50 Shades: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Valentine’s Day.  A day to celebrate our love for those dearest to us.  A time to make gestures – big and small – that show how much we care.

And in 2015, it will also be known as the weekend when ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ hit theaters.

#sigh.

We know, we know.  We have read and heard it all (or at least most of it).

Given that we work and think and live in the field of mental and emotional health, you might imagine that we have an opinion (or two) about the 50-Shades franchise.  So, how do we ‘weigh in’ on it without sounding like we are preaching, teaching, judging or indeed, shaming?  Thankfully, many very articulate people have already weighed in, from a variety of valid angles (forgive the pun) about this topic (please click any of those links – all are excellent reads).

We had and have strong feelings about Fifty Shades. One of us has read the entire trilogy. The other has watched the movie. So, having taken our own advice, we’ve given ourselves a little time to decide how we’d like to weigh in. Because we don’t want to react. We would like to respond.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a source of sexual titillation. A work of erotic fantasy, that is loosely based on reality. We’re gonna go for a good old totally-not-erotic-spaghetti-western analogy using “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” to help frame our thoughts:

The Good:

As a source of sexual fantasy, this one is pretty graphic. Although we’ve seen more graphic. For some, this is a plus (we’re not judging here – did we mention one of us read all three books?).  A little graphic material is not in itself a bad thing for one’s sex life. Ok, we’re completely s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g here to find good in all of this. Sex therapist Brandy Engler did an excellent and positive summary of what women can learn from Fifty Shades here.

The Bad:

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As mental health professionals, it is hard not to shudder when a ‘love story’ of any sort is based on the sexual relationship between a man whose early years are described as filled with neglect and trauma (when he quite obviously has done nothing to work through any of it – instead has heaped on years of sado-masochistic sexual encounters) and a young, extremely naive woman.  This is a recipe for absolute disaster. In this case, we’re talking at the minimum controlling behavior that escalates to the point of emotional and at times physical and sexual abuse. All of which is packaged up and somehow normalized as a ‘relationship’.

Shudder.

The Ugly:

The ‘ripple effect’ of a movie such as this is that it is being watched not just by those of us adults who have a reasonable ability to separate fact from fantasy, but by hordes of young tween, teen and young adults. We are not prudes by any stretch. What we do know, however, is that there are young people out there who are already struggling with body image, boundaries and understanding the difference (and limits) between love and sex. Never mind the difference between fantasy domination and real violence. The dangerous way emotional abuse and eroticism are being packaged and sold together as desirable is not healthy. For this vulnerable group of people 50 Shades is like adding dynamite to an already volatile situation.  For people who are already uncertain and finding their way, this film dangerously blurs already “blurred lines”.

That’s it. That’s as in-depth as we are going to get on this one. Because if we go any further we’d be writing a book.

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However, it has provided us motivation to write several posts that we know you’ll find helpful, and ones we feel less icky writing about. Watch for upcoming posts on fostering healthy body image in children and teens, as well as how to find, define and embrace your tolerance level for porn. Yeehaw!

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