The Real Danger of “50 Shades of Grey” Has Nothing to Do with Kink
Some have credited 50 Shades of Grey for bringing kink awareness into the mainstream. Despite this, there are people and professionals who continue to view such expression as unhealthy. This makes kink a taboo and sometimes controversial topic. However, kink isn’t the unhealthy part of this popular movie and book at all. It’s actually the mainstream focus of the movie that may be even more dangerous.
As a sex and relationship therapist, I focus on helping people identify personal and sexual expressions that are consensual. Therefore, I believe that people should be able to express themselves in any way that makes most sense to them, in their own relationships and lives. This can take various forms.
50 Shades fits into a mainstream idea of romance. This idea is that someone will change if you want it enough. Although there are countless romantic movies that promote this cliché, this one is specifically delicate. The 50 shades series depicts a relationship and sexual topic that has historically been taboo. Therefore, there’s a risk in promoting a sense that you can change someone to match your desires, when there’s little evidence to show that.
I’m not saying that negotiation and communication aren’t important. These aspects are integral to relationships. There has to be discussions about boundaries. There also has to be discussions about what is negotiable and what is not.
I’m also not suggesting that fantasy is bad. Fantasy helps us learn about our romantic and relational selves. It also helps us learn about eroticism.
50 Shades risks promoting another idea. It promotes an idea that if you don’t like something about who your partner is, you can make it go away. The truth is that people rarely change simply for someone else. Even if there is a possibility of change, it’s a bad idea to go into a relationship with someone with that expectation.
Going into a relationship expecting change can leave you with a sense of unfulfilled incongruence. It makes it also puts your relationship satisfaction on the shoulders of your partner. Your partner can influence your happiness in the relationship, but isn’t responsible for this.
It is important for me to say that I do believe that people can change. I’m in the business of change. But this is usually because they already want to. Or it’s because that person identifies something to motivate them to take these steps. Not because anyone tells them to. In fact, these expectations can actually push that person in the other direction.
A note on desire and kink
Even though people change their behaviors, they really can’t erase desire. They can add to it, but those additions are going to be added to who that person already is. In many arenas, kink is still considered taboo. Therefore, when the romantic ideal in 50 Shades is that this part of Grey will be given up, it also risks setting up another shaming tone.
Love doesn’t make desire disappear. It shouldn’t be expected to. Relationships are about communication and negotiation. They’re also about acceptance. When you are in a relationship, you get who you have. Sexually, romantically, and personally, that is who you’re negotiating with.
Fantasy and acceptance don’t have to be opposites. They don’t have to be at odds. Thus, if there is a discrepancy between your fantasy and your reality, openness can help you move forward. However, rigid expectations are likely to lead to resentment, frustration, and unfair criticism. So know what you want. Know who you’re with, and respect that as part of journey that you can go on together.