Fifty Shades of Grey: Worth the Price of Admission?

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Fifty Shades of Grey

It’s a romance. Harlequin gone kinky. But that is old news. Fifty Shades of Grey took the world by storm with its racy content including sex and dominance. Because of my low expectations, I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. Kind of like the book; despite the poor writing, I found myself turning the pages in order to see where the relationship was headed. In the book I found the sex boring. At least the sex in the film was better. Go see it if you want a little sexy entertainment – some sexy kinky bits amidst a story of lovers who are not necessarily compatible.

A Mixed Bag

The acting is uneven. Dakota Johnson plays the role of Anastasia well. She feels genuine in her inner conflict and exploration. Jamie Dornan however clearly is not comfortable in the role as dominant (which he confirms in interviews). His waffling dominance makes the beginning of the film feel like a cheesy porn flick. He is not convincing, and although his performance improves through the movie, Dakota is the one who really holds the film together.

On the pro side, the sex portrayed in the film expands the image of kink to include sensuality as well. Not the hard-core image that people often assume is kink’s only expression. The sex is actually quite tame and sensual until the final scene. And a woman’s pleasure is central to the sex – her pleasure is indulged beyond simply meeting her male partner’s physical needs. How refreshing!

I also love that Christian Grey adores and accepts her whole body. He takes off her underwear sensually and smells it with delight. Many pay a pretty penny for a sample of underwear that holds this sexy smell, or just revel in their partner’s natural pheromones. Unfortunately, the collective horror in the audience to this indulgence was heart-breaking. If we could all only feel better about the inherent sexiness of women’s natural selves, we’d have a lot more healthy attitudes towards pleasure and bodies.

Anastasia, the lead female character, while naïve, is neither a doormat nor is she willing to sacrifice everything for love. She tries to figure out whether this relationship is going to work for her or not. While she is seduced by Christian Grey’s handsomeness, power and ability to take her on expensive and wild adventures, she is however not willing to compromise her values just to “have” him. She is open to exploring her erotic limits, but still maintains her autonomy despite the temptation to go along with it in order to enjoy the extravagance. She takes pleasure in leveling the playing field, taking her own power, for example teasing him and then leaving him all hot and bothered by himself. She maintains her integrity at the end and departs when she realizes that she is not willing to go to those erotic places he wants to take her.

While I preferred the movie, I missed the gentlemanliness of Christian Grey. In the book he came across as more respectful overall and his actions were more caring. I believe that this is one of the reasons women loved the book (aside from his good looks, incredible wealth and power). In the book, aside from his kinky proclivities, he is the ultimate catch.

Is Fifty Shades of Grey Educational?

Some folks watch movies to learn something, and some films have an agenda on educating their audience about an issue near and dear to their hearts. But this film is not education worthy, other than some of the positive messages outlined above. And really, should we take any media, especially a Hollywood film, at face value for accuracy, realism and authenticity while leaving our brains at the door? Most people are watching the film for some entertainment – with a little sex and scandal to increase the appeal.

Regardless, Fifty Shades was the book and is now the film that sex-aficionados love to hate because of the poor role modeling of relationships and kink behaviour.

Words of Caution

  • Sexual consent is quite explicit for all of the sex scenes. (yeah!) Anastasia even technically consents in the last disturbing belt-scene without using her safeword (a word that means absolutely stop). But no self-respecting dominant would have continued with the scene. It is clear that she is not enjoying it. Yes, she is prepared to endure the experience in order to better understand what he “needs” and what this kink thing is really about. But she is clearly not able to consent to something which she does not understand and this scene is not how to help her understand. As someone with experience, he should have taken her inexperience into consideration and called his own safeword to stop the scene. And he should know better than to dominate someone when he is angry. Taking out your feelings on someone else’s body is not responsible kink.
  • Anastasia never gives her consent for him to appear in her home, work, at her mom’s, or at a nightclub with friends. He sells her car and replaces it with a new one, sends a technician to her house to install a new computer, all without asking. His power, ability to use fancy tracking devices and unlimited budget seem to make this behaviour acceptable. Had he been an average guy she would have called the cops.
  • Christian Gray states that he is not a sadist, but a dominant. He is both. He takes pleasure from inflicting pain and he likes to be in control. It is ok to be a sadist: own up to who you are and don’t try to try to make it more respectable. Both are legitimate when done with respect and informed consent.
  •  Anastasia asks what is in it for her if she signs the contract and allows Christian to do what he wants to her. “You get me,” is his response. That is co-dependency, not submission. A submissive also gets what they want out of a contract, not just to be in a relationship with someone that they like. Too many folks compromise themselves in order to keep a relationship. Dangerous territory.
  • Anastasia asks why she would submit. He responds, “To please me.” Actually it should be because it gets her off. A submissive needs to first and foremost be turned on by being submissive. If not, back to # 4 and co-dependency.

In the end, go check it out if you are intrigued and want some light, sexy entertainment. If you like this sort of film, also check out The Secretary and the Duke of Burgundy. And if you are REALLY interested, then get yourself educated before you try anything too edgy. Books, workshops, DVDs are all great ways to learn accurate important information before embarking in kinky play. You might have yourself a grand old time or you also might realize that some fantasies are better left just as fantasy. In the end you may opt for five shades or fifty. Any way you slice it, expanding your potential options and understanding better what those are is never a bad thing. Or you can just wait for the sequel!

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About Author

Carlyle Jansen is the founder of Good For Her, Toronto’s premiere sexuality shop and workshop centre, and producer of the annual Feminist Porn Awards. Carlyle has been teaching workshops and coaching individuals and couples since 1995. Her teaching audience includes sexual health professionals and sex therapists, youth and parents, TV audiences as well as informal groups of folks looking to fun ways to improve their sexual experiences. She is a regular contributor to Tonic Magazine and interviewed regularly by media and documentaries. Her chapter on Sensational Oral Sex is published in the book Secrets of the Sex Masters and her upcoming book Sex Yourself will be out with Quiver Books in 2015.

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