Fifty Shades of Grey. The difference between BDSM and abuse.

As a kink friendly sex therapist I’m frustrated with the book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Now that the movie has come out and everyone is talking about it, I wrote this column for Ciao magazine.

I understand the book has assisted many women to reawaken their sexual side and I’m glad that it’s bringing issues about female desire out into the open to talk about. I’m glad it addressed issues of female orgasm and desire and it’s good that  it’s brough kink into the mainstream for discussion but after reading it, here are my concerns. Fifty Shades camouflages/romanticises abusive relationships under the pretence of BDSM. As a psychotherapist I’m worried when I meet clients who have partners who use BDSM as a cloak for their abusive behaviour. Healthy consensual BDSM should not be abuse.

1.) Consent is sexy! Consent has to be clear-not assumed. Consent can be withdrawn or mediated at any time. If your choice to say no to is not respected or listened to, then it becomes violence. A submissive always has the right to say no to sex. Engaging in sexual activity you’re not comfortable with simply to keep your partner is not healthy BDSM.

2.) Intimate partner violence and abuse can be physical, mental, sexual and emotional. Abuse in a relationship goes through a cycle from honeymoon stage  to planning to set up to abuse to guilt to excuses and then straight back to the honeymoon again. This cycle is played out throughout the book. In the honeymoon stage an abuser is affectionate to their partner as an apology for what they’ve done. In Fifty Shades, Christian often compliments Anastasia after he’s forced her into a non-consensual sexual situation.

3.) You cannot rescue an abuser. I cannot emphasise this point enough. Repeat it outloud if you need to, “I cannot rescue an abuser.” 
Ana wants to save Christian. Despite the temptation of many of us to fall for someone damaged in the hope of changing them, it just is not possible. A broken person can only fix themselves when they’re ready and willing. Christian says he’s “fifty shades of fucked up,” admits he was sexually assaulted by an older woman when he was a minor and calls his mother “the crack whore.”  Christian oozes psychopathic and sexual sadist symptoms, has extreme mood swings and his anger terrifies Ana.  Rather than being attracted to the potential of a partner after we “save them,” let’s look at the present reality. How are they now? How do they treat me right now not how could they treat me in the future with some work.
4.) A healthy BDSM relationship is about consent, communication, negotiation and aftercare.
 BDSM goes through a cycle of communication through to agreement through to scene or play through to after care and then to debriefing. You don’t see this in Fifty Shades of Grey. Ana is an innocent, inexperienced virgin student and Christian is an experienced, narcissistic millionaire who threatens and stalks her to get his way.
 In a healthy, consensual BDSM relationship no submissive should feel terror at being beaten by their angry partner if they do the “wrong thing.” Walking on eggshells is a common feeling in an abusive relationship.  Unlike Ana, submissives don’t have to agree to sex they’re fearful of just to get information or gifts.
It is NOT healthy consent if you say yes because you are too scared of their reaction if you say no. It’s not healthy consent if you feel like if you say no you will have to plead, bargain and strongly present your case.

4.) Abuse is about control. Christian wants to control what Ana wears, eats, what Doctor administers what contraception he chooses for her, how many hours she sleeps a night, who she sees, and whether she drinks or takes drugs. Christian bugs her phone so he can track her down in his trademark all or nothing manipulative style. Christian buys Ana very expensive gifts that make her feel pressured and obligated to him.  These are hallmarks of an abusive relationship.
We aren’t taught about healthy relationships at school or growing up. We receive so many mixed messages from our parents, friends and the media about romance and relationships. We are often taught that if we pursued relentlessly then that’s romantic when often it can be the trademark of a highly possessive and narcisstic partner. Learning to know the difference is important to ensure you have healthy and fulfilling relationships.

I hope this gives insight about healthy relationships and consensual BDSM.

Please contact me today to transform your relationships or if you’d like to learn more about consensual BDSM and play in your relationship.

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