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50 Shades of psychosexual abuse

By Leah Coffman
On October 25, 2012


Recently a best-selling series featured a young, virginal heroine with a love of classic literature and a complete lack of coordination.  She fell hard for a handsome, copper-haired stranger who blew hot and cold, simultaneously rejecting and seducing her.  Yet, he had a darker secret under his pale, controlled exterior.

But the series isn't "Twilight".  It's "50 Shades of Grey". 

The similarities are no coincidence.  "50 Shades of Grey" began its dubious life as a Twilight fanfiction work titled "Masters of the Universe".  The original, which was available online on and, was virtually identical save for names and a few rearranged phrases.  However, the money-making ploy of publishing what was originally a poorly-written fanfic, is far from the most disgusting aspect of the series.

The novels, which have sold over 16 million copies in the U.S., are praised as "sexy" yet after only a few pages, the word "creepy" comes to mind.  The title character, Christian Grey, reads like a serial killer.  With endless money and power at his disposal, he obsesses over control to the point of absurdity.

Upon receiving a drunk-dial from a woman he's met twice, his reaction is not to laugh or allow her to continue on her inebriated way. Instead, he obtained her phone's GPS coordinates and brought a halt to her revelry.  While the word "stalker" makes a brief appearance, it's quickly dismissed because she's so intoxicated-supposedly by his scent instead of overindulgence in tequila. While a night of margaritas may seem innocent enough for a college senior, Grey remarks, "Well, if you were mine, you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday."

His control extends far beyond the bedroom once they enter a dominant/submissive relationship. He dictates how and what she eats, how much she sleeps and how much she exercises, even while they are apart.  While written contracts can be found in some BDSM relationships, they are atypical, which continues to drive home the selfish, abusive nature of Grey.  The novels are driven far more by Grey's needs than Ana Steele's, a complete reversal of a healthy dominant/submissive relationship.

According to, a healthy relationship should be driven by the submissive's desires; the dominant can be viewed as a facilitator of his or her partner's needs and limits.  Steele, however, is a facilitator of Grey's desire to hurt and control.  In this aspect alone, the novel speaks a truth: Grey is abusive. 

Grey's actions should not be considered representative of the BDSM community.  BDSM activities are a normal part of sexual behavior, according to the American Psychiatric Association.  Grey's history, as a victim of abuse, is also atypical in the BDSM community, though not in that of abusers. However, the novel attempts to portray the relationship as "normal" BDSM fare, which it is not.  It is psychological and sexual abuse of an innocent woman, particularly as Grey admits that his tendencies are not merely dominant but sadistic and disturbingly Oedipal.  There are scenes in the book that clearly depict Grey's psychosexual abuse.

Perhaps the most damaging effect of the novels can be found in that sentence-Grey is an abuser but Ana Steele is "special."  She has changed him from abuser to sensitive boyfriend through the power of love.  This is a myth perpetuated by society.  Abusers do not change through love and suggesting that they can in a best-selling series is dangerous for women world wide.

Until society changes its condoning of abuse as romantic to a condemnation, women will be objectified and debased in literature and film.  Unless men and women both cry out against this disgusting series, abuse and sadistic violence against women will be normalized and accepted.

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