I’m a kinkster, the ‘s’ in a D/s relationship, and an avid reader. I’ve read the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. Begrudgingly, because even though I heard it was poorly written (which it is), I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
There are a few things about how BDSM and Christian and Ana’s ‘D/s’ relationship are portrayed in the books which really bother me. Whether you’re fairly new to BDSM or have been inspired by the books to try something kinky, there are some issues to keep in mind – mainly that BDSM is very much consent based. Christian repeatedly acts without Ana’s consent, and manipulates and coerces her into doing new things, knowing that she is inexperienced.
One common misconception about Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationships, and one I feel is perpetrated in the books, is that the Dominant takes power away from the submissive. In healthy D/s relationships, the power is given, not taken. That power should be balanced, and reciprocal. It’s a power exchange based on trust. Many times, Ana pulls away from Christian and questions what she’s getting into because she doesn’t trust he’ll know when to stop (“I didn’t know how far you’d go.”).
That lack of trust is a warning sign. Their relationship progresses very quickly, and the kind of trust Christian expects from Ana often takes months to develop, not days or weeks. Trust should be given to those who deserve it, and Christian doesn’t, nor has he done anything to earn it.
Other than being able to take care of Ana financially, Christian offers little in return. He explains to her that he’s a Dominant, and that he wants her to willingly surrender herself to him, in all things, to please him; there are rules, for her benefit and his pleasure, that if she follows she will be rewarded, and punished if she doesn’t. And what does she get out of this, she asks? His one-word response: “Me.” Oh, and an Audi. How about some patience, support, or encouragement?
While I recognize that not every D/s relationship is the same, here’s a summary of what I feel are some of the more problematic issues in the books (quoted text is in italics).
Submissives have a right, and an obligation, to be risk-aware.
You can’t give consent if you don’t know what you’re consenting to.
Christian gives Ana the contract and tells her to read it and do some research so she knows what’s involved. When she tells him she’d like to talk to her friend Kate about sex, he tells her that the sooner he has her submission the better, so that she’ll stop defying him. Taking the time to educate and inform yourself about something new is not being defiant, it’s being smart. Don’t rush into something without knowing what you’re getting into.
No one should be made to feel bad for being inexperienced.
When they discuss limits for play, he asks if there’s anything she’d like to add, and she says she doesn’t know because she’s a virgin. This admission makes him angry, and he then tells her he’s going to ‘rectify the situation’, so that she has an idea of what she’s getting into: “We can start your training tonight – with the basics.”
She hasn’t consented to anything yet, but he seems to think he has the right to do what he wants to her, and assumes she wants to be trained by him. Maybe this isn’t the way she wants to lose her virginity! He basically just tells her that this is the way it’s going to happen, without asking her what she wants.
No one should be coerced or threatened into doing something they don’t want to do or aren’t ready to do.
When they meet to discuss the contract Ana says she has to leave because she needs some distance and time to think, and Christian then threatens her with, “I could make you stay”. Oh? So you’re going to forcibly confine her? What a great idea!
Ana has issues with punishment, so later, when they are compromising on their arrangement, she asks for clarification:
“And if I break one of the rules?”
“Then I’ll punish you.”
“But won’t you need my permission?”
“Yes, I will.”
“And if I say no?”
“If you say no, you’ll say no. I’ll have to find a way to persuade you.” Nope. No means no, yes means yes.
After waking from a nightmare, he talks her into having sex with him, even though she explicitly says ‘no’ and ‘stop’:
“Christian . . . Stop. I can’t do this,” I whisper urgently against his mouth, my hands pushing on his upper arms… “No, please. I can’t do this, not now. I need some time, please.”
You can’t force someone to submit, they should do so willingly. And enthusiastic consent is so much hotter than coercion. Christian is really good at emotional manipulation and crossing the lines. Not the qualities I would look for in a Dominant.
Dominants have an obligation to keep their submissive safe.
There’s one specific incident that stands out: Christian shows up at Ana’s apartment; they haven’t negotiated yet, nor has she expressed consent to anything, but he ties her to the bed, pulls her shirt over her eyes, and he leaves the room. However briefly it is, this is a big no-no. Do not leave someone alone while they are in any kind of restraint.
Submissives have the right to call red and should feel comfortable in doing so.
After some time has passed after a spanking session, he asks her why she didn’t call red:
“I don’t know. I was overwhelmed. I was trying to be what you wanted me to be, trying to deal with the pain, and it went out of my mind. You know . . . I forgot,” I whisper ashamed, and I shrug apologetically.
“You forgot!” he gasps with horror, grabbing the sides of the table and glaring at me. “How can I trust you?” he says, his voice low. “Ever?”
Later on, when she does call red, he’s shocked and hurt:
“Red,” I whimper. “Red. Red.” The tears course down my face.
He stills. “No!” He gasps, stunned. “Jesus Christ, no.”
