Sexual violence against women has never been so mainstreamed as it is now with the hype surrounding the film release of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” based on the bestseller by E. L. James. The publicity campaign is saturating the public square, exposing youth to its hard sell of bondage, domination, and sadomasochism (BDSM). Vacuous celebrities like Kim Kardashian are fawning over its tale of a rich and attractive guy who stalks and targets a vulnerable young woman to be his “submissive.”
No doubt hoping to capitalize on the money bonanza, the Vermont Teddy Bear company advertised a “Fifty Shades of Grey” bear for a Valentine’s Day gift. The stuffed animal wears a grey suit and holds a mask and handcuffs. Yeah, cute. Meanwhile, “bondage” and “leather cuffs” were among the tamer words for kids to find in word search puzzles passed out in class to some middle-schoolers in Monessen, Pennsylvania recently.
The “Fifty Shades” feeding frenzy is in your face. Go to the grocery store, and you’ll likely see a display stand of paperbacks. Go to a Target store and you can see “Fifty Shades” paraphernalia along open aisles. This, of course, is great news for the BDSM lobby. Its main advocacy group, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, considers the movie its “Stonewall moment” as well as an opportunity to launch a membership drive.
But what if you’re a parent concerned about the fallout of the “Fifty Shades” on your children’s health and relationships? You have a friend in Dr. Miriam Grossman, author of “Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student.” She’s a pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist who tracks and analyzes cultural infections like the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon.
How to Talk to Your Child about Sado-Masochism
Grossman posted an open letter to youth as well as five installments of A Parent’s Survival Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey on her blog because, in her words, “‘Fifty Shades’ is so extreme, so over the top.”
It presents not only the duty to talk to your children about intimacy but the perfect opportunity to discuss a difficult subject like BDSM the next time you see an ad or reference. She appeals: “Moms and dads, guardians and grandparents, I urge you: no matter how awkward it is, you must speak to your children about intimacy – what it is, and what it is not. I’m talking not only about teens, but also tweens who are mature, or who hang out with teens.”
I’d only add: Damn any teen eye-rolling! Full speed ahead!
‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Teaches that Humiliation Is Erotic
Grossman begins by noting that in her decades of counseling teens and young adults, their number one problem is figuring out romance. They are “utterly lost,” and ask questions like: “What do I want, and how do I get it? How do I deal with peer pressure and navigate the hook-up culture? Are there consequences to sex, or is it just about fun? What’s normal? What’s not?”
Fifty Shades of Grey teaches your daughter that pain and humiliation are erotic, and your son, that girls want a guy who controls, intimidates and threatens. In short, the film portrays emotional and physical abuse as sexually arousing to both parties.
Consent Does Not Make Abuse Okay
The first thing you’ll hear from advocates of BDSM is that consent makes it all A-Okay. That’s bullshit, folks. Domestic violence shelters are filled to the gills with women who deluded themselves into thinking that intimacy involved consent to being abused.
There is a pretty good dosage of consent in relationships that tolerate longstanding cycles of abuse-apology-abuse-apology-abuse ad nauseum as you’d find between most longstanding wifebeater-and-battered-wife couples. Somewhere along the way, it ends up like the bonding with one’s captor that occurs in Stockholm Syndrome.
Grossman is refreshingly direct and explains how “Fifty Shades” promotes this same sort of psychological fog in young women who always try to see the softer side of their captor:
Many well meaning people argue that [the main characters of Fifty Shades] Ana and Christian get to decide what works for them in their personal lives, and if the choice is thoughtful and freely made, then it’s ok. This includes sadomasochism.
The decision to consent to any form of abuse is a self destructive one – end of story. The toxic power of Fifty Shades of Grey lies in its ability to plant doubt in your daughter . . .Here’s how it works. Ana and Christian’s initial relationship is on the dark side. There is stalking, emotional abuse, and violence. With time he opens up. Ana learns he’s had a hard life, that’s all. Deep down, Christian is a good guy. . . . We start to feel sorry for Christian. He must tie up Ana and make her scream? Well, it’s not his fault. By the end, there’s a proposal, a wedding, a baby or two. There’s darkness, but there’s lots of light too. Fifty Shades of Grey — get it?
