Bestsellers give kinky sex bad rap

The bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by EL James has reportedly already sold up to 20-million copies worldwide. Having read the three novels in one sitting, I very much doubt it was the sex that did it.

I think it is boring and repetitive and it leads women to aspire to undesirable — and frankly unattainable — goals such as simultaneous orgasm. Most annoyingly, though, the story demonises BDSM — the term for the erotic style comprising bondage, domination and sadomasochism — and those who enjoy it.

The male protagonist, Christian Grey, is portrayed as a cold-hearted sexual predator with a dungeon —the word has been wisely swapped for “playroom” — full of scary sex toys. Worst of all is the implication that his erotic style has developed because he is psychologically “sick”.

In BDSM terms, Grey is a lightweight. He eschews many fairly standard interests, although he is an expert at the “mind fuck”. Even novices know that his use of cable ties is a bad idea. To avoid nerve damage and scarring, soft, thick rope is de rigueur.

Grey’s lack of competency in his chosen erotic arena is most apparent in the way he fails to assess his potential new submissive’s naivety. Experienced BDSM practitioners are acutely aware of the gulf between cognoscenti and others and would not dream of terrifying a novice with advanced techniques such as fire, electricity and gynaecological play.

Safe and consensual
Ten years ago, I carried out an extensive psychological study of people in the BDSM community — the largest empirical study ever done at the time — to determine whether there was any justification for the notion, commonly held even in my field, that they were all psychologically disturbed. After giving each of the 132 participants four hours of psychological tests as well as a face-to-face interview, I found that the group was generally not mentally unhealthy and the instances of early abuse that had long been associated with the adult practice of BDSM were present in but a few.

When I presented my findings in 2003 at the annual conference of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counsellors and Therapists,  the jury was still out on whether BDSM and psychopathology went hand in hand. But since then it has been firmly established — through the work of Peggy Kleinplatz, Charles Moser and others — that BDSM, played in a safe and consensual manner, is not proof of mental or physical illness, essential badness, or emotional damage from trauma or abusive parenting.

All the work that has been done to establish that BDSM is not a pathological symptom, but one of a wide range of normative human erotic interests, is in danger of being undermined by the success of Fifty Shades.

Let us hope we do not return to the days when people were discriminated against — losing children, property, jobs — for their interest in BDSM. Remember, Fifty Shades is just another bodice ripper. With cable ties. — © Guardian News & Media 2012

Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders

 

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