BreakingModern — As a man, I’ve wondered what all the fuss is about Fifty Shades of Grey. My girlfriend is one of the 45 million people (primarily women) who have bought and read the book in the U.S., and she’s part of the 100 million people worldwide that bought it.
Fifty Shades of Grey has officially become a phenomenon, which has made me think there must be something a man can learn about the female psyche from it. In particular I’ve wondered about two things:
- Do women secretly yearn for more kinky sex?
- Should I be learning about and instigating kinky sex?
So, it is with these questions swirling around my head that I saw the film of the same name on opening night with my girlfriend. The film has been on par to be as popular as the books, grossing $94.5 million over its first four days of domestic play and about $245 million over the first five days around the world. That’s a record for the highest grossing President’s Day holiday film opener of all time.
Fifty Shades of Grey the Film
The film begins like a typical romantic story when a young, virginal girl (Anastasia Steele) meets billionaire prince charming (Christian Grey). They meet during an interview she conducts for her roommate, and they quickly fall in love. It’s all very familiar and formulaic.
Yet the film quickly turns into a Beauty and the Beast story when, after Ana initially loses her virginity to him, she learns he has a dark secret — he is obsessed with bondage and discipline, dominance and submission (BDSM). She is in love with her prince, yet confused why he would ever want to hurt his princess.
Soon Christian gives her a contract that outlines that she will be his submissive and will participate in all the different toys and tools that are housed in his room of pain and pleasure. She exerts a little authority in the matter when she revises the contract and doesn’t sign the contract, yet she still begins to participate in his fantasies.
Ana becomes somewhat like Belle in Beauty and the Beast since she becomes submissive to his kinky pleasures, even though it has never been part of her desires. Now, this is where the matter becomes grey in my mind. There’s so much violence against women in society, so why would women be turned on by consensual, painful sex? After all, one in five women will be raped in their lifetime, according to the CDC, with 40 percent of those rapes happening to women aged 18 to 24.
The answer is tricky. Christian shows her that a little pain can go a long way toward feeling pleasure, and the movie shows plenty of nudity and soft-porn lovemaking with Ana tied up, blindfolded and snapped by small leather whips.
He dominates her and that is, in the end, what turns her on. And therein lies the grey area. I’m assuming the “grey” in the books does in some way refer to the grey lines that exist between the spectrum of pleasurable dominance and abuse. Women often say they love it when a man sweeps them off their feet and takes charge of the matter of love, but women also experience men who stalk them and violate their personal boundaries. Sex can be pleasurable for a woman when a man takes charge in the bedroom, yet certainly not with regards to physical abuse or rape.
Spoiler alert: Yet in the end, Christian crosses over the grey lines into black, when he shows her just how sadistic he can be. His whipping becomes a form of torture. Ana not only feels physically hurt, but violated and confused that he would ever really want to hurt her.
Again, this lends itself to the Beauty and the Beast story, where she believes she can cure him and redeem him through her love. Yet this is also a classic form of an abusive relationship. How many women stay in an abusive relationship simply because they can see some good in their tormentors?
When it comes to these grey areas, the answer is never simple. And neither is the answer to why these books and the movie have struck a sexual nerve with women. The film isn’t really anything special – it’s a love story with some soft-porn sexual imagery. Yet my girlfriend notes that the books brings women’s sexuality and fantasies out in the open, which is a good thing, since so many films depict women held hostage, raped and otherwise un-empowered.
Although the female heroine in this film isn’t that empowered, she has taken a step forward by agreeing to be dominated and, as my girlfriend notes, Christian seeks primarily to sexually fulfill her. While he is the dominatrix and she the submissive, he seeks to please her while pursuing his own fantasies. And yes, there are more than fifty shades of grey when it comes to sexuality, especially in women.
“So what do you like about the books?” I asked my girlfriend after the film.
“Well, to me the books made me realize that as a women I can be pleasured and not feel guilty,” she said. “The books are about a man who devotes himself to sexually fulfilling her.”
“Through kinky, painful sex?”
“No, it’s through adventurous sex with the attention to detail he uses to pleasure her in new ways. Women are not made to feel that they should consider having pleasure first, before a man. It turns us on to consider being pleasured by a man first.”
“Would you like to try some of those things in the bedroom?”
“Not necessarily. You pleasure me enough.”
And that was all I wanted to hear.
All screenshots: Chandler Harris courtesy of Universal Pictures