My Controversial Thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey {Discussion}

Discussion Post

Okay, I’m actually kind of nervous about writing a discussion post on what I want to talk about today. Especially since this is a mostly-YA blog, I want to warn you guys that if talking about stuff like sex, erotica, sexual harassment, fetishes, etc. bothers you, that maybe you should click away from this post, because I don’t want anybody to get upset or triggered.

But, this is a bookish topic that I’ve always wanted to write a discussion post about, even though it’s definitely not a YA issue.


Today I want to talk about…Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. In particular, the behavior of Christian in this series and BDSM relationships in general.

Although I’ve always kind of wanted to share my opinion about this controversial topic, Bo-ok Nerd’s recent post on sexual harassment spurred me to do it sooner rather than later. Her post is very interesting and I highly recommend reading it! But, just to be clear, nothing I say in this post should at all be considered as an attack against her or her post. I absolutely adore Giselle and her blog…it’s more just that her post gave me a springboard to add some of my own opinions to the discussion, and it helped motivate me to finally write about something a little taboo.

First of all, I just want to say that I completely agree with the basis of Giselle’s post and the whole #YesAllWomen thing: that sexual harassment against women is way too common and that it’s completely inappropriate and wrong. Women should not have to live in fear of men.

But mostly I want to talk about how sexual harassment/stalking is portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey, and (my personal opinion of) how it’s both okay and not okay in that particular circumstance.


I think Giselle used the specific example of Fifty Shades of Grey in her post because it’s a very well-known book that a lot of people have read, have an opinion about, and can easily see how the content relates to what she was saying about sexual harassment. But I actually think that it’s not that great of an example. There are a lot of books out there that glorify this sexual harassment/stalking-type behavior by men and try to make it seem “sexy,” but I’m of the opinion that Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t one of those books…although I admit that it had a huge hand in fueling the creation of many of the ones that are.

One major difference between Fifty Shades of Grey and some other books that include stalker-y men is that Anna and Christian have signed a contract and are in a BDSM relationship.

BDSM Relationships

I think that a lot of Christian’s behavior in the book would be totally inexcusable…if it weren’t for the fact that they are in mutually-consenting BDSM relationship. A huge part of understanding his behavior in this series is having a good understanding of the ins and outs of BDSM in general.

BDSM def

I think that there’s a big misconception out there that BDSM is just about sex. While the physical side of it is very important, there’s also a huge emotional/behaviors/mannerisms part of it as well. Christian is dominant in his BDSM relationship with Ana, and a lot of times that dominance exerts itself outside of the bedroom.

Submissives like to be controlled…and not always just during sex. So, there’s also an aspect of living in a BDSM relationship in which the dominant person is controlling (and the submissive person lets them control) in regular parts of life as well.

BDSM vs. Bad Behavior

But, let’s be clear…not everything Christian does is okay, even within the confines of that BDSM relationship. I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve read this series, so I can’t give you page numbers or refer to super specific instances, but I know that he does venture outside the appropriateness of that BDSM relationship at times, and the things he does (like, for example, being very controlling in the relationships Anna has with other people, specifically men) are not always nice.

But it’s tough to see the line sometimes, for two reasons. One being that I think not everybody is clear on when and how it’s okay/not okay to act a certain way in a BDSM relationship. The whole point is that he’s supposed to be dominant and controlling. But when does it go overboard?

The other reason is that I think that are instances in which Ana acts like she doesn’t want something, even when she really does. Since she’s new to this lifestyle, she has a lot of predisposed ideas of what sex is supposed to be like. She’s very…innocent. And, because of that, sometimes I feel like she tries to talk herself out of what she really wants. It’s not always clear which times Ana likes Christian’s dominance and which times she’s actually really upset about something he’s done.

But it’s obvious that, at times, Christian doesn’t always do what he should be doing. And this is where it gets tricky. I personally believe that E.L. James wrote him doing these bad things on purpose. As readers, we’re always saying that we want more flawed, “not perfect” characters. Well here you go! Christian is pretty flawed. But, as the series continues, he really does improve on himself. Just like a real person might. He goes to therapy, works on his problems, fights his demons, and ultimately ends up being a way better version of himself than he was in the first book.

