What reading ‘Fifty Shade of Grey’ says about your health habits

The Fifty Shades novels by British author E.L. James have become a global powerhouse for sales, and despite what this means about how well sex…
What reading ‘Fifty Shade of Grey’ says about your health habits

A classical album launch party in New York was themed after “Fifty Shades of Grey” but some researchers say there is a correlation between reading the book and unhealthy sexual relationships in women, even abuse. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

The Fifty Shades novels by British author E.L. James have become a global powerhouse for sales, and despite what this means about how well sex sells or which demographic reads explicit novels the most, research data shows a link between reading the novels and unhealthy relationship behaviors.

If you are unfamiliar with the books, the Fifty Shades series tells the story of Anastasia “Ana” Steele, a 21-year-old college senior who finds herself involved in a BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism) relationship with a man she meets by the name of Christian Grey. Throughout the sexually-explicit tale, Ana explores her own curiosity of BDSM, experiencing both extreme highs and lows associated with such a demanding relationship.

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Though known best for its incredibly detailed sex scenes, the Fifty Shades series has been described by some as an accurate portrayal of how real BDSM relationships often work. Not everyone is sold on the books, however, and while BDSM may indeed be a real-world culture, experts say the story line of the book is little more than that of an abusive relationship. What’s more, women who read the books are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and allow themselves to remain in abusive relationships.

The data, published in the “Journal of Women’s Health,” found among women between the ages of 18 and 24, women who had read the first novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who verbally abused them, 34 percent more likely to have a partner who showed stalking tendencies, and 75 percent more likely to have starved themselves for more than 24 hours or to have used dieting aids.

Women who had read all three books in the series were 65 percent more likely to engage in binge drinking and were 63 percent more likely to have had five or more sexual partners in their lifetime, compared to women who had not read any of the books.

Experts indicate it is possible some of the women had a predisposition to such behaviors before reading the books, but it is also possible the books influenced some of the women’s decisions to try risky behaviors or accept abusive situations.

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“If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading Fifty Shades might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma,” said study author Amy Bonomi of Michigan State University to MNT.

“Likewise, if they read Fifty Shades before experiencing the health behaviors seen in our study, it’s possible the books influenced the onset of these behaviors. We recognize that the depiction of violence against women in and of itself is not problematic, especially if the depiction attempts to shed serious light on the problem,” Bonomi added. “The problem comes when the depiction reinforces the acceptance of the status quo, rather than challenging it.”

Not all the evidence suggests BDSM is negative, however. A study published in 2013 in the “Journal of Sexual Medicine,” found people who voluntarily entered BDSM relationships were less neurotic, more open, more aware of and sensitive to rejection, more secure in their relationships and had better overall well-being.