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Before Fifty Shades of Grey: BDSM Beginnings

Updated on February 24, 2015
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) | Source

Since British author, E. L. James, released the erotic romance novel, Fifty Shades of Grey (2011), the explicit content has ruffled conservatives and swooned the adventurous.

The explicit content, in question, is BDSM, an acronym that describes, in the broadest sense, the erotic practices involving dominance, submission, role-playing and restraint. The initials, B&D, stand for bondage and discipline, while the initials, S&M, stand for sadomasochism, which in the broadest sense, is the ability to be pleasured through the practice of inflicting or receiving pain.

In the novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, the story line revolves around senior college student, Anastasia Steel, who becomes involved in a BDSM relationship with wealthy entrepreneur, Christian Grey.

Disregarding the controversial origins of the novel being an extension of the successful vampire romance novel, Twilight (2005), as well as the conflicting interpretations of romance, the true controversies lie within the critics being appalled by the depiction of the alleged abnormal erotic practices, claiming that the plot glorified rape and abusive relationships.

Frankly, after the vast accomplishments of the twenty-first century, I am quite astonished that this subject is still considered controversial, and evidently new.


Before Christ: Fetishism and Sexual Fetishism

The term, fetishism, in the broadest sense, is the acknowledgement of religious or magical quantities within inanimate objects.

In 4000 B.C., the ancient civilization, Mesopotamia, worshiped Inanna, the goddess of love, fertility and warfare. In her honor, rituals that involved various erotic practices of domination and role-playing were performed.

In 900 B.C., the ancient Greek civilization, Sparta, held ceremonies that involved priestesses whipping adolescent males.

In 500 B.C., the ancient Italian civilization, Etruria, painted the Tomb of the Whipping, which contains a mural that depicts two males erotically whipping a female.

The ancient Italian civilization, Pompeii, also painted the Villa of Mysteries. The mural depicted the ritualistic role of the initiation of a female through whipping.

In 400 B.C., ancient Indian Hindu philosopher, Vatsyayana, released the Kama Sutra. The writings involved practical advice pertaining to human sexual behavior. More specifically, the text contained the first written resource for information on the variations and safety rules of BDSM.

Fanny Hill (1964)
Fanny Hill (1964) | Source

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748)

When British author, John Cleland, released the erotic novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748), he was arrested on grounds of corrupting the public.

Due to it's explicit content, the novel is considered the first installment of adult literature and is, historically, one of the most censored writings.

In the novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, naïve adolescent country girl, Fanny Hill, is unknowingly sold to a brothel in the city. During her time as a prostitute, Fanny whips and engages in role-playing for clients, along with other erotic fantasies.

Inspired by the novel, American director, Russ Meyer, released the comedic film, Fanny Hill (1964). The motion-picture featured Italian actress, Letícia Román, as Fanny Hill, and German actor, Ulli Lommel, as Charles, her lover. Although the film was not as commercially successful as his other films, nor as tasteful, it re-introduced the idea of BDSM to the public.

Tess (1979)
Tess (1979) | Source

Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891)

Despite the film adaption of Fifty Shades of Grey incorporated a scene of Christian giving Anastasia a set of first edition volumes of the romance novel, Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), the significance of this action is under-played.

Written by British author, Thomas Hardy, the novel revolves around a peasant girl who is raped by, and eventually becomes a mistress for, her distant cousin.

Inspired by the novel, Polish director, Roman Polanski, released the romantic film, Tess (1979). The motion-picture featured German actress, Nastassja Kinski, as Tess Durbeyfield, and British actor, Peter Firth, as Angel Clare. The film is dedicated to Sharon Tate, Polanski's late wife, who suggested the idea of a film adaption of the novel prior to the Manson Family murders. The plot challenged sexual morals, such as, consensual sexual relations and human sexuality.

Bettie Page S&M Reel
Bettie Page S&M Reel | Source

The Queen of Pin-Up: Bettie Page (1952-1957)

Among the several accomplishments of American pin-up model, Bettie Page, she has also gained recognition for being considered the first mainstream bondage model.

Recorded by siblings, Irving and Paula Klaw, Page performed erotic situations, such as domination, bondage, whipping and role-playing for photographs, as well as, 8mm and 16mm films.

Despite the media containing BDSM themes, the content never featured any nudity or explicit sexual images.

The Story of O (1974)
The Story of O (1974) | Source

The Story of O (1954)

When French author, Anne Desclos, released the erotic novel, The Story of O (1954), she used the pseudonym, Pauline Réage, to conceal her identity.

Forty years after the publication, Desclos revealed her true name and admitted that the novel was based on a series of love letters sent to her lover, Jean Paulhan, who had admired the works of Marquis de Sade, a French author and BDSM enthusiast.

In the novel, The Story of O, a French female fashion photographer, O, who is taught to be submissive to any male belonging to the same secret society as her lover.

Inspired by the novel, French director, Just Jaeckin, released the erotic drama film, The Story of O (1975). The motion-picture featured French actress, Corinne Cléry, as O, and French actor, Udo Kier, as René, her lover.

Behind the Green Door (1975)
Behind the Green Door (1975) | Source

Behind the Green Door (1972)

Although Behind the Green Door (1972) is an adult film, it was one of the original commercially released erotic features to depict BDSM.

Released by American director siblings, Artie and Jim Mitchell, the motion-picture featured Marilyn Chambers, who, interestingly enough, has no dialogue throughout the entire film.

In the film, Behind the Green Door, wealthy socialite, Gloria Saunders, is kidnapped and hypnotized. Saunders is taken to an underground elite party, where she is ritualistically presented on stage through a green door. Because she is hypnotized, Saunders is entirely submissive to the erotic acts performed on her while an aroused audience of masked patrons eagerly watch.

Romance (1999)
Romance (1999) | Source

Romance (1999)

Released by French director, Catherine Breillat, the art house drama film featured French actress, Caroline Ducey, as Marie, and Italian adult actor, Rocco Siffredi, as Paolo.

In the film, Romance, restless woman, Marie, lives with her boyfriend, Paul, who refuses to sleep with her. She begins having sexual relationships with various individuals, eventually, encountering a man interested in sadomasochism.

Would you read or watch the titles mentioned in the article?

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© 2015 samanthamjordan

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