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Fifty Shades of the Tri-States

Fifty Shades of Grey Movie Poster

Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more than 100 million copies, making it the best-selling erotic novel of all time. But it began as fan fiction, a BDSM fantasy of author E. L. James.

The book now is a movie, released yesterday, Valentine's Day. But some members of the BDSM community and professionals are concerned for viewer safety.

This story is not to encourage, but to educate what the film is about and the dangers it can bring.

Michael and Jackie Erwin are a happy couple going on 20 years of marriage. Their lives are busy, as they are parents and business partners.

What makes them unique is that their work also is their play - they practice BDSM.

"BDSM is bondage, discipline, sado masochism, slave master," Michael said.

In BDSM, the experience takes place in what's called a scene.

In the scene, one person is dominant, known as a top, and the other is submissive, referred to as a bottom.

Michael and Jackie are in charge of OPEX, a group that holds conventions nationwide to educate those who are curious.

Jackie says this is a lifestyle catching on with all types of people, from accountants to doctors, lawyers to maybe your next door neighbor.

"People a lot of times need that, that is their release. It's their way of expressing themselves. Without that, it's all bottled up and they have no way to control it," Jackie admitted.

Ed Esselman is a general therapist in Quincy who explained the biological reason why some get pleasure from pain.

"The area of the brain that registers sexual pleasure is very closely to located to the area of the brain that registers habits. Our sexual appetites can easily be associated with, connected to other activities," Esselman said.

Michael and Jackie are open about their lifestyle and aren't afraid of public opinion, unlike the majority of the BDSM community.

"Whether its losing a job or whether it's their family, they could have younger kids and can't discuss it or just being afraid of social norms and that they are going to be judged every day," Michael shared.

For any couple or person who has been interested, open communication is vital. Esselman says that communication and compromise are key components of any relationship.

"They've found it exciting and engaged in it for a period of time, or they tried it a few times, one of them found it exciting, the other did not so they didn't or they tried it once and stopped. I think that's normal," Esselman said.

We spoke with Dr. Linda Weiner, a certified sex therapist and adjunct professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

"Most primary aspects of the BDSM community is that there is consent; that people are agreeing to whatever takes place. That there is a safe word which, if the experience becomes overwhelming, the person can use the safe word or some kind of signal and things stop. Afterwards there is a lot of cuddling and caretaking," Weiner said.

For those reasons, Weiner argues that BDSM does not promote abuse.

"Because it's the enjoyment of both that is sought and as soon as the enjoyment ends for one or the other, the scene ends or the action ends," Weiner elaborated.

Those in the BDSM community are frustrated with the Fifty Shades of Grey movie because they feel it doesn't accurately portray the lifestyle. This worries some that moviegoers will get the wrong idea and put themselves in danger, trying to recreate what they see on the big screen.

"It [the movie] does not involve consent, there is a coercive element she is doing, what she is doing to please him or save him rather than it's erotic to her."

Michael says there's danger when looking online for an introduction to the lifestyle. He says predatorial doms seek out newcomers and go as far as separating victims from families.

"Where it is true dominant submissive, I'm not going to love you, no one is going to love you because you do this, or you have to do this so I can love you," Michael said.

Michael says that while there are negatives with the movie's release, there is one major positive - open discussion.

"That has been the benefit and the negative of Fifty Shades of Grey, the negative is, of course, it can open the door for predators, but it's opened communication between the vanilla world and the kink world where it can be mainstream," Michael admitted.

Both Michael and Jackie say it's important to know if you have interests, you're not alone and it doesn't make you a bad person.

"Try and find a local community, we have teaching facilities, we do teach and we have gatherings every month to teach everyone how to be safe, sanely, consensually and properly," Jackie said.

Another sign the lifestyle is growing in popularity in the Tri-States.

Michael and Jackie tell KHQA that on a social media platform for this community, 2011 had 35 members. Today almost 500 people claim Quincy has their hometown, 150 in Hannibal, 66 in Keokuk and 77 in Fort Madison.

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