Fifty Trades of ‘Shades’?

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The big-screen adaptation of E.L. James’ bestselling bondage novel Fifty Shades of Grey lands in theaters later this week. Some industry prognosticators are predicting the explicit, controversial film could generate as much as $60 million in its opening weekend.

Other voices, however, are not just calling for a boycott of the movie, but asking would-be viewers and readers (most of whom are expected to be women) to trade their experience of Shades for something that might actually help themselves and help others.

Christian authors Julie Slattery and Dannah Gresh are offering to give women a copy of their new book, Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart, in exchange for their used copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. Slattery told Salon she has no idea how many women might take her up on the offer, dubbed Trade Your Shades (which ends on Valentine’s Day). “[It] could be five, could be 10,000.” But she believes the issues the book deals with are impacting women who mistakenly believe erotic lit could spice up their relationships:

There are two dangers in seeking sexual arousal in this way. First of all, erotica/porn teach you to be sexually aroused by looking away from your partner, not toward him. You may be engaging your body with him, but your imagination is with some fictional character. That’s not intimacy. Secondly, erotica and porn impact your brain in a manner that breeds tolerance. What was sexually arousing a few months ago will no longer be enough to produce the same sexual high. This is how men and women get drawn into increasingly hard-core porn and/or sexually acting out what they have seen or read.

Elsewhere in her lengthy interview with Salon, Slattery also included a warning about the effects of stories like this on men. “I think some men may be initially happy that their wives/partners are interested in something so sexually explicit,” she said. “What they may not realize is that books like Fifty Shades sets them up for rejection. Just like a woman can’t compete with the porn her husband is looking at, a man can’t compete with a fantasy man like Christian Grey.”

Meanwhile American and Canadian domestic abuse and anti-pornography groups have teamed up to launch a campaign dubbed 50 Dollars Not 50 Shades, encouraging women to take $50 they would have spent on a night out seeing the film and give it to any organization advocating for abused women. The group’s Facebook page says, “The money you would have spent on movie tickets and a babysitter or movie tickets, popcorn and drinks will go towards serving victims of abusive relationships like the one glamorized in the 50 Shades series. Hollywood doesn’t need your money, abused women do.”

The campaign has been sponsored by the anti-pornography organization Stop Porn Culture and the London Abused Women’s Centre. Megan Walker, head of the latter group, says of the story’s sexual bondage focus, “It’s about the power control, intimidation and manipulation behaviors and tactics. This is about the life of a woman who is being abused. That should never be fodder for entertainment value; it should never be something for people to go see and support. … We live in this society now where violence against women has become so normalized that when you read the book you don’t recognize the abuse. For me that’s really disheartening.”

Finally, if you’re looking for a chivalrous cinematic alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey, the Christian love story Old Fashioned—released this weekend, too—offers wholesome, inspiring and romantic counterprogramming.

