By Amelia Heath, Focus Editor
This best-selling erotic novel hurts so bad.
Since its release in 2011, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a novel by E. L. James, has skyrocketed in popularity. Thirty-two million copies were sold as of Oct. 2. Celebrities tweeted their fascination. Universal Pictures and Focus
Features purchased the rights to the “Fifty Shades” trilogy — which includes supplementary novels “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed” — in March, sparking a thousand fan girl nominations for the casting of its main characters. Readers gave the series its own nickname genre: Mommy Porn.
I have my own nickname for it: Fifty Shades of ‘Cray.’
At first glance, I wrote “Fifty Shades of Grey” off as a remake of the Twilight Saga, sans vampires. As it turns out, James originally wrote the story as a Twilight fan fiction and later “adapted” it to be published.
For the lucky ones who haven’t read the book, “Fifty Shades of Grey” follows Anastasia Steele, a senior at Washington State University Vancouver—and a virgin—as she falls for Christian Grey, wealthy, twenty-something CEO of Grey Enterprises. What she doesn’t realize is that Grey is only capable of intimacy in the form of BDSM — bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.
My main criticism of the novel, besides James’s apparent inability to write – don’t get me started on the “inner goddess” thing – is her misrepresentation of the BDSM lifestyle and members of the community.
Grey frequently blames his need for dominance on an abusive childhood, referring to himself as “fifty shades of f---ed up.” A 2002 study of 132 members of the BDSM community by The Guardian writer Pamela Stephenson, showed that only a few cases of adult BDSM practice were related to childhood abuse and participants in the study were generally not mentally unhealthy.
BDSM partners are encouraged to negotiate rules for play—what actions may be done to the submissive—as Grey and Steele do in the novel, but neither character upholds the contract they agreed to. In the contract, Grey claims that as the dominant he will not injure Steele in a way that might require medical attention.
Later, Grey binds Steele with cable ties purchased from a hardware store. Novices in the BDSM community — or anyone who has ever watched a TV show with a kidnapping scene — know that cable ties around the wrists can cause lacerations as well as nerve damage. The contract also provides two “safewords” for Steele to use during play: “yellow” when she is near her limit and “red” when she reaches her limit. Steele does not use either word at any time, and in the end — spoiler alert — Grey takes a belt to her backside until she gets up and leaves.
With the book’s popularity, more couples are interested in broadening their sexual horizons.
Experts recommend that couples seek coaching for proper technique. The Center for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle provides a safe environment to explore sexuality and offers orientations on etiquette, safety and hygiene.
Critics of the novel also address the psychological relationship between Grey and Steele. Grey’s methods of control outside the bedroom, such as requiring Steele to use a cell phone set up with a GPS tracker and creating a specific diet and exercise plan, are obvious cause for concern. Steele isolating herself from friends and keeping secrets from her family to be with Christian while thinking she can change him into a more “human” man capable of intimacy without bondage is not healthy, either.
I don’t plan to read the second or third book, but the fact that they exist shows that Grey and Steele get back together. I have seen this cycle in far too many relationships, when both parties know the relationship is doomed but break up and get back together. The damage done by these relationships can last, and in many cases require the help of a professional.
If you’re looking for a ridiculous read, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the book for you. But please, don’t try this stuff at home.