Sex and consent: everything I didn’t know when I married

Essay on consent; red text is what I didn't know when I married

I recently had the privilege of being able to guest post on the blog of Ashley Easter. She asked me to write about how I understand consent – what it is and what it isn’t. Over 5,500 words later (and more hours than I counted) the essay was complete. I hadn’t meant for it to be that long, but it roughly breaks down into three segments:

  • Understanding sex and consent in context
  • Giving and receiving consent
  • Bad consent and withdrawing consent

I will repost the contents of it on this blog in a few months time, but meanwhile I wanted to post this picture. It’s a zoomed-out version of the full essay and everything highlighted in red is something my husband and I didn’t know when we married. Seriously!

The full post is on Ashley’s blog here: Sex and consent: How does that work in marriage?

Don’t be misled by the title, I haven’t written just about consent in marriage, though I do acknowledge that as the context from which I’m writing.

Redemption vs Romance: Choice, commitment and consent (part 1)

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

We’re coming near to the end of the bridge, and the road is once more bathed in the neon light of the street lamps so his face is intermittently in the light and the dark. And it’s such a fitting metaphor. This man, who I once thought of as a romantic hero, a brave shining white knight—or the dark knight, as he said. He’s not a hero; he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light?
“I still want more,” I whisper.
“I know,” he says. “I’ll try.”
Fifty Shades of Grey, p355

If you’ve been following this series so far, you’ll know that I’ve already posted twice about how, in a redemption story, a redeemer freely and purposefully chooses to act to save someone.

So why am I blogging about redeemer’s choice again? And why is this post a “part 1”?

The answer is that Ana’s choice in Fifty Shades and Belle’s choice in Beauty and the Beast are very different in one key respect:

Ana chooses to redeem Christian. Belle does not choose to redeem Beast.

Now, this difference isn’t a reason to disregard Fifty Shades as a redemption narrative. But it does create complications when it’s compared with Beauty and the Beast. Moreover, in this respect, the redemption narrative within Christianity appears to be closer to Fifty Shades than Beauty and the Beast. After all, Christians believe that Jesus’ choice to enter into the world and suffer and die, was a choice made for the benefit of humanity – even though it was humans who caused him to suffer and die.

This begs the question: if I think that Beauty and the Beast portrays a model of redemption that is close to Christianity’s understanding of it (and I do), how do I explain this apparent difference? And if I think that Fifty Shades is inconsistent with the Christian(ity) model, then why is that?

To answer these questions, we need to grapple even more with our understanding of choice and how it relates to redemption.

Before we begin, some blurb if you’re new to this blog:

OK, blurb over.

Continue reading Redemption vs Romance: Choice, commitment and consent (part 1)

Beast vs Christian: The dark art of grooming

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

This Valentine’s Day
Forget the past
And slip into something
A shade darker
— Fifty Shades Darker – Official Trailer 1 (Universal Pictures)

I’m starting with a slightly different quote this time. Not because I’m in any way thrilled that Fifty Shades Darker will come out in February 2017, but because it’s relevant to what I want to explore in this post.

In a redemption story, the redeemer purposefully chooses to act. In my previous post I talked about how they have privilege; this means they aren’t forced into their choice. In this post, I want to talk about how they don’t “slip into” their actions either.

In other words, I want to talk about grooming – comparing Christian’s tactics with Beast’s. Grab a cup of tea or make a bookmark, this post is longer than usual.

CONTENT NOTE: This post makes general references to parts of the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey, including non-consent and BDSM.

Continue reading Beast vs Christian: The dark art of grooming

Belle vs Ana: Privilege of position and identity

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair—it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal.
Fifty Shades of Grey, p3

Redeemer’s privilege comes in two halves

So… redemption stories involve a person who saves – a redeemer. A redeemer needs to be good (I talked about that in my last post) and they need to have privilege.

A person having privilege is often framed as them having some characteristic that means their status is advantaged (or not disadvantaged) compared to others. Redeemer’s privilege is similar, but broader, and it comes in two parts – I’ll call them “position privilege” and “identity privilege.”

Position privilege means the redeemer has power; they are not subject to constraining forces – at least so far as the redemption arc is concerned. Identity privilege is about having a secure and fulfilled sense of identity. The redeemer may experience distress at being insulted and injured, or indeed at witnessing suffering in others. But that doesn’t take away from their identity.

Because a redeemer has both position and identity privilege, this means that if they intervene for someone else, they do so because they want to. Not because they have to and not because they feel they need to.

In this post I’m going to compare Belle’s position and identity privilege with Ana’s.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fifty Shades, and need a brief introduction, try my bare basics page. If you’re new to this blog I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades and the introduction to this series explains why I think Redemption is beautiful love, not beastly suffering.

