Movies & TV / News

Is Hollywood Ready for 50 Shades of Grey?

February 7, 2015 | Posted by Steve Gustafson

Love it or loathe it, 50 Shades of Grey is a phenomenon. In case one of you out there is unaware of this cultural juggernaut, Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic romance novel by author E. L. James. The first in a trilogy that pulls back the curtain on a risque world while exploring the relationship between Anastasia Steele, and businessman, Christian Grey. Why all the fuss? It’s creating headlines and generating sales with its explicit erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM).

Rubbish, you say?

Fifty Shades of Grey has topped best-seller lists around the world, including those of the United Kingdom and the United States. The series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide and been translated into 52 languages and set a record in the United Kingdom as the fastest-selling paperback of all time.

Hollywood has been paying attention and the movie will be coming out on February 13, 2015. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Charlie Hunnam was originally cast in the role of Christian Grey alongside Dakota Johnson in the role of Anastasia Steele, but Hunnam exited the part and Jamie Dornan stepped in for the role. Not surprisingly, fans of the books were analyzing every casting and production pictures, making their like or dislike know.

Fifty Shades of Grey presents an interesting puzzle to Hollywood. How do you make a movie that will cater to a passionate fan-base that’s centered around BDSM? The controversy has been a boon to the buzz for the movie and has inspired discussion across the spectrum. Depicting (and celebrating) violence has never been a problem but Hollywood has a mixed history when it comes to sex. While some are calling for a boycott to the movie, it’s not always for the reasons you think. Many groups are saying the movie is anti-woman, some point out the inaccurate (and unsafe) depiction of bondage in the books, and, of course, the more puritan are banging their fists saying the movie is sinful.

Interestingly enought, according to Fandango, ticket pre-sales in Mississippi, where until recently it was actually illegal to sell sex toys, are four-times higher than the site expected. Not to be left out, in Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Alabama, where the sale of sex toys is still banned, pre-sales are double what sellers expected.

Just what is it about 50 Shades that has everyone so heated? It’s certainly not the first book of erotica aimed at housewives. Since the 70s, romance novels have been the most popular literary genre and according to the Romance Writers of American, romance novels brought in $$1.08 billion in sales in 2013.

Looking for some answers and insight on the 50 Shades phenomenon, I turned to the experts. I spoke with sociologist Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, whose book Exposure: A Sociologist Studies Sex, Society, & Adult Entertainment will release in July, and Sex Educator jessica drake, whose video Guide to Wicked Sex: BDSM for Beginners, who shared their valuable insight.

Steve Gustafson: Hi Dr. Tibbals! Thanks for answering a few questions for 411wrestling.com about 50 Shades of Grey. First, did you read the book? What are your thoughts on it?

Dr. Tibbals: Hi! You are so welcome, my pleasure. Honestly, I try to read, watch, and/or at least be familiar with everything significant in popular culture – it’s a great indicator of where we are as a culture. But I could not get past the first three pages of 50 Shades. Ironically, the only other thing comparably challenging (to me) were the Twilight books. I’ll definitely be watching the 50 Shades movie though – for science!

Steve Gustafson: With the books’ popularity, the use of handcuffs, rope, and other BDSM scenarios has risen. With so many people jumping into BDSM experimentation, what’s the number one thing they should know?

Dr. Tibbals: Consent. It’s the number one thing we should know with all sex-related – and really, life-related – things, but consent is especially important in BDSM. In addition to consent, I would add clear communication, which is a cornerstone of BDSM, and safe use of props and products.

Steve Gustafson: One of the phrases that has been introduced into our language is “Mommy Porn.” Has 50 Shades of Grey shown that women have neglected their sex lives for too long?

Dr. Tibbals: Well, regarding “mommy porn,” what 50 Shades may have done for some women is give them tacit permission to fantasize about or explore some dimensions of sexual practice that may have seemed too taboo in another context. Good or bad, 50 Shades is not the first narrative about BDSM, written or otherwise, but it’s definitely the most popular, visible, and contemporary. For many women (and men), this is hugely significant – it opened a door.

Steve Gustafson: Is the book and movie a positive thing for the BDSM community?

