As a romance author, I'm constantly bumping up against a rather awkward subject. An elephant in the room, if you will. What am I talking about? 50 Shades of Grey.
Yes, it has been a number of years since its release. Yes, it's absolutely relevant to the conversation on sexuality. And I'll tell you why.
Over the course of writing my erotic crime thriller, many members of my audience have asked what I think of the famous kinky novel. Once and for all, I'm going on record and stating my perspective.
1. I haven't read the books. I haven't watched the movies.
2. I respect the author and applaud her as a trailblazer in erotic fiction.
3. The book made kink mainstream and increased interest in BDSM, which at its core is a positive development.
The issues start when readers take a fictional book and use it as a how-to guide.
I am certain E.L. James did not intend for 50 Shades to serve as a paint-by-numbers manual for beginners to BDSM. I echo the same sentiment in my own work. In the spirit of don't-try-this-at-home, allow me to emphasize this point: If an erotic novel piqued your interest in the BDSM lifestyle, do your research first.
Ensure you understand the proper etiquette and protocol. Make sure all actions are safe, sane and consensual. The same goes for your environment -- don't place yourself and/or your partner in an area which is unsafe. Finally, talk to your partner before and after the scene. What did they enjoy? What do they want more of? Less of? Physically, are they okay? Do they need food, water, a sweet drink? Gentleness and reassurance? Time alone to process the come-down?
If you're curious -- no, I'm not in the lifestyle. But I've learned these nuggets from my own research and it's imperative you do the same if you're entering into this world.
I digress. Here's the real crux of the issue.
The 50 Shades Effect caused an influx of women desiring submission in the bedroom. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Aside from those who truly understand the BDSM lifestyle, I've intuitively felt so much stigma directed at the opposite end of the spectrum -- men who wish to play the submissive role behind closed doors -- particularly following the popularity of E.L. James' novel. And it shouldn't be this way.
Before we delve into this further, it's interesting to note a quick search on Instagram alone displays the following public results:
#submissivewoman - 197,212 posts
#submissiveman - 1,101 posts
Does this displease me on a deeply personal level? Of course. I would love to see more #submissiveman images. That's not the point.
Yes, it's only one search. Yes, it's only Instagram. But it's part of a much larger problem, and these surface level social media statistics are only the meniscus on a glass full of judgement and stigma towards male sexuality. (I'm a feminist, by the way, in case you were wondering. But feminism equals equality. And so here we are.)
At this point in my writing career, my Google search history is already teetering on criminal, so what's one more search on "stats on submissive men"? In doing so I found a 2013 Slate study of adults engaged in regular BDSM play. The research found that 61 per cent of men in one sample were exclusively or mainly dominant, and 26 percent were exclusively or mainly submissive (the remaining 13 per cent, I assume, are switchers)
Are these statistics purely due to preference? What about the stigma outside of the lifestyle?
Spending the early part of my adult life in England, I remember "scandals" breaking out in the media when a public figure would be found in a dominatrix's dungeon in a seedy part of London. "Pervert!" the headlines would say. "Disgusting," was a put-down accompanying shaking heads and disapproving glances as the elected official in question left their London townhome with a tailored jacket slung over their head to hide their shame as they made their way to the office.
Now, I'm not about to defend the sex lives of politicians, or indeed any of their life choices. But I can't help but think why it's acceptable for women to be dominated and consensually humiliated in the bedroom, but not men?
Does it not make sense that an incredibly powerful man with tremendous responsibilities in his day-to-day reality would, in fact, wish to surrender this power to a partner when the bedroom door closes? Would it not take a strong man to entrust this to his partner? Be it his long-term mate, or a professional he enlists privately to live out his fantasy? Pray, tell me, what's wrong with this?
I don't have all the answers. All I know is that if we are to be truly equal, we need to open our hearts and our minds to the needs of men who are afraid to express their deepest desire to their partner for fear of judgement.
Gentlemen -- I see you and I accept you.
Ladies -- stay open to the possibility that acting out your Christian Grey fantasy may, in fact, be the furthest thing from his mind.
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