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Why the fascination with Fifty Shades of Grey?

Fans take their seats as they get ready to watch the fan premiere of Fifty Shades of Grey at the Ziegfeld theater in midtown Manhattan as part of The Today Show's Fifty Shade First Event, February 7, 2015 (Erika L James via Instagram)

What is porn? In 1964 the United States Supreme Court established the test as “whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, interprets the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest.”  Well that clears it up.  And what does prurient mean exactly?   It is someone having or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said that he would not attempt to define the kinds of material he understood to be pornography, but that he would “know it when I see it.”

I don’t think any of us would argue that our culture is becoming more “prurient” by the day.  We seem to have an increasing interest in being drawn to and encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters.  Traditionally, men have been at the center of discussions pertaining to pornography.  What may surprise you to learn is that the fastest growing pornographic market segment are those sites appealing to women.  According to a 2010 Pew Research Report, online porn viewership has quadrupled for women in just three years. The most current example of that market segment is the book trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey and the movie scheduled to be released this Friday, February 13th, Valentine’s Day weekend.

Most of the increase in female porn addiction is occurring among young “Millennium” women born between 1980 and 2000.  According to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, more than half (52%) of young women today are exposed to sexually explicit material by the age of 14.  And about half of this group believes that viewing pornography is an acceptable way of expressing one’s sexuality.  Marnie Ferree, founder of Bethesda Workshops and a specialist in the area of women with sexual addiction, reports that 87% of young women she has interviewed say they feel or have felt “out of control” when it comes to sexual fantasies such as represented in the book Fifty Shades of Grey.  And 45% said they started “habitually and compulsively” watching pornography or engaging in cybersex when they were 13-17 years old.

While these statistics are shocking, the actual numbers may be much higher than reported.  The guilt and resulting shame from viewing pornography often hides the true reach of this addiction for both men and women.  What makes this more confusing for women is that the 50 Shades of Grey movie is being marketed to women as a romantic fantasy.  There is nothing romantic or fantasy for the countless women suffering in silence inside an abusive manipulative relationship.   The woman in the movie is a victim.  She is manipulated into an abusive relationship. The type of relationship in the movie is real, dangerous, and anything but loving.  Research from the Academy of Women’s Health discusses how the movie romanticizes sexual violence and the emotional abuse of women.

Maybe you have friends considering whether to see the movie.  Maybe you have a daughter or girlfriend that has read the trilogy and is considering seeing the movie.  Here are some ideas that might help you discuss the dangers of the movie to the young women in your life born between 1980 and 2000.

  • If you are man, discuss how you would like to hold them to the same standards that they hold you to when it comes to lust and pornography.  We are all children of God and share equally in our temptations.  Suggest you share the same accountability and standards to protect each other from sexual sin.  
  • One website is promoting donating to a woman’s shelter instead of attending the movie.   Another alternative is to attend the movie Old Fashioned that is premiering this weekend.   
  • What can you do as a parent?  When asked how well their parents prepared them for sexual temptations and how well they taught them about purpose of sex, on a scale of 1 to 7, 55% of young women gave their parents a 1. Another third (32%) gave their parents a 2 or 3. Millennials crave relationships that are open, honest, and transparent.  There may be no better time to start having that conversation than this Valentine’s Day weekend.