Over the past 3 years, I’ve often been asked “What do you think of Fifty Shades of Grey?”
For a while there I was tempted to read it, even just to have a descent response to that question. But then I kept hearing about how poor it was as a piece of literature and decided to give it a miss.
Although I have not read the book, nor seen the movie, I’m choosing to comment anyway.
But first a bit of background…
Fifty Shades of Grey is an “erotic romance novel” (and now a movie) about a young, clumsy (of course), virginal woman who falls into a relationship with a BDSM dom who just happens to also be a self-made billionaire.
(Note: BDSM = bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism)
The book actually started as Twilight fan fiction, which is very amusing seeing as the author of Twilight is a Mormon woman invested in depicting characters of strong-will and sexual abstinence. More amusing still, Universal Studios took out a lawsuit to stop a pornography producer from making a porn film about the Twilight fan fiction which was the basis of Fifty Shades of Grey.
But I digress.
Since the release of the book, and now the movie, there has been a huge amount of criticism, deconstruction, and critical analysis (very critical). Major themes that emerge from these reviews include the bizarre origins of the book, the poor literary quality, the depiction of BDSM (from both feminist and BDSM lifestyle perspectives), the erotification of abusive relationships, and the demeaning representation of male and female sexual desire.
If you’re interested in looking at some of these critiques in more depth, here is a good review from Slate.
One intriguing theme that emerges for me when thinking about Fifty Shades of Grey is the promotion of kink within popular culture. For example, it is becoming more and more common to read magazine articles that give you the “A-Z of Kinky” (e.g. “High-heels: Wearing your pumps during the horizontal mambo can be a major turn on for some dudes, so try leaving them on.”) or offer you “A Field Guide to BDSM”.
It is also increasingly popular for kinky content to be depicted in music clips, music lyrics, fashion shows, newspaper articles, blogs posts and advertising (even a pizza advert…).
And I have no problem with kink and bondage and sexual-discipline getting some exposure. In fact, I think its a good thing for kink to be normalised.
What I don’t like though, is the promotion of the idea that anyone-who’s-anyone is into kink, that it’s the super cool thing to do, that you are boring or frigid if you are not into kink, and all the pressure that comes with these overt and covert messages.
If you are into kink – great. If you are not – also great. If you are interested in experimenting with kink – lovely. But if you are feeling like you should be kinky, like everyone else is doing it and therefore you should be too – this worries me.
This is not a preference, this is a social pressure.
In addition, the idea that “everyone is doing it” is just plain wrong.
I have often had conversations with people about kink or alternative sexual lifestyles, only to have that person look at their feet and say “I guess I’m just more vanilla” as if it is something to be ashamed of these days.
But really, when you look at the stats (the Australian Study of Health and Relationships 2014 for example) the majority of individuals and couples in Australia are having vanilla sex most of the time. Kissing, petting, manual sex (‘handsies’), oral sex, penetration, anal stimulation – vanilla sex.
But regardless of the numbers and what everyone else is doing or not doing, I say this:
Sex should not be about what’s hot right now, but what’s hot to you right now.
And that is my final word on Fifty Shades of Grey!
Dr. Alice Hucker