To Everyone Who Thinks Fifty Shades Is All Sorts of Awesome: Please, Stop and Think

by Jonathon Van Maren50 shades (teen to mom)

It’s pretty depressing when you realize that many people seem to think that destruction of human dignity is a small price to pay for an orgasm.

I suppose when I write a column about a book that just sold its 100 millionth copy I shouldn’t be surprised when I get a bit of a kickback. But I have to say—I wasn’t expecting hundreds of commenters, many saying they were Christian, to come out loudly defending the porn novel Fifty Shades of Grey, often tastelessly interspersed with details from their own sex lives.

People squawked that we “shouldn’t judge” those who practice bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM), and informed me that “no one gets hurt” and that it “isn’t abuse” and said that it was “just fantasy” (as if we have a separate brain and body for fantasy).

Meanwhile, not a single commenter addressed one of the main arguments I laid out—that with boys watching violent porn and girls being socialized to accept violence and torture inside of a sexual relationship, we have created a toxic situation in which people very much are being hurt.

In response to the defenders of this trash, let me make just a few points.

1. Not all consent is equal.

People keep trumpeting this stupid idea that just because someone consents to something or allows something to happen, it isn’t abusive.

But if someone consents to being beaten up, punched, slapped, whipped, called disgusting and degrading names, and have other things done to them that I will choose not to describe here, does that make it any less abusive? It makes it legal (perhaps, but it certainly doesn’t make it any less disgusting or violent).

Would you want your daughter to be in a relationship with Christian Grey? Would you want your son to turn into Christian Grey?

Anyone who works with victims of domestic and sexual assault will tell you that just because someone permits something to happen or doesn’t extricate themselves from a situation doesn’t mean it isn’t, in fact, abuse. Only when it comes to sex are people starting to make this argument, so that they can cling to their fetishes and justify their turn-ons. Those women who defend the book because they think it spiced up their sex life are being incredibly selfish and negligent, refusing to think about how this book could affect other women in different situations, as well as young and impressionable girls.

In the words of renowned porn researcher and sociologist Dr. Gail Dines:

In his book on batterers, Lundy Bancroft provides a list of potentially dangerous signs to watch out for from boyfriends. Needless to say, Christian [Grey] is the poster boy of the list, not only with his jealous, controlling, stalking, sexually sadistic behavior, but his hypersensitivity to what he perceives as any slight against him, his whirlwind romancing of a younger, less powerful woman, and his Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings. Any one of these is potentially dangerous, but a man who exhibits them all is lethal.

The most likely real-world ending of Fifty Shades of Grey is fifty shades of black and blue. The awful truth in the real world is that women who partner with a Christian Grey often end up hightailing it to a battered women’s shelter with traumatized kids in tow. The less fortunate end up in graveyards.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey normalizes intimate partner violence…

…and sickeningly, even portrays it as romantic and erotic. Amy Bonomi, Lauren Altenburger, and Nicole Walton published an article on the impact of Fifty Shades last year in the Journal of Women’s Health. Their conclusions are intuitive and horrifying:

While intimate partner violence (IPV) affects 25% of women and impairs health, current societal conditions—including the normalization of abuse in popular culture such as novels, film, and music—create the context to support such violence.

Emotional abuse is present in nearly every interaction, including: stalking (Christian deliberately follows Anastasia and appears in unusual places, uses a phone and computer to track Anastasia’s whereabouts, and delivers expensive gifts); intimidation (Christian uses intimidating verbal and nonverbal behaviors, such as routinely commanding Anastasia to eat and threatening to punish her); and isolation (Christian limits Anastasia’s social contact). Sexual violence is pervasive—including using alcohol to compromise Anastasia’s consent, as well as intimidation (Christian initiates sexual encounters when genuinely angry, dismisses Anastasia’s requests for boundaries, and threatens her). Anastasia experiences reactions typical of abused women, including: constant perceived threat (“my stomach churns from his threats”); altered identity (describes herself as a “pale, haunted ghost”); and stressful managing (engages in behaviors to “keep the peace,” such as withholding information about her social whereabouts to avoid Christian’s anger). Anastasia becomes disempowered and entrapped in the relationship as her behaviors become mechanized in response to Christian’s abuse.

