BDSM

Sex in general can be a pretty touchy subject for some, especially when it comes to “non-conventional” sex practices. The media representation of sex can range from realistic to outright laughable and pathetic. But, we’re not just talking about sex in media. No, this is about a very special kind of kink that gained more exposure with the release of 50 SHADES OF GREY. We’re talking about BDSM.

BDSM means Bondage & Discipline / Domination & Submission / Sadism & Masochism, and it is a kink that has appeared in many other forms of media before 50 SHADES OF GREY brought it more into the mainstream view of horny girls and housewives. Typically, a BDSM relationship will have a dominant and a submissive. The dominant in the relationship takes control in the bedroom, doling out light punishments such as spankings, gags, and tying up the submissive. The foundations of BDSM come from Sacher von Masoch, who’s work led to the coined term of “masochism” or pleasure derived from being hurt or humiliated. On the opposite side is “sadism”, which is receiving pleasure through the pain or humiliation of someone else. Sadism was a term that was named after the Marquis de Sade, who depicted sadistic sexual acts in his own works.

Now, BDSM might sound insane to some, but there is a large community out there that practice safe, consensual, and intimate BDSM in the bedroom. One of the principles often preached in the BDSM community is SSC or “safe, sane, and consensual.” These measures are meant to keep anyone from getting seriously hurt during the act, such as the use of a “safe word,” or a word uttered when a partner feels things have gone too far, to keep a previously consented upon scene from becoming un-consensual in any number of situations where one of the two partners is unable or unwilling to continue as planned.

That’s the run down of BDSM in its most basic form—you can always find out more with a little research however, I’d suggest turning Safe Browsing on first if you don’t want a questionable browser history.

Now, back to the media. How well do they portray BDSM and the BDSM community? Well, it ranges, to be honest. To give you a broad idea of this range, we’ll be taking a look at three creative mediums which portray BDSM: a book, a movie and a video game.

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BDSM

Let’s begin with the origin of masochism, VENUS IN FURS, written by Leopold Sacher-von-Masoch. VENUS IN FURS was one of the earliest-noted works that took on themes of female dominance and sadomasochism, and drew inspiration from Masoch’s own life. The story concerns a man who dreams of speaking to Venus, the Roman goddess of love, while she wears furs. This unnamed character tells his dreams to a friend by the name of Severin, who insists he read a manuscript, hinted to be written by Severin himself, called MEMOIRS OF A SUPRASENSUAL MAN to break his fascination.

The manuscript he reads describes the romantic life of Severin, the real main character of VENUS IN FUR, who falls so much in love with a woman, Wandavon Dunajew (based off of Fanny Pistor, an emerging literary writer at the time who met Masoch under a fictitious title), that he asks to be her slave. Wanda’s initial confusion at Severin’s request quickly grows to both delight and disgust as she performs more and more cruel actions as part of her dominance, including recruiting a trio of African women to dominate him. Severin calls these experiences suprasensuality. The manuscript ends by Severin being humiliated by Wanda taking a new lover whom she willingly submits to. Severin, when speaking of Wanda, states:

That woman, as nature has created her, and man at present is educating her, is man’s enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work.

Yeah. Not the healthiest attitude to have both towards your relationship or partner. While the description of BDSM is definitely on point, VENUS IN FURS carries that classic tragedy that was so common in Masoch’s time. Instead of any kind of respect or enjoyment, both parties resent each other and come away with entirely negative outlooks on the ‘relationship’. Modern BDSM practitioners typically work to keep things healthy, safe and enjoyable in the bedroom while respecting their partners. VENUS IN FURS is counterintuitive to many of the rules and measures that the BDSM community advises using in order to maintain a healthy relationship.

While the origins of BDSM date back farther than Masoch’s depiction, his book is one of the definitive works concerning the practice, and, sadly, it is one that depicts it in terms of an all out abusive relationship spurred by sexual obsession.

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Like many media outlets dealing with an unconventional topic, VENUS IN FURS ends in tragedy for our main character. It is clear that it is not about a healthy relationship, but an obsession, and speaks more to the dangers of BDSM than it does the more realistic manner in which it is handled today. It is the definitive and classic work, mind you, but it is clearly not a representation of BDSM in a healthy manner.

Sadly, VENUS IN FURS is not the only depiction of BDSM that makes it look entirely unhealthy.

Another work, which was released as a feature film in February 2015, is the well known 50 SHADES OF GREY. This may be a point of contention, so be forewarned. It is a necessary discussion, however, because 50 SHADES OF GREY can easily be considered the modern VENUS IN FURS for its twisted portrayal of BDSM.

BDSM

50 SHADES OF GREY features a sub/dom relationship between Anastasia Steele, a shy, bumbling college virgin, and Christian Grey, a dominant, confident entrepreneur. 50 SHADES OF GREY boomed in popularity, especially among young girls and older women. Why, you might ask? It is common to have fantasies, and many women have ones of men who take charge and make them feel like they are the only one that could ever satisfy them, as though they hung the moon for this confident love interest. It can also be an indicator that vanilla sex has run its course in their lives and they crave something more exciting. BDSM is something that seems exotic, naughty and dangerous from the outside looking in, but for many it is a typical part of their bedroom experience. With such limited exposure to the idea of BDSM, 50 SHADES OF GREY readers may very well have had their first experience with it from the novel and subsequent movie.

