It’s not often that a busy single mother of three is faced with taking time out to learn about the practices of bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. But that’s the place Academy Award Winning Actress, Marcia Gay Harden found herself in when she accepted the role of Christian Grey’s mother in the much anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey film (opening nation wide today.)
And like a consummate professional, Ms. Harden reached out to a relationship expert for research. I am honored to tell you that we had a cup of tea in my garden and a lady-like chat about leather, bruises and other matters of the heart. The questions the actress wrestled with were the very ones that dominate our national discourse in the wake of the film’s release.
“Doing 50 shades make me curious about the relationship between pain and pleasure,” she said. “And, of course, is that different from the difference between pain and love?”
Good questions. The truth is there is a world of difference between intimate partner violence and safe, sane and consensual fetishism. But, strangely, both can contain love. The problem lies in the definition of love held in the secret chambers of the individual mind. Those with traumatic childhood events often have a schema of love that brings them back to the scene of the crime, re-traumatizing themselves with unhealthy adult relationships. For those with scar-free childhoods, there’s some evidence that S&M behaviors may arise because fear and sexual excitement are roommates in the amygdala. The neuropeptides vasopressin and oxytocin regulate a variety of behaviors including maternal bonding, adult romantic bonding and, yes, aggression and fear, suggesting that in our anthropological past fear and sex may have sometimes been intertwined.
While Harden admits that clearly “It’s not my world,” and politely sidesteps the debate about whether legal consent was obtained in the story, she is quick to point out that “The movie doesn’t say this relationship is okay. It’s the ultimate fantasy: let’s tame a bad boy. And maybe let’s expand the horizons for the good girls.”
But back to her original question about love and pain. Pondering the experiences of the film’s heroine, Anastasia Steele, Marcia Gay Harden Fifty Shades of Grey seems to come to her own conclusion. “At the end of the day, Anastasia doesn’t feel loved. She questions “why would you hurt me”, and she draws an adamant boundary. That is something all young people need to learn to do…. set and maintain their boundaries.”
If you’d like to learn about healthy love, checkout my online video workshop Ten Steps to Mindful Love.