Fifty Shades: Selling Out On Sex?

It’s almost time for the hotly anticipated, Fifty Shades of Grey the movie to finally be released. It’s probably the one movie originating from a book where curiosity around what made it onto the big screen is high. But as more and more hints about the movie come my way, I’m growing concerned that what made the book such a success and allowed us to talk about important (and tantalising) issues in the mainstream, might not be as present on screen. Of course, we can count on some steamy scenes between Anastasia and Christian, but recent clues have lead me to believe that the focus might actually be on a love story, with some toned-down raunchy sex. But didn’t most women pick up the book for the raunchy explicit sex scenes, not the love story (hands up If you read the books for the romantic parts)? Would the book still have been as successful if the sex (or just some of the sex) was removed? Would it have garnered such a huge amount of attention if it were merely a love story about an older businessman and a young university student? I suspect not.

The first trailer released had everything we would expect. It is seductive and sexy, showing nudity and steamy embraces, leaving viewers a little hot under the collar and eager to get to the movie theatre. And then maybe back to the bedroom? But the second version released later had me worried. It was softer in a way, contained less nudity and nearly no sex with more kisses than whips and an emphasis on romance instead of sultry passion. Even the music slipped into chick-flick territory. It looked like something I would watch on the couch with my girlfriends. (Please note that the amount of sex in the movie will not change from the trailer, but I worry that the sex scenes we see in the trailer might be as short or the same amount). I’m concerned we’re being lured with the promise of raunchiness but, once we’re seated in the cinema, we will find just another rom-com with a few brief scenes to tick the sex box. I hope fans of the book, whose sexual imaginations were transformed by it, aren’t going to be disappointed when they finally see their fantasies played out on the big screen.

Not only did the second trailer give the perception of a possible romantic storyline, but there were also reports that the most talked about scene (spoiler alert: the tampon scene) was being left out of the movie. There were also reports that an earlier draft was toned down to make Fifty Shades less racy in order to secure an R (equivalent to a MA15+ in Australia) rating, and not a NC-17 (equivalent to a R18+ in Australia). If this movie is released as an R/MA15+, it would be restricted to persons under the age of 15. (At the time of writing this article, no classification was confirmed and there were only rumours of MA15+, which my sources tell me, will soon be confirmed).

One of the real problems with this book is that it should not be used as a textbook for sex. And while much of the information and scenes are great to inspire fantasy and erotica, they should not be directly re-enacted in real life without further understanding about the world of BDSM (bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism). Many adults have struggled with this concept, so I can’t even imagine the havoc it may play on a 15-year-old and their perception of sex, BDSM, and the expectation of how to behave sexually. Will teenage boys think they need to dominate and torture women, as Christian does, in order to be an alpha male? And will young girls think they need to accept this treatment in order to be desirable to men? Young minds are impressionable, and, just as porn has given many the wrong idea of what sex is, so, too, could this movie. At least adults have the cognitive ability to make sense of this in the real world. The decision-making part of a teen’s brain, which helps them to evaluate consequences, solve problems and control impulses, is still being developed. They simply do not possess the mental maturity to see this movie as a form of sultry entertainment. The scary part is, thanks to technology, most teens will find a way to access this movie, anyway, regardless of the classification. I am concerned about the potential classification not just to protect impressionable young minds, but also because it means the content has been toned down, thus impeding the movie’s real impact – robbing us of the sexual fantasy we have been waiting to see.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Fifty Shades of Grey became a phenomenon specifically because of how raunchy and graphic it is. It allowed strong sex scenes and BDSM to be discussed. It allowed people, women especially, to desire and empowered them to ask what they wanted in the bedroom; some desires of which were directly inspired by scenes in the book, and Christian’s dominating nature. Sex toy sales tripled, and so did the sale of rope. You can’t tell me the success of this book didn’t have a lot to do with its sexual appeal. So when I see the words “toned-down” used to describe the movie, I’m not only baffled but I question how fans will react. If I gave you two versions of the book, an explicit one and a toned-down version, which one would you be more likely to read? And then there is a quote by the author herself, “People who haven’t read the books might be surprised that there isn’t more sex on the screen.” Are your alarm bells ringing, too?

Yes, there is a love story, but if it’s a love story you’re after, pick up Mills & Boon, tune into the Disney Channel or watch The Notebook. If there was to be one movie to take sex on the big screen to the limit, this would, and should, be it. You can put money on the fact that some people will complain, walk out, and take to social media in disgust. So if it’s the offensive side of things that’s a concern, the movie shouldn’t have been made in the first place. It will cause a stir, no matter what, so why not be true to what the fans want?

Isn’t it ironic, though, that the overuse of sex is used to sell the non-sexual, but in the one instance where a somewhat green light could be given for the full nine-yards, the words “toned-down” are used and the non-sexual is used to sell the movie? Now, Fifty Shades, in general, is very explicit and even a toned-down version might be a bit too much for some. But for avid fans of the books, they are there to see their fantasies and desires come to life.

And while the Fifty Shades movie runs the risk of being just another sexy romance chick-flick, other places where you think sex might not belong, are overusing it. Take the recent Carl’s Jr Super Bowl commercial, for example, it features a naked but censored and sexually suggestive Charlotte McKinney, seductively eating a burger. This is an ad that will be aired to all ages. Do we really need sex to sell burgers? Or, what about the video clip for Shakira and Rihanna’s song, ‘Can’t Remember to Forget You’? It still sticks out in my mind due to its over-the-top and out-of-place sexual nature. Both these women are humping and gyrating against a wall, eventually ending up on a bed suggestively touching each other. If you listen to the words of the song, there is no real obvious link between what the song is about and what these women are up to.

Throw in the mix advertising for many fashion labels and brands, such as American Apparel and Abercrombie & Fitch and you start to realise a blind eye is turned to many inappropriate uses of sex. Viewing these music videos and adverts, one might be shocked at the presence of sex, however, those paying money to see Fifty Shades at the theatre are not expecting Frozen, so why not give them all that can be given on the big screen? It seems crazy that we have sex where it might not belong and, potentially, not enough sex where it’s expected and wanted.

My last piece to this sexually confusing puzzle is the products used for the launch of the movie. One might think an obvious link with the release might be for giveaways or goodie bag for VIPs to come from the official Fifty Shades of Grey product line. But I was shocked, once again, to learn from my insider knowledge that these products had been considered too raunchy to be used in any official capacity. Instead, mainstream, non-sexual brands are being used. This one really makes sense – insert sarcastic tone here and bring me my Fifty Shades whip.

For the first time, I really hope I’m wrong. For a while, I did tire of hearing those words ‘Fifty Shades’ and spoke about the book and its impact more times than I can remember. But I loved what it did for our society and our views on sex. I love that we are still talking about sexually explicit themes in the mainstream years later, even in the news. One of the highlights of my career was to talk about the movie and its impact on the NBC News at Noon in LA (And I was always told I would never talk about sex in mainstream news shows!), something only made possible by the wide success of this book. I can’t ignore the warning signs of a toned-down, slightly raunchy love story, and I only hope the movie doesn’t disappoint fans.

The decision to release on February 14, Valentines Day, only added to my concern of the movie becoming a love story. But, hopefully, this will give those who are lucky enough to see it on this romantic day, a Valentines Day they’re going to remember. Each year on Valentines Day I’m asked how to spice things up in the bedroom and, who knows, if the movie is true to the reasoning of the book’s success (wild and explicit with boundary-pushing sex), it could just be the thing.

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