STYLE

BDSM educators say 'Fifty Shades' isn't an accurate portrayal of kink community

02/12/2015 12:52 EST | Updated 04/14/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - While the "Fifty Shades of Grey" book trilogy and film have brought increased mainstream attention to alternative sexual practices, BDSM educators say the racy tale isn't the most accurate depiction of the kink community.

The erotic series that centres on a dominant-submissive relationship between a student and business magnate has achieved massive fandom. But it has also faced criticism for what some see as Christian Grey's controlling behaviour over Anastasia Steele.

Author E.L. James has defended "Fifty Shades" against charges of abuse.

"People who think that are sort of demonizing women who actually enjoy these kinds of relationships. What people get up to behind closed doors, providing it is safe, sane, consensual and legal, is completely up to them and it's not for you, I or anybody to judge," she told Katie Couric in a 2012 interview.

Elwood, a Toronto workshop instructor who only uses his first name professionally, said there are a higher number of people "coming out to the scene" who are curious about BDSM (bondage, dominance, submission, masochism) since "Fifty Shades" hit the shelves.

However, what angers the kink community about the story are instances where consent violation is broken, such as when alcohol is used to sway compliance.

"In kink land, negotiation and consent is king," Elwood said.

"People need to realize that this is something that both parties want to participate in, and there's a lot of negotiation before any of this starts. So, somebody wants to be spanked, they tell someone who wants to spank them, 'I'm into this,' and that's how it starts."

Trevor Jacques, co-founder of the Safer SM Education Project of the AIDS Committee of Toronto, said the titillation factor coupled with the slick marketing of "Fifty Shades" — like sophisticated images of a necktie on the cover — may have helped in part propel its popularity.

"It's rather like Hitchcock in the sense that everything is implied but nothing is shown," said Jacques, principal author of "On the Safe Edge: A Manual for SM Play."

"The quality of that photograph allowed people to leave it on the coffee table without anybody else realizing exactly what it was while at the same time it does allude to some of what's inside."

Still, Jacques feels that there are far more true pop-cultural depictions of BDSM than "Fifty Shades." He singled out the critically acclaimed 2002 film "Secretary" — which documents the complex submissive-dominant relationship between a secretary and lawyer — as a "marvellous love story."

While the series may be the source of much of the current chatter around BDSM, Jacques said it could be argued that there is a "'Fifty Shades' generation" that should be credited for broader views on sexuality.

"They're very much more open today than we were," he said. "The only possible reason for that has to be that we've succeeded in that gays and lesbians and trans and almost all the various flavours in between have been completely accepted."

Toronto-based Heather Elizabeth, a sexuality educator in the kink community, said that BDSM's mainstream emergence is generating public curiosity.

She said the biggest misconception is extremism and images of whips, chains and intense bondage, which is not the reality for most people.

"Kink is a spectrum just like anything else in the world," said Elizabeth, who is also a sexuality empowerment coach.

"There are some people who are quite light and sensual with it and really use it to heighten their bedroom play. Then there are some people who are not necessarily as much focused on sex and the physical side of BDSM but the power exchange and the creating of a stable dynamic.

"Everyone understands their role and their place in the relationship and it winds up becoming a very healthy place to move through the world."

— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.

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