Our analysis identified patterns in Fifty Shades that reflect pervasive intimate partner violence—one of the biggest problems of our time. Further, our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.

3. Really? Sadism?

I notice that commenters rarely break down what the acronym “BDSM” actually stands for: bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. If they did, they could no longer make the repulsive claim that “love” or “intimacy” have anything to do with it.

The definition of sadism is “enjoyment that someone gets from being violent or cruel or from causing pain, especially sexual enjoyment from hurting or punishing someone…a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by the infliction of physical or mental pain on others.”

As one of my colleagues noted, we used to send sadists to a therapist or to prison, not to the bedroom. And 100 million copies of this porn novel have been unleashed on our society informing people that getting off on hurting someone is romantic and erotic. It is a brutal irony that people who scream about water-boarding terrorists are watching and experimenting with sexual practices far more brutal. As one porn researcher noted, some online BDSM porn promotes practices and behaviors that would be considered unlawful under the Geneva Convention if they were taking place in a wartime context.

It seems the Sexual Revolutionaries have gone from promoting “safe sex” to “safe words”—just in case the pain gets too rough. And none of them seem to be volunteering information on just how a woman is supposed to employ a safe word with a gag or bondage headgear on.

But who cares, right? Just one more casualty on our culture’s new Sexual Frontier.

4. “It’s just fiction and fantasy and has no effect on the real world!”

That’s total garbage, and they know it. I’ve met multiple girls who were abused like this inside of relationships. Hotels are offering “Fifty Shades of Grey” packages replete with the helicopter and private suites for the proceedings. According to the New York Post, sales of rope exploded tenfold after the release of the book. Babeland reported that visits to the bondage section of their website spiked 81%, with an almost 30% increase in the sale of things like riding crops and handcuffs.

I could go on, but I won’t. As Babeland co-founder Claire Cavanah noted, “It’s like a juggernaut. You’d be surprised to see how very ordinary these people are who are coming in. The book is just an explosion of permission for them to try something new in the bedroom.”

5. What does this book and the BDSM movement say about the value of women and girls?

I’d like the defenders of this book to try stop thinking with their nether-regions for just a moment and ask themselves a few simple questions: What does sadism and sexual torture (consensual or not) say to our culture about the value of girls? What does it say to boys about how they should treat girls? The youth of today are inundated with porn and sexually violent material. Is nobody at all worried about the impact this has on them? On the girls who are being abused by boys who think this is normal behavior—and think it is normal themselves?

Dr. Gail Dines relates that when speaking to groups of women who loved the book, they all grow deathly silent when she asks them two simple questions: Would you want your daughter to be in a relationship with Christian Grey? Would you want your son to turn into Christian Grey?

If the answer is yes to either of those, someone should call social services.

This book and the sadism it promotes are an assault on human dignity, and most of all an assault on the worth and value of girls and women. Please consider the impact you will have on your daughters and the vulnerable and confused people around you when you read and promote this book. Anastasia Steele is, thankfully, a fictional character. But real girls are facing these expectations and demands from a culture that elevates a sexual sadist to the level of a romantic hero. Ask yourselves if you want their “love” and “intimacy” to include sadism and domination, or real respect.

Because you can’t have both.

Jonathon Van Maren is a writer and the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. (This article was adapted from its original, published on LifeSiteNews, and appears here by permission.)

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15 Responses

  1. Bonnie BURT says:

    Thank you for saying what I felt after reading these books. Whatever happened to good literature.

  2. This is a further slide to Gomorrah. Satan is deceiving everyone, including Christians. Pornography is embedded in the brain and is addictive. Those who think this fantasy will take this into marriage and miss God’s plan for a pure Union. There will be so much to overcome.

  3. John says:

    It sounds to me like you have misunderstood porn and BDSM. If you don’t like these things why don’t you simply avoid them?

    • Kristyn Komarnicki says:

      Your comment suggests that porn and BDSM are avoidable, and nothing could be further from the truth. With the release of the Fifty Shades books and films, and with a culture that has completely capitulated to porn, we are marinating in the stuff, and everyone is affected. Sexual violence, objectification, the divorce of sexual acts from relationship–all these things have a powerful affect on our marriages, children, communities. In what way has the author of this article “misunderstood” porn/BDSM?