Dr. Tibbals: For the BDSM community? I would say, like everything else in life, it’s a mixed bag. 50 Shades has definitely drawn attention to the fact that BDSM is a thing that people do, thus also that BDSM communities exist (this may have been big news for many!) – this may be legitimizing and ultimately positive. But 50 Shades has also presented a version of BDSM that, in my understanding, is decently off mark. BDSM communities are vibrant and diverse. These are not things that people necessarily get from 50 Shades, which may be limiting and negative.

Steve Gustafson: A study from Michigan State University found that reading the series could be harmful to women’s health. They stated that women (ages 18 to 24) were more likely to have sex with multiple partners, binge drink, suffer eating disorders, and end up in abusive relationships. Also, Dr. Charlotte Jones has stated that there is a rise in sexually transmitted diseases, like gonorrhea and syphilis, among older couples. Can all this really be attributed to a book?

Dr. Tibbals: Put simply: no. Put in greater detail… I’m not sure how researchers would have designed and completed the complex, expensive longitudinal research required to make such claims regarding a series of books that were only first released in 2011. Just speaking in terms of research methods and logistics, the conclusions summarized here are kinda impossible.

But even more significant than that are the limiting and problematic ideologies that predicate these conclusions. I think everyone’s time would be better spent working to alleviate the realities and implications of things like poor sex education, gender inequalities, and violence in interpersonal relationships (and so on) – issues that have been around long before 2011 – rather than attempting to point fingers at a book.

Steve Gustafson: 50 Shades has opened the door for people to talk about erotica at places like work and among friends. How can people who are in the BDSM community use this to further the conversation in the right way?

Dr. Tibbals: Well, I would say that if occasion arises and one feels comfortable and safe doing so, more public conversations about BDSM that use 50 Shades as a starting point might be a good place to present a small (or large) truth. Use the opportunity to share a piece of your reality as it relates to BDSM. Or, if personal details are TMI for the situation, use the opportunity to share insights from something you’ve gleaned from a third party that rings true in your experience – an article or op-ed or something. That way, you can share accurate info about BDSM but don’t necessarily have to talk about your experience with violet wands in the break room.

Steve Gustafson: How will 50 Shades of Grey change Hollywood, if at all?

Dr. Tibbals: Perhaps Hollywood will see this as an opportunity to show some (relatively) edgy depictions of sex? BDSM is not all about penetration, so maybe this might open the door to showing complex versions of sexualities without having to worry about their explicit nature. Unfortunately though, I doubt this will be the case.

Steve Gustafson: Thank you, Dr. Tibbals and all the best!

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Next up is jessica drake. Some of you might comment that I mistakenly wrote her name incorrectly. Her name is spelled all lower case and her story as to how this came about was she was signing autographs at a convention about three months after starting in the adult business using “Jessica Drake” (proper case) but she was unhappy with how it looked. After the convention, she experimented with various ways of signing and settled on the lower case version of her name. Now you know.

Steve Gustafson: Hi jessica! Thanks again for answering a few questions for 411wrestling.com. First, did you read the book? What are your thoughts on it?

jessica drake: I did read the book. In fact, I read all three of the books, and my initial impression was that while the first book was an engaging story, it didn’t accurately portray the BDSM lifestyle, nor was it a good reflection of the dynamics between a dom and a sub.

Steve Gustafson: With the books popularity, the use of handcuffs, rope, and other BDSM scenarios has risen. With so many people jumping into BDSM experimentation, what’s the number one thing they should know?

jessica drake: I think there are actually two very important things that people need to know. The first is that safety is of the utmost importance. When you’re tying someone up, whether it’s with rope or restraints, it’s important that you’re not causing long-term nerve damage, and if you’re experimenting with whipping and spanking, you need to know how not to inflict serious harm or leave long -lasting marks on your partner. The number two thing I think people should know is that it’s very important to start slowly. I think so many people will either read the book or see the movie, and jump in and want to try everything in one night – hopefully not on Valentine’s night because that’s when the movie comes out. I’m afraid that if they do that, they will have unrealistic expectations and be disappointed.

Steve Gustafson: You recently released an instructional movie all about BDSM for beginners. What are some tips for those looking to practice correctly?

jessica drake: I think that with all new experiences in bed, one of the most important things is communication. Roles need to be clearly defined, and the people involved need to discuss boundaries beforehand. Safe words are extremely important, and as I mentioned before, I think it’s important to start slow.

