Since the release of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, I can’t escape conversations about this series.
Without having read the books or seen the movie (because, hello –it’s not on Nick, Jr. ) I’m blown away by the success of the trilogy.
This well-researched article in The Atlantic helped me to understand why the series is so popular. After reading it a couple times, I linked the article to my personal Facebook page with this preface: From the outside (not having read or seen Fifty Shades of Grey), I found this article to be an enlightening read about the advancement of the culture of sexual fantasy in the US. If you’re raising kids or working with kids/young adults, this is important stuff to understand. Heads up – there is, of course, some strong adult content here.
Boy, did that stir up some passionate reactions, both on my page and on friends’ pages.
One friend fervently defended the literary merits of the series. Another argued that anyone who reads or views that “garbage” is contributing to the demise of the moral foundation of society.
A few different friends attempted to convince me that Fifty Shades of Grey only affects culture and individuals who allow it to – that it’s just a book. It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t impact culture.
By giving the subject this much attention, am I blowing this way out of proportion? It’s possible, but the numbers indicate the opposite to be true.
The Fifty Shades of Grey book hit the bestseller list in week one. It has sold over one-hundred million copies. Analysts estimated the movie to bank sixty million dollars in the box office over Valentine’s Day weekend. It made over eighty-five million. That’s twenty-five million dollars more than what the experts predicted. Twenty-five million, people! (Read more here)
This is big and powerful.
It says something about what Americans want.
It does impact society.
And it affects how the next generation will shape and define their own sexual norms. So although one person suggested that I reserve my opinion until I have experienced Fifty Shades myself, I find this conversation to be a crucial one for us all to participate in, especially considering that with a single series, the culture in which we are raising our youth has been altered.
Let’s go back a few decades.
When I was an adolescent in the nineties, I’m pretty sure my sex education came from here…
And a little here…
For the most part, I learned about sex by watching TV shows that focused on guys and girls trying to get with each other. In these series, the majority of intimate encounters occurred between characters in committed relationships (I said the majority). Therefore, I believed the message that I could/should be physically intimate with the males whom I dated. Of course, those ideals followed me into adulthood.
Today’s tweens and teens are exposed to WAY more sex culture than I was in the nineties. It’s on TV, in magazines, on billboards, social media – it’s everywhere.
Remember this photo (among others…)?
Dr. Adler, an NYU law professor, explains in the aforementioned article: “’Mainstream culture has come to look more and more like pornography. It’s not just that with the click of a button you can see the most hardcore, extreme sex imaginable. It’s also what you see every day: It’s the way people on TV look like porn stars. It’s the way women go to work in shoes that 20 years ago would have been considered like what porn stars would wear.’
The ultimate sign of this ‘mainstream penetration,’ as Adler called it with a chuckle, is the way people project their sexuality on social media, imitating gestures and facial expressions from porn. ‘If you look at somebody’s Facebook page, or selfie culture—the way people are presenting themselves for cameras is much more sexualized than it once was,’ she said.”
Seriously. How many pics have you seen online where the subjects appear to be posing for Frederick’s of Hollywood?
Sigh. Young people see this crap all the time. (SMH.)
I decided to ask some young women I know about their reactions to Fifty Shades…
One female (21), said, “I didn’t read the books, but I did see the movie because I was invited by a group of girls at work. To me, it tells women that being controlled by a man is okay –that he controls the relationship and the woman has no say. It goes against everything I believe in about love and sex.”
Another female (18), who did not read the books or view the movie, commented on her impression of the characters: Ana seems more like a plot device than a character. Christian, the dominant male, is somehow portrayed as a dynamic and complex character because he recognizes that his abuse as a child caused him to be so sexually abusive, and at the end of the trilogy he stops and becomes a perfect gentleman.
When I asked about the reasons behind the series’ popularity, she answered: sex, marketing, and cougars.
And her ideas about the series’ message to young women and men?
“It’s telling young women that this sort of behavior is normal and should be accepted; women should consider it enjoyable. I think it feeds the entitlement ideology into the minds of young men (because they definitely need more of that). I’d really rather not have to revert to the Victorian era.”
A younger female (16), who saw the movie without reading the book(s), stated, “Ana is weak. Christian is controlling. The series fulfills some women’s fantasies. It makes young people think the lifestyle in the series is normal.”
Surprisingly, not one boy out of the six I queried, replied.
Not one of us would deny that American culture is very sexy already, and now Fifty Shades of Grey, an R-rated movie with twenty minutes of sex scenes, has brought the once-subversive culture of erotica into the mainstream.
People, I’m in my thirties, and I had no idea what BDSM stood for until all the Fifty Shades buzz began. Now I know it’s a catchall phrase for bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism – and so do a lot of thirteen-year-olds who have been exposed to the same media I have, without even investing or engaging in the series.
But that’s ok, because kids can handle it, right? Because parents have got it under control.
A few weeks ago, my husband asked some youth group kids what their parents are saying about Fifty Shades…
Some said their parents had read the books or viewed the movie, a few alongside of them.
Some said their parents stated “Don’t even ask. You’re not going to read it, see it, or even talk about it.”
Most admitted their parents hadn’t said anything at all.
Not even a mention? My friends, this is here. This is happening.
Erotica has hit the mainstream, and young people know about it.
Trust me, they know. Who hasn’t seen this?
Now, into the already perplexing stage of identity formation, which includes defining the self as a sexual being, we’ve added a new set of concepts — concepts that can be confusing, even to adults.
Let’s not brush this off as nothing.
Let’s not say it doesn’t matter. It won’t affect us.
And please, I beg you, let’s not tell our young people they are not to think about it, ask about it, or talk about it.
If left to their own devices, young people can and will find far more information than they asked for – take it from someone who, searching for a definition, typed in “BDSM” on Google. I had to weed through some graphic adult content just to find a definition.
This stuff is widely available. It’s on the internet. It’s in the news. It’s on television. It’s in conversations at schools across the country.
So whether you liked it or didn’t like it, read it or didn’t read it, saw it or didn’t see it, Fifty Shades of Grey is the talk of the town, and it’s a talk that young people need us — parents, teachers, youth workers – to join in on.
They need the adults who know them, care about them, and have life experience, to talk to them about love, intimacy, sex, and yes (squirm), even the different ways people engage in sexual intimacy..
The varied views of what makes intimacy special and satisfying for human beings…
What they themselves will define as good, right, safe, healthy intimacy – what they will take with them into future relationships…
And what they will leave behind.
Erotica has been around years, but not like this. Fifty Shades of Grey has changed the way our culture perceives erotica, increased the amount of people engaging with erotica, and brought long-concealed BDSM practices to the forefront of adolescent minds. Like they needed anything else to think about…
If you have kids, work with kids, care about kids, start a conversation.
What have they heard? What do they know? What is their truth?
And what will we say?