Tainted Love: Why is 50 Shades of Grey so Popular?

This article first appeared in Patheos and is republished here with the permission of the author.

Note:  The following article deals frankly with sexual topics

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that 50 Shades of Grey, a popular soft-core pornographic movie about a timid young woman who is sexually dominated by a billionaire, is being released this coming Valentine’s Day.  Based on a popular series of erotic novels, the film is being released both to wide acclaim and wider controversy, especially among those who are repulsed by this glorification of domestic partner violence.

Fatal Attractions

Many people are mystified by the movie’s appeal, but research shows a large percentage of women are very attracted to the kinds of sexual activities portrayed in 50 Shades. According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, nearly 65% of women reported fantasies about sexual submission. Specifically, more than 52% percent of women said  they fantasize about being restrained during sex, 36%of women desire to be spanked, and 28.9% fantasize about being forced to have sex.  Fantasies about being sexually dominated are quite common among women.

Of course, all of this begs the question, Why?  Why are so many women attracted to these behaviors and to this film that depicts such degrading behavior toward women.  Why would women willingly submit themselves to watching or participating in media that, for all intents and purposes, is victimizing to them?

Repressed Femininity

There isn’t one reason, of course.  For some, prior abuse or victimization will be a factor.  But there is a major theme that I have observed that contributes to the tendency for many–even, apparently, a majority–of women to desire and/or submit themselves to this kind of treatment.  Namely,  our prevailing culture’s secular-feminist ethic makes it taboo for women to want to be vulnerable in any healthy ways.  Women are told they must expect to take care of themselves. They must be strong, self-sufficient and powerful. Of course there is nothing wrong–and everything right–with being a capable, competent woman. But many women are taught that they must take this a step further.  They can never allow themselves to be vulnerable. They must be competent at all things, and at all costs.  They don’t let themselves need anyone, least of all a man.  Even in a healthy relationship, there are many women who will not allow themselves to let their guard down, give up control, or open their hearts.

The problem is that this isn’t natural.  The Theology of the Body asserts that an inherent character of femininity is receptivity.  That is, the ability to be open, generous, receptive to others. Not dependent, or needy, or a victim, but intimately relational  in character.  The secular feminist culture pressures women to deny their basic receptivity, but nature will not be denied.  The receptive, feminine impulse continues to assert itself, and if it cannot find legitimate expression in healthy relationships, it will assert itself in more insidious ways.

The Need that Will Not Be Denied

In essence, many women who have been trained to reject their natural, healthy vulnerability, can only allow their feminine impulse to be expressed by permitting themselves to be dominated. Unable to allow their feminine nature to emerge in any other way, many women either fantasize or actually place themselves positions where they are no longer given a choice in the matter.  Domination is, in essence, Satan’s counterfeit of the healthy submission (as opposed to subjugation/dominance) that naturally expresses itself in subtle and psychologically affirming ways in a healthy, nurturing relationship.

Improperly formed men will seek to dominate women rather than love and serve them, and improperly formed women will seek to be dominated rather that willingly allowing themselves to be loved and served.  The popularity of 50 Shades is the bad fruit of a culture that denies the healthy interdependence of men and women and rejects the natural dynamic of mutual submission that evolves when well-formed men and women boldly express their respective masculine and feminine genius in a nurturing, mutually generous relationship with one another.

To learn more about reclaiming a healthy sense of one’s sexuality and living a passionate, loving, soulful sexual life, check out Holy Sex!  The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing Infallible Loving.

2015-02-06T12:37:09+00:00

About the Author:

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, a Catholic-integrated telephone counseling practice. He invites you to contact him online at www.Exceptional Marriages.com

2 Comments

  1. louise February 20, 2015 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the article and insight. I wondered why so women are just ‘dying to see the film’, talking about it and/or reading the book.

    A friend of mine rang and asked if I wanted to go to the movies. I said “Yes”. She said “But I do not want to go and see Fifty Shades of Grey”, I said “What do you take me for, neither do I.” Are we the only ones not interested?

    Last week during a Community Workers training session at least 8 women aged 24-40 years were discussing how much they wanted to see it (some did not even know what it was about), others had read the book and loved it. One was going that night to see it.

    I asked the lady next to me if she saw it. She said “No and I do not know why anyone would. Here we are learning about domestic violence and we are supposed to encourage and empower women to leave the situation, so why would we want to go and watch it? It goes against what we are trying to do.” Very true.

    My husband informed me last night that there is a group in Papua New Guinea wanting to ban the film due to sexual content because the film glamourises this type of sexual behaviour and makes it acceptable. Needless to say, there is a fear in PNG (where domestic violence is a real social problem) and showing the film would only increase more incidents of domestic violence.

    Two days later a group of 40-64 years wanted to go and see the film. I said I did not want to, one woman assumed because it was of a sexual nature and I would be offended. Well, yes, it does nothing for me, really. I said “I do not want to see this film it is about bondage and submission.” She denied it “No, it’s not.” I said “Yes, It is. It is not about love it is about submission and dominance. Just watch the shorts and see that it’s something completely different to what you are expecting.”

    Whether they will go and see the film I do not know. In the words of Jesus, Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

  2. Francine Pirola February 6, 2015 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    I’ve read many comments on 50 Shades, but this is one of the most insightful and interesting I think.

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