Steve Gustafson: One of the words that has been introduced into our language is “Mommy Porn”. How has Fifty Shades of Grey shown that women have neglected their sex lives for too long?

jessica drake: I don’t know if the 50 Shades phenomenon reflects women neglecting their sex lives, but I do think that one of the better effects of 50 Shades is women are more likely to talk about their sex lives openly.

Steve Gustafson: Is the book and movie a positive thing for the BDSM community?

jessica drake: Well I haven’t seen the movie yet, only the trailers, but based on the books, I would say no, it’s not a positive or accurate representation. I think that more emphasis should have been made on the dynamics between a dom and a sub, and I don’t think the relationship shared by Christian and Anna can be defined as a true relationship within the BDSM community. I’ve spoken to members of the BDSM community, as well as people who are engaged in the lifestyle, and for the most part, they all feel the same way.

Steve Gustafson: A study from Michigan State University found that reading the series could be harmful to women’s health. They stated that women (ages 18 to 24) were more likely to have sex with multiple partners, binge drink, suffer eating disorders and end up in abusive relationships. Also, Dr. Charlotte Jones has stated that there is a rise in sexually transmitted diseases, like gonorrhea and syphilis, among older couples. Can all this really be attributed to a book?

jessica drake: I do not think in any way that these types of behaviors be attributed to a book. I think that society in general is inundated with so many messages about sexuality and other issues, that one book which is currently trending is not going to affect society as a whole.

Steve Gustafson: What have been some of the positive effects of the book and movie?

jessica drake: I think that’s a great question, and even though I don’t think its an accurate portrayal of the BDSM lifestyle, I think its very important that we acknowledge the good that it has done. In my eyes, I see two big benefits from “50 Shades of Grey.” The first is that it has driven sales back up in adult stores. While the adult industry is battling piracy, people are going into adult stores to buy the books, and ending up buying other items as well. So a woman will go in to choose a book, and end up leaving with other things like lingerie, toys, lubes and possibly movies – which has interjected new life into the retail stores. Another benefit is the fact that it has really enabled people, particularly women, to talk more about their sexuality. I think at least for the people who have read the book, some of the stigma has been removed, and its causing people to experiment and hopefully to reignite the passion in their sex lives.

Steve Gustafson: 50 Shades has opened the door for people to talk about erotica at places like work and among friends. How can people who are in the BDSM community use this to further the conversation in the right way?

jessica drake: I think it’s important for people who are in the lifestyle, or at least better knowledgeable in the lifestyle, to speak up. Whether it’s in person or online writing articles, I think that’s a very important thing. The only way we’re going to change people’s ideas is to get them involved in the conversation.

Steve Gustafson: How will 50 Shades of Grey change Hollywood, if at all? Will this be good or bad for the adult film world?

jessica drake: I don’t really think that 50 Shades is changing Hollywood. With the exception of tackling a very erotic book, nothing else is different, and certainly big budget movies in Hollywood have contained some really steamy sex scenes. I’m more disappointed with the ratings system. Understandably they gave the movie an R rating because it should be for adults, but when they were explaining why they gave it an R rating, they cited “unusual behavior,” and I don’t think it’s anyone’s business to deem acts as unusual, because I would say unusual for who?

Steve Gustafson: Thanks again jessica!

When it comes to the impact 50 Shades will make, all eyes will be on the box office. Be assured, if the movie enjoys the same kind of success the book has, studios will be quick to take advantage and we could see a number of erotic flavored movies geared towards the ladies.

If you’re reading this and are a 50 Shades of Grey fan with a gift for writing short fiction, then Sssh.com’s #Sssh50 “kinky tweet” contest has your name all over it. The contest started on Thursday February 5, and the challenge is to tell a kinky story in a single tweet, using the hashtag #Sssh50. Contestants have more than one chance to win, as each tweet using the #Sssh50 hashtag counts as a separate entry. Tweet submissions will be accepted through February 22, 2015 at midnight EST. The winner will take home an author signed copy of the 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy. The winner of the #Sssh50 contest will be announced February 24, during the upcoming MindBrowse.com show 50 Shades of Reality: Insights from BDSM Professionals, which airs live starting at 3 PM EST.

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