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BDSM

I Watched 50 Shades of Grey So You Don't Have To

I saw 50 Shades of Grey at a free preview screening Tuesday night, several days before its day-before-Valentine's-Day premiere, and I wish I'd been given a safe word to make the movie stop. Because 50 Shades of Grey is bad. Not 'so bad it's good,' but just bad. And it's boring. Especially the sex. I mean, if you thought the books were totally hot and you'd love nothing more than to watch it all play out on screen, have at it. Chacun à son Grey, and all that. But me, I'm a hater. And haters gonna hate.

Carly, my date and bartender for the evening, is also a hater. We laughed (and cringed and groaned) through the entire film, and then for a long time afterwards, and not just because Carly smuggled a flask of excellent whiskey into the theater.

Here's the tl;dr analysis of the film, in which you get three fairy tales for the price of one: Sleeping Beauty and the Beast with a side order of Cinderella.

a) Monster awakens young woman's sexuality so she can fix him

b) This is because a woman can't be sexual on her own but instead requires it unleashed within her by the application of a penis to her vagina, and a silk necktie about the wrists.

c) It's the young woman's job to put up with the monster's abuse in order to change him

d) Because monsters make exemplary boyfriends if they are rich enough and they take you on romantic helicopter rides over Seattle.

I never read EL James' trilogy, which started out as Twilight fan fic, but I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going in given the nonstop publicity and analysis since the first one came out. Anastasia Steele, an awkward innocent is sent to interview the fabulously wealthy Christian Grey at his minimalist-designed and boring offices. She arrives in a frumpy shirt and blue sweater combo, and after she's led into Grey's office by a succession of ex Robert Palmer backup models, Grey holds forth on her sweater and the history of Cerulean Blue. Actually, no it doesn't happen like that at all, but IF ONLY the Dom was played by Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, what a superior film this would have been! Unfortunately we're stuck with Jamie Dornan, who plays a cyborg with an excellent fitness regimen.

So, one thing leads to another and after buying her a new computer, a new car and (thankfully) new clothes, Grey presents her with a sex contract (as wealthy and powerful businessmen do) and then tells her to look up 'submission' on the internet. Some Capitalist Foreplay ensues as they negotiate the terms of the contract, but it's clear that Ana has not done much of her homework when she asks Grey “What's a butt plug?' Honey. Do you know what a butt is? Do you know what a plug is. OK, do the math.

The contract turns out to be a irrelevant because they go at it anyway, unprotected by the law or a thin layer of latex. You see, he's found out she's never had The Sex and wastes no time doing his manly duty of de-virginizing her in the most boring and, frankly, depressing way possible. Save for a fleeting kiss below the navel, there's no foreplay, no condoms, no lube, no attending to her needs, before doing it in the Missionary position for a minute or two. Her roommate even tells her she looks 'different' when she comes home. It makes Red Shoe Diaries look edgy and sophisticated.

And it's not just that this sex is incredibly boring, it's enraging. If you do the kind of work I do, you're extra sensitive about how female sexuality is depicted onscreen. This film pushes a totally false myth of what 'romantic' sex is supposed to look like to the gazillions of people who have no doubt already bought tickets to see it. It also reinforces the idea that women are supposed to do whatever they can to please (and fix) their men, whether they want to or not, because that's what female sexuality is all about. If you're lucky he might please you back, but it's not actually part of the contract. As someone who hears from young people all the time, it's depressing to read the emails and answer the questions they ask about how confused and ashamed they are because their sex lives don't look like what's on screen (or if it does, they can't understand why it isn't making them happy)

On the bright side, there were a few things, okay two things, that I liked about the film.

First, Dakota Johnson (who plays Ana) was really, really funny in the comedic scenes. There are moments in the film where she seems as annoyed/repulsed/bored by this dude as we are. I think someone should cast her in an intentionally comedic film stat, because she'd be great. Jamie Dornan should really stick to serial killer roles–and his own accent. I wouldn't be averse (as a friend of mine suggested) to having Gillian Anderson's The Fall character tie him up to work out their issues together.

Second, I loved the look of the 'Playroom,' Grey's tasteful den of  domination, which must have been a production designer's dream come true. It's what I think Williams Sonoma (or maybe Restoration Hardware) would look like if they sold fetish gear. Racks and racks of gleaming metal and leather devices, perfectly displayed and lit. I would snap up those leather handcuffs like they were large pastry cream whisks–and don't even get me started on the gorgeous knots of red rope.

As far as the actual BDSM stuff goes, and considering it was all most people are talking about anyway, there just isn't that much to write home about. Aside from the fact that the Dom/Sub relationship was totally inaccurate according to just about everyone in the the actual community, it was...boring. And cheesy. I kid you not, he brushed her thigh with a peacock feather while light jazz played on the soundtrack. And the one scene that was meant to represent the most intense BDSM play (and the kind of thing Grey told Ana would help 'fix' him) looked a lot more like domestic violence to me. Dude, she's got to be into it! Otherwise you're just beating her up.