How does it hold up to realistic BDSM? Well, the acts are real enough, sure. The problem with 50 SHADES OF GREY is in its depiction of the relationship between Anastasia and Christian. If you were to ask an everyday couple about BDSM in their lives, you will more than likely hear that a healthy relationship involving BDSM in the bedroom consists of boundaries, trust, and communication.

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Christian consistently pushes all three to the side when it comes to Anastasia. His lust might be alluring for some, but the way in which he demands she sign a contract, follows her around, and shuts down when she isn’t as receptive to his desires is indicative of some deep issues going on and borders on emotional abuse. BDSM is, again, about boundaries. Trying to coerce someone to go beyond their comfort zone is not a sign of a healthy relationship between a sub and a dom. There is a large difference between role-playing it and living it.

Another thing about Christian’s portrayal is that he is described as having serious problems deep down. It’s implied that these issues are what make him crave intimacy in the very particular manner in which he does. While issues with mental health or tragedy in the past is a very real part of daily life for many people, the implication that it directly causes someone to crave a relationship in which they can control and hurt others is a serious misstep. You will find that most partners who practice BDSM are people who do it for enjoyment and intimacy.

BDSM practitioners, in real life, tend to stress consent and safety along with their intimate acts. The bedroom is a place for both parties to enjoy the experience. With Christian Grey, the bedroom is a place for his pleasure. Anastasia is a conquest that must meed his demands in order to please him. If asked to stop, Christian reacts like a spoiled child who is denied a toy instead of a mature adult concerned for his partner’s safety and comfort.

Take, for instance, a part in Chapter 10 of 50 SHADES OF GREY where Christian, having been a bit cross with Anastasia ever since Jose’s phone call, tells her to hurry up and sign his BDSM sex-contract, so that “we can stop all this.”  When Ana asks what he means, he clarifies that what he wants to stop is “You, defying me.” That’s not counting the multiple other moments that display clear abuse and an absolute lack of respect on Christian’s part for Anastasia. One particular moment also denotes Anastasia reading through the sex-contract and noting that, while she can request to be released as a submissive from the contract, it is at the discretion of the dominant. In other words, she can choose to leave but only if Christian signs off on it.

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In short, while 50 SHADES OF GREY does explore BDSM on a somewhat realistic level—at least when it comes to bedroom antics—but the way in which it portrays the relationship between the dominant and submissive is a real issue.

Now, we can move on to another fairly recent portrayal in the video game DRAGON AGE: INQUISITION. Fortunately, this is going to be a much more pleasant experience than the former two, so buckle up and get your learning caps on.

BDSM

When Bioware announced the romance choice of the Iron Bull, long time fans were stoked. Not only is Bull a Qunari—a stoic, horned warrior that lives by strict rules, but he’s also a big, lovable and hilarious companion. Hearing his commentary can have players cracking up. His romance doesn’t lack either, and features one of the most hilarious “being walked in on” scenes that has ever appeared on screen.

Why bring him up?

Well, the Iron Bull is also a very realistic look at a dominant in a BDSM relationship. The important thing that separates him from Christian Grey or Severin is in the attitude.

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If you romance him, Bull will eventually come to the Inquisitor’s (that’s you) chambers and outright state that he knows you want him. Given your choices, Bull will make sure you know what you’re getting into beforehand. Once he’s certain you want him, he lays out some ground rules.

Bull assures you that you are always safe with him, and issues a safe word: “Katoh,” which in the Qunari language, Qunlat, means “ending” or “achievement.” If you utter Katoh during sex, Bull tells you that he will immediately stop, no questions asked.

This brings back the topic of consent in a BDSM relationship, and it’s one that is often missed in portrayals of BDSM. Bull, unlike Wanda or Christian, expresses understanding in his partner’s level of comfort. He does not display annoyance or disdain if asked to stop, just respect for your boundaries and openness.

With movies like THE SECRETARY, TWILIGHT, 50 SHADES OF GREY and so many others portraying sexual relationships in unhealthy or borderline abusive manners, it feels like an important accomplishment was made with the Iron Bull in DRAGON AGE: INQUISITION. The relationship one can have with Bull has been commended by many players as well as many people in the BDSM community.

With new attention being given to BDSM and other sexual topics more and more as of late, the importance of accurate and healthy portrayals increases. How the Iron Bull is written is a definite step in the right direction. For the BDSM community, it is especially good as appropriate representation is one of the first steps towards those on the outside better understanding.

These portrayals may very well be the first time someone is exposed to subjects like BDSM and other emerging forms of sexuality and sexual preferences. More writers and producers in charge of the way these creative pieces are shown to the world need to understand the importance of understanding not only a healthy relationship, but a healthy sexual relationship that can fall into categories they might not be used to.

Either which way, more Iron Bull and less Christian Grey, please.

 

 

One Comment

  1. […] we talked about the poor representation of BDSM in media, now we’re talking about abuse; good gravy. Abusive relationships portrayed in the […]

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