Fifty shades of healthy sex

This letter is in response to the “Edgy Mama” piece about the book Fifty Shades of Grey [“Fifty Shades of Abuse,” Sept. 12 Xpress]. I absolutely agree with her assertion that the writing is not great (nor even good), and the premise of a young virgin becoming overwhelmingly sexual during her first sexual rodeo is complete fantasy. However, I want to address the topic of power and sexuality that is presented in the book and in the article.

Much of our American culture and, indeed, our evolution is based upon who has power, who gives power and how that power is negotiated. In unhealthy power relationships, there is no negotiation. One person assumes control and the other person cedes it based on fear of the consequences. Yet, in healthy sexual relationships, power can become another mode of play, conversation and intimacy. Some healthy sexual relationships do not use power games as an erotic accessory but, in my experience, most of us have some sort of erotic stimulus associated with power.

Healthy power negotiation involves a clear and ongoing discussion between partners of who likes what sexual (and sometimes non-sexual) activities, how does each person get their needs and desires met, what are the boundaries and how do the people involved agree to cease if boundaries are crossed. Abuse happens when there is disrespect, intentional boundary violations and lack of care about how the other person is feeling about the experience.

I, too, want my children to understand what healthy relationships look like. Yet, as a professional sex educator and sex coach, I know that healthy relationships can look different from the inside (which is the place where it really matters) than they appear to the casual outside observer. If anyone has feelings of disempowerment that are not being addressed in their relationship, that can lead to abuse. But consensual power — playing including physical discipline, costuming, performing of tasks, and sexual engagement — is not abuse.

In healthy BDSM relationships, the lines of communication and negotiation are always open because the partners care about each other and themselves enough to be open and honest about their needs and desires, even if it's not an easy talk to have.

— DiAnna Ritola
Asheville

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