BDSM Pros Weigh In on 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

Feb 27, 2015 11:00 AM PST

LOS ANGELES — Fictitious character Christian Grey says he’s “Fifty shades of fucked up” in the film “Fifty Shades of Grey.” And although the adult industry’s top BDSM experts are apt to describe the movie in similar terms, some feel it’s actually helping to bridge the gap between mainstream and porn.

In the aftermath of the uber-hype and hoopla of the movie’s opening, XBIZ queried some of adult’s top players in the fetish realm who, let’s say, know their way around a whip or two.

Major practitioners, producers, writers, distributors and performers including “Hustler Taboo” executive editor and author, Ernest Greene, creator and co-founder of adult search engine Colin Rowntree, author, performer and filmmaker Tristan Taormino, founder Peter Acworth, performer and lecturer Kelly Shibari, and more weighed in on the movie, its authenticity, appeal and importance to the world of BDSM.

Taormino says that because the film stayed very true to the book, it was “awful,” but admits that it has kept the public conversation about kink going. “For all the folks out there saying, ‘I wish there were smarter, more realistic and thoughtful depictions of BDSM on film," there are: films by Jacky St. James, Ernest Greene, Maria Beatty, Erika Lust, Madison Young, Jessica Drake, and yours truly, to name a few. Plus, the sex is much hotter,” she says.

And Greene himself draws an analogy between the film and “Gone With the Wind” saying that as a first encounter with the viewing audience, the impression it leaves behind is about as accurate as the classic movie’s portrayal of the Antebellum south. “Rarely do good outcomes arise from massive misrepresentations.”

Rowntree also compares it to mainstream films and was disappointed that regardless of the anticipated lack of "real BDSM" elements in the film, what surprised him is that in this day and age of "Game Of Thrones" hot and sexy explicit action, that Universal Studios toned the film down to the point of it being more like a romantic comedy than a nod to other “BDSM-light” movies like  "9 1/2Weeks" or "The Secretary.”

“As ’purple-prose’ written as the books were, this plot simply screamed out for as much eroticism and nudity as would be allowed in a mainstream theatrical release. Where's the Beef?  Where's the Sex?  The hottest thing about this movie was Danny Elfman's soundtrack and Seamus McGarvey’s wonderful cinematography. Beyond that, and some pretty nifty helicopter scenes, ‘Fifty Shades’ pretty much fell short of the mark,” Rowntree says.

Greene was further critical of the film and spotlighted how it’s prompted mixed emotions in the kink arena.

“To say that the BDSM community is divided over this phenomenon would be an understatement. Many welcome it as a major breakthrough in terms of acquainting those outside the community with at least some aspects of the subculture. They view the prospect of becoming such a large object on the cultural radar will result in greater understanding and acceptance for those who are kink-involved in one way or another. Others, myself among them, have reservations to put it mildly,” Greene says.

The expert went on to say that although the film allows for vast exposure, it misses the mark on a number of fronts. He maintains the “Fifty Shades” partakes of many misconceptions and inaccuracies community activists have worked for years to dispel. It presents dominant men, and BDSM enthusiasts generally by implication, as psychologically damaged by abusive childhoods with their sexual orientations a result of trauma.

“There is no evidence to support the view that early abuse and BDSM are connected in any way, much less that the former causes the latter. Likewise, though this does follow the classic story arc of a troubled man healed by the love of an innocent and passionate woman, this is essentially a stereotypical narrative that would be instantly recognizable as offensive if the protagonist were gay instead of kinky. Gay people understandably don’t feel they need ‘fixing’ and find the notion that a good dose of straight, vanilla sex would normalize them inherently offensive. Many of us feel the same way about our orientations,” Greene says.

Greene also had a problem with the lead character’s “default portrayal of dominant men” saying he’s a stalker who shows up uninvited at [co-star] Ana’s place of work and at family gatherings and showers her with gifts and having her car stolen and replaced without her consent. “Consent, though much discussed in the story, isn’t given much respect as Grey relentlessly pursues Ana in an attempt to convert her into a kinky person, which is absolutely contrary to the foundational principal of consent freely and enthusiastically given. BDSM is meant to be a thing people do together rather than inflicted by one on the other,” Greene notes.

BDSM website, (home of and other sites) system director Daniel Intraub agrees with Greene’s analysis of Grey. He says in the real life BDSM community Grey’s behavior would largely be seen as abusive. If “Fifty Shades” were to usher in a new era of BDSM enlightenment it would be a shame for people to associate the abusive behavior with acceptable BDSM practice, Intraub believes, and points out that it could in fact create a backlash against the BDSM community wherein all would be accused of being abusive "just like the guy from ‘Fifty Shades.’”

