What Does a BDSM Expert Think of Fifty Shades of Grey?

Clarisse Thorn, author of The S&M Feminist, says E.L. James‘s bestseller doesn’t resonate with the BDSM community

Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey

Don’t expect the BDSM community to come out in droves to see Fifty Shades of Grey this weekend, says Clarisse Thorn, San Francisco–based author of BDSM & Culture: Fifty Shades of Stereotypes and The S&M Feminist.

The community hasn’t embraced E.L. James’s erotic bestseller for the simple reason that it doesn’t really resonate, she says. “It is certainly not accurate in [terms of] how people in the life, the larger BDSM community, do it.”

Thorn’s biggest issue with the depiction is the lack of communication between the central characters, Anastasia and Christian. “It’s like a case study in actively bad communication.” Communication is key in a BDSM relationship, explains Thorn, and in the majority of circumstances, “people are talking about what they like and want to do and don’t want to do and negotiate things in a way that Anastasia and Christian don’t.”

That lack of communication gives the activities a kind of creepy assaultive quality at times. “There are a lot of moments in Fifty Shades where it’s really unclear what’s going on and Anastasia is really shocked by what happens and feels actively violated in a way that she couldn’t negotiate or consent to or discuss and that’s not the goal [of BDSM],” says Thorn.

Strangely enough, for an active practitioner of BDSM reading, Fifty Shades is more disconcerting than erotic.

“You read Fifty Shades and all you can think is how f-cked up it is! It’s not because there’s anything wrong with the activities they’re doing, the problem is that nobody sets boundaries or has a reasonable conversation on anything. No one ever tries to build a really healthy relationship on top of their BDSM activities.”

Thorn isn’t running the author or the story down, however. She concedes it’s a fantasy and shouldn’t have to reflect reality. “I wouldn’t necessarily want to put E.L. James under pressure to change Fifty Shades to seem more in line with what the BDSM community is and does because that’s not really what she was trying to do,” she explains.

“I don’t think art should be held to those standards of having to be realistic all the time. But I just want people to know that that’s not what people do when they’re serious about their BDSM.”

Related: The Fifty Shades of Grey Review: How’s the Chemistry?

 
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