contrary, my sexual urges don’t overshadow every other aspect of my personality and life.
Let’s start with the obvious. Fifty Shades of Grey is fiction. It is pure escapism as much about the opulent gifts and squillionaire lifestyle as it is about the kinky sex; a Mills and Boon with lots more spanking (yes, Mills and Boon does spanking nowadays too).
It’s good women are enjoying the book, it’s good it’s encouraging women to be open about their fantasies and experiment sexually with things they want to try, and it’s good, frankly, that people have something to enjoy and chat about in between the constant economic doom and gloom.
But has millions of women now knowing about safe words and submission actually improved how people perceive this kind of sex? Unfortunately not.
The problem is that the dynamic of the relationship between dominant Christian and submissive Ana, even allowing for the caveats of it being fictional and based on the Edward/Bella Twilight romance, is nothing like any relationship I’ve had with a dominant. And while I’m not doing surveys of every kinkster I meet, I’d argue it’s very different to most relationships based on this kind of power play.
The kind of high-handedness that Christian shows – from controlling what and when Ana eats to sticking his oar in about her friends and what she wears – is more a sign of a potentially abusive relationship that most women would and should run for the hills to avoid, whether he has a helipad and penthouse apartment or not.
By the time I got to the bit where Christian buys the company Ana works at so he can control her work life, I was very uncomfortable indeed. Suffice to say, nothing like this has ever happened to me. Bearing in mind my day job, this is probably just as well, as I can’t think of many billionaire newspaper moguls who I’d want to get stuck in a lift with, much less marry.
Despite his obvious oddness, Ana has no such qualms with Christian, despite his lengthy sex contract, luggage carousel of emotional baggage and the fact she’s not even orgasmed before she dallies with him for the first time (which has to be the sole reason why she’s able to come courtesy of him tweaking her nipples a bit – surely the surprise brought about the climax).
Again, this all makes me grumpy – not least because it cements two major preconceptions of people who enjoy BDSM – that somehow they’re broken or mentally ill (usually it breaks down as ‘abusive’ for the dominant and ‘stupid/doormattish’ for the submissive but either the way the implication is you’re a bit of a wrong ‘un), and that a submissive endures the pain/humiliation/whatever purely for their dominant. Neither are true – the slightly less interesting truth is most people who indulge in this kind of sex are exactly the same as everyone else.
As for me, you wouldn’t know I was submissive unless I told you (and funnily enough, it’s not the first thing I mention on meeting someone). As for whether I enjoy or endure the pain, the fact is, strange as it might sound if you’re not wired that way, I enjoy – in the right context and with the right person – being hurt or humiliated or both.
Can I explain how or why that turns me on? No, not really, no more than I could explain why I particularly find redheads or people who wear glasses attractive. But the fact is, I do.
I know partly I enjoy being on the back foot, I enjoy the challenge, the adrenaline rush and even catharsis of the pain. I know my interest started early – even before I knew what sex was I’d feel a frisson of interest when I saw someone on TV being held prisoner or tied up. Amusingly on discussion with my boyfriend he had similar feelings seeing Penelope Pitstop in Wacky Races when he was growing up.
I didn’t leap into my first sexual relationship with an Uberdom sort, and it took a while to figure it out and get the balance right – as in all relationships, great sex (even great D/S sex) is only part of what you hope for – I was also looking for someone compatible in all the other ways I deemed important. And no, a red room of pain and a penchant for buying first editions wasn’t on the list.
While communication is really important – for me it’s the cornerstone of all relationships – I must also admit that I’ve not used the epic contract of D/S-ishness which takes up such a big chunk of the first book either.
I have heard of people using similar things and I know lots of examples are downloadable on the internet, and I guess if you’re going to do lots of different things with the person you’re playing with in a short space of time it’s good to set all the boundaries, but for me I’ve found talking through limits works well enough.
That said, I barely read the small print on my car insurance without being nagged to do so at renewal time by my boyfriend, so it’s probably for the best I keep my sex life legalese free.
James’ Anastasia has made submission part of pop culture, but if I’m waiting for someone to portray something more like my experiences of BDSM, I’m going to have to wait a little longer.
While my boyfriend dominates me he does not control my life. In every other aspect of our relationship (and even in bed, sometimes the D/S goes by the wayside for affection, humour and more traditional sex), we’re partners and make decisions together – though he does bemoan my love of colourful cushions and clutter.
Of course I tell him tidying them away is a hard limit, but what’s reassuring is he knows I’m joking and ‘limits’ have nothing to do with it. It’s just that I like soft furnishings. Don’t judge me…
It has been described as ‘the real life Fifty Shades of Grey’, although Sophie would like to point out she doesn’t bite her lip and would get Silence of the Lambs flashbacks if a strange man offered to show her his red room of pain. Follow her on Twitter at @mssophiemorgan.