'Fifty Shades of Grey': A Dominatrix's View (Guest Column)
"Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey is a combination of Dexter Morgan and David Hasselhoff," says Lady Velvet Steel, a professional dominatrix in Berlin.
Like many of you, I recently went to the movies to watch Fifty Shades of Grey. Unlike most of you, I'm an expert in S&M. I work as a professional dominatrix in Berlin. As such, I'm perhaps uniquely equipped to judge the film and the way it portrays my world.
First, it is a horrible movie — badly written, boring and, with the exception of Dakota Johnson, who I thought did a good job as Anastasia Steele, atrociously acted. More on that later. But to the main point: When it comes to the world of S&M, Fifty Shades gets it almost all wrong.
Technically, the film is fine. Christian Grey's playroom is amazing; I would love to work in that. It's not really my style — I try to avoid the cliche of the black and red '80s-style dungeon. But he has a lot of great toys and nice features, like the adjustable rack that descends from the ceiling. Lovely! Kudos to the production designers.
I know some of my colleges will criticize the movie for Grey's choice of rope and the knot he uses because it's not suitable for long-term binding. But it's perfectly OK for a quick f—. If you are going for a longer-term session, you should use a softer rope and a knot with more give so you don't cut off the circulation.
Oh, and a tip for S&M beginners: avoid cable ties. They don't have any give and can cut off the circulation and cause nerve damage. But to do S&M, you don't really need a design scheme; you don't really need the right tools. You can work with anything. It's not so much about technique; it's about the mindset.
And the mindset is where Fifty Shades gets it so wrong.
Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan, is supposedly a dominant in Fifty Shades. He isn't a dominant. He's a stalker. He breaks into Anastasia's house, he bullies her friend, he buys her expensive gifts. He is constantly crossing boundaries. And S&M is all about respecting boundaries.
There is no clear outline of how an S&M relationship has to be. There is no definite right and wrong way. But the foundation is that you have two people who agree, in a consensual manner, to the form the relationship should take. The movie seems to want to depict a very niche aspect of S&M: Total Power Exchange, where a submissive gives up total responsibility to the dominant. In my experience, while this can sound great in one's fantasy, it rarely works in reality because it's rarely safe or sane.
S&M is fundamentally about consent. Trying to force your version of a relationship onto another person — as Christian Grey does in the film — is not a good way to start any relationship, particularly one that incorporates S&M. The film also suggests his desires come from being abused as a child, suggesting they are pathological. I think Christian Grey should go to therapy and work things out before he starts any relationships with other women.
The relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele as depicted in the movie is an abusive relationship. Of course, I have seen this kind of thing in the S&M world. But it's not specific to my world. There are people everywhere in all walks of life with weird, unhealthy relationships. Fifty Shades is fiction and they can do what they want, but their depiction of S&M reveals either a lack of research or a lack of understanding.
Anastasia Steele as depicted in Fifty Shades isn't a submissive — at least, not in the S&M sense. The film tries very hard to portray her as a natural submissive: as a shy girl who thinks she's ugly and unworthy. But I don't think she really enjoys S&M. Dakota Johnson does a good job with a difficult role. Her Anastasia Steele is more interesting than the character in the book, smarter and funnier. Jamie Dornan, on the other hand, plays Christian Grey like a combination between Dexter Morgan (of TV's Dexter) and David Hasselhoff — both creepy and dull. I wouldn't let a guy like that near me, abs or no abs.
Compare the portrayal of S&M in Fifty Shades to that in Secretary (2002). That's also a fictional story, but the characters have color and depth. Maggie Gyllenhaal as a submissive plays the game, and enjoys it. You see there's consent there. And that movie is funny, while Fifty Shades takes itself way too seriously. Anyone who does S&M knows humor is part of it. If you can't laugh while you are doing S&M, you probably shouldn't be doing it.
I hate to say it, but Fifty Shades is very American in the way it shows sex and relationships. She is the literature student with no money, who thinks she's ugly and unlovable. And then this prince — with his money and his helicopter and his amazing house — picks you as his princess. You get a car, and a Macbook. The keys to the kingdom. It's a teenage high-school romance. A Disney fantasy.
One word on the product placement: all those Bose headphones, Apple computers, iPhone and shiny car after shiny car. You can be poor and still be a great dominant. Money has nothing to do with having great sex.
The one positive thing I can say about the whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon is that it has brought S&M out of the shadows. There used to be a lot of discrimination, people doing S&M were portrayed as pedophiles, as sick f—s. I don't think 50 Shades is true S&M, but if it is introducing people to my world and helping them experience new pleasure, that can only be a good thing.
That said, only a true masochist would go and watch this movie.
Lady Velvet Steel is a professional dominatrix who lives and works in Berlin. She's also a spokeswoman for the German Association of Sex Workers. She can be reached at www.ladyvelvetsteel.com.
— As told to Scott Roxborough