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Dr Meg Barker: Consent is a grey area? A comparison of understandings of consent in 50 Shades of Grey and on the BDSM blogosphere

Date: 30 October 2013, 5.00pm
Location: Beech Grove House Seminar Room

Since the foundation of any form of organised BDSM communities, consent has occupied a place of central importance. This is reflected in the popular mantra that BDSM play should be ‘safe, sane and consensual’, and the more recent revised phrase ‘risk aware consensual kink’, which critically interrogates the possibility of both entirely safe behaviours and completely sane subjectivities, but retains the notion that consent can be clearly and simply negotiated when it comes to BDSM play. This paper compares understandings and discussions of consent within the vastly popular 50 Shades erotic novels to the current wave of writings on the topic in the BDSM blogosphere.

The 50 Shades series has arguably brought BDSM to a far larger audience, and to far greater popular attention, than any previous media product. The books include references to BDSM contracts, safe-words, and checklists of activities, for example, and several conversations between the lead characters centre around sexual consent. However, communication about what Ana (the heroine of the novels) desires sexually is poor, and Christian Grey (the hero) frequently violates their arrangements in the relationship more broadly, for example by controlling Ana’s working life, eating habits, finances, and social time when she has explicitly asked him not to do so. The issue of consent is a tension between the main characters throughout the series.

At the same time as 50 Shades has increased popular interest in BDSM, BDSM communities themselves have undergone an interrogation of the previously accepted idea that consent can be relatively simply negotiated. A number of prominent BDSM bloggers (such as Carol Queen and Kitty Stryker) have written openly about problematic power dynamics in BDSM scenes, and have drawn attention to the fact that coercion remains possible in situations when consent may have appeared to have been negotiated, for example due to agreement on safe-words.

The paper concludes with a consideration of what might be learnt from ongoing consent conversations within BDSM communities which might be valuable for both those who are beginning to explore ‘kinky-fuckery’ following the 50 Shades series, and for our understandings and communication about sex more generally.

Biography

Meg Barker is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University and a practising sex and relationship therapist. With Darren Langdridge, Meg published one of the main academic collections on BDSM, Safe, Sane and Consensual (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). They also co-edit the journal, Psychology and Sexuality with Taylor and Francis, and contributed material on BDSM to the British Psychological Society guidelines on working with sexual and gender minorities. MegĀ  co-organises the Critical Sexology seminar series and has published on representations of BDSM (with Alex Iantaffi and Camel Gupta) and constructions of dominant women (with Ros Gill), and is part of a current project exploring the lived experience of submissive men (with Trevor Butt, Antony Whitehead, Emma Turley, and Vanessa Hinchcliffe). Meg’s previous research on sexualities and relationships has been published in several journals and books and has culminated recently in a general audience book Rewriting the Rules (Routledge, 2012). Email: meg.barker@open.ac.uk

 

This entry was posted in CIGS Seminar Series 2013-14, Events.

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