Jun 132012

After thinking things over a bit, Ana semi-seriously sends Christian an email breaking things off.

As if Ana chanted his name into a mirror five times, Christian Grey just appears in her room, and short-circuits any discussion with Ana by moving directly to sex and light bondage. This time he actually ties her to the headboard.

Do I need to repeat that silk neckties are not good for bondage?

Christian starts to take off her shoes, to which Ana says, “No.”

Now, with a rookie sub who has not explicitly established a safeword, you do not just ignore a “No”, even if it is not a safeword. I’d say that you only disregard a “no” if you and your partner have explicitly established that they like to put up verbal resistance. Just as one of the principal precepts of medical ethics is “First, do no harm”, one of the principal precepts of BDSM ethics is, “When in doubt, don’t.”

When Christian says he’ll gag her if she makes a noise, Ana’s first thought is that her roommate Kate is listening outside. Instead of being concerned about her own physical safety or pleasure, she’s worried what Kate will think.

He also leaves her alone by stepping out of the room for a moment to get ice for temperature play. Again, questionable with an experienced sub, and really bad with a rookie, who might panic from being left alone bound and blindfolded.

We proceed with ice play, some teasing, a single spank to her ass, and then doggy-style, followed by one of Ana’s instant orgasms.

Need I mention that none of this has been negotiated? Ana and Christian have not just sat down and talked about this. There’s never been a chance for Ana to set her limits or express her desires or learn about anything. Doing it in the heat of the moment is a bad idea. It’s akin to the saying about not having sex with your partner while fighting.

Post-sex, they do a little bit of discussion, about whether he will collar her. Given the lead-foot pace Christian has been driving this whole relationship, it’s not surprising that he doesn’t tell her that’s a big commitment.

After everything that’s happened and all that’s been imposed on her, what makes Ana slam on the parking break? Christian offers to introduce her to one of his 15 former submissives. “Is this your idea of a joke? […] I’ll do this on my own, thank you very much,” I snap at him, pulling the duvet up to my chin. […] “I’m not offended. I’m appalled.”

Christian’s offer is a good thing. It would build trust between them for Ana to meet a former partner and show he’s okay (assuming he is), plus it would let her learn about BDSM from somebody she isn’t lust-struck about. Instead, she shuts down and comes as close as possible to throwing him out as she’s capable of.

I suspect that there’s an anti-polyamory subtext here. Ana can flirt with BDSM as an alternative to vanilla sexuality, but she violently rejects any alternative to monogamy, and doesn’t even like to be reminded that other people aren’t as virginal and monogamous as her. For Christian to be a serial monogamist who maintains friendly relations with former partners is unacceptable to Ana. She does not want to share at all, and in later negotiations finds the idea of him loaning her out to another dom, not just unappealing, but ludicrous. (Christian’s own jealous snits are another problem.)

Ana escorts Christian to the door.

For the first time, I’m wishing he was — normal — wanting a normal relationship that doesn’t need a ten-page agreement, a floggers, and karabiners in his playroom ceiling.


I feel a paradigm shift. I know that if I do this thing with him, I will get hurt. He’s not capable, interested, or willing to offer me any more… and I want more. Much more.

There’s a deeper, more subtle problem here that has only just begun to appear. It’s that seemingly innocuous word “normal”. The way it seems to be in Ana’s mind, and therefore this book’s paradigm, is that Christian is abnormal, wrong, bad, in need of correction, and Ana is normal, and her sexual and relationship needs are entirely reasonable. Is a 21-year-old complete asexual who suddenly flips a switch and turns into a passionate, multi-orgasmic and deep-throating lover any more “normal” than Christian?

Ana is powerfully attracted to Christian, but is not interested (at least, not yet) in BDSM, and wants a relationship of companionship, dating, and vanilla sex, leading to a committment-for-life. Christian, likewise, is attracted to her, but says he has no interest in vanilla relationships or sexuality, and wants a heavy D/s relationship, right now.

If you’re asking which one is right, who should adapt to who, you need to ask different questions. Christian’s very pushy, he has no respect for people’s boundaries, he has no idea how to let a situation breathe, and he has a lot of other problems, but being kinky and a top does not make him abnormal. That’s who he is and what he does.

