Fifty Shades versus BDSM: The reality of consent

They’re back, and ready to tie up some loose ends: Fifty Shades Darker, the highly anticipated sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey, opens in theatres next Friday, Feb. 10. Whether you loved, hated or ignored the first movie or the 150-million-copy book trilogy that preceded it, there’s no denying that the blockbuster started a larger conversation about BDSM in popular culture.

Just in case you somehow missed it, BDSM is an abbreviation: It stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission and sadism and masochism. In other words, it’s an umbrella term to describe a myriad of sexual kinks, including but not limited to bondage (rope, blindfolds or handcuffs), impact play (spanking, flogging or caning) and kinky role-play (think doctor/patient or teacher/student scenarios).

When Fifty Shades of Grey hit bookshelves in 2011, people got all hot and bothered. Kinky traffic on the adult website xHamster in Canada rose 28.56 per cent in the year after the first film came out, which, by the way, grossed $81.7-million (U.S.) in North America in its opening weekend. The storyline goes like this: Boyishly handsome millionaire Christian Grey woos recent college grad (and virgin) Anastasia Steele with spendy gifts before introducing her to the Red Room of Pain in his basement. The books arrived at a time when BDSM wasn’t part of the mainstream dialogue and it catapulted women’s hidden desires into mainstream conversation.

If Fifty Shades is your guilty pleasure, that’s fine. But if it’s inspiring you to explore BDSM, keep in mind that long-time practitioners – or players, as they call themselves – largely criticize author E.L. James’s depiction as woefully inaccurate. More than once, Christian refuses to listen to Anastasia’s “no,” but the community has put big efforts into prioritizing consent for many years. And, advocates say, since sexual consent is a critical topic everywhere from postsecondary campuses to criminal courts, a better understanding of BDSM could probably help society at large.

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