Fifty Shades of Grey: The Paradox of Power

To read or watch Fifty Shades of Grey is not life changing. The books are more than dumbed down (from the one paragraph I read). The movie is barely titillating (or so I hear). But it is the concept that is completely fascinating.

What seems to be overlooked in this rather idyllic approach to BDSM is that the sex is completely consensual. There’s an expected agreement throughout this try-hard story of erotica. Ok, so maybe most guys out there think they can grab a virginal eighteen-year-old and gag the krap out of her in his play room. Or maybe girls think it’s fun to get their hands on a fluffy pair of handcuffs and romp about with whips and chains and tell their submissive man to lick the toilet bowl clean with their tongue. Or that every billionaire man can expect their student girlfriend to fall into the Me Man, You Woman role. Whether it’s empowering sadistic misogynists or promoting inequality, everyone has their own special perspective on what this apparently warped story represents. But the story doesn’t probe as deeply as it could.

BDSM is an erotic practice involving Dominance and Submission; sexual control exerted and a passive role in the receiving. The Dominant – dom for the male, domme for the female – has the power to dictate what they want, when and how they want. There’s a great deal of dominant word play involved. The Submissive, or sub, are physically receptive and controlled, surrendering control to their Dominant. But there must be a balance: whether it be a safe-word, or an intense mental connection between the players where The Dominant simply knows when to dominate and when not to. Images of gags, ties, chains and handcuffs are all part and parcel with BDSM land.

What Fifty Shades neglects to explore however, is the mental aspect of BDSM. BDSM is not just physical. It is far more about mental control than physical. And this is the first of many intriguing ironies. It’s one thing for The Dominant to grab the riding crop and smack the hell out of that Submissive exposed skin. It’s another for The Submissive being in a mental state of delicious anticipation as The Dominant decides who, when and where.

Delving even further: while The Dominant significantly exerts the physical and mental control, it is The Submissive who is ultimately in command. The Submissive holds just as much power in the relationship, because while the Dominant can do what they like, they must do so with The Sub’s permission. There is Dominance within Submission and Submission within Dominance. Cool paradox huh? It is the brain after all, that is the largest sexual organ in the body. This is what Fifty Shades neglects to explore.

But in a day and age where equality has been such a battle, why would women be fascinated with the concept of being controlled? It’s no wonder with today’s modern girl fulfilling the role of Wonder Woman. They’ve had to shed their princess crowns to be a full time career woman, working all day to come home to domestic bliss, managing households and children.

This is what feminism has bought us – that over expectation of strength in the eye of the stormy lifestyle. And women expect men to complement them. Of course, men can still be men, but there is an expectation that they are gentle; gently guiding, encouraging and accepting. Really though, there’s nothing more sexy than a man’s man. The alpha male who knows how to take control but is secure enough to not have to. The burdens of responsibility of every day lifestyle are too often overwhelming. That need once the bedroom doors are closed to give up all responsibilities and submit; to not have to tell and instruct; but more, to be understood. It’s not about giving up the power. It’s not necessarily about even being dominated.

Dominance and Submission, power and surrender, mean different things to different people. Being held in the way you need by someone stronger than you are in that moment; being told what to do in the safe confines of a consensual power exchange; having complete physical control over someone; is intoxicating. It might be politically incorrect, but it’s a genuine desire. Feminism has bought this gift to all men and women, where we can choose to speak and voice our ambitions and wants. And in BDSM, Submissives can claim this desire to submit as theirs – even if they are on their knees and loving it while internally raging on whether it’s right to do so. It is the mental submission and pleasure in succumbing. It starts with the mind as an intensely mental connection to end in purely physical pleasure. 

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