      • Robin Tierney says:

        Agreed. The problem is that, thanks to the power and reach social media for spread titillating matter, acts that are unkind, violent and grotesque get normalized. Presented as cool and trendy and “a way to spice up sex life,” demeaning and destructive (immediately and more so over time) actions gain acceptance (as we’re already seeing from the book). Preoccupation with these “shades” saps mental energy and time from constructive thinking and actions that would make the world a better place.

  4. katie says:

    This is rediculous. If you don’t like it don’t read it. Would you be happy if your daughter were dating Christian? What does it matter that is no different than asking if you would be happy if she was dating Batman both are fictional characters. I read the books and found them entertaining, but you won’t find me letting my husband tell me what to do or hitting my girl parts with a riding crop. I thought America was supposed to be the land of the free. You know freedom that allows you to choose what you like without it being filtered by the government or church. I don’t see why people can’t just stay away from it if they don’t like it. I don’t particularly like horror films or books, so I just don’t read them or watch them. I do not think that I am so important that because I don’t like them that they should no longer be made. People need to get off there high horse. You won’t like everything, but the fact that you don’t like it does not mean it should not exist.

    • Mary says:

      This is ridiculous. Just because the author doesn’t like something, they should not make their opinion known? You just said yourself, America is the land of the free. You also have a right to disagree, the author never said you couldn’t. They just gave their opinion…an opinion that happens to be founded in research.
      People in the South had slaves, and the North didn’t like it. Should the North not have said anything because the South disagreed? If the North didn’t like it, they could’ve just avoided it and not have slaves. No, they spoke up because they knew it was wrong. The author here is speaking against porn, because they believe it is wrong.
      Congratulations, you can read porn without it affecting you. Many others are not so lucky. Many do not have the choice to not “let their husband tell them what do to,” or even have a husband that would respect them enough to have a voice at all. Many boys (and girls) are exposed to porn (and now mainstream books and movies that are essentially porn) from such a young age that they cannot separate sex from abuse or power from love. They are not given the choice to “avoid it if they don’t like it.” It is shoved in their face, then they become addicted to false images of sex/love.
      Christian Is a fictional character yes, but you are making a ridiculous comparison to Batman. Get it together, and try and understand the POINT. The point is that you would not want your daughter to be stalked, controlled, and sexually abused by anyone, yet alone someone who claims to love them.
      And again, is this article a petition to have the government ban the book? No. The author is trying to give you a perspective that you might’ve missed. Not everyone is like you. Not everyone sees value in porn and what porn is doing to teenagers, or to people of any age. There is nothing here that says ban the book or movie. Some people, however, are not capable of seeing outside of themselves to notice a problem that does not affect them until someone else points it out, hence the article.

  5. Charley Blom says:

    Thanks Jonathon for a great article. very insightful. On one side we as a culture, buy the book, see the movie and glory in the depravity. then we scream bloody murder when a young woman is found sexually abuse and killed by the same sort of activities as are in the book. Or we are upset and seek to punish to the full extent of the law when someone sexually abuses children, but we don’t see the connection. As a society we are blind to what we are doing and are afraid to make strong moral choices.
    This book and movie are not the cause of the morass we are in currently just the sign post of where we have been and where we are going.
    thanks again

  6. Reggie says:

    More mansplaining (yes, despite the deceptive byline given to a woman for reposting this article, it was written by a man) about how women should conduct themselves and how they should express their sexuality.

  7. natasha says:

    This is a stupid article.
    1- congratulations. You got the theme of the story. Its an ABUSIVE relationship. Sure it’s hot m steamy and mysterious at first but at the end of THE LAST BOOK they’re relationship ends in shambles. Anyone who cares to reenact the overbearing abusive characteristics as Mr grey Is on account of their own ignorance. And will most likely also result in unfavorable circumstances.
    2- you (or no one in fact) can say what is right or wrong in the bedroom. Yes there are safe words and what not. but the ultimate distindistinction between abuse is both parties WANT what they are getting. And don’t say BDSM devalues women. Women can also be the dominating party in these relationships . I don’t personally enjoy these kinks but I still don’t agree with you wasting your time caring and putting down someone else’s work of art. Art is subjective and if you don’t like it move on to the next piece.

