Fifty Shades Of Grey: A Sexologist’s Review

The debate is on. A love story that includes tantalising erotica or an abusive sexual film that offends many? (Well, the only thing I really found offensive was the story line.) On Feb 14th, I saw Fifty Shades of Grey. Clichéd, I know, but I was invited to a special premiere by some businesses in the adult industry, whip included. It was a difference experience to see the film in a room with many who were in the “lifestyle” and experienced in the world of BDSM. This was a tougher crowd to please.

I have refrained from reading any reviews of the film, as I wanted to give you my pure, untouched thoughts, safe from the opinions of others. Due to my profession, it would be safe to say that my thoughts might be a little different from others in the media. I have a bit more of an understanding of the BDSM world and have seen (and maybe even experienced) various things myself. But I am in the position to bridge the gap between the kinky and “vanilla” and also explain some of the things in the movie that may be misinterpreted.

My initial thought, the movie wasn’t amazing, more due to things such as predictable, bad one-liners, an unrealistic story line (really, who is a millionaire at 27, with helicopters at his call and the ability to command a glider?), and a lack of chemistry between the actors. Jamie Dornan was not exactly spot-on with what I imagined Christian to be. The book was so successful, not just because of its graphic and explicit kinky sex scenes, but because every woman (and some men, you read it too) were able to put there own spin on the characters and relate to them in some way. This is how it appealed to such a wide audience. The movie has the potential to spoil the fantasy for some if they saw the characters differently to how they are presented on the big screen.

With this movie, it’s important to analyse not whether I thought it was right or wrong, but rather the impact it might have on society, especially teens who, thanks to the MA15+ rating, are able to see it. Many of the crowd at the premiere didn’t think the rating was appropriate. (Also, make sure you check out my previous post about the impact of this movie on a younger generation). This movie is not something that should be used as a model for sexual relationships, but thanks to the Fifty Shades of Grey effect, that is what will happen for some impressionable people. This is more a review on the author’s interpretation of this type of relationship and on the adaptation of the book, rather than on the film itself.

My first concern arose in regard to how Anna lost her virginity. (NB: you don’t lose anything the first time you have sex, some might not even lose their hymen, so I prefer to call it a “first sexual experience” and there is definitely no innocence lost due to this). When Christian discovered Anna’s sexual status, his aim was to “rectify” the situation. Don’t you rectify a situation when something is wrong? It also seemed very much like a deflowering process or a rite of passage. The act felt lacking in love and there wasn’t even a slight objection from Anna. I very much hope young women and men who view this film don’t see it as a good example of a first sexual experience, although, these days, they don’t need a film to teach them negative ways to have sex for the first time.

However, I was pleased to see Christian visually using a condom before having sex (something that is barely done in mainstream Hollywood films) and further pleased at a short discussion about Anna being on the contraceptive pill. But what about the more graphic side of things? Happily, the sex scenes in this movie are what you would have wanted to see but maybe left us wanting more. We need to question if this might have been able to be achieved if the rating had been more appropriate for the story line and at a R level.

As for the central themes of BDSM, I had the privilege of discussing the movie afterwards with Mark, a Dominant himself of 14 years. Mark informed me that this was an adequate representation of a SM relationship, with Christian teasing Anna and giving her little bit by little bit, warming her up and making her want more. He worked his way on her before he took her into his playroom and, even when there, eased her into leather and whips by running them along her body. Mark has a deep understanding of the BDSM world and is able to view it as entertainment, but with a lack of education and information out there, especially in the mainstream, he agreed there is a possibility for an audience to misinterpret what this relationship is about.

It’s not necessarily an in depth introduction into the BDSM world, rather the Hollywood take. It’s a story about a troubled man and a young woman who falls for him, who then has to make sense of her part in his life and his sexual world with only some kinkier issues briefly touched on and others being perceived in a harmful context. (And of course mixed in with a few steamier scenes).

However, I was personally bothered about how these dominant and submissive characters were portrayed. Keeping in mind, there are many different ways for this type of relationship to be played out in real life, and people such as Anna and Christian would and do exist out there. But for a movie that is being used to set an example for these types of relationships, I was concerned. It seemed to me that Christian’s desire to control and dominate was not for sexual pleasure or a psychological and emotional high, but because, in his words, he was, “fifty shades of fucked up”. It seemed like he had no other choice because he had a rough start in life (insert sad music here). Let me tell you, there are many dominants out there who aren’t fucked up and who have had a well-rounded start to life. They simply choose the life of a dominant because they find it pleasing to them and they enjoy it. Sometimes we need to stop trying to understand why people are into what they’re into sexually, and just embrace and accept them for who they are. (Yes, this coming from an over-analysing sexologist.) Some people simply enter the world of BDSM because they enjoy it and they don’t have to come from a troubled past to get there. Maybe Anna’s problem was that she was not able to just accept Christian for the way he was.

It also seemed that Anna was trying to somewhat “save” Christian during the film. On one hand agreeing to his sexual requests, generally when she was being seduced and her body was doing all the talking. But then also challenging him outside of the bedroom as to why he wanted to do this to her and why he was the way he was. The film also shows a dominant who seems to love his submissive, but is unable to open up and let her in on an emotional level. I also know many dominants who love their submissive in every way and share their lives with them completely, and, on the other hand, many men who are not dominant, but can’t let women in. It is important to keep these themes separate: a dominant, and a man scared of real intimacy.