Continue reading Belle vs Ana: Privilege of position and identity

How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 3)

This post is the third of three that lists some of the ways a rant I read about an abusing big-shot dominant in the BDSM scene reminded me of Christian Grey (part one is here and part two is here). You can read the original rant (in its uncut strong language) here. If phrases like “BDSM,” “s-type” and “d-type” are unfamiliar for you, you might want to check out my Dictionary page. I’ve also written separately about why I write about BDSM and why I write about 50 Shades.

Content note: This post talks about abusive behaviour. I try not to be graphic but it’s generally not nice to read about and I do repeat some of the creepy things Christian says and does to Ana in the 50 Shades books.

Lesson 8: There are NEVER “no limits”

Let’s start with a quote from the rant:

No one has “no limits”, and to say you don’t (especially as a new person to the lifestyle) is simply foolish because a new person has no idea what to expect.

And anyone remotely informed about BDSM knows this. Anyone who remotely cares about consent will challenge anyone and everyone who says they have “no limits,” because people who say they have “no limits” do not know what they are saying. Instead, their idea of what a BDSM scene could involve has limits.

Continue reading How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 3)

How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 2)

This post is the second of three that lists some of the ways a rant I read about an abusing big-shot dominant in the BDSM scene reminded me of Christian Grey (part one is here).

If phrases like “BDSM,” “s-type” and “d-type” are unfamiliar for you, you might want to check out my Dictionary page. I’ve also written separately about why I write about BDSM and why I write about 50 Shades.

Content note: This post talks about abusive behaviour. I try not to be graphic but it’s generally not nice to read about and I do repeat some of the creepy things Christian says and does to Ana in the 50 Shades books.

Lesson 4: Pre-negotiation must be neutral and pressure-free

The ranter talks about limits:

There is no excuse for a D/M to be unable or unwilling to discuss these things openly and in a non-threatening, non-intimidating fashion in a neutral setting (emphasis on the “nons” and “neutral”). This allows for open communication and allows the s-type to express where they are with a particular limit.

Continue reading How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 2)

How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 1)

One of the biggest myths spoken about 50 Shades of Grey is “It’s not abuse, it’s BDSM.” I recently read a rant from a guy in the BDSM scene calling out abusive behaviour from a big-shot d-type who was using his reputation to silence his critics and the people he was abusing. Unlike 50 Shades, the rant is not fictional, which is why the strong parallels it has with 50 Shades are so serious. You can read the rant (in all its anger and uncut strong language) here. In the meantime, this post is the first of three that lists some of ways the big-shot dominant the ranter described reminded me of Christian Grey.

If phrases like “BDSM,” “s-type” and “d-type” are unfamiliar for you, you might want to check out my Dictionary page. I’ve also written separately about why I write about BDSM and why I write about 50 Shades.

Content note: This post talks about abusive behaviour. I try not to be graphic but it’s generally not nice to read about and I do repeat some of the creepy things Christian says and does to Ana in the 50 Shades books.

Lesson 1: Abuse can happen – even in a BDSM setting

“It’s BDSM” is never enough. There should always be a discussion about consent, risk and appropriateness: that’s what distinguishes abuse from what gets called “safe, sane and consensual BDSM” and “risk-aware consensual kink”.

Continue reading How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 1)

A real-life rant about “command rape” in the BDSM scene

This guest post is about abuse within the BDSM scene, particularly what the author calls “command rape”. It’s not a piece of fiction. I asked to reproduce it for one thing because the author is in the scene and makes some good points about BDSM and but also because the “Snake in the grass” he’s ranting against also bears uncanny likeness to Christian Grey. I’m writing about that separately in three different blog posts, but in the meantime, this will give you a gist of why he’s writing:

We’re all human, we make mistakes. It’s when those “mistakes” become a pattern that raises concern. When there are multiple individuals coming forward talking about a local “Master” who appears to have abused, coerced and straight-up disregarded the hard limits of, not just someone close to me, but several others, I get [very angry].

Content note: This post is very angry in tone, has very strong language, discusses abusive practices and uses graphic hyperbole to make a point (I have put a warning into the text). Also, although the author gives useful definitions to make his points and help convey understanding, these are not intended as legal or definitive definitions and should not be understood in that sense.

Continue reading A real-life rant about “command rape” in the BDSM scene

Ruth and Joseph: A closer look at love vs abuse

This post is a writer’s-commentary on a sketch I wrote, based on two Bible stories: Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:1-20, and the book of Ruth. If you haven’t read the sketch, it’s in my previous post.

I originally wrote the sketch as an illustration of the differences between good and not-so-good sexual desire, which in the church often get called “love” and “lust”. But these words are often unhelpful as they are often used in different ways. Bigger than that though, is the problem that “love” and “lust” don’t usually come on their own.   Continue reading Ruth and Joseph: A closer look at love vs abuse

Love vs Abuse: two Bible stories you’ve not heard like this

This is a drama sketch based on two Bible stories: Genesis 39:1-20 and the book of Ruth.

