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Feb13FriBy sexualizing violence, 50 Shades of Grey promotes an unhealthy view of intimacy. February 13, 2015 by Victoria Erickson
With more than 100 million books sold worldwide, 50 Shades of Grey is a romance novel as popular as it is controversial. This Valentine's Day, the tale of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey comes to theatres, raising questions about violence and control in the context of a romantic relationship. Christian Grey may be portrayed as Prince Charming, but is his relationship with Ana really a “happily ever after”?
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In 50 Shades of Grey, Ana is a college student who falls in love with Christian, a young billionaire who lavishes her with gifts and attention. But if 50 Shades were a simple boy-meets-girl tale, it would hardly have made an impact. What has made 50 Shades so controversial—and thus one of the most talked-about books in recent memory—is Christian's unusual sexual preferences: his romantic relationships involve BDSM.
BDSM refers to a variety of sexual practices involving dominance and submission, roleplaying and physical restraint. For those who practise BDSM, pleasure is associated with power. Though not always, BDSM often involves humiliation and physical pain.
In 50 Shades, Christian's desire to dominate Ana goes beyond the bedroom: He also wants to control what she eats, who she talks to and how she behaves around him.
Many people would not consider such practices to be mainstream, but the movie version of 50 Shades is coming out at a time when the cultural conversation about sex and violence has never been more open.
Last fall, Canadians were shocked when allegations surfaced that former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi had committed sexual assaults against several women. Ghomeshi admitted that he has engaged in BDSM practices, but said it was always consensual.
Few people would disagree that everyone has a right to a private life. It's often said that what people do in the privacy of their own homes—provided everyone consents—is no one's business. But is that the end of the story? Or are romantic relationships about something deeper?
What Is Love?
How we treat other human beings is ultimately a reflection of how we see others. The Bible tells us that every person is created in the image of God. This means that every person should be treated with dignity and respect. Every person is intrinsically valuable. That value isn't earned—it's a part of who they are as created beings.
And because we are all created in the image of God, we must see God in the face of everyone we meet. In fact, Jesus said that whatever we do to our brothers and sisters, we actually do to Him (see Matthew 25:31-40). If we do not treat others with love and respect, it is as though we are not treating God with love and respect.
So what does that love look like?
In 1 Corinthians 13, we read that love is patient and kind. It does not dishonour others and it is not self-seeking. The Bible also encourages us, “As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
God's call to love others in this way applies to all of our relationships, including intimate ones. This provokes some questions: Is this call to love other human beings compatible with the sexualization of violence? Do the practices promoted by 50 Shades of Grey encourage us to see God in the face of others, or do they imply that abusing or controlling others is OK?
Blessed by God
In the Bible, after God created man and woman in His image, He blessed them and told them to “be fruitful, and multiply” (see Genesis 1:28 KJV). It's no coincidence that these two concepts appear together. Human sexuality was blessed by God from the very beginning.
As far as bedroom behaviour goes, the Bible offers little in the way of specifics. But if we believe that human beings are created in the image of God, then we ought to beware of any practices that would degrade or exploit others. 50 Shades of Grey may offer a titillating fantasy, but the sexuality it promotes leaves little to be desired.
(Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)