BDSM Experts Fact-Check the New "50 Shades" Book — And the Results Aren't Good

BDSM Experts Fact-Check the New "50 Shades" Book — And the Results Aren't Good
Source: IMDb
Source: IMDb

Fifty Shades of Grey is back, and this time, it's bigger and creepier than ever.

E.L. James latest novel, simply called Grey, is a retelling of the first Fifty Shades of Grey book from the perspective of Christian Grey. Since its release on June 18, Grey has become the fastest selling adult title in the United Kingdom and sold 1.1 million copies across all American editions, according to the Guardian. Grey's now joining the more than 125 million copies sold of the last series and the $570 million in movie ticket sales that the first series earned.

The problem with the book? It tells a story about S&M through the perspective of a dominant — and as far as we know, the book's author isn't a member of the lifestyle. 

Engaging in a dominant-submissive sadomasochistic relationships is a nuanced experience, one that the Kinsey Institute reports an estimated 5% to 10% of the U.S. population has engaged in at least once. But by telling the story through Christian's eyes, Grey inaccurately glamorizes and romanticizes an abusive view of such relationships, then packages that as the norm. From Christian's point of view, dominants are control freaks, stalkers, psychopaths and abuse victims — all negative taboos that have plagued the BDSM community for years. (That's all on top of the serious literary crimes the book commits.)

Since representations of this misunderstood community are so rare and the inaccurate Grey version so so pervasiveMic tapped BDSM experts Gloria Brame, a sex therapist specializing in BDSM/fetish and author of Sex for Grown-Ups, and Zoë Tersche, a writer for Fetish.com and founder of the Wink, for the odious task of sifting through the most offensive passages of the nearly 600-page Grey and set the record straight. 

Here's what Grey looks like when actual members of the BDSM community fact-check it. 

BDSM is about respecting limits, not transgressing them.

From Grey:

An image of her shackled to my bench, peeled ginger root inserted in her ass so she can't clench her buttocks, comes to mind, followed by judicious use of a belt or strap. Yeah... That would teach her not to be irresponsible. The thought is hugely appealing.

A kinkster's response: Tersche told Mic, "A dominant imposing something on their submissive that the sub may find uncomfortable is not unreasonable. However, the Dom(me) must be well aware of the sub's hard and soft limits. Pushing boundaries can be punitive, but ultimately should be carried out as a means of cultivating the submissive's growth." 

Source: Mic/Getty

Being a submissive in no way resembles abuse — and shouldn't feel like it, either.

From Grey:

"Dear Mr. Grey,
You wanted to know why I felt confused after you — which euphemism should we apply — spanked, punished, beat, assaulted me.

Well, during the whole alarming process, I felt demeaned, debased, and abused. And much to my mortification, you're right, I was aroused, and that was unexpected."

A dominant's response: "It is hardly unusual for a sub to have conflicted feelings. But ... the charge of abuse is (or should be) a deal-breaker. If she really felt abused, before, during, or after the experience, she needs to leave or get counseling ASAP," Brame wrote to Mic in an email.

She added, "Sometimes a dom may push someone too far, and the sub will let them know if they broke a boundary. But feeling abused is neither normal nor desirable in a BDSM relationship. The question then becomes: Is Anastasia abused? In this book, maybe, because Grey comes across as clueless. "

Liking BDSM doesn't necessarily mean you have a history of abuse.

From Grey

"Why don't you like to be touched?"

"Because I'm fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia." After years and years of therapy; it's the one thing I know to be true.

A dominant's response: Brame said, "What self-respecting sub wants to bottom to someone who is totally fucked up and doesn't like affection? How can you trust someone like that? In real life, a dom with low self-esteem like that should not have power over anyone else until he figures out his own problems." 

Source: Mic/Getty

There's no "right" way to be a submissive or dominant. 

From Grey:

"So you felt demeaned, debased, abused, and assaulted — how very Tess Durbeyfield of you. I believe it was you who decided on the debasement, if I remember correctly. Do you really feel like this or do you think you ought to feel like this? Two very different things. If that is how you feel, do you think you could just try to embrace these feelings, deal with them, for me? That's what a submissive would do."

A dominant's response: "Grey's response is classic 'clueless dom,'" Brame said. "'That is what a submissive does' or any statement implying there is one standard of behavior for a submissive (or a dom) is pure manipulation and brainwashing. Every BDSM educator will tell you that there is no one standard of behavior for all, and no such thing as 'a real submissive' or 'a true dom.'"

BDSM means knowing your partners and their interests.

From Grey: 

"...If you'd like, I can introduce you to one of my former subs. You could talk to her."

"Is this your idea of a joke?" she demands.

"No, Anastasia." I'm surprised by her vehemence and shake my head to reinforce my denial. It's perfectly normal for a submissive to check with exes that their new Dominant knows what he's doing.

A kinkster's response: "This is more of an occurrence within the scene — kink community parties and other social events," said Tersche. "People may ask around about a potential play partner at an event, particularly if all parties involved want the play that follows to evolve outside that space." 

There's education involved in BDSM play.

From Grey:

"Are you gay, Mr. Grey?"

What the hell!

I cannot believe she's said that out loud! Ironically, the question even my own family will not ask. How dare she! I have a sudden urge to drag her out of her seat, bend her over my knee, spank her, and then fuck her over my desk with her hands tied behind her back. That would answer her ridiculous question. I take a deep calming breath. To my vindictive delight, she appears to be mortified by her own question.

A dominant's response: "In a sad sense, this is a realistic description of BDSM in the hands of inexperienced, immature and emotionally dysfunctional people," Brame said. "The Internet (and reality) are full of clueless people who are turned on by the BDSM mystique but don't get educated. To a mature, emotionally stable player, it's depressing. That's why we put so much effort into education, so people can build healthy relationships." 

Source: Mic/Getty

BDSM play is all about consent and trust.

From Grey:

I drop the belt, savoring my sweet, euphoric release. I'm punch-drunk, breathless, and finally replete. Oh, this beautiful girl, my beautiful girl. I want to kiss every inch of her body. We're here. Where I want to be. I reach for her, pulling her into my arms. 

"Let go. No —" She struggles out of my grasp, scrambling away from me, pushing and shoving and finally turning on me like a seething wildcat. "Don't touch me!" she hisses. Her face is blotchy and smeared with tears, her nose is running, and her hair is a dark, tangled mess but she has never looked so magnificent... and at the same time so angry.

A dominant's response: "My overriding sense here is that she is hesitant and nervous every step of the way, doesn't fully trust him, and isn't sure if she likes the things he does to her but plays along because she is so hungry for him," Brame said. "Again, that is a really vanilla perspective, not authentic to kinky people. For one, we are drawn to this stuff because, for the most part, we already know it turns on us. We seek it out, we don't get sucked into it. We crave to act out our secret fantasies, we don't seek someone else to convert us to their fantasies. 

Trust is a core value for us, and so is finding your joy. ... Values. BDSMers have them."