KINK FACTOR

A Dominatrix Reviews ‘50 Shades of Grey'

The BDSM phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey hits theaters Friday. Mistress D. Sandoval, a veteran New York City dominatrix, breaks down what it gets right—and very, very wrong.

02.14.15 11:50 AM ET

You’ve probably heard of the craze sweeping the nation that is Fifty Shades of Grey. With its 100 million-plus books sold, embarrassing product tie-ins—including problematic lube—and myriad Tumblrs dedicated to people reading E.L. James’s BDSM-lite tome in public places, the book has brought bondage and humiliation from the Deep Web margins to the mainstream.

Now, the first in a trilogy of film adaptations has been foisted upon us. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, the film centers on the trials and tribulations of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a wide-eyed English lit student who falls for her brooding interview subject, a 27-year-old billionaire by the name of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Mr. Grey, he says, enjoys “various physical pursuits”—like bondage, spanking, and belting. He’s a dom (dominant), and wants Ms. Steele to be his sub (submissive).

She takes convincing.

From the point of view of a dominatrix, I wouldn't describe Fifty Shades of Grey as a realistic depiction of the relationship between two BDSM play partners. I've worked as a professional dominatrix and submissive for three years, and currently run a small fetish studio in Manhattan. I have worked in a commercial dungeon as well as independently, have had personal slaves, and have attended fetish/suspension parties. I would, however describe Fifty Shades of Grey as E.L. James’s watered-down BDSM-related fantasy that’s been translated into a Hollywood movie targeting the general population; a populist bondage film.

In reality, the characters Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey probably wouldn’t have met during a professional interview. The majority of dominant/submissive relationships begin online or after meeting at a fetish event. Because how would someone know if the person he or she is into shares similar views or kink interests? Although I could see why Grey is drawn to Anastasia Steele—she is young, reserved, and inexperienced sexually, or the perfect clay for a natural dominant to mold into his obedient, devoted submissive. But the odds of someone like Anastasia Steele considering a dom-sub relationship are slim. I would compare it to BDSM Cinderella; you're probably not going to meet your prince charming after losing your ball gag at a fancy ball.

Considering the audience Fifty Shades of Grey was made for—that is, the BDSM-illiterate but sexually semi-curious—I tried my best to keep an open mind. But there were some parts of the movie that made me laugh and shake my head in disdain.

via YouTube

The scene where Christian visits Anastasia at her job at the hardware store to purchase BDSM gear killed me a little. No kinkster would ever use cable ties, harsh rope, or duct tape in their play sessions. The fine hairs on my wrists are screaming in pain—and not in a good way. BDSM tape is specifically formulated to be effective and not rip skin or hair off when removed. Silk bondage rope will not leave your skin irritated and rug-burned.

Secondly, the dom-sub contract Christian Grey had drawn up for Anastasia was a bit gag-worthy (no pun intended). While it is very important to establish clear boundaries between a dominant and a submissive, the War and Peace-sized written contract was more than a little excessive. At the dungeon I worked at, we actually did keep similar “contracts” on hand to give to clients who weren't sure what fetishes they were into. However, I don't think any of the women I worked with ever gave one out; I remember we all just laughed at them.

There was one other scene that made me blush—but mostly out of nostalgia. When Anastasia first enters Christian’s playroom, she asks Christian, with pure naiveté, what the floggers were used for. It reminded me of my early days as a domme.

However, this is a slice of mainstream entertainment, so I don’t want to be too critical. There were some aspects of BDSM that were accurately incorporated into the storyline.

The playroom in Christian Grey's penthouse was spot-on—a wet dream for anyone even slightly into BDSM. The leather bondage bed, ceiling suspension, spanking bench, and array of crops, floggers, and canes were well executed. As for the actual BDSM play, it would be considered fairly mild by other dom[me]s and subs. Christian restraining Anastasia's arms above her head— while suspending her from the ceiling onto her toes—and spanking her with a riding crop is a solid example of some light-to-moderate domination. I was hoping some more intense fetish play would be shown, but knew there probably wouldn't be given the target audience. Full suspension (where the dominant completely suspends the submissive by rope from suspension points on the ceiling) and Shibari (the intricate style of Japanese bondage) would have been great to see and not too graphic for the eyes of the BDSM virgins. It would have also been nice to see some submissive outfits on Anastasia. As a BDSM enthusiast with a tight little body, I think Anastasia would have looked great in a nice latex spanking dress and ballet boots. Alas, I may have been too optimistic about pop culture fanfic exploring power play and exhibiting S&M costumes.

Perhaps the next movie will delve deeper into more intense kink and divulge more to the mainstream world of what the BDSM subculture has to offer. Although fairly cheesy from my point of view as a dominatrix, I do hope the movie encourages some people—who normally would not be so inclined—to explore their sexuality and try something new.