The book and film series Fifty Shades of Grey successfully brought fetish and BDSM into the mainstream. But is that necessarily a good thing? From whipping up the high street to spanking to educating the masses. We look at seven ways in which the bestseller has helped to shape BDSM culture.


Fifty Shades of Grey is the publishing phenomena of our times. Indeed, the popular series of novels and films have become a staple of everyday popular culture. For those of us in the fetish scene, nothing in the book was particularly new. However, what was clever about the book series was how it brought fetish and BDSM to a whole new audience. In particular, it allowed an entire generation of women to experience, in literary form, types of BDSM that were usually part of fetish porn.

This has been exacerbated by the use of electronic books which allow women to read novels such as Fifty Shades in private. However, it's becoming increasingly common to see the physical book being read by all sorts of women on public transport. So, let's take a look at seven ways in which the story about Ana and Christian effect has changed BDSM culture.


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1. BDSM culture in the high street

It used to be that to find BDSM apparatus you needed to go to a fetish shop in London’s Soho or a sleazy district of another big city. These shops were typically placed at the bottom of a series of miserable steps in a dark basement, lit by flickering neon lights, where a troll-like individual would leer at you while you made your choices.

Now there's no need to go many miles and feel dirty in getting hold of the latest fetish products. Whips, blindfolds, crops, handcuffs and nipple clamps are available, sometimes on open display, in shops in most UK towns, and even villages. Indeed, Ann Summers has even extended its range of fetish products, which is one of its best-selling. However, if you want harder stuff, such as wooden spanking paddles, then you still need to go to those dingy sex shops in Soho.


2. Spank me, please

Women (and men) used to find it hard to ask for what they wanted in the bedroom, particularly if they were anyway interested in BDSM. Such activities were associated with being weird or perverted. In a strange type of cultural xenophobia, such activities were even associated with ‘Germans’ in that they were rarely available in English speaking pornographic films, but readily available in continental Europe. One of the beneficial effects of Fifty Shades of Grey is that it's now possible for women to feel clearer about their desires and to express what they want, the heroine of the book giving them a handy reference point to BDSM culture.


BDSM culture of man in a suit blindfolding a woman
BDSM culture has been made more accessible.


3. Strictly business

Business suits and clothing had become quite unsexy. Wall Street in the 1980s, with its message that ‘Greed is Good’ gave the message that there was nothing erotic about waistcoats and red braces. The current banking crisis and scandals concerning bankers pay means that the businessman is seen as distinctly unerotic.

However, the hero of Fifty Shades of Grey has partly redeemed the suit wearer as a sexual being. There is, after all, something very erotic about a business suit. Hopefully, this will cut both ways, as there are few more things as sexy as a strict businesswoman in a tailored suit with seamed stockings and high heels. Ladies, please take note.


4. Clone wars

Fifty Shades produced many imitations in terms of its influence on books, films and television series. There are a huge variety of materials that are now available on BDSM, trading on the success of the original brand. Fortunately, this means that more people are educated about fetish and understand more about the BDSM culture and ideas of consent and play. This means that BDSM is increasingly becoming something that can be talked about culturally and that there is less discrimination against its practitioners.

It may even become something that has cultural cache. Unfortunately, in some countries, BDSM activities are not legal, and one would hope that the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena would lead to some liberal thinking there.


5. You know my name

For those people who have been on the BDSM scene for some time, there used to be a whole period of explaining what you do, why you want to do it and having to justify whether you should be doing it at all. One of the benefits of the popular book and film series is that it provides a very handy reference point for talking about BDSM culture and activities. To describe one’s activities concerning one of the characters in the novel is a good, shorthand way of making one visible to the world at large. Although it has been argued that the characters are a little clichéd, sometimes having those stereotyped characters can help.


BDSM culture woman on a bed with a whip
Is spanking the gateway kink to BDSM culture?


6. Spanking - the gateway to BDSM culture

Experimenting with different BDSM techniques and types of equipment is one of the pleasures of the fetish scene. Increasingly, though, there has been an emphasis on the use of equipment, and expensive techniques, above certain forms of punishment. Violet wands, increasingly complex bondage techniques and chastity cages all have their place. However, there is something very honest about a good hard spanking over the knee, which the popular books makes particular reference to.

Firstly, it does not need extensive preparation and can be administered at short notice. Pulling down the knickers and bending over a knee takes only a few seconds. Secondly, there's something very connected about a plain and bare hand making contact with a (soon to be) red bottom. Thirdly, a spanking leaves a pleasing red mark all over the buttocks, while a cropping can lead to discrete welts. Simple pleasures are sometimes the best.


7. The sky's the limit

Now that BDSM culture is in the public eye, it should not be too long before other kinds of fetish also become notable. Hopefully, the popularity of the books and films will produce other types of literature and film that will help to propagate fetish in the public eye.

Perhaps the general public is not ready for a balloon fetish billionaire character in a novel, but there is scope for female domination and frottage on the bookshelves. One would hope that the initial success of Fifty Shades of Grey will not disappear quickly and that it will lead to a generally kinkier, and more accepting, society.


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