If 50 Shades was written as a creepy thriller, with this same wealthy controlling weirdo stalking and manipulating an impressionable young woman, it would have made more sense. Or even as a satire of romance films. But as a sexy love story? Painful.

Please don't spend any of your hard-earned money on this film. We sure didn't. The creators are rich enough already, and there are other mainstream-ish films about BDSM out there with a lot more wit, heat and joy. Try Secretary with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, or the documentary Sick by one of my favorite filmmakers Kirby Dick. They're also a bit hard to watch at times, but for the right reasons.

Update: For an extra treat, listen to Jaclyn Friedman interview author Jenny Trout about the trilogy, and then, read her brilliant recaps. If you do want to spend money on something 50-Shades-related, donate to one of the groups on Jenny's link of DV and anti-rape orgs.

V-Card Diaries: Adelaide "The physical act of being that intimate with someone is horrifying for me."

Our latest V-Card Diaries comes from Adelaide in Canada, who considers herself pansexual. Her sexual response is dulled by anti-depressants, so she's decided not to enter into another relationship until she feels eager about the other person. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. We'd love to run it in this blog.

A little about myself:

I'm 33 years old, from Canada. Female.

How I define virginity:

It's strange how often this has changed in my mind. I like to think it's "evolved." As I've grown, and learnt more, it went from "penis + vagina" to "physical act of sex, no matter the gender of those involved" (oral sex included- otherwise there would be a LOT of gay virgins!!) to something I can't explain completely yet. As one can have an orgasm without touching, could you possibly not be a virgin and a full-fledged sexual being by the contents of your thoughts? Just like how it is possible to not "technically" be a virgin, yet have no sense or feeling in the sexual act (if it's just seen as a technicality of a relationship, not that "little death")? What about people who don't have physical sex, but have the master/slave, mistress/slave relationship, where the only thing that passes between them is command? Many look upon these relationships as intense and loving, but is it sex? To them, it might be, since the emotions are.

Here' my story:

My story is... I have no story. Technically, I suppose, I'm still a virgin. Never allowed myself to be touched in this way, never been kissed or allowed myself to be kissed. It's not as if I haven't had offers for it. One boyfriend was so passionate and insistent it alarmed me, but nothing happened because I was completely uninterested. It may have just been the hormones, I don't know: Once sex crowded into the room, I stopped listening. He treated it as an area of "finding out." If my lips flushed, he KNEW I was aroused. Sadly, he always got it wrong. My disinterested nature didn't help, of course. It does play against my passionate nature.

I think it's an area of personal space I'm very sensitive about, and dislike it being invaded. The physical act of being that intimate with someone is horrifying for me. So, I think the person I would want would have to be something special- otherwise I could never go through with it.

Not that I wish this ideology on anyone else. We all have appetites, begun in our minds when we are quite young. I think everyone should experience sex, to whatever state it might be in... that's my ideal, so long as it's consensual. Sex is a healthy part of life - it should be, it's supposed to be. Yet, I don't consider myself to be "unhealthy"... just not wanting to cross that boundary since I haven't met someone yet I'm comfortable crossing it with. I don't like the idea of having sex with someone I feel absolutely nothing for - or when they touch me, I feel nothing, even revulsion (At myself or at their touch? I'm uncertain). I also lived a rather isolated high school life, where I was one of the outcasts and although sex was probably happening around me in earnest, it was not an area I was welcomed or even gestured towards. One profession of love turned into a group joke, so I guess something inside me closed off from being vulnerable. Also: People talked. During my 8th grade year, when my grandfather died, some were convinced I had taken time off school to have a baby. That's the kind of people I had surrounding me, so you can imagine my reluctance to take part in their "games".

The strange part is, I'm a very sexual person when my brain isn't doped with antidepressants. When I'm off them, I need "release" all the time through masturbation. If I don't, I have intense dreams. I can't masturbate when I'm on these kind of meds (though I need them, and accept this loss for the benefit they give me), because it's a fight with the blockers/excessives in my brain. I have absolutely no sex drive.

Strangely, I think I define myself as "pansexual". The beauty of both sexes overwhelm me. Where beauty is concerned, I'm not picky over the sex of the person.

I've had no negative experiences with sex: Physical experiences, I mean. I've never been abused, or forced to do anything.

I guess you could call me a virgin. Some of my friends would categorize me as such - but they may also categorize me as a failure, or "the strange one" because I haven't married, sprung offspring, bought a house, gotten a full-time job, or done all the hetero-normal things people my age are supposed to do. Other friends feel differently, and love me as I am. The previously mentioned friends love me, too, but since I don't do things as they do, they get alarmed. (I think it's more of a reflection of themselves than of me).

I have the automatic instinct to not do things "normally." Normal is boring.

I also decided (after a relationship where I feel I really hurt someone by my disinterest) not to enter into another until I was ready, eager, and willing to enjoy each other. Hasn't happened yet. But I think I am happier for it. No messing around, and no hurting people. Yet, if I end up having sex for the first time in a gas station restroom with someone I just met, if I feel comfortable with them touching me... I'd be fine with that. Whatever happens will happen.