Sex

The real 'Fifty Shades of Grey' effect (and yes, it has everything to do with ‘kinky f**kery’)

From dom/sub sex, to rope bondage mishaps, Cosmo taps a sex therapist and a BDSM mistress to discuss the real Fifty Shades Effect.

By: Mahalia Chang

Admit it: it would be a lie to say you've never heard of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Even if you haven't sat through one, two, or all three of the films (and their eye-watering dialogue), you've glanced at a book, or hate-watched a trailer, or passed by a billboard. You might have even devoured the the books and the films, and loved every minute.

Whether you like to admit it or not, the world has enjoyed an intense love affair with Fifty Shades. We secretly think they're a decent Saturday night popcorn flick, we Google the exact lipstick Dakota Johnson wears on her constantly-bitten lips (Glossier's Generation G in 'Jam,' you're welcome), and we saw one of the OTT sex scenes and thought, 'Yeah, okay, I might let Jamie Dornan do that to me.'

But the effect goes much further than just our couches on the weekend. Globally, women and men have let Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele influence the way they have sex.

After the release of every movie, websites about BDSM get more hits. Sex toy shops sell out of vibrators. Agent Provocateur stocks up on their corsets. And sales in handcuffs, leg spreaders, nipple clamps, and riding crops go up, up, up.

But more than just BDSM accessories and sexy lingerie, people are getting out and trying more kinky things in real life, too.

"It has got some conversations going for people who might have been too afraid to talk about this stuff before — it's opened them up to possibilities. I meet a lot of couples who are wanting to introduce a bit of kink or a bit of spice into their relationship, and I know people that run workshops in kinky stuff that have seen an increase," says Tanya Koens, a sex therapist.

Fifty Shades, has been a virtual diving board, an inviting rabbit hole that has allowed people to explore their kinky side without embarrassment. Where once your Sunday brunch group would have recoiled from talk of spankings and ball gags, now full-on floggings are fair game.

"There are conversations happening like, 'Oh, you're kinky? I'm kinky, too!' Women down at the tennis club on the weekend are going, 'My husband spanked me on the weekend, it felt so naughty.' And it's okay to talk about those things. Before they might have thought it wasn't okay to talk about that," says Tanya.

A similar effect has been felt throughout the BDSM community, in clubs, and spaces, and in sex shops.

"We get a lot of people coming in straight off the street, wanting to explore kink, and Fifty Shades of Grey has been a great opener for that. It's been great. We love it," says Aleni De Viate, a BDSM mistress and slave behind Sydney's Studio Kink.

"Before Fifty Shades of Grey, the biggest conversation opener that people used to get into BDSM was porn. If the woman was too conservative or uncomfortable with watching porn, it was really hard for the couple to gain permission to talk about these things."

And those talks are certainly spurring a bit of action. Aleni tells Cosmo that she's seen quite a few new initiates into the community, who have come in via the franchise.

"The community has expanded quite a lot — the biggest effect Fifty Shades has had is making people aware of their kink, what turns them on… and the movies gave people a chance to explore that a little bit. It's opened the conversation. People are starting to accept the fact that their sexual proclivity might not be what they've been taught, or what the culture supports as normal.

"In Sydney, I have a space called Studio Kink, which is a space for education, and for creativity, and exploration. It's what we call a safe space. We have found that we've had been influx in our introduction classes. People are now going online and googling, 'rope bondage,' and finding us and coming to the class."

"Normally when they come to the studio, they've tried stuff in the book and it hasn't worked, or it hasn't felt good, and they want to see it done right. I'm sure there's a bunch of people trying it at home, but by the time they come to us, they're just listening."

Both Tanya and Aleni agree that the books and movies presence as a mainstream gateway is a huge positive. In the past three years since the films have been released, Tanya and Aleni tell Cosmo they've both seen a sizeable increase in the people coming to see them, interested in learning about kinky sex and BDSM relationships.

But with every positive comes a negative. The gate might be open, but those entering don't always have the most accurate conceptions on BDSM — thanks to some of the franchise's more controversial plotlines.

"If one is 'not at all accurate,' and 10 is 'absolutely bang-on accurate,' Fifty Shades of Grey is a three or a four — in my eyes, anyway.

"The negative kickback is that is leaves people a lot more open to the predation of what we call the 'unethical player,'" says Aleni. "People who will violate consent, people who will take things further because of the naïveté of the player's involved… one of our roles is been taking to people about consent, about ethical play."

"It's such a complicated issue. And that consent conversation has come out into a more mainstream environment with #MeToo… these are the conversations the kink community has been having since day dot, but much more meaningfully in the last five years."

One of the most commonly-discussed inaccuracies in the movie is Christian's more controlling behaviour. Often labelled a stalker or an abuser, some of the scenes where he has men follow her, has access to her personal information, or forbids her from seeing friends or travelling, has riled members of the BDSM community.

"The relationship between a submissive and their dominant is one of absolute trust," says Aleni. "The dominant has to trust the submissive in that they want to submit and that they consent to submitting, and they will communicate their wants and needs.

"And the submissive needs to trust the dominant because they're submitting to their will, they have to trust that they will be seen and that they will be heard, and that they won't be hurt."

Tanya adds, "I think that the BDSM community doesn't like that he's made out to be like a controlling stalker. When you think about these relationships… if someone's going to have a 24/7 master and slave relationship, or a dominant and submissive relationship, it has to be well negotiated. It's meant to be good for both people, not bad.

"The difference between abuse and BDSM it that BDSM is consensual and you grow and learn from it. Abuse is not consensual, you don't know when it's going to happen, and one person always has more power than the other."

Tanya also notes that a lot of the negative effects are purely logistics. Having seen the movies, people have been going out and attempting the same things without properly researching beforehand.

"The sales of rope at Bunnings went up all around Australia after Fifty Shades. I said, 'Woah, that is not the kind of rope you want to use!' You don't tie double knots. You don't tie it so people can't get out. You have to have some shears nearby, if you need to cut them out in a hurry.

"I have people come to me, and say, 'I want to be in a master-slave relationship!' and they've never done it before. Like, come on, kemosabe, you've got a ways to go."

But despite the odd case of rope burn, or a bruised butt, both Tanya and Aleni agree that watching the movies can be the great way to introduce a little bit of kink into your life, in a natural and safe way.

Tanya told us, "I think the fact that people are coming in and having conversations with people like myself, or they're looking at things they see in sex shops, or they're seeking guidance by reading books, or taking workshops. I think that stuff is very good. There are people who are so curious, they're going and paying to see a professional, like a professional dominant, and getting lessons on how that works."

Tanya's advice for safe kink practice?

"Do your homework! It does feel a little bit boring to have to go and read a book about it, or ask advice about it, but if you do just one session with a kink friendly sex therapist, you can learn a lot. An awful lot can be divulged in an hour. Then you can go off and pursue it yourself.

"Workshops are great. If you're going to spank someone's body, there are some no-go zones. There are also some really great things that you can learn about how bodies work to make it really exciting, rather than just spanking someone's bottom until it goes pink. You can learn techniques and you can learn things to make it extra special sex.

"It's not just about safety. If you're going to experiment, you might as well do a good job of it!"