Do you want to lose control? asks the ad for the hotly anticipated ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ film out this Friday. At BeLoveCurious we presume the answer is a very definite, gusset-moistening “yes, oh yes please!” for many women – and no doubt some men.
But if this is your fantasy or you have some other wish for greater sexual freedom and an unleashing of desire, then I wonder what’s getting in the way of your dreams becoming reality? I’m not suggesting that everyone who enjoyed the books and can’t wait to see the on-screen sexual antics is a closet fetishist or a BDSM aficionado in the making.
But it’s true that while many people fantasise about having a lovelife that’s as passionate, liberating and sexually exciting as Anastasia and Christian’s, for one reason or another they settle for much less than they want. And it’s these ‘reasons or other’ that tend to get in the way of releasing our full sexual expression whether it’s more, better or different sex we’re looking for. With one partner or many.
To get a handle on this, take a minute to think about the history of sex. Before the sexual revolution in the 1960s, women’s sexuality and sexual pleasure was mostly considered through men’s eyes – whether as medics, psychologists, artists, writers, state or clergy. Women’s voices were rarely heard. Virginity until marriage was the rule. And everyone of course was presumed heterosexual.
Western cultural attitudes have shifted hugely since then, and some might argue that people now have more freedom and opportunity than ever to enjoy and express their own brand of sexuality. At the same time though, we can’t escape the fact that society still dictates much of how we all think about our gender, bodies, sexuality and relationships.
We’ve been raised to believe, for instance, that a lifelong, monogamous, relationship is the life goal to aspire to. If that’s not high on our agenda, then surely there has to be something wrong with us or there’s something not quite right about ‘this’ relationship if we’re not getting there. But what if this is only a belief that we have? A story that’s been told so many times it has to be true. Doesn’t it?
And if this is the case, then couldn’t it also be that many of the ideas we hold about sex and sexual expression are similarly just stories we’ve been told – maybe to keep a lid on things? You might say control of a less titillating sort?
The very act of having sex has long-been associated with the biological aim of having children. However, what happens in the bedroom was mostly ignored as a societal issue until the Industrial Revolution, when sex, apparently, became political. Then, for instance, urbanisation and industrialisation favoured smaller family units and people were urged to have fewer children. The work ethic too came to overshadow the importance of sexual pleasure. Sex suddenly was everyone’s business. Ambivalence shifted to negativity, and sex as pleasure – even of the masturbatory self-pleasing sort – was culturally frowned upon.
If you think this kind of interference is a relic of a by-gone past, think again. Only last year the UK Government introduced restrictions on the type of pornography that can be produced and sold here based on their opinion of which sexual acts are too ‘harmful’ or ‘dangerous’ for us to watch. Fair enough you might think; it’s right and proper and in the nation’s best interest to oppose harmful sexual practices. In reality though, the things they chose to visually outlaw are really quite random and many are harmless (including several acts that promote female pleasure) while other more eyebrow raising practices are still permitted. The point here is not the specifics, but how arbitrary and mis-informed such apparently civic minded interventions and objections to sexual pleasure can be.
The story is similar for sexual practices like bondage, domination and sado-masochism (aka BDSM the predilection of choice for Grey). Images of flogging, sexual slavery and sub/Dom-type relationships have existed for centuries, including in the 4th century BC Kama Sutra which includes a chapter on erotic pinching, slapping and biting techniques!
The term sado-masochism itself was only coined in the 19th century, with acts tried out in a million bedrooms since publication of the Shades of Grey trilogy labelled by Freud as ‘perversions’ only last century. There are many in the therapeutic community who would continue to apply this definition, and might still seek to cure their clients of such ‘pathology’. We would not.
At BeLoveCurious we meet many people – men and women of all sexualities and persuasions – who find it challenging to talk about their sex life with their partner, much less to be curious about, accept and embrace their preferred erotic pleasure. And much of their reluctance comes from these deeply held beliefs about what’s normal and ‘ought to be.’ It’s sad, but no surprise to us when we hear people feeling isolated, frustrated, anxious or genuinely distressed about their own particular ‘weakness’ or ‘weirdness’, and their inability to talk to anyone about it– however ‘ordinary’ it actually is.
The idea that it’s really possible to be in an open, loving and intimate relationship and give expression to your deepest darkest desires isn’t yet the norm. At BeLoveCurious though we believe that there are infinite permutations and possibilities in sexual expression that go hand-in-hand with other essential human pursuits of finding comfort, security, intimacy and emotional connection in relationship with others.
Safety, mutual respect and genuine negotiation are essential, but there is a sexual playground out there that’s waiting to be explored. And the rewards can be wonderful. We’ve seen clients overcome long-held inhibitions and anxieties through experimenting with new toys and situations, and others who’ve found new ways to communicate deeply personal emotional and sexual issues through learning the skills of play.
Ultimately it’s up to you to find the courage to acknowledge what you want and get curious about it. Yes, you might want to lose control, but also like Ana, why not first take some control back, and then you really can choose to let go if that’s what you truly desire.