Though it is disheartening, as Walker noted, that a story such as Fifty Shades of Grey has gotten such cultural traction, it’s also heartening to see that a diverse range of voices in our culture is also calling out the book and film’s violent, sexually abusive themes for the damaging lies that they are.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
 Myself and others are  currently being cyberstalked by a number of bdsm related gangs in my state.  Courts often say bdsm presents a moral harm, but when you add gang behaviour and internet cyberstalking to it the harm expands 1000 fold. Police reports have been filed but police can do little to help. People need to be made aware of how these groups prey on unsuspecting people. I'm hoping Focus on the Family will help some of us learn how to report on the goings on within the bdsm community in order to better inform America of related risks. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you for this article. I used to be addicted to porn and fetishes with my husband. (extreme fetishes). Lets just say at first I thought it would just spice up our sex life. Years later. Std play into the mix, regret, and shame fallowed. I kept lying to myself. I told myself I can keep my sex life and romantic life seperate with my husband. It makes him happy so its ok. I realized that I was making excuses that allowed me to emotionally hurt my husband all while emotionally hurting me. It was self destructive and we were not able to get out of the sex addiction until in my shame God showed us his unconditional love and grace through Jesus Christ.  It was like my whole life he was seeking me but I kept running away from him.  I couldn't just force my heart to love God. You can't force your heart to love. I had to be captured by Gods Grace and Beauty. Since God showed us his love and saved us at the same time we have both been able to stop our sex addictions. It felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders and ever since I have made Jesus my number one love and desire.
Scott Jamison More than 1 year ago
Yes, it might be helpful to distinguish that the book isn't really about a BDSM relationship--it's about an abusive relationship where the man uses the trappings of BDSM to "justify" his behavior.  In much the same way another abuser might use the trappings of "Biblical marriage" to justify his behavior.  Discernment is necessary to spot the difference between "has a sex life I don't approve of" and "is in an abusive relationship."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really appreciate that, rather than giving us the inappropriate details of this movie, your review focuses on the fact that 50 Shades normalizes abuse and exploits women, warning readers of the dangers/progressions involved with porn.  Then you offer resources and even an alternative.  Way to go!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Adam, thanks for mentioning OLD FASHIONED movie which releases this weekend as well.  This is not fluff but a solid faith-based romantic drama for youth and up that deals with godly courting in the midst of a very modern world.  Your pluggedin just posted its review with a good rating of 4 stars. It is entertaining and very uplifting and inspirational.  I urge everyone to spread the word.  A ticket for OLD FASHIONED is a strong vote AGAINST things like 50 Shades.  Check their website for trailers and theater info:  http://oldfashionedmovie.com
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SpeakYourSilence.org is a great charity to donate to. It's gives free counseling to those who have been sexually abused. And encourages speaking up if it has happened to you.
Paula Trent More than 1 year ago
Thank you for this article.  We are looking forward to seeing Old Fashioned.  I skimmed 50 Shades book a little bit one day only because a young woman accidentally left it at my home after staying overnight, and I am not at all interested in reading it, and not at all interested in seeing the film.  From what I skimmed and other input I've read about it, I think it is a terrible story, counterproductive to the respect and safety of women.  No way does it deserve our support.  The trailer of Old Fashioned, on the other hand, looks really good!
Marissa Smith More than 1 year ago
I will certainly never read or watch "Fifty Shades." Everything I've heard about it sounds repulsive, simply from the standpoint of normalizing and glorifying a controlling, abusive, thoroughly unhealthy relationship. 

That said, I don't buy Slattery's argument that erotica in general causes sexual "tolerance." The diminishing returns nature of any new experience isn't the fault of erotica...it's just pure human nature. I remember attending church youth group "sexual purity" nights as a young teen and being lectured about the sexual escalation process: first you hold hands, then when that's no longer exciting you move up a notch to chaste kisses, then you move on to passionate kisses, and so on and so forth. The butterflies will eventually go away regardless of whether or not you're reading erotica. Heck, the concept isn't even limited to sex. ANY subject that's initially exciting and fun will eventually get old and less thrilling as time goes on. The shine wears off, familiarity breeds contempt, etc. For Slattery to blame erotica for a naturally occuring aspect of the human condition is some kind of logical fallacy for sure. (Couldn't tell you which one, though. Been way too long since the logic course I took in college.)

Furthermore, Slattery's comparison between visual porn and erotica novels is also off base. It's true that women can never compete with the women in the  porn their husbands watch, because everything about visual porn is utterly fake and staged. But the emotional fulfillment women can experience from reading erotica is a lot more subtle and complicated. For example, if a male character in erotica acts in a certain emotional, intimate way that a female reader finds attractive, why couldn't her husband emulate that behavior? Rather than scolding women and trying to make them guilty for reading erotica (since if there are two things 100% guaranteed to destroy any chance at a fulfilling sex life, it's shame and guilt), why not use erotica as a way to prompt frank, candid discussions between husbands and wives about how husbands can help their wives feel more fulfilled within their real-life relationship? Because let's be real: if a woman is getting some kind of fulfillment from a fictional character that she's not getting from her husband, that's a pretty good sign that the husband's behavior is in need of changing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi Marissa, just wanted to comment that I appreciate your good points, but yet there is real truth that sin is enslaving.  Those who turn to the allure of any illicit sex will be pulled in and enslaved more and more - in various ways, one of which can be tolerance for more sexual sin.  And honestly women can experience that pull in romantic literature, I know it for a fact.  It doesn't mean something has to be lacking in your personal life or marriage, it is the allure of SIN:   physical or even just simply emotional lust.  Now perhaps there is a lack in a women's relationship but just because she gives into the attraction of romantic lust does not mean her husband is lacking but that she is human like all of us and sin is deceptive.