“50 shades” controversy, & the lasting effects of childhood trauma

So, after first writing this up almost a month ago, I have yet to put more effort into it. I had contacted a few people claiming to be connected to the BDSM community in an effort to get “honest” perspectives. Publically, they strongly supported the notion that the community is respectful and vigilant of “safety”. Privately however, some denounced the community as seedy and very unsafe. I was warned to “stay far away” from anything even remotely having to do with BDSM, including looking further into the different aspects of it. The few people I know personally and trust, and who also have some experience with the community express otherwise: that their experiences have been safe and respectful… This has me confused. I am more apt to believe the people I know in real life, so I guess I will go with that…

I find myself looking at the prospect of digging through thrift store book shelves to find copies of 50 Shades of Grey… Straight erotica is certainly not my thing, but the uproar over the books and movie has piqued my interest.

People seem very polarized on the issue: they either rave about it, or they caution wildly about how “dangerous” the book is.

The thing I have been noticing however, is that the people I see speaking out about it have not read it themselves (though I have by no means looked at most of the articles out there on it all). They speak out against BDSM in general and tend to have a more “conservative” slant to their opinions. I was also somewhat surprised to see that a group of women I know who work in domestic violence services were eagerly announcing that they were headed to see the movie. This had my little head spinning a bit. Of all the people I know and have worked with, I would think that those who work/ed with domestic violence and sexual assault would have an intimate understanding of not only the ramifications of relationship violence, but also what to look out for around abusive relationships. Is their perception now clouded by the hype around the books? Or are those that have not personally read the books leaping to conclusions based on the subject matter?

I tend to be open to the concept of kink in the bedroom if that’s your thing. I think, from my limited exploration of the BDSM/fetish community, that it is being done in a concensual, respectfull, and safe manner. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly deviance in any community, and risks are there, but overall, the stuff I looked into seemed respectful of limits imposed by either party. Much of the public information out there stresses the importance of safety and trust before any encounter is to take place.

Another part of me however, is acutely aware of the dangers associated with power differentials in relationships. I am reminded of many a heartbreaking story around sex/human trafficking, and how a pimp could be seen as glamorous as Grey. The allure of money, security, being wanted, and the promise of things getting better, followed by fear and violence are all tools pimps use to attract and keep prostitutes. I sat in on many a training and discussion group around the dangers of human trafficking when working at the group homes and emergency shelters. I listened to stories of girls who ran away with people who promised them a better life only to find themselves in uncomfortable and dangerous situations with no way out. There were a few stories the girls told of preferring that life, but I wonder if it was more of a “look how cool I am” thing, or a function of their “brokenness” prior to getting involved (early trauma tends to correlate highly with later abusive relationships, as well as an inability to distinguish or disengage from abusive relationships). Throw into the mix specifically childhood sexual abuse, and the likelihood of having skewed ideas around what is a healthy sexual relationship skyrocket.


Speaking purely about personal experience, I was “ok” with some pretty disturbing things earlier in life. As a child I remembered believing that I would eventually end up in an abusive relationship with someone in the military, and that it would be perfectly ok and “normal”. Imagine my shock at the look my first therapist gave me when I described my “aspirations” for myself. She was very taken aback by my insistence that being regularly beaten and raped in my relationship was perfectly normal and “right”… It took a lot of conversation, education, and general convincing from her and later therapists to get me to see how twisted that view of my potential life actually was. Up until that point however, it felt perfectly natural to me. I never questioned my concepts growing up, which was weird because I did not come from a military family. I think I might have had some idea that they were not so accepted though, because I had not voiced it to anyone before starting therapy in college.

Heck, I didn’t even accept that my relationship with DuckBoy was seriously f-ed up until about 5 years ago. I remember talking to JF about it but insisting it was all “ok” and that I had really wanted everything that happened. There was part of me that truly hated the relationship while it was happening, but a vague and hypothetical conversation with someone I trusted (MY) at the beginning of my college career had me believing it wasn’t as bad as it had felt. JF tried pretty valiantly to get me to see the error of my adopted thinking, but for whatever reason, MY’s opinion held more weight with me than JF’s at the time. I proceeded to stuff away and consciously forget details of everything that went on with DuckBoy. I could admit that he raped me a number of times, but it was an emotionally detached admission. The circumstances of our relationship would creep back up here and there over the years until it finally burst forth again via intense flashbacks/body memories in 2008. I was suddenly once again intimately aware of everything that had gone on with him. I tried to communicate it to Dr C, but shame and fear kept me from really looking at it. I remember writing out details from the flashbacks in hopes of being able to share them. I was writing it on my phone however, and it was back before things auto-saved. A phone call came through erasing all the horrific details I had painstakingly documented for the past hour. I convinced myself it was the universe’s way of telling me to shut the hell up about it all – no one would believe me and no one would want to know, not even Dr C…

