Exploring BDSM On ‘Fifty Shades’ Week With ‘The Submission of Emma Marx’ (The Adult Film Minute)

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New Sensations

THE ADULT FILM MINUTE: Once per month, Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals will be telling us a little bit about what’s going on in adult entertainment and why it should matter to you.

Like me, I’m sure you’re all sick to death of hearing about Fifty Shades of Grey, et al – except the cultural significance of the trilogy goes far beyond its “sentences.” This may be part of the reason why it’s struck such a raw nerve. And this weekend, said nerve pain is about to reach its acme as we all gear up for the release of the filmic equivalent of a BDSM Mecha-Streisand. Everyone and everything is talking about that stupid movie, even me, with no end in the foreseeable future.

*HOWEVER*

(links hereafter NSFW)

There is hope for the Fifty Shades set, as well as for the rest of us, and it comes in the form of porn! New Sensations’ The Submission of Emma Marx (2013) and The Submission of Emma Marx 2: Boundaries (2015) are far better than anything Fifty Shades, related or otherwise.

Written and directed by Jacky St. James, with considerable input from renowned and respected director Eddie Powell, the original Emma Marx is about an ordinary, if not plain and sheltered, graduate student (Penny Pax) studying gender in the corporate workplace (or something similar). Emma is a typical budding academic, with a slightly know-it-all disdain for any notion that counters herself being in TOTAL control of her ENTIRE life. But over the course of the film, all this melts in a way that is absolutely amazing, as catalyzed by her sub relationship with one “Mr. Frederick” (Richie Calhoun). Emma 2 continues the story of Emma and Mr. Frederick and their BDSM romance, which deepens and becomes more complex.

In every way, both Emma Marx films obliterate everything negative about Fifty Shades, while simultaneously providing all the positives. Like Fifty Shades, Emma Marx is an introduction to the world of BDSM – nothing too hardcore, but plenty of stimulating kink. Unlike Fifty Shades though, Emma Marx is not irresponsible. Both Emma Marx and Emma 2 provide subtle BDSM tutorials in context – discussions of consent and the use of safe words, for example, are built into the narrative – and the relationship between Emma and Mr. Frederick is not isolating and abusive akin to Ana’s with Christian. What’s more, both films engage the idea of “normal” head on as we follow Emma through struggles with her identity and desires in a really meaningful way. Is she “normal”? And what’s “normal” anyway?

Here’s the trailer for Emma Marx and for Emma 2.

Because I’m awesomely lucky, I got to see Emma 2 before it releases on February 16. Here are some thoughts I had after watching the film, as well as some insights from director Jacky St. James – enjoy!

Jacky St. James (rt) directs Richie Calhoun and Penny Pax

Jeff Koga

Jacky St. James (rt) directs Richie Calhoun and Penny Pax

FYI –> *SPOILERS* (you’ve been warned)

1. From novice blindfolding to full-on immersion, The Submission of Emma Marx and Emma 2 show a range of BDSM possibilities.

In both films, Emma explores her shifting boundaries (as does her sister Nadia and Mr. Frederick). Rather than conveying the message that the only acceptable kinky sex is the most hardcore and/or that the only direction to go is wilder and wilder, both films suggest it’s okay to have limits. And Emma 2 in particular shows us that it’s okay to take a step back if you find yourself too far out in any one direction.

Thoughts from JSJ: “BDSM done right (where both parties agree to boundaries and guidelines ahead of time) can be as hard or as soft as you want it. More than anything it’s a psychological exploration that is enhanced by the physical. Depending on your limitations, you can keep things vanilla or go to extremes. While a lot of people think of BDSM and associate that with black leather and dimly lit dungeons, BDSM can be as simple as denying yourself an orgasm and the psychological arousal that comes from that.”

2. Subs have just as much, if not more, control in BDSM relationships.

There’s a common misconception that the domme in a BDSM relationship is in complete control of any and all exchanges within the context of their relationship with a sub. This is not true – in a mutual, consensual domme/sub exchange, a sub has quite a bit of control. Subs grant permission, and subs say when. In Emma 2, Mr. Frederick is interested in exploring a new dimension of his sexuality via bringing in a third person, but it’s Emma who ultimately controls that exchange.

Thoughts from JSJ: “In a healthy BDSM relationship, a sub will communicate what their limitations are. There are hard, fast ‘no, nevers,’ and there are things that are ‘not now, but maybe one days.’ Part of the dynamic of the domme/sub culture is testing the gray areas and really getting off on pushing those boundaries. It’s always the sub’s decision to say, no to anything – even things they’ve previously been okay with. The sub is the one with all the control. The domme has the power to test the sub’s limits, but never without their full consent and permission.”

3. When I first learned that there was going to be another person introduced to the relationship between Emma and Mr. Frederick, I thought for sure it was gonna be another woman…

…but it was another man! To me, this says a lot about heterosexual masculinity, both as it’s presented in narratives and as it’s perceived in general. Seriously: when Jacky told me months ago about the script for Emma 2 and the “boundary” that was going to be crossed, I was not expecting a Boy-Boy-Girl scene. But that’s what we got, and I’ll be goddamned if it wasn’t romantic as hell. I was shocked, at least as shocked as I was when I watched the romantic anal sex scene in the first Emma film. The idea that the boundaries being pushed here were both Emma’s (obvs) and Mr. Frederick’s (sharing his lady with another dude) could have been all bad, but instead they were incredibly thought-provoking and well-done.

Thoughts from JSJ: “Introducing another male character was important to me as a way of really exploring what makes the connection and relationship between Emma and Mr. Frederick so incredibly unique. It solidifies everything the two of them have done right as a BDSM couple. 

I’ve heard a great deal of men vocalize how ‘hot it would be’ for their girlfriend/wife to be with another woman. You seldom hear men say ‘how hot it would be’ for their girlfriend/wife to be with another man. The [Boy-Girl-Girl] choice felt too easy, and there were greater risks for Mr. Frederick and Emma by involving another man (vs. another woman).”

In sum, Fifty Shades it up if you must, but don’t miss The Submission of Emma Marx and Emma 2. Both are far better than anything E.L. James or Hollywood could ever cook up.

Grade: H (for Hot)

Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals is a sociologist specializing in gender, sexualities, work and organizations, media and technology, and popular culture. She has been studying adult entertainment for over ten years.

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