50 Shades of James Franco

Getty Images"If pornography was high school, we would be the goth team," announces the voiceover in Kink, a new documentary about the world of BDSM and life inside Kink.com, the premier BDSM website. The film, which debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is produced by actor James Franco who took time out of his busy schedule of writing poetry for Obama, rolling around in body paint, and appearing on General Hospital.  

Franco agreed to produce the film in 2011 after visiting the San Francisco Armory, a historic building that houses 50 movie sets. While there to work on the film adaption of Stephen Elliott’s 2009 book The Adderall Diaries, Franco came into contact with the Kink.com crew who were also shooting inside the Armory.

“I was given a tour of the place, and then I got to watch a video being made,” says Franco. “It was very interesting because the dynamic in front of the camera was very different from what was happening off camera. It was a BDSM scene of a girl in a cage, and very intense, but off-screen it was surprisingly warm and cooperative, with everyone as a willing participant. I thought I’d like to explore this, and I’m sure a lot of other people would, too.”


At first, the trailer for the film seems to be relying heavily on shock value—it opens with a shirtless, muscular man strapped with rope and preparing to be suspended from the rafters. Next, we're treated to rehearsed screams of pain, a woman being fitted for a straightjacket, and a man wearing what appears to be a collar, being doused in water. But the film isn't just about graphic sex scenes; it delves into the nuanced world of BDSM—the psychology of the lifestyle, the misconceptions, and the every day lives of people who are drawn to this field.

What's experiencing BDSM really like? Claire Cavanah, co-founder of Babeland, a sex toy boutique and the co-author of Moregasm: Babeland's Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex gave us the lowdown.

"BDSM stands for Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism and it involves agreeing that one person gives orders and the other person obeys those orders in a sexual situation," says Cavanah. "The pay-off for the person giving orders is to feel a sense of control over their pleasure and for the person obeying, it's to enjoy sex without having to worry about reciprocating. Other aspects of BDSM include deriving pleasure from hair pulling or spanking."

No doubt that BDSM can seem confusing to the average person. In the film's trailer, Kink director Christina Voros says, 'Many people see it as abuse. That's a huge misconception.'" Cavanah agrees: "Consensual kinkiness is completely healthy and just one aspect of someone’s sexuality."

We can thank 50 Shades of Grey for making BDSM mainstream, pushing it onto to bestseller tables at Barnes and Nobles, sex workshops, and into baby clothing lines. "It's had a remarkable impact on sex. We've seen a 40 percent increase on floggers, riding crops, and restraints at Babeland," says Cavanah.

Want to dip your toe in? For starters, there are no set gender rules in BDSM. "Either gender could assume the dominant or submissive role," says Cavanah. "If you enjoy being in control, then telling your lover what to do can be a huge turn-on. Or, if you prefer to release all responsibility, try being submissive."

Also, heed this advice before you get started: 

Write a yes/no list: Sit down together to map out which activities turn you on. While it may seem decidedly unsexy, it's crucial to to have a rough idea of what you're getting into so no one crosses the sexual line. 

Create a safe word: Determine a code word that means 'stop' or 'slow down.' It'll give you a sense of control but not break the mood.

Do your research: Read a book, take a class (Babeland offers classes on BDSM), and know what you’re doing before you restrain someone or agree to be restrained. "There are right ways to do it and very wrong ways," says Cavanah. Also: Check out fetlife.com, a social networking site for people interested in BDSM.

And while unfortunately these tips won't make James Franco appear in your bedroom (sorry) you can at the very least, get inspired by his body of work.