The following is a guest post from contributor Jim Marcus and part of the Beyond 50 Shades of Grey series. The 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon has everyone talking about kink. This part of a series of articles that take a deeper, more realistic look at elements of BDSM. Get ready to go Beyond 50 Shades.
50 Shades of Grey has been effective in reaching and connecting with a whole crowd of people who might not have been that interested in reading a book called “Christian dominates and beats up a girl in his red room of pain.” In retrospect, really, I applaud these people, because that’s a terrible title. Many of those people were pulled in by the plot and the storyline. Then they found it resonated with them, leaving them essentially understanding where Ana was coming from.
And then they discovered that it may have turned them on a little bit.
Critics can say what they want about the book but they can’t deny that it’s turned some people on. And for many people, that may be enough. It’s a little hot and it gives them something to possibly fantasize about. For those people, the ones for whom this book is enough, I wish you well and I’ll meet up with you in another article, possibly one about school lunches. No one understands school lunches. For the rest of you– the ones that want to take one step further– I’ll see you in the next paragraph.
The Starting Point
Whenever I talk to people who have little to no experience in bondage, domination, sadism, submission, masochism, or the like, I ask them to imagine for me a couple. They are named Chris and Alex. First of all, I didn’t name them. They are 100% real, but, honestly, I couldn’t have named them better than this. You have no idea if they are gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian, transgendered. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are people who love each other – and, for some reason, that one of them works as a cable installer. That becomes relevant somewhere down the road.
Chris and Alex aren’t particularly kinky. They have a great sex life and they adore each other. They like some of the same TV shows and they have wonderful talks, some of which last all night. They also have a ritual that they don’t even recognize as a kink. It happens every single morning.
The alarm goes off and Chris is the first one awake, walking over to Alex’s side of the bed. A little playful Nudge and Alex is awake and getting up to stand up, arms rolled up against the chest like a mummy. That’s when Chris’ arms snake around, lifting Alex up off the ground. If we were in the bedroom we would hear a clicking- a snap- and then the sound of Alex’s sigh, immediately followed by bare feet touching back down on the carpeted floor lightly.
Alex is a cable installer and constantly bent over, crawling around, lifting, back in pain. This moment in the morning is their shared joy and we could break down why if we wanted to. Alex loves this:
- 20% because of the pain. Having your back cracked feels strong and immersive. Alex feels alive.
- 20% because of how it feels once the pain stops. It’s amazing. Alex feels peaceful.
- 20% because it’s their thing. It reminds Alex every morning that they belong together.
- 20% because Chris’ arms always linger a little too long every morning, reminding Alex that Chris doesn’t want to let go. Alex feels that tension of restraint and the uncertainty. Is this the day Chris just doesn’t let go? In reality, Chris never wants to let go.
- 20% because…well…they just don’t know. Maybe there is a little sexual excitement in there. Maybe Alex is turned on by how strong Chris feels lifting like that. Maybe it’s just exciting being the center– the focus of Chris’ attention. Maybe it’s Chris validating how hard Alex works and going out of the way to provide release. Who knows?
But it’s 20% they get to explore together.
And that is Bondage and Domination 101. It’s really that simple. It may be pain, it may be restraint, it may be lifting off the floor, it may be a million things, but at the center of it all are Chris and Alex and the feelings they have, the 80% they can explain and the 20% they may never know.
In Between the Greys
In the book, Christian Grey is a tormented, troubled Sadistic Dominant who meets up with a woman with deep submissive desires. He is fictional and nothing he does is really terribly edgy. Sasha Grey is a world famous actress and sexual explorer who has been in countless gangbangs. She is real and her first on-screen sexual encounter was during an orgy where she asked Rocco Siffredi to punch her in the stomach. She has been a beautiful, brilliant and bright star of the sex community.
So let’s say that there is room between Christian Grey and Sasha Grey. Room we can explore. You just read the 50 Shades of Grey book or read about it or heard about it from a friend. You would like to explore a little bit more in the bedroom but you don’t want to run out to an adult themed store or join an adult fetish website. You don’t want to go out and buy ropes, ballgags or whips. And you don’t want to make your bedroom into all BDSM all the time. All you really want is to explore some of the things in the book that turned you on a little bit with your partner every now and then.
So let’s introduce you to the three tools you have at your disposal that are free, easy to use, and customizable to what you want: Rules, Roleplays, and Rituals.
In the book, Christian established rules through a contract with Ana. A BDSM contract is a list of the rules that need to be followed in the “playful” part of the relationship. They can be just a few lines long and can be temporary. A contract or set of rules can last one hour. Or they can last as long as you like. One of the simplest and greatest contracts I have ever seen is one that I recommend writing up with your partner and signing right away. It can last as long as you both want, but it’s a great first step. And it’s not a scary contract at all:
“We, ______________ and _____________ agree that sharing fantasies is the best way to ensure that our sexual relationship stays exciting and vital to the both of us. In that spirit we both wholeheartedly agree that when either one of us tells the other one a fantasy that we have, sexual or otherwise, that the other will listen with an open mind, not insult, make fun of, punish, or otherwise make the teller feel bad about the fantasy.”
