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The Simpsonian

Ask Millie: “50 Shades of Grey”: BDSM or consensual kink?

Dear Millie,

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about “50 Shades” and whether it’s abuse or just BDSM. What are your thoughts?

— Confused About Kink

Hi, Confused About Kink,

There is definitely a big difference between BDSM and consensual kink and the kind of relationship portrayed in “50 Shades of Grey.”

While the newest movie may involve less sex than the first, “50 Shades” has had quite an impact on the conversation surrounding kink and consent. It’s important to recognize the differences between abuse and consensual kink.

After reading the novels, many couples decided to spice up their bedrooms, which is great! Kink can provide an excellent way to explore yourself and your dynamic with your partner. However, “50 Shades” doesn’t provide a very good example, especially for those interested in some of the more intense scenes and power exchanges.

“50 Shades” attempts to portray a Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationship. The key word there is attempts. While nothing they do is inherently wrong, the lack of consent and the manipulation is absolutely abuse.

Christian manipulates Ana into a contract that she had very little hand in developing, a big red flag. His own desire for control overshadows the safety and mental well-being of his submissive, something that anyone in the kink community knows spells out disaster. Sure, it all works out in the end, but the message that tolerating abuse in order to “stick it out” does far more harm than the shoddily written erotica was worth.

BDSM and kink, in order to be ethical, must involve affirmative, ongoing consent from both parties. I won’t say that abuse doesn’t happen in the BDSM community. It does. But the kink community works hard to prevent those scenarios because of the potential for serious physical and emotional harm. The acronyms most often used are SSC (Safe, Sane, and Consensual) and RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink). It’s important to do your research and educate yourself and your partner before engaging in anything kinky. It’s even more important to keep consent in mine.

Consent should be explicitly given before any sort of scene. Many people use safe words or a similar mechanism to continue giving consent. Aftercare is another important component to kink that ensures comfort and care for folks involved.

“50 Shades of Grey” seems like a dark, erotic fantasy, but remember that abuse is never OK, even under the guise of BDSM and kink. If you’re curious about learning more, make sure to do plenty of research. There are more sources out there than sensationalized fanfiction, trust me.

— XO, Millie

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