I kept struggling with the flashbacks, but never mentioned details or really what they were about until I found myself in the ER because of self-harm done in an effort to relieve them. My assumption that no one would believe me was proven true (mind you, I hadn’t told Dr C yet, just the people at the ER). I was hospitalized because I “wanted attention”. It was true, but it wasn’t true in the way the psychiatrist meant it. I needed to start paying attention to the flashbacks, but I was resisting it with every fiber of my being. Even after the hospital stay, I denied having any sexual assault-related issues when Dr C asked. I trusted her, but I wanted to neither believe it nor face it. I didn’t want to have to explain to anyone that I had not really resisted because I was conditioned to “just go with it”. I had said “no” maybe a handful of times, but never forcefully, and I had never insisted he stop. If DuckBoy told me to “stop teasing”, or that I owed him, I simply complied. you don’t argue with the one in power.

There’s that third part to fight or flight, and it’s freeze. Over the years, I had been conditioned to freeze and submit regardless of my desires or discomfort. It was just safer and easier that way… JF had understood this dynamic when I first told her about it, but MY had not. She insisted that the situation had to have been consensual because the hypothetical other did not resist or protest or fight back in any way… I wish I had listened to JF rather than MY. Actually, now that I think about it, JJ, Dr. J, MB, & B all also had insisted that it was assault. I’m not sure what prompted me to believe MY over all the others. I think it was just easier not to acknowledge any trauma having occurred. If I wasn’t raped and assaulted by him, then I had one less reason to be falling apart the way I had been. Sure. The words “slut” & “whore” carved into my legs were just there without reason (though I still do not remember actually doing it, just JF’s questioning of it when the gyn had told her they were there after an exam). I wasn’t lying when I told JF I didn’t know why I had carved those particular words into my legs; I neither remembered doing it, nor was I consciously aware of their reason. I didn’t think the stuff with DuckBoy was “all that bad”, he was just “sexually forceful, but I didn’t really say no either”… I didn’t want the encounters with DuckBoy, but I hadn’t insisted on him stopping either, so it couldn’t be an issue…

Ahh, what *fun* trauma can be… :/

In the last 5 years, I have slowly started to accept that what DuckBoy did was wrong. I still was not able to talk about it until 2013, but I was admitting to myself that the shitty things he did were not something I asked for or deserved. Finally, during a voluntary hospitalization in 2013 (my first since the last one back in 2011 when I had nearly accidentally killed myself by my self-harm), I heard the counselor when she insisted that I should look into counseling specifically for sexual assault. She gave me the number to the local assault crisis center and told me to call them. I’m not sure what changed. Maybe it was the simple fact that I was once again back where the assaults had happened and the flashbacks were getting unbearably intense. Maybe it was that I did not feel comfortable talking to D about any of it (because he was a guy). Whatever it was, I finally made the call a few weeks later. I didn’t hit it off with the first clinician I was assigned there though. I politely told her I would call her if I was ready to schedule something else after 3 short sessions that only served to make me very uncomfortable with her. A month later, D reminded me he was leaving at the end of August. I called the agency again and asked for a different clinician. I spoke to the supervisor about the first clinician just not being a good fit. She said she would assign me to someone else. That someone else turned out to be De. For the first time in my life, I felt able to be honest about the assaults… I have a lot of work left to do around it all (especially if more “new memories” keep coming up), but hopefully there will eventually be relief from the intensity of it all.


2 responses to ““50 shades” controversy, & the lasting effects of childhood trauma

  • andreabehindglass

    Thank you so, so much for sharing this! I absolutely don’t want to invalidate your experiences, and I’ve never been assaulted (I think this fact has added to my feelings that it was always my fault.), but it brings up many of the feelings I’ve had of feeling obliged to have sex with people, feeling powerless in relationships, feeling like I owed someone something, e.g. sex (however painful), for appearing to care about me, feeling like things were always my fault, regarding myself as a whore for allowing people to exploit me and kind-of wanting that for myself anyway. But I don’t want to detract from your experiences at all, and thank you so much again.

    • Samantha Jane

      not invalidating in the least, actually, I had to read this several times to see if I could figure out what you would fear is invalidating… I still can;t find it 😉
      I’m glad it helped, though sorry to hear you feel that sense of obligation. it can really suck. (hugs) be good to yourself.

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