Even though I had not read another review, I couldn’t avoid the public comments and titles such as “Fifty Shades of Abuse”, and in no way do I agree. For starters, Anna was given a contract and straightaway told of what Christian wanted, with the option of leaving at any time. Most people in average relationships don’t tell their partners what they actually want, so I see this as more of a positive and empowering concept. I don’t suggest everyone pull out a legal contract, but at least every so often sit down over cocktails and discuss what they want. Anna even negotiates acts in the contract and asks for clarification of terms, a strategy to ensure her boundaries are not crossed and, once again, a great example of the “vanilla” learning something potentially useful from the “kinky”.

People are often fearful of this sexual world, mainly because of the myths surrounding it, but, in actual fact, there can be a greater level of satisfaction due to an increased level of communication, especially around boundaries and desires. Mark’s only suggestion for this scene, however, was that Anna should have signed a three-month contract to test out what it was all about first. Maybe then she would have actually signed the contract instead of skirting around it. She was also given two safe words, “yellow” for when she was nearly getting to her limit and “red” for when she was there, which she was reminded of multiple times. Even though she was the submissive, at the end of the day, she still had the last word if she wanted out. And also, apparently had a helicopter waiting to take her home if she wished, wouldn’t that be nice?

I can see, however, how the last sex scene is what pushed some people over the edge. I don’t see it as abusive, but I can sympathise with those who have experienced abuse and might be set off by this, and also with those who don’t have a full understanding of the dynamics of such a relationship. Upon a heated discussion on why Christian is the way he is (referring to his dominant side), Anna asks him to show her how bad it could get. She doesn’t simply ask him, she pushes him again and again. Maybe she was expecting him not to do it or maybe she was really curious. I view this in the same way a woman asks, “Does this make my butt look big?” They’re expecting the response they want to hear. But, in a BDSM relationship, especially where everything has been openly negotiated and asked for clearly, her request would have been taken literally, and so it should have been.

From Mark’s opinion, Christian should have warmed Anna up as he did in other scenes, getting her used to the feel of the whip but, in this scene, he simply bends her over a table and takes to her with a riding crop across the buttocks, asking her to count to six with him while she grabs the table with tears streaming down her eyes. If this was in the real world, I would like to think an experienced dominant would be able to sense when his submissive was not comfortable but, yet again, she chose not to invoke her safe word. She, at any point, had control to stop it, but continued. Mark also suggested that Anna’s mistake was walking out on Christian after asking him to show her his darkest desires. Mark reasons that because she pushed Christian to that limit, she should have stayed to work through it with him. Maybe this was even an example of communication gone wrong. Anna did not officially enter or agree to this type of relationship, going back and forth, which seemed to be sending conflicting messages. At one moment, she was going to move in, the next she pulled out, she would have kinky sex in the playroom, yet had not signed the contract. And, again, she asked for Christian’s full extent of power, but scolded him once it was given. In matters of extreme sexuality, and sexuality in general, transparency and clarity in communication is the way someone can stay safe and empowered.

Yes, this could be seen as abusive, except for the fact that Anna had asked Christian to show her his worst, and she has the ultimate control over all situations with her safe words. She had consented not only to the lashes, but also to the continuation of them. Those in abusive relationships or who are being abused do not get that right or that option, so how can we compare the two?

If the abused call “stop”, their requests are most likely ignored. As for any psychological abuse, once again, this relationship and the way it works was mapped out clearly to Anna, including the rules outside of the bedroom, and she consented to it. It seems, these days, we are so quick to call anything abuse without actually looking at the real elements involved. I only wish that those who use the term “abusive” to describe the movie would do their research first. I see the label of abuse as offensive to domestic violence victims; it potentially takes the seriousness away from the abuse they have experienced.

I do have to mention again that I am concerned about the movie being used as an instructional video. If this type of sexual relationship does peak an interest, my advice would be to do your research first and use the film to discuss sexual themes, wants and desires with your partner, instead of feeling as though you need to straightaway create your own playroom, but if you do, there is nothing wrong with that.

I’m not going to give this an overall rating or even tell you if I liked it or not. I’m definitely sitting on the fence. There were some great tantalising sex scenes, but I also felt that this was just another romantic drama, where a woman falls for a man who is having trouble opening up (maybe that part just sounds like every day normal life). However, I will support this film for the conversations we are able to have, and I love it for that. If you are curious, this is worth a look. It’s one movie, regardless of whether it’s good or bad that many will still want to see.

I also would like the wider society to listen to the demand and the response and take note of where we are at sexually. I’m tired of the word ‘conservative’ and being told people don’t want to hear conversations around sex. Look around at the packed movie theatres; people are not running to the cinema just to see another love story.

We also need to question the amount of mockery surrounding the film and what place it has. Instead of discussing themes and the impact of the movie, many news shows and media coverage of Fifty Shades has chosen to focus on the humorous side with re-enactment of the trailer, including one using Lego characters. This might be due to our discomfort with such kinky sex in the open. Although, I believe it’s because we don’t talk about sex enough that we are so uncomfortable with the subject. So, what comes first? Do we need to talk about sex more or show less sex?

At the end of the day, I do feel this to be the Hollywood impact, giving audiences a taste of what they want (sex) while keeping it at a level where they can cash in on the masses (keeping it at a MA15+ rating). But if it gets us talking about sex in the mainstream, I’m just going to have to embrace it and work with it. Bring on the next Fifty Shades of Grey effect.

read my post article about 50 shades of grey here

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