Safe, Sane, and Consensual: The Missing Philosophies in the 50 Shades of Grey Series

Safe, Sane, and Consensual: The Missing Philosophies in the 50 Shades of Grey Series | Positively Smitten

By Lyndsey Fought

“50 Shades of Grey” may be slated for a Valentine’s day release, but Christian Grey’s behavior in the trilogy is anything but romantic — it’s abusive.

The erotic “love” story between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, which gained in popularity and quickly got picked up for a movie trilogy, actually contains unsettling domestic violence and abuse that readers are romanticizing.

Here are a few key abusive points that happen in the trilogy:

  • Jealousy — In the first few chapters of “50 Shades of Grey,” Christian tracks the leading lady (Ana) to a club by using her phone. He takes control of her when she’s drunk, changing her, and then telling her he will be keeping tabs on her for her own safety. This is the beginning of abuse. The abuser convinces the victim they are not to be trusted with their own safety. The victim then recognizes the abuser as their safe keeper and security.
  • Possessiveness — Christian gets unbearably jealous whenever Anastasia might be apart from him, to the point where he even crashes one of her vacations.
  • Isolation from others — Before they can be in a relationship together, Christian wants Ana to sign a nondisclosure agreement to limit what she can tell those closest to her.
  • Unpredictable temper — Christian can often go from zero to angry in a matter of seconds.
  • Controlling where someone goes and who they see — In Christian’s eyes, it’s not okay for Anastasia to come and go as she pleases. He also tries to control her eating/drinking habits.
  • Sexual violence — Christian traumatizes Ana with (surprise) spanking and then leaves in anger when she’s startled.

You may think Christian Grey is a sexy kind of dangerous, but he’s actually just dangerous. We should teach not just young women, but all women and definitely all men, that his behaviors SHOULD NOT be tolerated in any relationship.

Yet the book simply portrays this relationship as normal.

“50 Shades” also falters when it comes to its portrayal of BDSM relationships — which Christian (the dominant) and Ana (the submissive) engage in. Their power dynamic in the books do not reflect the power dynamics in real-life, safe, consensual BDSM lifestyles. Anyone who has experience in or has done any manner of research on the BDSM community knows their mantra is “Safe, Sane, and Consensual.” Christian Grey is poster man for everything BDSM is NOT.

In fact, their sex is not entirely consensual. The number of times the consent is questionable in the trilogy is extremely problematic. Consent needs to be clear and enthusiastic. This goes for BDSM, too. Consent needs to be enthusiastic and FREELY GIVEN. Most who engage in BDSM talk beforehand; they set boundaries. They discuss what’s to come. They come up with safewords. They form a mutual respect before slipping into their dominant/submissive roles. They discuss consent.

Yet Ana rarely freely gives her consent; she is coerced into sex quite a few times. Not only that, but Christian tracks her without her consent, he undresses her without her consent, he buys her a new car despite her repeatedly saying no and feeling uncomfortable about it. Informed and enthusiastic consent is crucial in regards to a BDSM setting, especially with inexperienced members of the community — which Ana is.

Christian takes advantage of the fact that Ana is new to BDSM. A virgin when they meet, Ana is misinformed on most things involving sex and BDSM. But Christian doesn’t stop to talk it out; instead, Christian hands her a contract coercing her into this type of relationship. He refuses to acknowledge the fact that Ana is reluctant to be Christian’s submissive (something that persists throughout the entire series).

Ana’s momentary arousal in the heat of the moment isn’t enthusiastic consent to sex or to their BDSM relationship, as she often doesn’t know what she’s getting into. She should know incorrect use of a whip can cause organ failure. She should know incorrect knots on feet and wrists can cause them to need to be amputated. But Christian takes advantage of her naiveté. A younger inexperienced person that doesn’t understand their sexuality should not be taken advantage of by an older man who thinks they understand BDSM (and uses it to abuse that younger person). He really takes advantage of her. BDSM relationships require trust, and that’s something no one should ever give to Christian Grey after he’s exhibited his abusive behaviors.

The issues don’t stop there. At one point, Christian even gives Ana an ultimatum (showing he’s manipulative); he doesn’t give her clear information and allow her to give enthusiastic consent. He ignores her safeword, which is insanely important. Once a person says their safeword all PLAY STOPS, RIGHT THEN AND THERE. A safeword is the withdrawal of consent, however momentary. Further play and sex without a renewal of enthusiastic consent is rape. Christian Grey rapes Ana.

In good BDSM relationships, a dominant loves their submissive and listens to their consent and the removal of consent every single time. Both partners in any relationship should be completely willing with identified boundaries. Partners in a healthy BDSM arrangement will have safewords, boundaries, and enthusiastic consent before they even touch one another intimately. In these ways, the trilogy perpetuates rape culture.

There is nothing wrong with books that write about sex. There’s nothing wrong with books that write about the BDSM lifestyle. But there is something wrong about a book that purports to be about the BDSM lifestyle, when in actuality, it ends up portraying an extremely damaging, nonconsensual sexual relationship. This is not the type of relationship women (or anyone) should be striving for. Remember that BDSM and any sexual relationship should be safe, always.

About Lyndsey:

I have too many interests and I get easily distracted, so I haven’t completed a single thing in my life. Yay, hyperboles! I have been to culinary school and I like baking cupcakes. I write the beginnings of too many novels. I am driven by ambition and delayed by perfectionism.

I would like to travel the world, learn from others, write some best sellers, and have a restaurant or bakery someday. I am a Slytherin. I like the tenth Doctor best (followed by ninth). I am too obsessed with Downton Abbey and the whole etiquette of that era. I never forget to be awesome!

3 Comments

  1. This is one of your best articles Lyndsey. Though I have not read the books ur points are very valid on any kind of sexual relationship. Very well written and important information that all should think about.

  2. You make very good points in this article. Wow, something to think about.

  3. I’m not personally into fetish, but I work for a fetish club. I wouldn’t be close, be a friend and coworker of these people, if I thought this series accurately represented them. Point in fact, I was ignorant at the beginning, and had to be convinced that they’re better people than pop culture would have us believe.

    Thank you for posting this article, helping make the kink scene better understood, while calling out the books for the foolishness they are.

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