Make up your mind, Christian! Do you, or do you not want Ana to call red? And if she does, deal with it. Find out why and use that as an opportunity to learn more about each other and both of your needs.
Punishment should not be given while angry.
I can’t help but feel I’m being punished. I’m helpless and he’s ruthless… I don’t know how far he’s going to take this…I can’t do this. I know he’s not going to stop. He’s going to continue to torture me… This is not love. It’s revenge.
And another time: “I want to punish you,” he whispers. “Really beat the shit out of you,”
How about having a little chat? Have a conversation about what happened, how you feel about it, and what to do to possibly prevent it from happening again, rather than threatening to beat the shit out of someone. Use your words, and then agree on a punishment.
Do not negotiate when you are drinking.
“Would you like another drink? It’s making you brave, and I need to know how you feel about pain.” Nope. Not a good way to communicate. You can’t consent to something if you’re under the influence of a mind-altering substance.
Getting someone intentionally intoxicated in order to get them to do something you want to do isn’t cool. Don’t do it. The kink community in Ontario is very safety and consent based, and most events do not serve alcohol for a reason.
Other red flags about Christian:
1. He’s contradictory: “Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you.” And yet, he gives her expensive gifts, and aggressively pursues her.
He tells her that he’s not going to touch her until he has her written consent to do so, and yet he does, later, in the elevator:
“Oh, fuck the paperwork,” he growls. He lunges at me, pushing me against the wall of the elevator. Before I know it, he’s got both of my hands in one of his in a vice-like grip above my head, and he’s pinning me to the wall using his hips. His other hand grabs my ponytail and yanks down, bringing my face up, and his lips are on mine.
2. He’s inappropriately and unnecessarily nosy: After the photo shoot for his interview and on their way to coffee, he takes her hand in the elevator (she’s there in a professional capacity!) and he asks if Jose is her boyfriend, asks about her co-worker at the store, asks her if she always wears jeans… how is any of that his business?
3. He’s controlling and possessive: he buys her a BlackBerry for her to use to communicate with him, sells her old car, wants her to move in with him after knowing him only five weeks, buys her a new wardrobe, has access to her work email, he buys the company she works for and sees that she is promoted after saying he wouldn’t interfere with her career… the list goes on and on.
4. He lacks respect for personal boundaries and privacy: he knows where she works and lives, her bank account number, he tracks her cell phone, he knows what flight she’s on when she goes to visit her mother in Georgia, and he shows up in Georgia after she told him she didn’t want him to go. He also obtains copies of her birth certificate, her social security number, resume, and employment records.
None of these personality traits or behaviours are things I find appealing or attractive in a potential partner of any kind.
As for how the trilogy ends, the title itself, Freed, creates all sorts of connotations. Freed from what? Is Ana free from Christian’s controlling, manipulative stalking? No! She marries him! So, is Christian free from the hold his past put on him? Yes! He no longer feels the need to hurt women!
When looking at the red marks left from the handcuffs on her ankles:
“I didn’t expect to feel like I do looking at these marks,” he says.
“How do you feel?”
“Uncomfortable,” he murmurs.
Huzzah! He’s cured from the BDSM disease! All those years of therapy for nothing, all he needed was the love of an inexperienced, naive woman.
“It means I don’t need it. Not now.”
“How do you know? How can you be so sure?”
“I just know. The thought of hurting you . . . in any real way . . . it’s abhorrent to me.”
BDSM is not a form a therapy, nor should it be a replacement for those who may be in need of professional help. It can be therapeutic, yes, but what I find troubling is the message the author is sending about how Christian is ‘cured.’ It is very possible to have a healthy, balanced life involving BDSM.
Also, there is a romanticized portrayal of abuse, and the happy ending is an unrealistic outcome of their relationship. One need not abandon their fantasies or needs in order to be happy (most people would probably be more unhappy if they gave up their kinks!), and those needs certainly shouldn’t be met by abusing someone.
Not all Dominants have anger management issues, or are as possessive, controlling and nosy as Christian. Using the unresolved issues with his past (despite receiving professional therapy) to explain or justify his behaviour creates a judgemental assumption as to why people may enjoy BDSM. Someone’s choice to live the lifestyle or participate in BDSM is not an indication of unresolved mental health issues; will readers of these books assume that past trauma is an inherent basis for those who do?
The lack of research and preparation on BDSM the author put into the books is obvious, and by her own admission, she found most of her information on the Internet:
“The Internet! Sometimes I phoned various experts (that I found through the internet), or asked questions on Twitter. And sometimes I devised my own experiments…” (By the way, devising your own experiments is not a good way to learn – take a workshop, there are plenty to choose from in Ontario alone!)
Had the author spent time with happy D/s couples, she would see how when a submissive gives their full trust to their Dominant, it is from a place of mutual desire and fully informed consent, not from fear or coercion, and that D/s relationships can be very healthy, positive and fulfilling for both the Dominant and submissive.