I'm about to admit something that I'm not entirely sure is smart to admit: I like erotica.
Strike that. I love erotica. So much so that I have read smut of novel length and new chapters are sent straight to my inbox. So much so that I have written erotica, posted it online, and had it read by other people. My tastes include smut of the BDSM variety, but I have no desire to be the next E.L. James.
E.L. James, if you didn't know, is the author of the 50 Shades trilogy. Assuming you haven't been living under a rock the past few years, you should know that the 50 Shades books have been a surprise smash hit and put a brand new face on romance novels. Was I surprised by how well the series has done? Not really. Only people who think men doing house chores qualifies as porn should have been shocked.
Official Trailer for '50 Shades of Grey' Movie, Focus Features/Universal Studios
Online purveyors of smut have noticed that erotica is largely read and written by women. The reason for this could be chalked up to a lot of things. Not the least of which is the male-centric nature of traditional porn and the way our culture likes to shame women for liking sex. E.L. James' success let the cat out of the bag. Women like sex. Strike that. Women love sex, and that includes kinky sex.
I adore E.L. James for getting the word out. It's time for women to feel comfortable talking about sex and the categories of pleasure they enjoy. It's past the time of women feeling guilty for enjoying porn. 50 Shades got women talking to their friends and partners, it helped a lot of women experiment in the bedroom and know that they are not alone in their desires. I love that.
Still, I have a bit of a bone to pick. 50 Shades is not just about kinky sex. It is not at all about a BDSM relationship. It is a series of books about a woman in an abusive relationship with a man who likes rough sex. That's not quite the same thing.
The BDSM community at large has a code they live by: Safe, Sane, and Consensual. The trilogy written by James breaks this code from the start. Anastasia Steele, a virgin, is given an ultimatum by Christian Grey, who is basically a stranger to her: sign a legally binding contract or hit the road. I don't think anyone can seriously argue that such an agreement is safe or sane given the circumstances. Grey manipulates Anastasia and uses alcohol to nudge her boundaries. When he's upset with her, he refuses to comfort her which is a huge no-no in the BDSM community. Most importantly, Christian ignores Anastasia's use of her safe word. A safe word is sacred, it is a withdraw of consent. Christian continuing on makes him a rapist.
Image: mo01229 via Flickr
Anastasia fears for her safety and hides things from Christian to avoid his anger and jealousy. She exhibits several of the symptoms of Intimate Partner Violence, a.k.a. Domestic Abuse, listed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. I am far from the first to call out 50 Shades for its romanticisation of abuse, but most of those doing so are shaming those that have read and enjoyed the series. I don't wish to do so.
There are a lot of reasons that humans fetishize power and violence. Unfortunately, the media only seems interested in stories where kink comes from a negative background and usually correlates BDSM with deviant behavior and poor mental health. In fact, a recent study says that those that practice BDSM tend to be healthier than 'vanilla' people. The problem is not that women and men have consumed 50 Shades with a passion. The problem is that for as many people that are talking about the abuse found in the books, far more people are not.
It's okay for people to be turned on by Christian and Anastasia's story. It's okay for it to be a huge hit. It's not okay that we don't recognize abuse when it is right in front of us.
Read more from M.M.J. Gregory on Wary Wonderlust