Welcome to Hump Day, where award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sexiest questions—unjudged and unfiltered. Have a quandary? Email us anonymously at HumpDay@instyle.com.
DEAR DR. JENN,
I just read Fifty Shades and have never been more, ahem, excited by a book. I'm generally a vanilla sex person, but maybe at heart I'm more into kink than I thought. How can I bring some of that into the bedroom without freaking out the people I'm dating? —Fifty Shades of Nervous
DEAR FIFTY SHADES OF NERVOUS,
You would be surprised to know how many single men say they hear the Fifty Shades request from women they are dating. There is a reason the series has sold over 100 million copies and the movies have grossed over $300 million so far. There is something about the characters, the relationship dynamic and, of course, the sex that has connected with the collective consciousness.
Step 1: Find the Right Partner to Explore With
It sounds like you are currently seeing different people and are not in a committed relationship. The more you explore this side of yourself, the more you are going to want to start screening for open-minded partners as you get to know them. There are some people who are open to all kinds of different sexual activities and others who will be out the door faster than you can shake a flogger at them. You can find your Christian Grey or Anastasia Steele by asking questions about previous relationships, asking them what they think about Fifty Shades, and, once you are in a sexual relationship together, asking more specific BDSM questions. Start vanilla and work your way up to chocolate mocha crunch. If you are ready to go all the way, you can go directly to dating apps geared toward those who want to partake in the BDSM lifestyle.
VIDEO: Jamie Dornan Says His Wife Hasn’t Seen Any of the Fifty Shades Films
Step 2: Lead with Questions
If there is someone (or someones) you are seeing regularly and you are nervous about introducing BDSM activities, toys, vocabulary, safe words, and concepts into your routine together, I have a few suggestions. Tell your partner how fascinated you are by the movie and ask if s/he is willing to watch it with you. While you are watching, you can hit pause and comment on the things you find particularly appealing, asking what what your lover thinks about them. Get a few books about the BDSM lifestyle and leave one out where it can be found and asked about. If you are in a longer-term relationship, I recommend trying the sexual inventory in my book The Relationship Fix: Dr. Jenn's 6-Step Guide to Improving Communication, Connection & Intimacy. The sexual inventory is a series of questions that couples ask each other to learn about one another’s preferences. The questionnaire starts off pretty tame and gets more adventuresome as it progresses. Often, having a list to stick to, written by a third party, helps couples open up about topics that they have never talked about before, judgement free (think: those 36 viral questions the NYT published that help you fall in love with anyone, but for sex).
Step 3: Accent Your Regular Routine with BDSM-Inspired Moves
You don’t have to go full-on into the BDSM lifestyle to borrow fun toys and techniques from the movie. You can spice up a more mainstream sex life with a blindfold, some handcuffs, or a little leather outfit. You can also use this inspiration to open your creative mind sexually. One of the things that Ana and Christian did so well that most people forget about in the bedroom is play with power. We have a lot of mistaken ideas about what we can and cannot do with someone we love in the bedroom. Let Fifty Shades open you up to new forms of pleasure, whether it's talking dirty or a good spanking. Using the movie to open dialogue and sexual play can be fun and exciting—as long as everyone is willing and enthusiastic.
Step 4: Set Ground Rules
Once you have a willing experimental partner, it is especially important that you are clear on what you want to try and how deep into the lifestyle you want to go. While your desires may change and develop over time as you are exposed to different experiences, like Anastasia’s did, you want to be clear on where you want to begin. Do you want to try some nipple clamps? Is a little caning what you had in mind? Are you hoping for some dirty talk, even humiliation? Perhaps you want to experiment with some table play? Or maybe you are looking to go all the way and be collared, living the BDSM lifestyle 24/7.
As you saw in the Fifty Shades movie or read in the book, most BDSM couples have a contract. This outlines hard limits, soft limits, expectations, how often they will see each other, punishments, who will pay for what, and more. There is a lot to be said for a sexual contract, whether you are in a BDSM relationship or not. Like the sexual inventory in my book, a contract forces couple to have great sexual communication and to talk about a list of potential activities they might never consider. A preprinted list can take the anxiety and shame out of the conversation. I don’t think that most couples need an actual contract, but I do think that many benefit from open conversations about what they are comfortable doing in the bedroom and what they are not. The idea of soft and hard limits, those things that you are hesitant but willing to try and those things that you definitely don’t want to do, is healthy for couples to talk about.
Step 5: Play Safely
If you do decide to play in the kinky world, make sure you read up and educate yourself, especially when it comes to safety procedures. Use safe words. Make sure you have a physical sign if a ball gag is being used or communication is going to be difficult. Don’t ever leave the room if your partner is tied up. Don’t drink (or do drugs) and kink. Save the fisting and floggers for the highly experienced doms among us since they can cause great injury. Even the most experienced couples tend to stay away from fire, needle play, torture, and electricity. It is also crucial that all activities be safe, sane, and consensual, as they say in the BDSM world.
It takes training and education to be a good dom. I believe the allure of the Fifty Shades series is about more than blindfolds and riding crops. E.L. James tapped into something that is not just about sex. Christian is a superb dom. Some person you meet in a bar is unlikely to have his skill. Even an experienced master won’t behave like Christian.
Step 6: Understand What About BDSM and Kink Appeals to You
Viewers responded to more than the character's good looks, toned body, financial position, power, and success. His singular focus on his partner, his disinterest in other women, the way he tuned into her subtle cues, his encouragement to embrace her sexual desires shame-free, his ability to help her feel comfortable about her naked body, the way he was constantly coming up with new sexual activities to try together, the way he nurtured her before and after a scene, and the way he ultimately opened up and became vulnerable to Anastasia once he trusted her have an appeal that resonates deeply with so many women, whether they're into BDSM or not.
I hope these suggestions help you talk about and find your inner Anastasia (or Christian) with the right partner and, as Christian says, “explore your sensuality” to its fullest.