Production company Severe Society owner Dee Severe was also critical of the Christian Grey character, calling the actor, Jamie Dornan “stiff, not sexy,” and not remotely like any male dom she’s ever met. “If that guy wasn't rich, no one would put up with him. He tries to exert control by buying Ana big-ticket items, he's excessively jealous and controlling, and while he pays much attention to his sub contract, he pushes a naive vanilla girl into the lifestyle way too quickly. He's not a happy person and clearly thinks of his kinkiness as pathology, and the movie does too. Which is total bullshit,” Severe says.

Greene’s also concerned about the fact that as the most widely viewed media presentation ever regarding the subject, the movie sends a distorted message to the general public about the community showing the participants as damaged people “using kinks as DIY therapy.” He claims that while it’s true in some rare instances, this is not a credible depiction of the vast majority who pursue power-based relationships based on mutual desire and respect for boundaries. “It gives ammunition to those whose politics, right or left, regard any kind of sexual power-play as inherently retrogressive and/or sinful. While the prospect of hoards of misinformed newcomers flooding into BDSM venues in pursuit of romantic fantasies with no basis in fact is seen as a teachable moment by many, there are others who fear with some justification that said newcomers will find the reality so different from their expectations they’ll regret their explorations entirely,” he says.

The author of “The Illustrated Master of O” also cautions that there is the possibility that individuals with no knowledge or experience will attempt to create D/s [dominant/submissive] relationships of their own with equally inexperienced partners resulting in injuries and possible criminal behavior. Greene says, “The safeguards long in place within the BDSM community provide no protection in the outside world. I think it’s easy to overstate this risk, but it’s not entirely unfounded.”

Intraub adds that the movie appeals to a very large audience who are just barely scratching the surface of a repressed sexuality. He says that although it creates a great opportunity for education, it’s also liable to create a horrible danger of guilt by association.

Shibari agrees and says that BDSM not properly researched and learned has the potential to be extremely harmful, so as an industry taking advantage of this sort of mainstreaming, it's equally important to educate properly in safety and consent.

But not all of the reactions are so critical, and in fact the film has been lauded by some for boosting awareness of BDSM and sales of related products.

Intraub says, “In the BDSM community as well as the BDSM industry, exposure and acceptance are highly sought after. Many people are OK with living their kinky lifestyles in the dark.  However, there is a growing population of people who would love to loudly and proudly pronounce their kinky interests. ‘Fifty Shades brings the concept of BDSM to the mainstream. It could be the start of a movement towards BDSM being less taboo and more accepted.”

Although raising an eyebrow, Laura Antoniou, author, speaker, and recipient of the National Leather Association International’s Lifetime Achievement Award and others notes that “fan fiction” like “Fifty Shades” doesn't depict functional BDSM behavior as modeled in real life ...  and the “kinknoscenti,” — amazed at how dumb it seems — believe the genre will ultimately see a net benefit from the mere widening of the conversation, and the fact that millions of women got to say, “My sexual fantasies deserve attention.”

Other net gains from the movie's buzz include product profit.

The Stockroom attributes a substantial boost in retail sales and increased attendance for classes, reports Hudsy Hawn, head mistress of Stockroom Hall and pro BDSM advocate. “This realm of sexuality has been The Stockroom’s area of specialization for more than 25 years now. There have been varying reactions to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ (both the novel and the film) in the kink world, hot and cold, but we are happy that the books, the film, and all the buzz surrounding them have encouraged so many people to open up to new dialogue, and to explore their personal inclinations, fetishes and kinks. It is helping to raise our collective understanding of relationship dynamics and our erotic adventurousness to new, higher levels.”

Novelty company Sportsheets even hosted its own screening of the film filled with 120 staff, close friends and customers.

CEO Tom Stewart said that the film is a wonderful vehicle to bring his company’s products to more consumers and into more bedrooms. “I think that the same people who read the books will go see the movie(s) and would then want to try our products.”

Sportsheets' President Julie Stewart adds that the movie evoked raw, true reactions and no filters from the audience. “It was an amazing event.”

Despites its inherent BDSM flaws, the mainstream appeal of the movie can’t be denied. Performer Mona Wales, Femdom Awards nominee for Domme of the Year says, “that in the same sense that immorality is simply the morality of people having more fun than you are,” the film allows middle America to enjoy what they thought they once hated, while still maintaining that level of “perfect guilt.”

And although he admitted that he hadn’t yet seen the movie,’s Acworth summed it up by saying he’s heard it contains a lot of nudity, and that alone is a very good sign that a sexually explicit movie is able to get mainstream distribution.

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