On the surface, Submission — Showtime’s new late-night show all about getting BDSM right — is exactly what you expect it to be: an after-dark erotic drama about one woman’s journey from a lackluster relationship (complete with a pig of a boyfriend who couldn’t give less of a care about the main character’s sexual gratification) to an exciting new world of domination that she’d never, ever thought she’d be into. But for people tuning in expecting to see another rehash of Fifty Shades of Grey, the show will be a surprise. Its creator, writer, and director — award-winning pornographic filmmaker Jacky St. James — wants this show to be nothing like what E.L. James could have dreamed up.
That’s because St. James has done her research, can’t stand the fact that Fifty Shades passed off an abusive relationship as an honest interpretation of the BDSM lifestyle, and is working hard to make it clear to the audience that while bondage, domination, submission, and discipline are activities that anyone can enjoy (not just millionaires who fall for mousy college graduates) there’s a right way and a wrong way to engage in these erotic arts. And she’s hoping that those who watch will come away with a much more nuanced understanding of what the BDSM world is really like.
It’s a tall order: the show’s on an extremely tight budget, runs for only six episodes, and gets off to a little bit of a disjointed start. But it’s also got a storyline that isn’t all about sex, actors that can do more than just writhe about while shouting “yes, yes, more!” and, St. James promises, more twists and turns than one would expect of a 30-minute series with a required three sex scenes per episode.
“I wanted to really showcase the idea that there is no normal when it comes to sex,” St. James Told us. “Everything is normal. I really wanted to normalize something like BDSM, which people often stigmatize and judge without really knowing much about it. I wanted to humanize it. I think when people think BDSM, they have these very disgusting, grotesque notions of what it is. It could be either beating the hell out of somebody, which is not really the way it is, or they’re using Fifty Shades as a template, which is also really grotesque.”
St. James doesn’t want you to think that non-BDSM sex is bad or that everyone has to get into it, she just wants to make it clear that as far as sexual proclivities are concerned, it’s okay to try something new as long as it’s consensual and mutually beneficial for both people involved. The problem, she points out, is that the main character’s relationship at the beginning of the show — one in which she’s miserable sexually — has become so socially acceptable, that people don’t really venture out of their comfort zones. It’s not that a bad sex life should end a relationship, St. James says, it’s that she hopes that people who watch the show and recognize a little bit of themselves in the main character’s predicament might consider branching out. And that’s why she wants to make BDSM less scary for those who are watching.
“I think it’s less about the sex and more about the mental connection, she says. “I think when you have somebody you trust and you feel safe with, you can say, ‘You know what? This is really not doing it for me and I need this.” Or “Can we explore this?” I think that’s the goal. I think if you have that, you can make your sex life better. A lot of it also comes down to chemistry, but if you’re with somebody you can be open with, if you trust somebody, you should feel safe enough to say what you’re thinking.”