Fit to be tied

As Fifty Shades of Grey has proven, it's fun to do bad things

We met at a local bar on a Monday night, as friends do, to talk about the meaning of life and such. As we finished our second beer, he cleared his throat.

"We should probably discuss what we like to make sure we're on the same page," he said.


This was how my first BDSM relationship began — with a conversation.

The topic comes on the heels of the hype created by the controversial New York Times best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic trilogy where a virginal college student participates in a BDSM relationship as a result of the sexual interests of a new lover.

Dubbed "mommy porn" because of its suburban female demographic and strong sexual nature, the e-book shot to No. 1 on the New York Times e-book fiction best-seller list, leaving America to wonder, "What does this say about modern American women?"

Although I haven't read it, mostly due to its seemingly cheesy Twilight nature, the book's popularity thrills me. Its success strikes me as a slap across the face to slut-shamers the nation over, with women assuming control of their sex lives. Not because they're going to run out and buy a bunch of S&M gear (although, trends show they have in some parts of the country), but because it means women are curious and hungry to explore other facets of intimacy, even if they don't stick with it.

It seems like everyone has something to say about the book, but perhaps the article that has drawn the most attention to the topic of women and BDSM is the recent Newsweek cover story by Katie Roiphe titled "The Fantasy Life of Working Women: Why Surrender is a Feminist Dream."

A journalist and cultural critic, Roiphe has come under fire in the past for being a self-identified feminist with anti-feminist ideals. This time, Roiphe's article pleads the case that sexual acts, such as spanking, or fantasies, such as that of rape or submission, have no room in feminism. In other words, feminists shouldn't approve of them, because such ideas run counter to our progress. She argues that, despite the advances by women today, the modern feminist has subjugated herself and allowed such demeaning behavior to become acceptable.

Of the recent articles and research studies she cited concerning the modern woman having rape fantasies, Roiphe says, "Even though fantasies are something that, by definition, one can't control, they seem to be saying something about modern women that nearly everyone wishes wasn't said." Which is what, exactly? That we're screwed up? That's funny, because I feel completely normal and sane.

Through history, BDSM has long been associated with misogyny and the fetishizing of power and violence toward women, but this has not been the relationship I've had with men who are into BDSM. (Which, it should be pointed out, is a gray label with a sliding scale of degrees depending on personal interests and boundaries.) Because of these associations, it can be hard for men and women to express their BDSM interest with a partner, not to mention that it is socially linked with mental instability (it was regarded by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a mental illness until 1994).

So fantasies of rape and submission are certainly nothing new, yet they remain a delicate topic to broach, no matter the success of Fifty Shades. More importantly, if there are shades of BDSM a person wishes to explore, it is very important to know and trust one's play partner, as well as to have a discussion beforehand that outlines terms and conditions. We all want to respect each other in the morning.

That was what made that conversation I had at the bar so memorable: The lack of urgency like one sometimes finds in lustful sex, instead replaced with a desire to get to know the other person better first, so as to better please each other in the bedroom.

He names his favorite desires and scenarios.

"Obviously," he said, "as a mutual agreement, I would like to explore with you, to figure out what each of us can teach each other." I felt a charge run up my spine. "You'll have to be honest and open and I'll do the same. This comes from mutual respect and understanding and can't be forced."

Suddenly shy and flushed, I smiled and nodded. There was a feeling of security that washed over me, knowing I wouldn't be judged, that my own sexual interests would be considered seriously. When I was younger, a seed of shame lived in me. I thought that women, like Roiphe and, yes, even feminists, would disapprove of my fantasies. But at the end of the day, there's never nothing quite like the calmness that comes with ignoring those concerns, in being true to you and only you.

"Let's start with drinks," he said, "Get to know each other. I'd like to be friends with you and eventually do very dirty things to you."

"That sounds perfect."

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