Ruth and Boaz Bible
Ruth chapter 3 in my pocket New Jerusalem Bible, published by Darton, Longman and Todd

Boaz:
I’m Boaz.

Mrs Potiphar:
I’m Mrs Potiphar.

Boaz:
I’m a wealthy landowner from the tribe of Judah.

Mrs Potiphar:
I’m married to the Captain of the Guard to Pharaoh himself.

Boaz:
I’m a bachelor who’s coming on in years.

Mrs Potiphar:
I’m an underappreciated trophy wife.

Boaz:
A while back, a woman started working in one of my fields. Her name was Ruth.

Mrs Potiphar:
A while back, my husband bought a new slave. His name was Joseph.

Continue reading Love vs Abuse: two Bible stories you’ve not heard like this

The Honest 50 Shades trailer: oh so true!

For those who haven’t seen an Honest trailer before, they’re a series of satirical trailers on YouTube that (as the name suggests) are honest about a film’s or TV series’ faults. The 100th Honest trailer was – you guessed it! – 50 Shades of Grey. The humour in Honest trailers won’t be to everyone’s taste (not all of it is to mine) but for anyone with an axe of bugbears to grind, the 50 Shades trailer makes satisfying viewing. Here it is, along with 10 thoughts I had after watching it:

Continue reading The Honest 50 Shades trailer: oh so true!

About the “steamy action” in 50-Shades-the-film

OK, I want to throw my two cents in when it comes to the portrayal of sex in the film of 50 Shades of Grey. This is partly in response to the rather sarcastic indictment of the film offered by the Honest trailer for it (here if you’re interested), in that the “steamy action” includes contracts, negotiation, clauses, conditions, emails, texting, non-disclosure agreements… Continue reading About the “steamy action” in 50-Shades-the-film

What’s bad about “the worst” six slaps?

It took me a moment to register that I was smiling as I read chapter 26 of Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, you read correctly, I was smiling. Christian and Ana were engaged in a playful game of cat and mouse around the kitchen – he with his dastardly boasting, she with her undaunted wiliness  – and it was fun. Until suddenly it wasn’t a game.

The ending of Fifty Shades of Grey (both film and book) is undeniably one of the most irritating things that I’ve had to get my head round. Ana asks Christian to show her “the worst” in the film or “as bad as it can get” in the book. In the film he asks her if she’s sure, in the book he asks if she’s ready. She says yes. He says he’ll hit her six times. He then hits her six times. He then stops. Does this mean she actually was consenting to the whole relationship and he’s not actually abusive? Deep breath. Content note: I talk about abusive and violent behaviour in this post and the use of discipline in a BDSM context.  Continue reading What’s bad about “the worst” six slaps?

7 essential facts about consent

This piece of writing is a fantastic one-stop-shop about what consent really looks like. The BDSM-er who wrote it intended it more as a vent of frustration than an educational piece, which is why I have ever-so-slightly edited some of the original language. Reproduced with kind permission of tumblr’s HotDogPhoto.


During the last several months, my local community and the scene at large has had a number of issues regarding consent violation, assault, and generally predatory behavior. In the wake of these instances, I’ve seen a lot of discussions of consent and in the course of those discussions I’ve seen a lot of comments that have chilled my blood. People saying things like, “Well, I subscribe to a blanket theory of consent,” or “The older generation of kinksters doesn’t think about consent that way.” The purpose of these statements is often to make it appear that the issue of consent is that of a subjective communal construct that my peers and I are changing after the fact.

Here’s the thing: It’s not. “Consent” as a concept, has been widely employed in medical ethics (and extended to ethics more broadly) through the last 60 years. So, unless you got into the scene before Nuremberg, the word “consent” has entailed much of the same conceptual baggage the whole time. I want to take some time (as someone with years of graduate training in the history and anthropology of medicine, and medical ethics) to clarify some of the facts. Continue reading 7 essential facts about consent

A message to Muslim teens on 50 Shades

As I consider myself to be a person of faith, I’m often interested in how other people apply their beliefs to sex. I recently read a post by a Muslim writer and mother who says:

I cannot discuss all the points in the book thoroughly in just one article. However, to highlight some major issues, I want to tell my dear teenage daughters…

My only caveat on this article is that the author criticises a particular practice that labels itself “Christian” in the Christianity sense. Her criticism of the practice is justifiable in my view, though it seems strange to me that her single reference to a religion other than her own picks this out – particularly when a great many Christians, including me, would describe the practice as anything but Christian. [Edit: you can read her response to this below]

That said, what she makes a number of excellent and concise points. You can read them here: What Muslim teens need to know

Did you find this post by clicking on a pingback on the MuslimMatters site? You might be interested in this review of the film of 50 Shades of Grey from a Christian(ity) angle.