Love hurts

The book brought it into the mainstream. The movie made it a hot topic. But are there real couples here who are into the lifestyle portrayed in Fifty Shades Of Grey?

The New Paper on Sunday meets three couples who say that, yes, the lifestyle is real and it has even kept their relationship going. None wanted to be photographed for this report.


AMBER & WILL

THE MARRIED COUPLE

Amber, 30, and Will, 33, have been together for six years and have spent the last two as a married couple. These are not their real names.

Will discovered BDSM (bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism) more than 15 years ago and has been active in the community since he was 18.

His first foray into the BDSM community was via the Internet Relay Chat rooms (IRC), where he met others who are into the lifestyle, including his future wife.

Soon after, he attended his first munch, a low-pressure social meeting for newbies to learn more about the lifestyle.

Amber's interest was piqued after a playful tussle with an ex-boyfriend. She researched the lifestyle online and met Will on the IRC.

"I grew up in a normal family, it was religious, so I had some internal turmoil," she admits.

"I spent many years getting in and out of vanilla (conventional) relationships before I finally chose to commit to a BDSM one. It was a difficult step for me, but one I do not regret."

She managed to reconcile her feelings only in her mid-20s.

Terms like "dominant" and "submissive" and "master" and "slave" are used to describe the nature of relationships. Dominant/submissive relationships exist within the confines of the bedroom, while master/slave refers to the entire relationship and not just specific acts of intimacy.

Like ordinary couples, they say that communication is key. But for them, it includes a contract of what can and cannot be done.

For Amber and Will, a contract only came into the picture when they were married.

Will says: "The power exchange is 24/7 and not limited to individual scenes.

"We have a master and slave contract drawn up that clearly states our expectations, limits and the boundaries in which our master/slave relationship can exist.

"We came to a consensus on the contract after much negotiation based on what we already knew about each other."

Amber says: "He is ceaselessly supportive of me and in turn, I desire to make him happy."

They likened their relationship to one of a 1950s household. "Major decisions are made by him (Will) and the smaller decisions are made by me, regarding the household."

And like any couple, disagreements may arise.

The couple find it important to keep lines of communication open and constantly assess their relationship.

He says: "We frequently take stock of the relationship. Whether any limits have been shifted, what we have accomplished. Are there boundaries that we want to push?"

ROBIN

THE FORMER STUDENT

While studying and working in the US, Robin, 36, developed an interest in the lifestyle.

He recalls a group in New York City that held regular workshops and distinctly remembers one particular workshop. His first, in fact.

He says: "My first workshop was on spanking. They provided detailed explanations on safety, on where not to hit."

He has been exploring the lifestyle for close to nine years now and has attended local munches regularly for more than three years. He has been with his girlfriend for nearly three years.

They are 100 per cent equals outside of intimacy, but otherwise, she prefers to be the dominant one.

"We don't like gender roles. I don't subscribe to gender roles," he says with a laugh.

On a whole, he finds that the lifestyle has strengthened his relationship. He notes that they communicate more in areas that vanilla couples do not normally talk about - sex being an example.

"When you can tell someone 'I don't like you touching me that way', you are able to speak your mind about smaller things," he reasons.

"All have an area of interest, I feel confident about teaching my areas of interest."

ADRIANNA & HUGH

THE NEW COUPLE

Adrianna, 28, and her boyfriend, Hugh, 30, have been together since last November.

In those few months, Adrianna introduced Hugh to the lifestyle and he introduced polyamory - being in more than one relationship - to her.

Hugh says: "In polyamory, the relationship is open in a way that allows for emotional connections, emotional relationships.

"One of the things that really draws me to polyamory is that I really value being open to deep emotional connections, wherever they might occur. Before polyamory, I felt restricted by monogamous relationships. It's harder to be open to that."

Adrianna adds: "For example, he has a girlfriend who is not in Singapore, and he is seeing me here. Both relationships do have deep emotional connections."

She is the more experienced of the two, having been active in the community for five years - 2½ years each in Hong Kong and in Singapore.

She even had a cabinet packed with implements.

"For now, he's my little puppy," says Adrianna in jest.

Keeping it safe and sane

Slap! is a group which facilitates peer learning and provides BDSM education, with a strong emphasis on safety, for the BDSM community in Singapore.

It was started in mid-2014 by three facilitators, Amber, Adrianna and Robin, who felt that there was a distinct lack of education about the lifestyle and its safety in Singapore.

All three feel there's a richer culture overseas.

The team says: "Communities in the US, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, for example, run regular workshops to educate their members on certain kinks and how to do it safely.

"You could say that we were mirroring that when we started."

So what is discussed in these sessions?

"Our discussions and workshops often focus on safety," they tell us.

Beyond safety, their discussions also explore sanitation, the prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the use of safewords.

Robin says: "It's a fine balance between reaching out and educating, and keeping out those who make people feel uncomfortable.

"Everyone has the right to feel safe and comfortable."

But relationship psychologist Richard Lim cautions couples against taking the book or movie too seriously.

"Movies don't depict real life. It is easy to be lured by the beauty of what you see on the screen and be tempted to experiment," he says. "But things can go wrong."

DANGEROUS

For example, Mr Lim points out that the use of handcuffs or similar implements can be dangerous.

"Some of these implements are even illegal and you won't have any way of verifying it," he says.

"There are many ways of injecting fun and new experiences in the bedroom without BDSM."

Mr Lim has this advice to couples who still want to try it out: "At any point when you are in a position of real fear or real pain, get out.

"It can be handcuffs now, the next time it will be gags.

"Then one day, you may find yourself in a position where real damage is done but by then, it is too late."

This article was first published on March 1, 2015. Get The New Paper for more stories.