Books like Fifty Shades of Grey with themes of bondage and submission have been around for a long time. I’d read The Story of O, found Anne Rice under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaures and her Beauty Trilogy and watched movies like 9 1/2 Weeks and Secretary almost twenty years ago. At those times what excited me was the feeling of being out of control or coerced beyond my proper good-girl upbringing. Similar to how in the rescue-me heroine novels the female protagonist’s love is pulled from her, I hadn’t owned my sexuality and couldn’t enjoy my body and its urges unless compelled by someone taking it from me.
In the permissive, modern-day hookup, no-strings-attached, friends-with-benefits culture, the sex part of a relationship seems casual and easy although America’s puritanical underbelly of sexual conservatism still infiltrates our minds through fearful antiquated religious dogma. These usually unconscious beliefs cause us to be repressed, inhibited and uptight while outwardly professing to be okay with what we’re doing behind closed doors.
On the opposite side of the pendulum, we’re exposed to overtly permissive sexual exhibitionism everywhere we look with messaging that anything and everything goes. These two realities of today’s world alone would be enough to confuse us, but throw in Hollywood’s version of how to find love—initial tension, even dislike, being the alluring match that forces two people into a combustible fire storm of heated passion that then lasts forever—and our misguided sense of what love really is has been conflagrated into obsession, compulsion, craving, and animalistic sexuality.
The majority of us live with a dichotomous tension within that our sex and love lives are insufficient. They’re not always sizzling white-hot, and they’re not always happily ever after. They just don’t measure up. WE just don’t measure up. Our minds are chaotic cauldrons filled with sexual expectations, sexual reality, and sexual doubt mixed with conflicting heart and body messages about passion, love, and relationships.
Lack of education about what love and sexual intimacy really is combined with our inherent natural drive for physical pleasure and release guarantees further internal conflict. The focus on sex then becomes a way to anesthetize our brain and shut the confused, chastising internal voice off. The focus on sex becomes a drug—a distraction, an escape—like any other drug. Drugs turn off our guilty shameful minds and curb inhibitions. They dull our senses and slow reactions. They take us into hidden areas of our minds our ego deems unacceptable, our shadow. Drugs blind us to what’s really happening even beyond the numbing affect of the immediate high.
While exciting and steamy in the short-term, if the relationship is based solely on sexual stimulation, especially through bondage and submission, the encounters will be hollow and empty in the long term. It’s too late to have a safe word or say stop, when, after the fact in the clear light of day, there are feelings of unrequited love. It’s been my experience and many of the women I’ve worked with, that there are intense feelings of disconnection afterwards. Due to biology, physical mechanics of the sex act itself, and the release of the hormone oxytocin during sex, women are more susceptible to associating the pleasurable feelings of arousal and release as love and to want more than mere physical stimulation. Orgasms feel good no matter how they’re initiated, but orgasms based on pain and denial without love are prone to cause emotional hurt.
To counter the discomfort and disappointed feelings and to increase the “high” and get the brain’s dopamine spike of euphoria again, women as well as men use other drugs like pot, meth, cocaine, ecstasy, anything that will bring about the pleasurable feeing of release while simultaneously quieting the punitive internal voice. Unfortunately, while the body is turned on, the brain is turned off.
To engage safely in dominance and submission, there needs to be one hundred percent safety at all times, but because BDSM total body release can have the same effects as a drug on the psyche and people often use drugs to enhance sensations, it’s harder for the mind to discern what is safe. Once a girl or woman is caught up in the pleasure of the drug, her intuition, her internal knowing, is harder to hear or is altogether silenced, and her reasonable reactions thwarted. She’s more susceptible to abusers and predators.
I was saddened but not surprised when I heard about the case in Chicago, where a nineteen-year student leader tortured a woman using 50 Shades enactment as an excuse for his horrific behavior. If he was more educated about respect, love and sexuality, he wouldn’t have perpetuated violence against this woman or at the very least he wouldn’t have seemed so stunned when he was arrested. If she’d been more educated about how to respect her body, value her sexuality, and find real love, she may have recognized in her gut that something was off and not gotten into the situation. She’s lucky. She escaped.
Standing on it’s own, without any strong voice claiming otherwise, Fifty Shades is another confusing, harmful message about love and sexuality. The majority of people want love, not sexual dominance or submission. I heard a reviewer say that it’s obvious at the end of the movie that the female character realizes it’s not love, but for young impressionable minds as well as mature adult minds, ignorance about sexuality and love is pervasive and many might have missed that message. While tension increases passion, fiery sex doesn’t equal love. Love is patient, gentle, trusting, soothing and fosters happy healthy sexuality free of pain.
I own 50 Shades of Grey, someone gave it to me years ago, but I confess that I haven’t read it. Perhaps now that the movie is out, I will, however, basically, been there, done that. I relate my own sexual exploration in my memoir, From Sex appeal to Self Appeal. Fortunately, I’ve come through the period of wanting painful love and today embrace lasting intimate love with healthy sexuality resulting in happy orgasms, not painful ones.