Reader Backlash 

But, unfortunately, the way that E.L. James wrote the books did cause some backlash. What I think is happening here are two main things that need to be addressed (not saying that all people think this way, but…):

  • People read the first book, hated it and didn’t continue with the series, and now see Christian as the devil because of all the “bad” things he did.
  • Some people didn’t realize that Christian’s inappropriate behavior was supposed to be a character flaw. They had trouble judging the line of what’s “sexy” dominance and what’s just plain creepy and wrong, and now are fans of books in which guys really are stalkers and sexual harassment is hailed as erotica, which fueled an entire slew of books in which authors write these characters actually on purpose.

These are some big problems.

I think it’s completely understandable that some people might just not like this book. Especially if they have had bad experiences with guys in the past and/or don’t know a ton about BDSM, a relationship like Christian’s and Anastasia’s might come across as really horrific, and I totally get that. Sometimes a woman seeing (or reading about) another women giving a man power over herself in a BDSM relationship is upsetting to watch, based on that women’s own experiences with sexual harassment/sexual assault/stalking in the past. But it doesn’t necessarily make that relationship, or all/any BDSM relationships, inherently bad.

And maybe some people didn’t give the books enough of a chance. Maybe they didn’t realize that Christian’s bad behaviors were supposed to just be realistic flaws of somebody with a dominant person. His ultimate transformation of himself is actually quite commendable, if you’ve read the whole series. I’m not saying that Fifty Shades of Grey is some kind of masterpiece or anything, but I do think that it deserves more credit than people give it.

The Good That Came Out of It

James created a character, Christian, with deeply rooted issues who slowly overcomes them, as well as Ana, who goes through a sexual awakening and is actually a really good metaphor for the audience of this book.

Before Fifty Shades of Grey, I never would’ve even considered writing a post about such a taboo subject like BDSM. Of course BDSM existed way before the series did, but I think that James actually did us a huge favor in creaking open those extremely heavy doors to a subject that, previously, was pretty much only talked about in the most private of conversations. Fifty Shades of Grey has helped the public come to a more accepting place about “weird” sexual fetishes. And I bet a lot of women even realized that they themselves have been denying themselves from the type of sexual satisfaction that they truly craved!

Lots of good things came about from this series, and I think that’s an important thing to take into consideration when discussing it.

The Bad That Came Out of It

But not everything that came out of this series was good. Even if E.L. James never intended it…since this series has been published, there’s been a significant increase in glorification of sexual harassment/stalking, particularly in books. Because of the second problem I was talking about, in which some people read Christian’s bad behavior as actually being sexy, more and more authors have written books geared towards those women, in which men are doing bad dominant things without either (a) having a BDSM contract, or at least clear mutual consent and a discussion about boundaries, or (b) having these behaviors seen as flaws that need to be overcome.

I very much dislike those books that don’t follow these rules, because they’re helping to create this increasing growth of a sexual culture in which women are being taught to see bad dominant actions in a positive, even sexy, light.

Final Thoughts

Basically, my point is that, while the Fifty Shades of Grey series might have contributed to or even started this “genre,” it doesn’t actually commit those atrocities itself. So readers should be careful in their labeling of the series as bad or seeing it as being a glorification of sexual harassment, because personally I disagree with the assertion that it’s both or either of those things.


But I’m very interested to hear what you think about this! How do you view Fifty Shades of Grey? What are your thoughts on the good and bad things that came out of this series? Is it or isn’t it a glorification of negative sexual behaviors?




15 responses to “My Controversial Thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey {Discussion}

  1. Great post, and I think you nailed it 🙂 I also read Giselle’s post and I left a comment-while I understand where she’s coming from, I don’t agree with her (and that’s ok!). I think there’s a big difference between a book like Fifty Shades vs. a book like Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster, which ironically has received an insane amount of great feedback from just about everyone. And it positively portrays a truly abusive relationship. Boggles my mind really.

    Fifty Shades definitely isn’t for everyone, but I think this series has gotten an unfair bad rap, and I think a lot of it’s coming from people who haven’t even actually read the book. I know this came up with an acquaintance-she ripped the book apart in a group setting we were in, and had all these other ladies agreeing with her-but she was saying things that just weren’t true/were not in the books! Come to find out she hadn’t even read the book, and was just parroting things she had heard from other people. But, all of these women were in a self-righteous tizzy over how ‘horrible’ this book was. I just kept my mouth shut (they were seriously starting to make me nervous, lol). The whole things was ridiculous.

