Gareth May | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Trouble With Fifty Shades Of Grey, If You're A Bloke

The Debrief: Suddenly every other woman Gareth May meets is declaring an interest in BDSM. So where does that leave him?

Mr Grey. As 2D fictional inventions go, he’s right up there, sandwiched somewhere between Bambi’s mum and Jason Statham’s ‘Christmas’ in The Expendables franchise. These characters are 2D by design. They’re either a device used to explore a theme; an uncomplicated portrait required to focus on plot; or, in the case of Mr Grey, a poorly constructed character born from the pages of a Twilight fan-fic novel with no face other than that which has been painted on him by his fans… Sorry, that got away from me at the end.

My point is this: Mr Grey isn’t real. And yet he’s one of the most inspirational men of our times, encouraging thousands of his kin the world over – indirectly or otherwise – to embark on a heady journey into the bubbling bowels of amateur S&M.

The press have banged on ad nauseam about the impact 50 Shades has had on the sex lives of women. But little has been written about its effect on men. It might come as a surprise to some but the impact on the more bearded of the species is actually pretty remarkable.

Sitting at the higher end of the Fifty Shades tie-in merch (official or otherwise), ‘luxury erotic’ brand Box of Grey is purchased online or rented in posh boutique hotels. A sort of all-year-round saucy secret Santa for randy parents, every box can be curated to each buyer’s personal tastes. Their main client base over the last 6 months? 75% male.

Down the other end of the pay scale, Lovehoney's co-owner Richard Longhurst told me in an email that although Fifty Shades of Grey buyers were ‘initially mostly women, buying silver balls and nipple clamps in droves,’ recently they’ve seen a more even split between the sexes ‘as men and women are introducing Fifty Shades of Grey toys to spice up their sex lives.’

It’s a trend shared by Soft Paris, organisers of Fifty Shades inspired home sales parties for women, who have recently branched out to include male partners as well. 

However, it was the stats sent to me by LELO that surprised me the most. Even for a chap who used to read his mum’s Nancy Friday erotica (whilst she was downstairs making tea, completely oblivious to the trouser truffle shuffle going off in her en suite bathroom – sorry Mum!), I was surprised to learn that 30% of the 230 men questioned by LELO had read 50 Shades of Grey. That’s nearly a third of men asked gorging on the pages of ‘mommy porn’. 

The stats also reveal that those men who have read the book found it made them more adventurous in the bedroom. But has it made them equally as responsible?

The thing is, if we take it as read that the story of 50 Shades features a man, predominantly, dishing out all the punishment we can see how it might encourage others to be adventurous in the same way. But where do these men learn the skills to spank or restrain? These are not techniques you can just pluck from the air.

When we naturally explore things, we take our time; we feel our way as we go. Fifty Shades on the other hand seems to have a stirred up a kind of mass hysteria of horniness. 

BDSM shouldn’t be rushed into. At pace, things can get lost in the mix; important things. Pain barriers, the use of safe words, after care. The list is endless and as much as all this information is available on any BDSM 101 website it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m not suggesting that those exploring BDSM down whips and go and read a spanking manual but, from what I’ve heard from female friends, there’s often a childlike enthusiasm about these men; an enthusiasm rarely matched with ability. 

When you’re pounding the hell out of someone’s arse with a fish slice you really need to know what it is you’re doing. The psychological implications of playing submissive and dominant roles in the bedroom can be a tricky sea to navigate as it is. Throw in rudimentary torture devices – leather canes, ball gags, ankle cuffs – and the whole thing could end up like a late night version of 90s BBC disaster show 999 with Michael Buerk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying BDSM should be kept for those in the SM community. And I’m certainly not saying any old sausage shouldn’t use paddle. But there is a level of engagement required which I feel can sometimes be lost in the haste to ‘explore everything now.’ 

Whenever I meet a girl who declares an interest in BDSM, or Fifty Shades for that matter (the two seem to be interchangeable at the minute, which is a tragedy in itself), I always ask her to define her interests more specifically. Yes, this can sometimes make it feel like I’m interviewing her but I do it to ascertain her thresholds. 

When it comes to BDSM – and bear in mind, I’m in no way a BDSM aficionado, I’m a vanilla amateur at best – I feel it’s my responsibility to establish someone’s limits before entering the bedroom and what’s most remarkable is that, more often than not, their limits aren’t really limits at all: they’re simply ‘vanilla’ practices polished up at S&M. A kind of pop-BDSM if you will.

Take spanking for instance. If I meet a girl and we get on to the fact that I write about sex the conversation inevitably ends up at Fifty Shades; and from there it’s only a short hop over to ‘interests in the bedroom.’ If she then declares an interest in spanking I ask her to qualify that interest: does she like to be spanked during intercourse or does she like to be bent over and spanked – what I would deem – properly: starting over the knee with a flat of the hand before moving on to harsher punishment with implements specifically designed for the purpose? I might even ask if she knows what subspace is? (In layperson’s terms it’s a natural high a sub experiences during a scene often, but not always, induced by pain play, such as spanking).

But as I said, I write about sex for a living. Most men don't. Most men struggle to ask for directions when they’re lost in Kent – I can’t see them wanting to learn how to spank, or restrain, or dominate a partner, especially if that involves learning from another man. 

When it comes to spanking, when it comes to restraining, when it comes to domination, there really are no considerations too far. Sometimes people think spontaneity is the most crucial part of a good sex life. I tend to agree. But it can be problematic to lump BDSM in with spontaneity, especially when you’re starting out with little to no idea of what you’re doing and you’re not part of the wider SM community with its emotional and educational infrastructure.

I’m quite aware all this sounds like man bashing. That I’m saying no man can spank his partner unless he studies the art form or, worse still, writes about sex. No. That would be absurd. I am saying, however, that (some) men will watch 50 Shades and think ‘Yeah, I can do that. Piece of piss.’ And that’s the point. BDSM – under the Hollywood treatment or not –should never, rather aptly, be taken lightly.

Or maybe I just have little faith in my fellow menfolk? Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.

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Follow Gareth on Twitter @GarethMay

Tags: Sex, NSFW, Sex O\'Clock