A new workshop called Fifty Shades of Play lays out the rules and tools of S&M.
Are you a dominant or a submissive? If you’ve never given this question much thought then you really should do so soon. Make some coffee, sit in your favourite armchair, and ask yourself: When push comes to shove, which end of a cane would I rather be on?
It’s an important matter to ponder because—if recent media reports are to be believed—any day now your partner could come home with a bag of restraints, whips, and chains enthusiastically acquired at your local sex store. And when that happens, you’ll want to be mentally prepared.
Apparently, now that E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey has made soft-focus kink mainstream, we’re all hoping to put more emphasis on the slap than the tickle in the bedroom. According to the Financial Post, sales at local BDSM emporium Northbound Leather shot up 15 to 20 per cent over the summer, and online sex store PinkCherry is reporting brisk trade in handcuffs and nipple clamps. Meanwhile, the TTC is plastered with ads for books claiming to be even more raunchy than James’ efforts. The soundtrack to summer 2012, it seems, is the noise of paddles smacking flesh.
“This book has changed the parameters,” says Gaia Morrissette, a sex educator. “It’s now okay to think these things and fantasize about these things and want to do these things with your partner.” In fact, Morrissette recently introduced a workshop at Come As You Are on Queen Street West to show people how they can explore their “deepest, darkest fantasies” with their partner. Called Fifty Shades of Play, it draws a pretty clear link to the book, but Morrissette is quick to point out that she discusses dominance and submission in a much healthier way than the rather warped relationship imagined by James.
If you’re not among the 20 million North Americans who have delved into James’ clunky prose, you’re going to need a primer before we continue. The key players are Anastasia Steele, an improbably virginal student, and Christian Grey, an improbably good-looking, helicopter-flying billionaire sex god. Christian owns a well-appointed dungeon and he’d quite like to put Ana in it and use his riding crop collection on her. Over the course of 500 or so pages, Ana tries to decide how she feels about this.
If you can look past the cheesy dialogue, what you’ll find is a multi-chapter discourse on the practicalities of S&M. All the bases are covered: There are descriptions of tools, spanking techniques, and safety measures, and the careful reader may even pick up some useful aftercare tips (apparently, baby oil does wonders to soothe a freshly spanked ass). It’s easy to see why half the country is getting ideas and rushing out to buy floggers.
Of course, buying the flogger is one thing. Persuading someone to let you use it on them is quite another. And it’s here that James proves to be a less reliable guide. Her hero’s wooing technique essentially consists of throwing open the door to his Red Room of Pain and asking his lady to sign a contract binding her to three months of sexual submission. This direct approach is easy if you happen to be a playboy billionaire, but for would-be kinksters of more modest means, making the leap from imagining to doing is trickier.
Morrissette says that, for many people, kinky sex has traditionally been seen as something transgressive. “It’s in the realm of what bad girls do,” she says, “like porn-star sex.” And this makes it hard to talk about. Morrissette likes to start her workshops by getting attendees to write down their fantasies, which she then picks out of a hat one by one. It’s a way to show that many people have the same fantasies, “so you’re not a weirdo.” Then she gets to the tricky bit: “Is this a fantasy that should stay in your spank bank, or is this something that you should communicate with your partner?”
Although Fifty Shades of Grey has sparked a million water-cooler conversations about the darker sexual arts, there really is no easy conversational segue into the actual “Honey, I want you to put me over your knee and spank me.” But sitting down and having a proper grown-up conversation about it is pretty much the only way to go.
“Your partner might not be into the exact same thing as you are, but if you have a great relationship, that doesn’t mean that you can’t work it out,” Morrissette says. “You can create a new dance with both of your sexual desires being met.”
So, when your partner turns up with that bag of kinky toys, have a rummage and see if anything takes your fancy.