Hello y’all, and happy Fall! Last week, we watched a kinky love story during Sex Positive Cinema, the Pleasure Evolution monthly movie night. This inspired me to talk about the way two of my favorite things in the world intersect: BDSM and Fiction Media.

The Bare Bones of Kink

A few years ago I attended one of Pleasure Evolution’s Authentic Sexuality Play Parties here in NYC. After a particularly unusual and exquisite scene I took part in involving knives and a St. Andrew’s Cross, I was approached by another party-goer, a gentleman I’d chatted with earlier, and in his eyes was the spark of revelation. He told me how he’d always thought of hardcore kink as a terrifying and brutal experience, based on his limited sampling of porn. Only, that night he watched the way my partner gently unhooked me from the cross, hydrated me, wrapped me in a blanket, and held me through Aftercare, and realized how wrong he was.

This man had never even heard the word “Aftercare” before, and he was understandably astonished. I’ve found in my travels that this perception of kink is fairly wide-reaching. Basic, easy-access BDSM porn skips the extensive negotiations and edits out the aftercare, the two elements of scenes that separate kinky sex from literal abuse and assault. But this belief pervades more than just pornography.

If we look at media like the Fifty Shades franchise, the ideals of real BDSM – Safe, Sane, and Consensual; or alternatively Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK) – are notably absent. Christian Grey is without doubt an abusive control freak who repeatedly takes advantage and violates the limits of his submissive. And while I have no problem with the fantasy of spontaneous power-exchange and severe boundary-pushing, too few audience members are taking into account that it is a fantasy. In reality, so much more effort is required.

The Challenge of Portraying BDSM

Culturally, psychologically, there are certain categories into which people tend to place hardcore doms and subs. I’m sure you’re familiar with the stereotypes: Powerful businessman is tired of decision-making all day, hires Dominatrix; Woman with history of abuse seeks rough anonymous encounters to cope with trauma; Meek librarian can let loose as a Professional Domme, etc. And honestly each of these is laughable.

Stereotypes like this have a dangerous way of equating our desires with our overall personality in a paltry attempt to rationalize BDSM. What we do is not all of who we are. Moreover, what we do can be motivated by any variety of factors. Some kink really is abuse in sheep’s clothing, and the less educated someone is about how to identify and communicate their desires and limits, the more likely this situation becomes. In modern society, media is a way for all of us to step into someone else’s shoes for a time, and so they way kinksters are portrayed matters, because it’s an opportunity to learn.

Some shows, films, books, and other types of stories handle this portrayal better than others. Some focus a troubling amount on mental health as a motivation for engaging in kink. Others portray sexualized violence far more often and more graphically than is necessary for storytelling purposes. However, the film we screened last weekend – “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women” – does possibly the best job I’ve ever seen of showing the profound intimacy that power exchange can evoke, and how well it can be folded into the fabric of a healthy relationship.

What about you, dear reader? Leave in the comments what BDSM-themed media you’ve watched and why you liked it, or didn’t!

If you’ve never seen “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women” check it out. It’s available to stream for free on Hulu. And join us next month on October 18th for The Sessions, a beautiful film about the healing power of sex. This is always a free event, so click the link above or head to our Calendar page to RSVP! See you there, and Shana Tova!