I’d add here that the “Fifty Shades” author no doubt intended to inject even deeper confusion and add a layer of blasphemy by giving her sick hero the name “Christian” so she could sprinkle her entire BDSM text with that word.
BDSM for Youth Contradicts Neuroscience
Young people, and especially females, grossly underestimate the effect of sexual activity on their emotions. Heck, the prefrontal cortex of the human brain, known as the area of judgment and “sober second thought,” isn’t even fully developed until one’s late twenties.
Once Ana had sex with Christian, the hormones sex releases jumpstarted her feelings of attachment and trust. This impaired her ability to discern Christian’s intentions because she couldn’t see him objectively anymore:
When Ana was with Christian, hormones told her brain: you’re with someone you trust now. You can relax. You can bond. . . Neuroscience also demonstrates that emotional memories are encoded more deeply than neutral ones. . . Another obstacle for Ana: she never confided in someone older and wiser before getting involved. Christian made sure that wouldn’t happen by insisting Ana sign a non-disclosure agreement very early on. That’s right, she had to enter a legal agreement preventing her from telling anyone he was an entrenched sadist. With some alcohol in her system, Ana agreed.
Sex, alcohol, manipulation – hardly the ingredients of a thoughtful decision. . . . Make sure your daughter understands the power of intimacy. Without her knowing, it promotes feelings of attachment and trust. Her first sexual experience is not something she’ll never forget, and those memories can intrude when they’re least welcome.
Fifty Shades of Confusion for your Son
And as far as your son is concerned?
You must speak with him about the movie’s warped ideas, before he starts to associate romance with handcuffs. . . . Fifty Shades of Grey is pornography. The destructive nature of porn to the mind and heart is well documented.
You don’t want your son to be perplexed about such an important issue. He must be absolutely clear that abuse of an intimate partner is never ok, under any circumstances. Otherwise, he could pay a high price.
Just say it straight. Listen, don’t be fooled by all the hype around Fifty Shades of Grey and its glamorization of sadomasochism. An emotionally healthy woman does not want to be flogged! You know this is true, but he may not be sure. Tell him.
Men who habitually indulge in BDSM can also end up thinking that a woman’s “consent” to be abused excuses every abusive thing they might say or do to her.
Consider the eighteenth-century French aristocrat the Marquis de Sade, for whom the term “sadism” is named. He was incensed that anyone would dare to arrest him for doing a lot of unspeakably cruel things to prostitutes who complained about his treatment of them. Following in de Sade’s footsteps today, we have men like former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strass-Kahn, who got huffy at a French court last week because they gave a hearing to the case of his own sexual brutality towards women. (He reportedly told them that his orgies were just a release from his stress of “saving the world.”)
And then there’s the Canadian TV host Jiam Ghomeshi, who was pissed off for being fired over his violence towards women, claiming it was all “consensual.” Do you detect a pattern of anger and self-absorption in these guys? They appear totally incapable of real relationships or real sex with real—not pretend—women.
Indulgence in pornography like “Fifty Shades” and BDSM acts as an addictive drug. It can render such men incapable of any sex that is not BDSM. And on top of all that, we may see more laws like the one recently passed in California that pretty much add up to yes-means-no if a woman decides after supposedly “consensual” sex that she was raped. So BDSM is a practice that invites criminal prosecution down the road for any young man who decides to dabble in it.
What an opportunity for your young man. He can be a creep and a convict now all at the same time.
Sado-Masochism Is Not About Romance
It’s about, as Grossman says, “a sick dangerous relationship filled with physical and emotional and abuse.” She isn’t alone in that view. Amy E. Bonomi, chairperson at Michigan State University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, has published a study that links “Fifty Shades” exposure in young women to pervasive intimate partner violence.
The Fallout from Fifty Blobs of Grey Is Not Going Away
Talking to your kids is even more important because the BDSM fad has been saturating everything around us like some kind of ever-expanding science fiction Blob. It’s being marketed to youth as a fun and normal practice by sources such as Planned Parenthood and Columbia University, and the sex education lobby SIECUS, which proclaims for children: “When it comes to human sexuality, there is no such thing as too much information.”
In the end, physical and emotional violence, no matter how “consensual,” is the enemy of intimacy. Tell your kids.