Ariella Perry

Fifty Shades of Great

The book Fifty Shades of Grey elicited a very wide response to its tales of erotic romantic drama. The film, while certainly not as explicit as the book, has generated not a small amount of controversy and intrigue, and its subject matter is something that many sexual therapists deal with, even within the Jewish religious community.

What sets this tale apart from many other erotic romances are its vivid descriptions of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism, often known as BDSM.

For many, BDSM is an unknown world that conjures up images of abuse and violence, even if consensual and within boundaries, that Fifty Shades at times does little to dispel. BDSM can involve a variety of erotic practices involving dominance and submission, role-playing, restraint, and other interpersonal dynamics, and its practitioners can range from one-time experimentation to an ongoing lifestyle.

Within certain limitations, Judaism’s uniqueness is that it understands the needs of the body. There is nothing in the world of soft-BDSM that is specifically contrary to Halachah and Jewish Law, and can certainly be utilized to spice up one’s sexual relationship.

Judaism does not idealize the idea of one partner dominating or suppressing the other and it could be argued that an ideal physical relationship is one where sexual parity and a loving equilibrium are essential components.

The primary purpose of sex within Judaism is to reinforce the loving bond between partners, in which the physical component is crucial. This means that the ancient and longstanding attitude within Jewish law is to allow everything unless it is specifically forbidden, as I noted in a previous article.

Another important part of Judaism’s code of sexual relations is that a woman must feel satisfied from the physical act.

This means that BDSM in a consensual way where the woman is a full partner to the role-playing that will satisfy her sexually is far from being forbidden in Judaism. In fact, some levels of healthy role-playing and experimentation can certainly improve the sexual relationship of couples who are feeling that their physical relationship requires a boost.

In general, relationships should be based on equality taking into account that each partner may have differing desires and fantasies. BDSM should not be seen as the norm in a relationship but can become an ingredient in empowering physical intimacy.

In religious communities some role-playing and imagination can enhance couples working through issues relating to anxiety, trepidation and ignorance of sexual relations.

However, as in Judaism, there have to be clear rules and it has been be channeled in a healthy and agreed upon manner. As in all physical intimacy matters, the couple should approach the issue in an open and non-judgmental manner each explaining to the other their fantasies, desires and fears. There should always be room for compromise but not too much that someone feels cajoled into purely living out the fantasies of their partner without their full participation and enjoyment.

Unlike the uneven relationship between the two main characters in the film, Christian Grey and Ana Steele, sex must not be part of a power-hold of one partner over the other. This is clearly forbidden in Judaism, as it is extremely ill-advised outside it.

Another important note is to take things slowly; one shouldn’t want to emulate Christian Grey’s “Red Room of Pain”.  I posted to my Sexual Wellness Facebook page an article about what regular household items can be used as sex toys or as instruments for those wishing to test the waters of a more experimental physical relationship.

For those who would like to go to the next stage, websites like Better2Gether provide adult products to both strengthen and enhance a couple’s love-life and offer means to excite and improve one’s physical and emotional relationship, while allowing them to do so in a discreet, confidential and supportive environment.

The popularity of Fifty Shades is largely about titillation and gratuitousness and should definitely not be used as a guide for a loving and intimate relationship, inside or outside of the bedroom. The story is more about dominance than love, brutality over intimacy and suppression over mutual respect.

However, while the central relationship in Fifty Shades is undoubtedly abusive and unhealthy and should not be aspired to, there is definitely room in many relationships to adopt some of the more daring scenes into a vigorous sex life.

If conducted in a completely consensual and healthy manner, then some mutual ‘sexploration’ can definitely turn physical intimacy into ‘Fifty Shades of Great’.

About the Author
Ariella Perry is a certified sex therapist and mental health professional based in the Jerusalem area.