It has been two years since the film Fifty Shades of Grey (based on the book of the same name by E.L. James) was released. In it, we were introduced to a romanticized version of the BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, and Masochism). We are now getting close to the release of the second film in the series, which is called Fifty Shades Darker. I previously wrote about the first book and film, which you can read here.
Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, and Masochism on the Big Screen
In the second film/book, we pick up the story where it left off. The main characters, Christian Grey and Ana Steele, are seeking to establish a “vanilla” relationship with one another; one that is free from the rules and punishments that go along with the dominance/submission of BDSM. The characters are recognizing the damaging effects that BDSM has had in their relationship and they are trying to move on from it to a more healthy style of relating to one another. The story that is unfolding seems to be that the two can save one another. Christian can save Ana from all sorts of physical dangers, and Ana can save Christian from BDSM and his history of abuse. The “control” that started in the bedroom plays itself out in other ways in their relationship.
The advertising for the first film was highly erotic and showed many of the accoutrements of the BDSM lifestyle, whips and handcuffs to name a couple. This second film’s previews are equally erotic, but missing are the bondage related tools and equipment. While there does seem to be a plot, the marketing for the films is definitely to use the sexual imagery to sell the product. The novels were a huge success. I wonder how many people were introduced to this romanticized version of BDSM and decided to try it out for themselves? Interestingly enough, many from the actual BDSM community find the story offensive, because BDSM is portrayed as being problematic in developing a healthy relationship for the couple in the film. Many who participate in BDSM do not see it as a problem; rather merely another alternative to normal sexual expression.
The Damage of BDSM
While people can be involved in BDSM at different levels, I do not believe it is benign in any of its forms. It is ultimately about control. This can be expressed through being completely in control of another person’s pleasure or pain; or it can be about being completely out of control, allowing someone else to use and abuse them. However far the role playing goes, these are behaviors which attach true, legitimate needs to activities which are destructive. When sexual pain and pleasure are pursued through BDSM, a cycle begins in which more and more risk must be taken in order to feel connected.
In his book Addiction and Grace, Gerald May states, “Addiction attaches desire, bonds and enslaves the energy of desire to certain specific behaviors, things, or people. These objects of attachment then become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives.”1 God designed us for intimacy and connection. When, through various behaviors, we attach that which is legitimate (true need) to something destructive (such as BDSM), we will never be truly satisfied.
How can we engage the culture?
One way Christians have chosen to deal with topics like this is to put on blinders and pretend it doesn’t exist. At some level, I can see the appeal if this. If BDSM poses a strong temptation for a person, then “fleeing” may be the best option. But I wonder if part of what we are called to is to engage with people on topics such as this. If a coworker talks about seeing the movie or reading the book, have a conversation about what they find so appealing about it. Rather than simply ignoring or participating in lewd humor, ask questions that might lead the conversation to a deeper place of thought and introspection. We can certainly pray for opportunities to be a light in the darkness. Lord, help us to follow you and to walk with those who may be struggling. Protect us from that which is harmful and help us to love others as you do.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV)
1 Gerald May, Addiction and Grace, San Francisco: Harper, 1988, 3.