Ana should accept that. Each person has their own sexual script. Sometimes that is partially compatible with another person’s script. There’s always a lesser or greater degree of compromise. And sometimes things just do not work, regardless of initial attraction. Ana realizes that Christian may never give her what she wants, but she does not realize that walking away is an option. There are vanilla men out there she could be with. There are even moderately kinky men out there who would play with her at a level she’s comfortable with.

But if Ana is not compatible with Christian because he wants BDSM and she doesn’t, that does not make him a monster, and that does not make BDSM a sickness.

There’s an additional annoyance in this whole arrangement: both keep breaking their own rules and making exceptions. Ana quails at BDSM, but doesn’t object to light bondage or spanking from Christian. Christian says he doesn’t have vanilla sex or sleep in the same bed with anybody, but he does with Ana. They could compromise, but the book instead sets up winner-take-all combat.

Back to the emails. Ana nitpicks details in Christian’s contract instead of tearing it up and starting over from scratch. There’s a negotiation tactic called anchoring, in which one side sets the terms first and negotiation proceeds back and forth from the point the first party chose. You know, submissives can write contracts too. She treats this as some ordeal she must endure to be with him, rather than something she has a say in or would enjoy. That’s a recipe for misunderstanding and resentment.

  3 Responses to “The Curious Kinky Person’s Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey, Chapter 12”

  1. I really like your BDSM-specific commentary of this (awful) series! Thanks for writing them!
    I haven’t read the books, only a lot of recaps and quotes, so maybe i’m missing something. But isn’t the “sex scene” at the start of this chapter actually a very obvious rape? (I’m obviously not talking about the silk tie, as it’s pure decoration (and inadvertently informing us of Christian’s ignorance of bondage safety).)
    1 – The only clear indication of consent (or its absence) Ana gives at all in the scene (if i understood correctly) is an oral “no” about foot-licking (and possibly everything). I agree with you that without a verbal resistance fetish being brought up, there shouldn’t be any reason to ignore a “no” even if they have a safeword. (And let’s remember that she’s totally inexperienced and vanilla, so she can reasonably be expected to use “no” as an easy safeword at first.) So she didn’t explicitly consent to anything ; on the contrary she clearly expressed her lack of consent to at least one activity.
    2 – That happened right after she sent him an email “joking” about breaking up. (From the quote i read, her message seemed completely serious instead of witty or sarcastic, but whatever.) He even tells her (right after) that he actually believed her break-up email ; so the “joke” argument doesn’t hold. In his point of view, it’s okay to barge into a recent ex’s home and “have sex” with her out of anger?
    Both of these points means they didn’t have sex : he simply raped her.

    This is what i hate so much about these books : they’re romanticizing the abuse in their relationship while hiding it under a pretense of (fake) “BDSM”, when it is actually neither fully consensual (on Ana’s part) nor risk-aware / safe (on both their parts).
    Christian Grey is a very harmful (and wrong) “representation” of BDSM in mainstream society. (And we really didn’t have enough offensive misconceptions about us kinksters floating around…)

  2. This is the first time that I’ve been introduced to the idea of Ana being asexual. And I honestly thought that I couldn’t be anymore disgusted by these book. The idea that asexuals (namely asexual women) just haven’t experienced the right cock yet is so toxic and pervasive. (I see this as being very different then a heterosexual women experiencing a “sexual awakening” when she finds the right man.) Even though it’s subtext it’s still horrible.

    • I agree with what you just said about the narrative that dismisses asexuals, but I don’t think it applies as a criticism of the book. I doubt E.L. James has a concept of asexuality – this is almost definitely meant to be a hetero woman having an awakening as you said – a toxic trope to be sure. I think there is a case to be made that Ana is functionally (if not intentionally) demi-sexual or gray (grey?) ace, and her experience of being strongly attracted to one person and no one else does reflect the reality of some gray ace people I know. It would be nice to have this sort of experience accepted as an exception – that hetero women should not be held to such a extreme chaste standard as “normal”, asexuals shouldn’t be held to the expectation of a “normal” eventual awakening, and that demisexual/gray ace people not assume that they are somehow more virtuous just because they happen to naturally conform to conservative sexual expectations, or be thought of as lying or ignorant because they don’t conform to liberal ones.

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