Fifty Shades of Submission

By Samm Blackmore

Hi, my name is Sammie and I’m a sexual submissive. Unfortunately, if everything you know about Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) comes from EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, then you’re probably assuming I spend most of my time fluttering around my dominate, immediately fulfilling his every sexual whim and excluding everything else.

But being submissive is only one part of who I am. I’m a 25-year-old microbiologist, bad movie aficionado, occasional writer and card-carrying feminist. You see, despite what you might have read to the contrary, my sexual urges do not overshadow every other aspect of my life.

So why do I submit, you ask? The first thing you need to know is that I’m not broken. I grew up in a nice suburban middle class home. There’s no past deep-seated trauma that has created my love of being degraded. I don’t use drugs or drink excessively and I have no medical issues, psychological or physical, that might offer an explanation for my sexuality.

To answer some of the other troublesome stereotypes: I am neither a doormat nor a simpleton. I know that human CST complex is a terminator of telomerase activity. (Microbiologist, remember?) I don’t yearn to spend my day in the kitchen while someone hunts and gathers for me, which is just as well as I’m not that great a cook.

I understand some schools of feminist thought are going to have problems with submission as a concept.

One of my frustrations with Fifty Shades of Grey’s success is so much of the story’s main relationship plays into the misconception that any sexual relationship based around BDSM is an abusive one.

Despite what I like to do in bed, I consider myself a feminist. I find it very depressing that because of my informed sexual choices, there are women who’d want to wave “Down with this sort of thing!” placards in my direction. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that what I enjoy is – in a different context – potentially another woman’s worst nightmare. It’s not something everyone might indulge in. But within safe, sane and consensual circumstances and in privacy with my trusted partner, I don’t see why anybody should tell me I can’t or I shouldn’t.

Things do go wrong occasionally, as Fifty Shades of Grey alludes to. I’ve been bitten so hard I’ve bled, and I’ve had some of my hair yanked out. I’ve pulled muscles and I’ve gotten friction burns, and on one memorable occasion I’ve had to scream my safe word when a knot slipped and threatened to drop me face-first onto a tiled floor. An important thing for you to realise, though, is these are short-term and purely physical dangers which I accept as a part of my play. I do not allow the sexual aspect of my relationship to influence other aspects of my life. I am in control of my finances, my reproductive health, my career, my social life and all the other things that feminism has fought for. I genuinely believe it’s the fundamental misunderstanding of what BDSM is that contributes a lot to feminists’ opposition of dominant/submissive relationships.

For me, Fifty Shades of Grey is far more a fetishisation of capitalism as it is a dissertation on BDSM. Christian Grey offers Anastasia Steele vast provisions of wealth – designer labels, helicopters and expensive gifts – to encourage our virginal heroine to stick with him, endure his peccadilloes and to keep trying to change him. As well-known feminist and submissive Sophie Morgan writes, “It’s very much focused on ending up married and settled and financially secure – Mills & Boon with butt plugs.”

BDSM should be harmless.

Except much of what happens in the main relationship of Fifty Shades of Grey is domestic abuse, both physical and emotional. For people whose entire understanding of BDSM now comes from the novel, this is a dangerous misconception to encourage. It comes back to the nature of consent; the fact that I am enjoying, not enduring, what my partner and I are doing, and that power fundamentally remains with me. I decide who to submit to, how much control to give them and what my limits are. If I use my safe word, it stops – immediately.

Feeling challenged, even feeling demeaned within this sexual context is different to domestic abuse. Submission is all about temporarily relinquishing control in exchange for a sexual high. That’s why so many socially empowered, sexually confident women, and men, enjoy it so much.

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