This is one of those rules that opens the door for other rules. It makes everything that comes afterward a little easier. You may say “My partner would never make fun of a fantasy I had” and you may be 100% right. But it’s remarkable how much having it writing actually starts the conversation. Now, all you have to do is to abide by that rule. That means if your partner tells you he has a fantasy to be out of control and you are mad at him for not telling the washing machine repairman what to do it is out of bounds to bring up that fantasy. Simple, right?
It’s not always easy to take what you learn and place it into the “playful” part of your relationship. You may be tempted to draw connections between playful fantasies and real life arguments. If you don’t resist that urge you lose the right to hear that next fantasy.
Once this rule is in place, so many other rules are possible. And, again, if we think of rules that may live for only a few hours we can begin to use rules to create interesting situations. Here are some rules that can live for a while.
- Rule #29 – When in our bedroom, you have to remove your clothes immediately. For the duration of this rule, you are not allowed to wear clothes in our room.
- Rule #432 – For as long as this rule is in force, you have to call me sir when we are alone.
- Rule #22 – For the duration of this rule, you will get one spanking for every extra ring on your phone when I call. If each time today I called you the phone rang three times you will get 4 spankings- two for each of the two extra rings.
- Rule #90 – As long as this rule is in place, I get to strip you and examine you every time you come back home from work, the gym, etc.
- Rule #878 – For the duration of this rule, you have to put your hands behind your back when you are with me privately. I can touch you any way I want.
- Rule #35 – You can’t speak to me in private until I speak to you first. You must keep your head down and not look directly in my eyes.
- Rule #66 – As long as this rule is in force, you will receive one spanking for each minute you are late coming home. You will bend over nude on the kitchen table to receive your spankings.
- Rule #109 – You will agree to be blindfolded during sex as long as this rule is in force and I will give you the fantasy to think about.
- Rule #595 – In the morning, for as long as we have this rule, you must exercise wearing the outfit I set out for you the night before, no matter what. If there is no outfit, you must exercise nude.
A few interesting things connect rules like this together. First of all, they all include some element of a power exchange. Someone is in charge, making rules, and someone is following them. You and your partner may discover which of you most loves making rules and which of you most loves following them. It may be that you like to switch back and forth, and that’s fine. The person making the rules gets the excitement of knowing that their rules are being followed- obeyed. They know that the follower is turned on enough to follow those rules. The person following the rules gets the excitement of knowing that the rule maker is thinking about them- plotting and planning something that turns them on.
And the rules often give the rule follower a way to show what THEY want. For example, for Rule #22, we see how easy it is for the rule follower to get more spankings- just take their time answering that phone. Similarly, in Rule #66, the rule follower has a way to affect the outcome of the event. And that gives the Rule maker something to observe and consider.
One of the other tools we have to explore a little bit is the Roleplay. Some people say they don’t feel comfortable role playing- they feel like they’ll be laughed at or feel, well, stupid. And every person who ever walked on a stage felt the same way. “What if no one believes it?”, “What if I can’t keep it up?”, “What if the other person thinks it’s stupid?”
Those are all fantastic and reasonable questions. And one of the things we get from the tiny contract we signed earlier is “who cares?” That’s right. A role play is a fantasy. And who cares if no one believes it. Who cares if it ends too early because it sort of falls apart. And who cares if the other person thinks it’s stupid. It’s your role play.
As anyone from the improv department at Second City will tell you, role play is about affirmation. What do you have to do when someone starts an improv or a role play? Just agree. In fact, the proper improv terms are “Affirm and Amplify. ” It’s a two step process that puts you in the same world.
So how does “Affirm and Amplify” work? Like this. Chris (our same semi-fictional person) sits in the bedroom reading a book. Alex (We remember Alex) walks in. Chris looks up and says abruptly: “I told the agency I wanted a blond one.” To which Alex replies:
A. Hey. Pick up your shorts on the floor. My mother was right about you.
B. Not tonight, Chris, I’m the president of The United States and I need my sleep.
C. So sorry. I was all the agency had left. But I was instructed to do anything you want for half price.
When Alex says “c,” this is essentially affirming the fantasy role play world and adding something sexy to it. “a” is a refusal to let go and be in the role play world. That response would make it really hard for Chris to initiate another role play. But “b” may be even worse. It playfully accepts that we are in a roleplay but violates the terms of it. It “affirms” the role play, but doesn’t “amplify” the scene the original role player expected or wanted. In fact, here Alex used the role play to sneak out of playing at all. Which is certainly Alex’s right. But Chris may think twice before ever initiating another role play.
