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Kinky, Sexy, Safety

BDSM author and educator Janet W. Hardy sounds off on 50 Shades of Grey

Many of my colleagues wish 50 Shades of Grey had never been written. I wish it had been written thirty years ago.

I’ve been doing BDSM since we called it S/M. (In the early ’90s, someone mashed together B&D for bondage and discipline, D/s for dominance and submission and S/M for sadomasochism to coin the acronym BDSM. I liked it better when it had fewer initials.) 

Back then, I was trying to figure out how to enact my fantasies of turning grown men over my knee. The only guides for how to do it safely and well were unknown to me: Tower Books in Sacramento didn’t sell books like The Leatherman’s Handbook or The Lesbian S/M Safety Manual, and even if it had, I probably wouldn’t have bought them — I was a straight woman, not a leatherman or a lesbian.

As a result, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. 

I thought my fantasies about spanking were the sum total of kink; I’d never heard of clamps or electroplay, flogging or fisting or fetish. I’d read somewhere about “safewords,” but had no idea that scenes were to be negotiated, and or any sense of how to keep myself or my partners safe. It was pure luck that I was never assaulted and that I never seriously injured anyone.

Which brings me to 50 Shades of Grey.

Many of my friends and colleagues in the BDSM communities have been deeply affronted by the books and the movie, pointing out — correctly — that Christian is a boundaryless stalker and Ana a manipulative mess. (Also, that the chances of a shy 20-year-old virgin hooking up with an interestingly damaged billionaire are considerably better than her odds of finding an unmetered parking space twenty feet from the front of his office in downtown Seattle.)

That said, though, I’d rather a beginner see or read 50 Shades than start playing with no information at all, as I did.

If she does view or read it (the majority of 50 Shades fans are female), she’ll learn that experienced kinksters actually talk about what we’re going to do before we do it — often making written lists of which activities are OK, which are edgy and which are off the table. She’ll learn that the internet is full of information about how to keep herself safe and healthy as she explores her fantasies. She’ll learn that even a slightly creepy and very entitled tycoon should give his partner a safeword, and should check in often during play to ensure that his partner hasn’t freaked out. She may even learn that white-knuckling one’s way through a scene one hates is a profoundly bad idea.

What she won’t learn is that damaged bad boys are better off being fixed by qualified professionals than by inexperienced college girls. But that’s been a problem with virtually the entire canon of romantic fiction — from Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre to most contemporary bodice-rippers - so perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect one trilogy and one movie to undo a few centuries of romantic indoctrination.

And while I’m glad that millions of people are soaking up the fundamentals of negotiation and safety with their smut, I hope they won’t stop there. These days we’re all just a few keystrokes away from dozens of nonfiction books about clamps and electroplay, flogging and fisting and fetish, as well as hundreds of volumes of kinky erotica written by knowledgeable BDSM practitioners. There are many more shades of kink than there are shades of grey, and I hope 50 Shades readers will go on to discover them all.

Janet W. Hardy hosts “50 Shades of Kink: The Fantasy vs. The Reality” 7 to 9 pm Sunday, March 8, at WOW Hall; $15.

Janet W. Hardy