A Grey Relationship: What “50 Shades” Really Teaches Us About Relationships

Written by NY Press on . Posted in Sex & Relationships.


By Rebecca Hoffman

Sex sells.  It really is that simple.  E.L. James the author of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy can attest to it.  Her ‘romance’ novels have resulted in the sale of approximately 16 million books, which means its outsold Harry Potter, and why?  Because sex sells: in advertising, in fashion, in movies, and yes, even in literature.

But it’s not just sex in these books, but S&M sex, and this has resulted in more than a peak in book sales.  Sex toys and BDSM relationships are also on the rise.  BDSM relationships consist of a dominant partner and a submissive one consensually submitting to the will of the dominant.  The books depict a rather kinky and controlling relationship between dominant entrepreneur, Christian Grey, and submissive college student, Anastasia “Ana” Steele.  It is constantly emphasized that this relationship is meant to be a purely sexual one with no romantic connection.  However, it doesn’t end up being that simple.  Media and readers tend to get caught up in the dirty details of the book and gloss over what’s actually important here.  A hint: it has little to do with the steamy sex.
Sex is what gets attention, but it’s the actual real and human relationship that keeps people interested.  Even at its core a kinky S&M relationship is a human couple.  Though many might try to argue otherwise, people don’t fall in love with sex nor is it possible to emphasize with it.  What people crave and truly engage with is the relationship.
S&M is about creating a true and intimate bond, one that is arguably more intense than any vanilla relationship.  This intimacy, control, and trust is what intrigues people.  S&M is undeniably about control, but more than that it is about trust.  A submissive partner has to completely trust her dominant to take care of her when she is most vulnerable and a dominant has to completely trust that his submissive has been honest with him about her wants, needs, and limits.  There is something very tender about such an open relationship and such raw vulnerability.  This is what gets under people’s skin because, above all else, people consistently seek companionship; rough sex is just a means to an end.
So instead of labeling yourself a dominant or submissive because you’ve recently decided you like the idea of handcuffs and some light spanking in the bedroom maybe you should work on exploring a truly honest and open relationship with your partner.  Saying you’re up for anything in the bedroom and truly meaning it are two different things, which Ana quickly learns.  Having kinky sex and having a BDSM relationship aren’t one and the same.  One is a phase while the other is a lifestyle.
It’s great that BDSM has opened so many new eyes to reading and more creative sexual ways of thinking.  Whether this is demeaning, feminist, or just plain naughty is up for debate, but, truthfully, what difference does it make?  If people are enjoying themselves and experimenting with new types of reading and fantasy material then does it really matter what the fad means?
Fifty Shades of Grey originally developed as fan fiction for the Twilight fad.  Fads change and go as quickly as they came, but they’re usually always eye opening.  However, jumping into a label because of a fad can be dangerous, especially with something as rough as S&M; so unless you’re sure of what a label means it might be best to stay clear of it.
Though, all labels and judgments aside, maybe all this sexy reading just means one thing: that people really are just more perverted and primitive than we like to think.

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