Fifty Shades of Grey, by E L James is really fun. The trilogy tells the story of a recent college graduate, Anastasia Steele and her wealthy, handsome CEO boyfriend named Christian Grey. As their courting progresses, Mr. Grey exposes Ms. Steele to the wonders of BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism ). For some readers this may be totally unappealing, for others it might spice up their sex lives.
What I like about 50 Shades of Grey is that it has allowed a wide audience of people to talk about sexuality in general and BDSM specifically. Though people may feel shame or discomfort in discussing sexuality, in truth, research shows that, “BDSM is an aspect that is present in approximately 23% of the population in terms of fantasy, at least on occasion (estimates range from 12-23% for women, 20-50% for men; Kinsey et al. 1953; Arndt et al, 1985) and expressed by 10% of the population” ( Masters et al, 1994). That means that one out of 10 people are into S and M. For centuries people who were into BDSM were considered mentally ill, but in the 1980’s the American Psychiatric Association removed S and M as a category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This was a great move forward.
Roy Baumeister, PhD., a social psychologist at Case Western University, explains BDSM in a Psychology Today article from 1999. Baumeister says that, “like alcohol abuse, binge eating and meditation, sadomasochism is a way for people to forget themselves. Masochism is a set of techniques for helping people temporarily lose their normal identity. The Modern Western ego is an incredibly elaborate structure, with our culture placing more demands on the individual self than any other culture in history. Such high demands increase the stress associated with living up to expectations and existing as the person you want to be. The stress makes forgetting who you are an appealing escape. That is the essence of the escape theory, and one of the main reasons people turn to S and M.”
Escapism through BDSM is certainly an aspect of what appeals to both characters in the book. They also enjoy the BDSM for purely sexual reasons as well. The books description of sex seems to appeal to a wide audience, and from my perspective, that is worth a lot. At the Center, we often hear from our patients about therapists and doctors who feel awkward discussing sex, so whenever the subject can be raised in a way that promotes discussion and makes people feel good, that’s a good thing! BDSM is generally thought to be marginalized by the mainstream. As long as what is happening is between two consenting adults, I don’t have a problem with it. So if you are curious about BDSM or erotica, give the book a try.