    • Wow thank you so much for this comment! I was really nervous that people were going to comment and freak out that I wasn’t being fair to women or something. So I’m so happy to see that you agree with me 😀 And I think you make a really good point…that a lot of people talk about the book who haven’t even read it, and they’re saying things that are WRONG. It’s not fair to have a super strong opinion about something based solely on word of mouth…especially when you can go and pay a couple of dollars and read it yourself to see what it’s all about. I think that people unfairly bash this book when, like you said, there are other ACTUAL targets for that opinion out there.

  2. I haven’t actually read the books, but I really like the distinction you made here. If I ever read the books (not likely), I’ll have to keep that in mind. If someone chooses to be in a BDSM relationship, then it’s really up to them if they take it to the outside or if it just stays in the bedroom. Well said Miranda!

    • Thanks! 🙂

      Haha yeah it’s okay, you’re probably better off not reading them 😛 They’ve been pretty much destroyed by the hype/aggression from the public. And they were never that amazing to begin with. But they did serve an important purpose and I feel like there are similar books that were published because of the groundbreaking that this series did that actually are good.

  3. Like Kayla, I’ve not read the book but your post caught my eye anyway. Interestingly, my friend was gushing over this book when I met her for dinner last week. Three of us were talking about books, and stuff when she mentioned that we absolutely have to read Fifty Shades of Grey and she couldn’t stop gushing about Christian. She too said that this isn’t one of those books that glorifies sexual abuse but rather, she saw it as a book about the change in Christian, which she thought was extremely romantic. My other friend and I were definitely surprised because both of us have not hear anything positive about the book, aside from its popularity.

    That friend who read the book picked it up because her friend told her to read it, which to her was shocking because her friend is very conservative. So for her to recommend such a controversial book was quite puzzling.

    After your post and my friend’s gushing, I think I’ll have to pick up Fifty Shades sometime after all and read it for myself. Although, I came across some comparisons between Fifty Shades and Twilight, claiming that E.L. James ripped off quite a fair amount from Stephenie Meyer… So I’m not sure how I’ll feel about it writing-wise because I didn’t think very much of Meyer’s writing-style either. Have you read Twilight? If you did, what do you make of all these comparisons?

    • Thanks for commenting! That’s very interesting about the conservative girl recommending it — it’s definitely not a tame book sex-wise, so that is pretty surprising. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily gush-worthy haha (at least in my opinion! I liked it, but it wasn’t 5 stars for me), but you’re friend’s right…I guess Christian’s change can be seem as pretty romantic. I think it’s just hard for some people to see beyond his behavior from the first book, especially if they didn’t continue on in order to see how he ultimately transforms (which is fine if somebody actually didn’t like the first book — but some people speak out negatively about it after basically only flipping through book 1. Don’t judge the whole series if you haven’t read it! How can you have an accurate opinion if you haven’t experienced it fully? That annoys me :/ ).

      To answer your question about Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight…Fifty Shades of Grey was actually originally fanfiction written by E.L. James based on the Twilight series before it got published as a series. So I definitely wouldn’t say that it’s “ripped off” (although I can totally understand why somebody who didn’t know about it being fanfiction would have that opinion), but obviously there are going to be some comparisons there. I’m not sure about the writing style similarities because, while I have read the Twilight series, it’s been a really long time. And it’s been a while since I’ve read FSOG as well, so I don’t want to comment on that and give you wrong information. But I’d say that the biggest similarities between the two series would probably be the characters’ personalities. They’re very similar to Edward’s and Bella’s characters in Twilight — in how Bella’s kind of shy and awkward and Edward is confident and sexy, etc. There’s also other similarities between the characters, like how Ana in FSOG is into literature like Bella, and Christian is very rich and comes from a rich family. I think that one of Christian’s sisters is important in the series as well, and her character sort of mimics Alice from Twilight.

