The Portrayal of Dorian Gray as an Omnisexual ‎Masochist in Penny Dreadful


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Some of us like pain. On a scale of the untested to the totally freaky, I’d put any sexual activity that involves bloodletting out of my freak-zone. Apparently, Dorian Gray does not as he meets a couple of sadistic mistresses during these first couple seasons of Penny Dreadful. (Don’t judge me, I haven’t gotten to season 3 quite yet.)

Maybe it’s part of his immortal charm, because I’m pretty sure that Dorian Gray’s dirty, little secret of the painting is accurate to the corresponding novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. It’s hard to say, because I didn’t finish that shit in high school. (Yes, I was somewhat of a terrible student. I read plenty of novels, just not the ones I was assigned in my English classes.) So, yes, the painting absorbs all of the physical trauma that Dorian attains from everyday life, more specifically, aging and the natural breaking down of the human body, plus, those other little “accidents” that cannot be predicted. For Dorian, that includes a hot tryst with our leading lady, Vanessa Ives, who, a bit surprising to me, is into bloodletting.

Despite my personal aversion to bloodletting, Dorian’s reaction to being cut with that knife was little less than erotic and a bit exciting to witness. Though the most damage I’ve ever done on any man were a couple of shallow fingernail indentions, I’ve had friends describe hot, sexual encounters where they had their backs scratched to the point of bleeding and burning or who’ve scratched people to that point. I like to think that I’m a considerate lover who leaves her bedmates with nothing but fond memories of what they can never have again, but I start to see the appeal of these bites of pain (which I believe are only tolerable due to the high level of arousal coursing through the blood of the pain-receiver.)

Photography by Danielle Levitt

There are other acts of bloodletting with sexual twists in this exciting series. Of course, Dorian, with his inability to die, is fascinated with death, which brings him to have sex with a sex worker who is dying of “consumption”. She coughs blood into his face, which embarasses her a lot, until Dorian turns an accident into an erotic event, which he’s very good at due to his slightly obnoxious and unnatural abundance of charm.

And this charm is not limited to women. Within the series, Dorian takes on women, men, and even a transwoman as bedmates indiscriminately and with a flare of fluidity that would make the most sexually confident person a little bit jealous. But what is the higher purpose of being witness to these passionate scenes? Of having the viewers’ eyes behold that which they were unprepared for? For me, it cast a beautiful glow on nonheterosexual relationships. Not ever having been on the inside of anything other than a traditional, heterosexual coupling, it was enlightening to experience the characters of this fantastic drama who are unlabeled and sometimes have secret sexual encounters (because the sexual partners are the only ones aware of the encounter).

Dorian also helps a trans woman “come out” by throwing her a party to celebrate her acceptance into womanhood. This can be perceived as the grand gesture we all dream of, or, as Dorian’s motives for doing anything for other people can always be seen as self-serving, it’s possible that the ball was equally for his own entertainment. It is clear that he accepts her wholeheartedly as a lover, but, not so much as a confidant due to the unfortunate reality that Dorian is immortal and she is…not, which has absolutely nothing to do with Gray’s sexual proclivities, though we do get to see a few sex scenes of this lovely and beautiful couple while they lasted.

This show is definitely not for the close-minded, sexual prude and is sure to stretch your thinking about living, death, and sexuality in unpredictable ways. Though I’m still pretty sure that I’m never going to bring knives, wax play, or any of those complex tools of painful pleasure into my own bedroom, it has been an enlightening experience to watch this sort of taboo, sexual-play in the context of a compelling storyline with complex characters.

I look forward to seeing more work from the ridiculously charming  actor, Reeve Carney and his talent for creating enthralling chemistry that drags every onlooker into the midst of his onscreen relationships.

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Maple Summers

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