3 expert opinions on what 50 Shades of Grey means for women, couples, and families.
You’ve probably heard of bestselling novel 50 Shades of Grey even if you haven’t read it. But in case you’ve avoided all references to it—the sexually-explicit novel (which became a trilogy) is about a young woman and her relationship with a wealthy man whose sexual tastes lean toward bondage and discipline. What elevated the book from massive bestseller to bona fide cultural phenomenon is the extent to which its success legitimized discussions about sex, female sexuality, and kink—and brought them into living rooms (and bedrooms) all over the world.
With the film version of the book now reaching theaters and the discussion about to get even louder, I decided to ask a few actual relationship experts what they thought about the book.
What they have to say might surprise you:
Esther Perel(link is external), relationships expert and international bestselling author of Mating in Captivity:
50 Shades of Grey reveals the inner workings of the erotic minds of women. The book helped many women reconnect with their erotic selves but more importantly, it helped them accept the intricacy of their erotic desires and the paradoxes of their fantasies, because the story gave them permission to see their fantasies as normal.
We typically think women have a lesser interest in sex but what if it is actually a lesser interest in the sex they’re having (with their partners)? What if women need more in order to be turned on than men do?
And we can then ask how is it possible that in an age where women are striving for an egalitarian ideal they would fantasize about forced seduction?
Well, here’s what these fantasies reveal about women’s sexuality: In a woman’s fantasy of forced seduction she is never truly hurt—the hurt is only there in the interest of the pleasure. But more importantly, when (in this sexual scenario) the man makes all the decisions for her and tells her what to do, he is actually liberating her from the biggest erotic block women have—the burden of caretaking.
In other words, her being submissive to the man in this fantasy frees the woman from thinking about anybody else’s needs but her own.
Rita Watson, relationship journalist:
Despite the popularity of romance movies, novels, and tender gestures, this year love gifts of long stemmed roses might well be edged out by the alluring and provocative. 50 Shades of Grey handcuffs have spawned an industry and taken the world by surprise.
But academics are not shocked.
From scientifically collected data, it has long been noted that women’s sexual appetites are manifest just as men’s and have been for years. Although women have long had a quiet interest in pornography, 50 Shades of Grey has brought the topic into book clubs, and onto Saturday Night Live and the big screen. Soft porn is an easy way to peak women’s imagination and desire for exotic sexual lives.
And is anyone with small children wondering why this book has been dubbed ‘mommy porn’? It is a titillating experience for mothers too exhausted for the touch that translates into sex, and it is a vivid and visual portrayal for all women harboring secret BDSM fantasies.
Susan Newman,(link is external) psychologist and author:
I had an immediate concern on seeing a television ad for the movie, 50 Shades of Grey. From a parenting perspective, I am concerned about children’s exposure to visuals and messages that a) they are too young to understand; and that b) are so graphically explicit.
The television advertisement for the forthcoming film is purposefully provocative, but given that children and teens may and some surely will see it, it seems a misstep and irresponsible on the part of the film’s producers.
Children are exceedingly impressionable. We know, for example, the negative effects violent video games have on children’s behavior. When there is a tragedy such as the one in Newtown, Connecticut, parents are advised to use discretion and limit how much access, if any, their young children, preteens, and teens have to the news coverage.
Tantalizing promotional efforts of the sort in the commercial skew ideas of sex and healthy sexual relationships. I worry these images will warp young people’s sense of sex and what will be expected of them. Yes, in a mere 30 or 60 seconds.
Fans (and the curious) will flock to theatres to see 50 Shades of Grey simply because it is 50 Shades of Grey. A more subtle depiction in advertising would protect children and garner the same result at the box office.
For those interested in more conventional psychological issues, say, science-based techniques to heal rejection and failure and improve self-esteem, check out Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts(link is external)(Plume, 2014).
Find out more on my website(link is external)