The cover of the first Twilight book, Twlight, shows a pair of hands holding an apple. Now, since we already know that Twilight is about a plain Jane falling in love with the Most Boring Vampire in the World, we are aware that an apple has nothing to do with the plot, really, unless it’s the official fruit of Forks and no one told us about it.
Mythologically, the apple signifies temptation, or the forbidden fruit — that which you cannot have, but want anyway. Edward is the ultimate forbidden fruit, because his love story with Bella is akin to a deer choosing to mate with a leopard. The apple also signifies something sinister — after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge; they were banished from the Garden of Eden. Thus, if Bella chooses to eat her forbidden apple, she’ll have to make sacrifices — ostentatiously her humanity — and if you’d choose to look deeper, her virginity.
Stephenie Meyer’s ridiculously popular series was a tease. It promised a lot of the violent sex that comes with vampire romance, but gave very little, with most of the sex happening in the background, only after Edward and Bella were hitched. It was a religious lesson sneakily wrapped in sexual attraction, leaving the fancies of legions of crazed female fans tickled, but not sated. Meyer almost created a void — to be filled by a book targeted at the same crazed fans with scenes of graphic, kinky sex between a virginal girl and a man in a position of power.
Enter Fifty Shades of Grey
UK’s best-selling book of all time, Fifty Shades of Grey sold 5.3 million copies in four months since its release in April, 2012, (according to the Herald Sun) to achieve that title. The story of a virgin falling for a bondage-loving billionaire was lapped up by women of all ages, leaving books like Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code behind, and ushering in a new generation of readers.
In India, the series has sold 1,75,000 copies and counting, with the Twilight series doing a grand total of 5,50,000 so far. According to Arunima Roy, publicity manager at Hatchette India, Twilight exceeded its Indian sales target by 20 per cent.
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This begs the question — just what kind of an impact have these rather huge pop culture influencers made on society and its acceptance of deviant sexuality? The International Business Times says that sales of ropes and handcuffs in New York have correspondingly increased since the series became a runaway success. Dr Reema Shah, a Mahim-based psychotherapist, says she has seen the “Twilight Revolution” as she likes to call it, make a lot of younger couples come to her and talk — about bondage, dominance, submission and masochism (BDSM).
“They come for a few sessions when they just want to know what it is that they’re feeling,” Shah says. “Then there are the concerned parents, who stumble upon BDSM sites their teenage children are going to, and simply want to educate themselves and understand how to deal with something like that.”
It’s not that there are more cases of people indulging in sexual deviance, it’s just that they’re more willing to talk about it, Shah says. Her opinion is echoed by Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD Professor & HOD, Department of Sexual Medicine, KEM Hospital. He says pop culture hasn’t led to sexual experimentation, but has created an environment safe enough for people to approach experts with their problems. “As a therapist, I have been seeing an increased number of cases of BDSM since the past few yearsbecause people read about it and realise that they’re not the only ones wanting to experiment.” He adds, “Earlier they’d have felt like weirdos. Now, they know that therapy is available, and an expert’s opinion can be taken.”
Bhonsle cites the case of a man in his late ’20s who’d once come to him for therapy. His problem was simple — he couldn’t achieve a state of arousal unless his wife was physically violent with him. In a nutshell, he liked being beaten up. The seeds to this behaviour were sown when he was 13, discovered Bhonsle, during their sessions.
As a child, the man once accidentally watched his parents having sex. Realising that he was aroused by it, he continued to do so everytime opportunity presented itself, and masturbate to it. Then one day, he got caught by his mother, who beat him up as punishment for his act, sewing the imagery of sexual arousal and violence together in his head. Now, several years later, he was married to a woman who didn’t agree with his lifestyle and wanted a change.
“Teaching him to change his ways was like teaching a child to write with his left hand,” Bhonsle says. “It was a step-by-step approach, and it took a long time.”
While Bhonsle considers BDSM to be a “paraphilia” which can loosely be defined as atypical sexual behaviour, Shah advocates a little aggression in the bedroom. “Ninety nine per cent of human beings have these urges,” she says. “They’re very primal urges, and sometimes we aren’t even aware of their existence.”
She uses the structure of civilisation itself to illustrate her point. “The history of mankind is riddled with masters and slaves. It’s the natural human order — there’s always a category of an oppressor and one of the oppressed.”
One of her cases demonstrates how a little Dominance and Submission (D&S) can actually be good for a relationship. A Marwari couple once came to her for psychotherapy, because the woman was depressed. She was a 25 year-old, cosmopolitan girl educated abroad, who got married at 23 to a man two years older. As it turned out, the cause of her depression was the rather conservative and patriarchal structure of the family she married into. She felt helplessly dominated, and she couldn’t conform to the situation.
So Shah suggested that they use sex to correct the power imbalance. In bed, the woman got to play the dominatrix, and the man got to be the submissive one. They took about six weeks to get comfortable with the role-playing, and soon started experimenting on their own. The entire exercise ended up curing her depression, and she was better able to adjust to the family she was married into.
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Shah isn’t opposed to the idea of BDSM at all, as long as it’s between consenting adults who trust each other. “As long as it doesn’t affect a person’s day to day life, or a person’s mental, emotional or physical balance, there’s no harm in it.”
She does, however, insist on underlying the importance of trust in a relationship between partners who decide to experiment with BDSM. “When you’re submitting yourself or dropping your social mask, mutual trust will ensure that the other person will be normal with you the next day” Shah says. “That life otherwise will be the same.”
And youngsters seem to agree. Neeraj Pandey (name changed on request), a 24 year-old engineer from Goa has had at least five sexual partners with whom he has experimented in BDSM for the past six years. After breaking up with the first girl he had sexual relations with in 2007, Neeraj met a man who complete took over his life. Even though they weren’t sexually involved, the man was his dominatrix, and Pandey was the submissive one, a trait that translated well into his bedroom.
No dominance for Arjun Vora, a 22 year-old student from Jamshedpur, however. He’s been into bondage in the bedroom for about four years now. “Nothing exceptional — just handcuffs, a steel ruler, scarves and a lot of talk. Roleplay is hard work and we work with safe words if we want to stop the action,” he adds. Ask him why he enjoys it so much, however, and he says he doesn’t know. “I just do,” is his simple answer. Evidently, you can just enjoy BDSM without a sinister back-story of a childhood incident.
He does recall what introduced him to the idea of kink in the bedroom, however. “I read Venus in Furs by Sacher-Masoch after I found out the concept of kink (I was pretty young when I read it) and The Story of O by Reage,” Vora says. After that it took on a life of its own. His close friends know about his interest — in fact they gifted him a set of handcuffs on his birthday — and he and his girlfriend have a happy sex life. “If it isn’t mutual, it isn’t kink,” he adds, thoughtfully.
While you’ll still be hard-pressed to see an open discourse on it at the town square, sexual deviance is also no longer just a matter of whispers in the dark. Couples are accepting it, talking about it, seeking guidance and using it to better their lives. While debates might still rage on about what’s ‘normal’ and what’s ‘abnormal’, the fact remains that the definition of ‘normal’ is ever-expanding, and we do owe it to pop culture for showcasing more and more “weirdos”. Like Bella Swan. And Christian Grey.