Chris and Alex have a ton of role plays at their disposal and, at one point they may decide that one of them enjoys building the world and the other enjoys just having a world built for them. Identities, situations, places, jobs, periods in history – all of these are fair game. The kinds of roleplays are honesty endless, and the gender of the people involved is one of the things that are eternally open to play with.
- Role Play #44 – A stripper was hired who has to go a little further for full payment. The stripper’s partner at home doesn’t need to know about it.
- Role Play #509 – The secretary arrives and asks what the boss needs done right now, making just the right number of mistakes along the way.
- Role Play #820 – The neighbor comes over to yell about the dog, threatening to call the police. You’ll do anything to make things better. No one wants the police involved.
- Role Play #222 – You’ve been won in a poker game, by a devilishly attractive person that you dislike very much. But you will do what you’re told…
- Role Play #948 – A Beautiful fire rescue person saves you from a 4 alarm fire. How does anybody show their appreciation for that?
We’re all familiar with the rituals that we have to go along with. It’s not just church on Sunday, Temple for the Jewish Holiday, a token appearance at the nephew’s birthday, rituals tie the world together. The job of a ritual is to establish a truth in a way that is expressive and incontrovertible, so that it can be understood not just mentally but also emotionally. A Bar Mitzvah is a journey that communicates strongly on all levels that a boy has become a man. A marriage is a ritual that communicates to the people involved that a lifelong connection is there- that the people involved have committed to be there. Could it be true without the ritual? Of course. But the ritual ensures that everyone involved understands it to be true in a deeply resonant way. Rituals often bypass the conscious brain and communicate to a deeper part of us.
If you look at it that way, a ritual can be a vital communication tool. But it’s elaborated communication. It’s communication dressed up in beautiful clothing, manufacturing brilliant and undeniable understanding. And that is why these are useful. When exploring with each other, there are things that we need to know that don’t easily communicate in the moment. Chris, for example, may want Alex to be dominant, to come into the room and take and use, making Chris do whatever the situation calls for. But how would Chris really bring that up? When you say “I want you to dominate me,” aren’t you telling that person what to do? It may feel wrong.
Luckily, Alex and Chris worked out a ritual to make that communication seamless and easy. And it’s something that you might never notice. Chris usually wears a wedding band on the left hand. But when Chris wants Alex to take over, to be dominant and powerful, Chris just moves that wedding band to the right hand. This ritual works as a sort of “prenegotiation,” making it clear what Chris wants. Now, Alex just needs to pay attention and remember “their thing.”
Rituals give normal everyday behaviors additional importance. In this case, when Chris and Alex sit at the dinner table and Alex notices Chris slip the ring from one hand to the other there is a power to that simple act. Suddenly this completely innocuous little thing has the potential to be a huge turn-on, exciting them both. And the tiny rituals can be built to fit your relationship easily.
- Ritual #398 – If you are in bed without pajamas or other clothing, you want to be dominated.
- Ritual #42 – If you wear a tie to the dinner table, you would like to be called sir and be in charge tonight.
- Ritual #256 – Any black underwear I wear you are free to remove whenever you like.
- Ritual #100 – If you see me wearing a necklace it means I want you to be very rough with me.
- Ritual #23 – If I pay with my card after dinner, it means that I want you to dominate me when we get home.
- Ritual #98 – I will mark any of the CD’s that are near the cd player in our room. If you play any of the marked ones, it means that you want to play rough tonight.
- Ritual #278 – If I bring up a philosophy discussion during dinner it means I want to be treated like I was bad.
I know that we all signed a contract up there pages ago. This contract was clear about something. We don’t laugh at each other’s fantasies, role plays, rules, rituals, etc. But, in reality, there is a good time to laugh. And that’s right afterward. Together. Your contract may end up with the two of you wrapped around each other, intensely lost in each other. Your role play may end up the same way, sweaty and serious. And that’s great.
But reflecting with humor and silliness afterward can give you a chance to talk about what happened as a team- to throw stuff out you didn’t like and explore more next time what you did. In a lot of communities, aftercare is what we do to remind each other that we have something great, even outside the bedroom. It is the part afterward that makes sure we remember this isn’t everything we have.
Aftercare isn’t just cuddling and talking. It can be bowling, doing dishes together, a walk around the block together, but at its heart it is spending time together. It’s a reminder that this is what you win when you play games.
The right to be together.
Jim Marcus is a musician and member of the Chicago Fetish community. The lead singer of the band Go Fight and, previously, of the defunct band Die Warzau, he has appeared on over 60 albums, singles and compilations worldwide, working with artists such as KMFDM, Pigface, Revenge and Björk. He speaks frequently on Consent and safe sex issues, put together sex education curriculum for schools and groups across the country and spoken on fetish and the goal of building better, more sustainable sex lives.