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Fifty Shades Darker

BDSM Expert Weighs In on What Fifty Shades Gets Right – and Wrong – About the Lifestyle

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Miss Charl

For many, the world of restraints and floggers was a total mystery before E.L. James’ erotic sensation Fifty Shades of Grey was published in 2011. The mega-hit quickly introduced aspects of kink to a wider audience, and now the second film chronicling the story of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele is set to be unleashed this Friday.

While the world of BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism) has hit the mainstream, Mistress Couple – the headmistress of La Domaine Esemar, a BDSM training chateau in the Berkshires – tells PEOPLE that the way the franchise portrays the lifestyle is sometimes misleading.

“The basic tenet of La Domaine is not about how much you can take, but rather how much you can give,” Mistress Couple explains. “Many people, when they’re involved in BDSM dynamics, they are bracing themselves to take a punishment from their dominant. And I think the Fifty Shades series usually approaches BSDM in this way: What can you endure? But the way that we view training here is more about understanding that this is an equal dynamic between two consenting partners and that your submission is a gift.”

Mistress Couple has been the headmistress for La Domaine for three years, and has been in the BDSM lifestyle for six years. She says she began her training at the chateau as a submissive, and began to explore her dominant side after staff at La Domaine noticed her capacity to lead as a former professional ballroom dancer.

While she’s familiar with Fifty Shades, Mistress Couple admits she’s never been able to make it through the whole book or movie.

“I just can’t sit through it – I’ve tried, multiple times,” she shares, noting that her main issues with the story are the “abusive aspects.”

The headmistress says, “[I don’t like] the idea or the notion that a twenty-something billionaire can dominate somebody else and all you need is money and then you can go out and buy all these toys and be a good master or mistress. I’ve worked with many couples who read the book, thought that that was the case, went out and bought some toys and without understanding the psychological underpinnings of BDSM, ended up really hurting each other emotionally.”

In Fifty Shades Darker, Christian and Ana explore a relationship without the constraints of a contract – but aspects of their dominant and submissive lifestyle remain.

“I understand that there are elements of consensual play in the book, but there are elements where he, like, shows up at her job and is stalking her and is throwing tantrums,” says Mistress Couple. “All of those things we view obviously as a lack of mastery. If a submissive came to me and told me that their dominant was treating them in that way I would strongly counsel them to leave that relationship.”

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Mistress Couple admits, however, that Fifty Shades hasn’t been outright harmful to the BDSM community. “It’s definitely a double-edged sword,” she explains. “The fact that, you know, little old ladies on the subway are reading Fifty Shades of Grey and people feel comfortable to talk about it, to talk about kink, is a wonderful thing.”

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“And the fact that people have more access to education about kink because the practitioners of it don’t have to be so underground anymore, that’s also a wonderful thing,” she adds.

However, she fears the films and books don’t accurately portray the “power-exchange dynamics” of dominant-submissive relationships, which can be much more intense than “vanilla relationships.”

“The whole point of BDSM and power-exchange is to play with vulnerability,” Mistress Couple tells PEOPLE. “And when you submit to somebody and make yourself that vulnerable and you give them the gift of yourself and your submission, and the person on the top receives that and interacts with that in a caring way, that creates intimacy and that creates a bond. But that vulnerability, if it is used in the wrong way, it can be incredibly harmful.”

She encourages those interested to read up about the lifestyle on sites like KinkAcademy.com, which offers educational videos from experts and professionals. For those interested in more hands-on instruction, Mistress Couple says La Domaine Esemarloves hosting couples who are stepping out of their own bedrooms for the first time.”

Fifty Shades Darker hits theaters on Friday.