I wrote the following article five years ago during the Fifty Shades of Grey frenzy. At the time, every single one of my girlfriends had a copy. I had the entire trilogy. I would read one and pass it on to the next friend and so on. It was hot. It was explicit. It was the perfect mix of power, vulnerability, and romance. To the BDSM community it was a mild and slightly inaccurate depiction of the lifestyle. But women over 30, who were past the age of the Twilight obsession soaked it up. Fast forward five years later, these same fans and their younger counterparts are introduced to 365 Days, which has skyrocketed to the top of the Netflix Most Watched movie list. Why the renewed interest in this type of erotica? In many ways, 365 Days is like the 50 Shades of Grey series, but with far more graphic sex scenes. It tells the story of a mafia boss who becomes obsessed with a woman who he subsequently kidnaps. She must stay with him for 365 days. If she doesn’t fall in love with him in that time, she can go back home. If she does, she can stay. At this point you are either rolling your eyes or are quickly Googling the movie. But I digress…
I wondered how this type of movie would fare given the current climate and the “Me Too” movement. Older women would be smart and sophisticated enough to distinguish between fantasy and reality (hopefully). What about younger women? Let’s just say that the current trend on the popular video social network TikTok, where users post videos of themselves watching 365 Days sex scenes has taken off. Thankfully, I have an inside source. As of this writing, #365days has 1.1 Billion views. And #365movie has 154.5 Million views. I’d say that the younger generation approves. By the way, my source is Emily, my 19 year old daughter.
So let’s look at the criticisms. I will preface by saying that I am not going to get into whether the plot (and I will get to that later) in this movie somehow suggests that consent can be retroactive, or that rape is justified when or if the other party “enjoys it.” In reality, BDSM is based on very strict, meaningful contracts between consenting adults. Most mainstream critiques are about lack of PLOT. First, nobody who finds out about this movie on Tik Tok is remotely interested in a compelling or engaging story line. Almost 40% of users are under 20. Another 30% are between 20 and 29 years of age. Secondly, there is a difference between women’s erotica and men’s erotica.
In general, we see a common theme in women’s erotica, which often contains references to BDSM. Author Rachel Kramer Bussel says, “Women’s erotica is valuable, though, to those looking to read about women’s lives, and probably one thing that distinguishes that from some erotica about men is that we’re then usually talking about what else is going on in a woman’s life beyond just who she sleeps with and how she has sex. To make a broad generalization, erotica geared toward women is about how the rest of a woman’s experiences play into her sex life and choices around sexuality. Yes, women are interested in practices like spanking and bondage and being in submissive/dominant relationships, but I think beyond the specific ways BDSM plays out, what’s refreshing about kinky erotica—and why women authors gravitate toward it—is that it’s a space that allows women to ask for what they want outright and to own those desires. Often, you’ll see stories where the dominant partner, of any gender, is commanding a woman to expressly articulate her filthiest, naughtiest, most out-there desires in order for them to be fulfilled. She’s being “forced” to say “I want this or that,” and that might be something that would make her, and likely many of us, blush or squirm or be filled with uncertainty. But it is also something that completely turns her on, even if she doesn’t know why.”
Movies like Fifty Shades and 365 Days allow us to ask ourselves what do we want, need, like and why? In my own exploration of women’s erotica and BDSM I found the need to challenge myself to do something out of my comfort zone. Most in the “lifestyle” will tell you that BDSM is not about sex and it is NEVER abusive. It is in fact, quite the opposite. It is about exploration, power, submission, intimacy, arousal and so much more. It is about fantasy, mystery and the unknown.
Without ruining the mood, let’s compare it to American wrestling. WWE and similar wrestling entities are all about theatrics. Elaborate costumes, dramatic back stories and feuds are meant to elicit excitement or a build up before a match. Similarly, BDSM as depicted in movies is meant to elicit arousal, and challenges the viewer to ask some deep questions about their own sexuality, needs and desires. It compels you to discover something other than the missionary position or “vanilla” sex. Do you like to be spanked? Do you like being tied up? Do you like to be the one spanking?
These are the questions I asked myself, and ultimately why I own a pair of fuzzy handcuffs…
Why I Own A Pair of Fuzzy Handcuffs
Maybe it’s my inner teenager, a fondness for Twilight fan fiction or just the fact that the sex scenes are steamy and hot.
Regardless, there are a slew of critics that will tell you that the movie doesn’t accurately depict the BDSM lifestyle—that it’s just a watered down Hollywood version created to sell more sex toys, lingerie and an entire product line including fragrances named after the entity.
I would imagine that to the hard core BDSM community, this book is a joke, albeit one that has allowed thousands of women and men a glimpse into something that the mainstream really knows little about even though it has been around for a very, very long time.
Some feminists might tell you that Anastasia is a victim, while others will say that she uses her power and free will when she seeks out a relationship with the mysterious Christian Grey. “Show me,” she says…and indeed he does. Then I realized that most of the hoopla surrounding the book and movie has to do with whether Anastasia Steele is in an abusive relationship.
And this is no joking matter.
As a woman, a wife and a mother I am pretty opinionated. I’d like to think I’m pretty responsible too. I’ve raised three wonderful children, I get a check up every six months, I make sure my kids eat healthy and I pay my taxes. But every now and then, when the kids are gone and the house is empty—and in the privacy and safety of our bedroom. I don’t mind being blindfolded and spanked. Now there are a lot of really strange things that go on in people’s bedrooms and I don’t feel the need to judge. I am a firm believer in “what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom.”
But let’s talk about what is abuse and what is not abuse.
If, after years of marriage my husband texts me and says “I’m on my way home, get naked and in bed” you better believe that’s exactly where I’m going. For me, this is hot. And after a long day at work, making tons of decisions, and after dealing with kids and bills and all of the other not sexy things in life, I find some light kink a welcome respite from the real world.
If I surprise my husband by standing at the top of the stairs in a leather catsuit with a whip and some killer leather stilettos and ask him to crawl up the stairs to get his “reward”—you better believe he won’t be complaining or reporting anyone to the authorities. I don’t know a single man who would.
The key in all of this is that everything above is consensual. And this is what the critics of 50 shades are missing. What goes on the bedroom, as weird as some people might think, is not abuse if there is consent. And face it. What I like might not be what you like. Some people like to be kicked, pooped on, tied up, hung up, dipped in wax, gagged, beaten and humiliated. If it’s consensual, as much as it may be repulsive to the mainstream, it is not abuse. And so it is in the book and the movie.
Anastasia consents to a contract and a relationship with Christian Grey. Not everything in the book or movie follows the BDSM community’s golden rule of safe, sane and consensual, but is simply a movie. In the real world, there are strict rules that community members adhere to that most people don’t know anything about.
Those in the mainstream, and particularly the religious right should be careful when throwing out words such as “abuse” without really understanding the fact that there are many different lifestyles that include behavior that is not necessarily socially acceptable. Socially unacceptable doesn’t always mean morally wrong, illegal or abusive. Depending on the state, there are still antiquated laws in the books that say that certain types of sex are illegal.
I’d like to think that in 2015 we aren’t still hung up on using vibrators.
As for me, I will continue to keep the fuzzy handcuffs and the satin blindfold in my nightstand, hoping for the next time…
Cristina is a psychologist who writes about human behavior, relationships, family, sex, current events, politics, and everything related to the human condition.