      I hope that helped! I feel like, even if you’re not totally sure if you’ll like it, you should probably read it sometime 🙂 It’s kind of one of those books that everybody should at least try! haha

  4. Pingback: Weekly Recap| Jun 15-21, 2014 | Oh, the Books!·

  5. I think this is a really even handed and articulate post. It’s definitely a sensitive subject and you really addressed several sides of it which I think make some really interesting points – especially about dominance within a consenting relationship vs just bad behavior. I know it’s like the cliche of commenting to say “great post” but I actually think you wrote this very well 🙂

  6. Totally a few weeks late, but I found this post and had to comment!

    As someone who is very familiar and immersed in the BDSM lifestyle, I was deeply unsettled by FSoG. Christian is not a Dom. There is no way that anyone could convince me of that fact. He’s possessive and controlling, but a Dom he is not. His actions throughout the series go against everything that a Dom represents and is supposed to be. I don’t know a single submissive who would willing be under his care.

    The reasons I dislike FSoG so much are different than most peoples. I do dislike it for all of the reasons that most do, but I especially dislike it for painting BDSM in the light that it does. After I read the first book, I asked a friend of mine who is a Dom to read it for his opinion. He couldn’t finish the book, and he pointed out something to me that I’m ashamed I didn’t pick up on whenever I read it. James portrays Christian as a broken soul (which is completely fine). But the way that James makes Christian’s need for dominance sprout from being abused and having a shitty start to life is damaging. It makes Doms seem less than “normal” people. That something has to be wrong about their life that being a Dom fixes. That normal, well adjusted people can’t be a Dom or in the lifestyle.

    There’s this commercial I’ve seen with an older woman proclaiming “That’s not how it works! That’s not how any of this works!”. That’s basically how I felt whenever I read FSoG. As someone who’s been in the scene for 7+ years, that’s just not what we’re about or what we do. Anna was completely inexperienced. No Dom in their right mind would have handled Anna that way. You never thrust someone into the lifestyle like Christian did. There’s training and bonding for a reason. I won’t get into the ins and out of BDSM, but the way that the relationship started was a huge indication that FSoG has no business portraying the BDSM community. In short, trust first, sexual gratification later.

    Regardless of what you call a relationship, dating, Dom/sub, married, or even friends, abuse is abuse.

    • Thank you so much for commenting!

      You make a lot of really good points, particularly about how fast Christian tries to introduce Anna to BDSM. I agree that that seems very unrealistic, and would actually be an indication that Christian isn’t a good Dom — or, like you say, perhaps not a Dom at all.

      I wouldn’t say that I’m extremely familiar with BDSM — you seem to be more knowledgable than me — but I would say that I’m a lot more experienced with it and know more about it than your average reader. So thanks for bringing your opinion to the table, because I do think that, while it’s good that BDSM is being put out there in books and becoming more of an accepted “culture,” you’re right to say that there are parts of FSOG that negatively portray the lifestyle and could give people the wrong opinion about it.

      Have you read the Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz? It’s absolutely amazing and does a much better job realistically portraying BDSM relationships, the lifestyle, and the deep-set trust that is such a hugely important part of it all.

      • I definitely agree that BDSM being out there is a good thing. I’m just weary of it being put out there in the wrong light, you know? I think it would be beneficial for the vanilla crowd to see that our world isn’t so bad. 🙂

        My biggest draw back was Christian being represented as a Dom. It’s just so unlike what I’ve ever been around in the scene, and I’m so afraid of people thinking all Doms are like that. Around the time FSoG hit it big time, James did an interview saying that she wasn’t part of the BDSM crowd. (If I remember correctly, she said she didn’t even have a sex toy or something to demonstrate how little exposure she had, had to anything besides vanilla.) I guess that’s what troubles me. I’m protective of the lifestyle, and it sits uneasily with me whenever someone who isn’t even remotely familiar with it introduces it to the world in an inaccurate way.

        I have not read Original Sinners! It’s definitely going on my TBR. I haven’t read very many BDSM-centric books, so it’ll be good to read those. 🙂

      • Wow I feel really strange after what you said about James saying how inexperienced she was. That’s absolutely crazy!!! I can’t even believe that. I mean, I had a feeling that she wasn’t super involved in the scene, but I didn’t realize that she had, like, NO BDSM experience. That makes me kind of mad! Especially because there is such backlash and how important it is to not put wrong information out there about it. There are real stakes involved here with how women choose to allow men to behave after having read FSOG, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. I’m…wow…that really affects my opinion. Thank you for bringing that to my attention!

        OH MY GOD, you HAVE to read Original Sinners. It’s AMAZING. One of my all-time favorite series EVER. So so so so so so good. Please let me know if you end up reading it 🙂

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