  8. Danielle says:

    Thank you so much for this article as a victim of both domestic violence and sexual violence I too felt the book and now movie are very degrading and not at all what a “sexual fantasy” should be. I really appreciate what you said about consent I stayed silent in an abusive relationship for years, but that doesn’t mean that anything I was enduring was right or that I wanted it to happen. I for one would not want my son to be a Christian Grey and I wouldn’t want any women I know to be with a Christian Grey. Thanks again.

  9. Lynda Bowyer says:

    So, tonight in London it’s the premiere of “50 Shades of Grey”. Yes, THAT film based on THOSE books – and it’s caused a calamity, not lease in evangelical quarters. The article (link provided) claims that the film will escalate domestic violence and that it promotes an assault on human dignity.

    I beg to differ…

    Why? Because as a survivor of domestic violence many years ago, I am under no illusion that what I suffered was because my then partner was a warped, violent and psychopathic individual driven by his own desire to dominate, control and change me from being the bright bubbly woman I once was to the snivelling wreck of a submissive female I eventually became over a number of years at the hands of his treatment. His violence didn’t come from a book or film. It came from a deep anger of having witnessed as a child his own mother treat his father in such a horrid way that it fuelled his own sociopathic tendencies to warrant revenge on the female gender. Great counselling and a whole heap of clinical insight has helped me unravel that paradox of his demeanour.

    So why the kerfuffle about the film? Because it’s based on a trilogy of fictional books about two fictional characters, but some churchy people have somehow managed to intertwine fiction with reality. The fictional story is about a complex relationship which develops between two consenting adults (albeit somewhat saucy in places). That’s the key here. Consent. The last time I experienced domestic violence it wasn’t at all like the encounters in the book and it certainly wasn’t consensual. Not on my part anyway. So yes, I’ve read the books. It was a few years ago when they were published. Yes, I enjoyed them, too. Not for the alleged salacious nature but for the angst between the two key characters in the series. Are they porn? Not in my definition. Are those books edifying domestic violence? Not in my opinion. Will this film turn men into perpetrators of domestic violence? Absolutely not.

    Still, as with everything, it’s subjective. What’s meat to one person may be poison to another…

    …and for the record, I’m a Christian of some 28 years and attend the Salvation Army.

  10. Belle says:

    I never finished the first book because I couldn’t wrap my head around all the complexities of trying to love and be loved.
    I think trying to be politically correct and giving others the freedom to express themselves in seriously wrong ways have corrupted us.
    I understand that many people who were abused never really got closure about their degradation and thus act out the same way that their abusers did
    but glorifying it (“it” being the debasement of another person in the name of “love”) in these books is just wrong.

  11. You lost me and yourself at “Lundy Bancroft”. He is a “Christian Grey”. A cult founder, a 2 Timothy 3 “depraved minded deceiver”.

    http://transitiontoanewworld.blogspot.com/2011/03/new-spiritual-community.html

    Lundy Bancroft and his cult are into:

    1) The human being is an animal. We are no more different from other animals than they are from each other. We are not a race apart. All the creatures of the earth are our sisters and brothers.

    15) We believe in the beauty, sanctity, and purity of body-based sensory pleasure, whether it be the feeling of the wind on our skin, the smell of an aromatic meal, the pleasure of a massage, the squish of mud between toes, the ecstatic sounds of music, the songs of birds, the warmth of the sun on our backs, the pleasures of lovemaking, dipping into cold water, sitting under a waterfall, rolling down a hill…
    16) Moreover, if we lived reveling in these pleasures, there would be no need or desire to pollute and choke the earth, no need to accumulate objects, no need to enslave people and animals.

    Who ever you are KRISTYN KOMARNICKI, by referencing Lundy Bancroft, you are “greyer” than you thought you were. Godly people are supposed to be “Salt and Light”, not yoked with Lundy Bancroft.

    Mark 9: 50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

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