50-shades-of-grey
March 28, 2013 | by Sarah Sloane
In Praise of 50 Shades

Friends, Romans, Leathermen – lend me your ears. I come here to praise 50 Shades of Gray, not to bury it.

Yes, seriously. Praise.

Yes, the “50 Shades phenomenon” is a little annoying to those of us that have Been Doing Leather Since G-d Was A Child. All these people talking about gray ties and contracts and blindfolds can wear a bit thin when our last play date involved gas masks and rubber floggers and very tight bondage. And let’s face it – the books aren’t exactly higher-level reading (thankfully, even the author has the smarts to acknowledge that they aren’t among the greatest literary works of art). But the raving popularity of these books is something that will help us, in the long term.

Why?

Let’s start with how many people read them and get to see how BDSM & kink are things that are deliberate, caring, sexy, and satisfying. Down with the myth of mentally unstable perverts! When it comes to our ability to fuck the way we want to, having a level of social understanding that what we do is essentially consensual and healthy can go a long way to removing badly-crafted rules and laws that try to control any sexuality that is outside of the norm. I mean, Ellen Degeneres showed the world that lesbians are human beings, and her openness about her life, and her marriage to her wife, is likely one contributing factor in the growing support for same-sex marriage….so this exposure is likely to help us, rather than harm us.

Once those folks read the books, what they do with that information is pretty amazing. I’m fortunate to work in a shop where I get to sell sex & kink toys for a living, and among my staff it’s no longer a surprise for us when we have customers come in with their partners to buy some basic bondage or impact play toys. Our nipple clamp section is a particularly popular destination for them, as are the restraints and bed bondage straps. The amazing thing to me is how many people initially came in because they’d started talking with their partners about their fantasies, using the inspiration that they got while reading 50 Shades, and they decided to explore those fantasies together.

It’s pretty moving to me to hear a gentleman in his 50’s come in & tell me that his wife of over 20 years is suddenly telling him that she wants to try new things, and that she’s turned on by these ideas – and that he’s just as excited to explore them with her! It’s just as heartening to me to see new couples come in that talk about how they’re relatively recently dating, and they’ve been talking about tying each other up since early on, because they’re in a social environment where it’s okay to admit that you want a little slap ‘n tickle.

Now, roll that inspiration over to two areas: our organizations, and our community businesses. Both are gaining ground because of the 50 Shades books. Those 50-ish folks that come in to explore bondage? They’re buying products from companies like Aslan Leather, not just the least expensive disposable options. Their ball gags are made by smaller vendors with deep ties to the kink community. They’re picking up riding crops at a pace that makes a tack store during the Derby look like downright dull. And they’re taking them to BDSM parties, kinky events, and local clubs. Many of them are buying books to learn more about it (our store’s sales of such seminal literature as Screw The Roses, Send Me The Thorns and The Topping Book are strong). And as they get more involved, they’re spending even more money, becoming paying members of clubs, and thus further contributing to the economy of the leather community. They end up buying The Marketplace series to delve a little bit deeper. They buy Northbound or Mr. S Leather attire. They donate money at our 50/50 raffles or throw a few extra bucks in the donation jar to cover expenses.

On a purely pro-relationship level, these folks are making amazing strides towards better intimacy with their partner, and growing their own self-esteem at the same time. How many of us remember feeling like something was wrong, sick, perverted, or twisted about what we fantasized about, until we found this community (whether through the bars, online, newsletters or personal ads, or through a happy accident)? I remember the feeling of the sunshine breaking through the clouds on the day that I realized that other people were into what I had dreamed about, and that they were okay. Reading a book about people who (as screwy as the characters in the book are) relatively focused on consent and mutual pleasure while engaging in structured kinky & D/s dynamics can provide that chance for the people reading it – and as a result, make it more likely that they will broach the subject of their fantasies with their partner without the shame or guilt that they’d been feeling about them.

It all comes down to this – any opportunity that comes along that allows us to shine a light on what we do that is framed around consent, safety, and positive sexuality is a chance for us to take the wall down around the shame of what we do…and these books, regardless of our personal opinions about them, are doing that on a scale that we haven’t seen since the first kinky AOL chat room was born. We have the opportunity to offer alternatives to these folks that are just starting to awaken to their more complicated sexual desires – so I suggest we take that opportunity and move the conversation forward.

A few weeks back, I was at my local leather club on a quiet night, and ended up having an amazing conversation with a novice to the community. She had read the 50 Shades books, and they stirred something up in her heart; she started looking for kinky clubs and events, and checked a few out, having some good (and a few not so great) experiences, as most of us do when we start. But she said at one point, “What I want is more than what I’ve found so far, and I want to explore…I want to check out this “leather” side of things, too. I want more.”

And that’s what this crazy leather journey of ours is all about, isn’t it? Wanting more.

Sarah Sloane is an AOLd Guard leatherwoman who currently hails from Chicago, IL. Sarah came up in the BDSM / Leather / Kink communities in the late 1990's, and has been teaching passion with a passion since 2000. After being a kink nomad, teaching hundreds of classes in the US, Canada, and overseas for over 12 years (while based in her home state, Virginia), she's grateful to have found a place in the Chicago community, where she manages The Pleasure Chest and serves on the board of LRA. Sarah is also an accomplished writer, with columns for websites such as Fearless Press and Eden Fantasys, and chapters in books like Tristan Taormino's "The Ultimate Guide to Kink" and Lee Harrington's "Rope, Bondage, and Power". When pressed, she identifies as a queer dominant with a penchant for cigars, knitting, and her family of choice.

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