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What Does the 50 Shades Phenomenon Mean for Your Sex Life?

Fifty Shades of Grey is the fastest-selling book ever.

Fifty Shades of Grey is the fastest-selling book ever.

More than 100 million copies of the books in E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy have been sold worldwide.

The first of the three, Fifty Shades of Grey, became the fastest book ever to sell one million copies, beating previous records by Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling. Fifty Shades was also the first book to sell a million copies for the Kindle.

The first of three planned movies made its debut in the US on Valentine’s Day weekend, and as of February 24, it has grossed over $280 million worldwide. According to an infographic by NeoMam Studios, sales of BDSM-related products have risen since the book became a best-seller, with soft bondage rope sales rising 8% and similar rises in the number of visits to bondage sections of websites selling adult toys.

While the movie wasn’t able to sustain its first-weekend box office (with box office dropping off by 73% in the US after one week), it’s still a major topic of conversation, and two more movies are planned. It’s also prompted plenty of reflection by ordinary men and women and what their sex lives are like compared to that of Ana Steele and Christian Grey, the protagonists of the books and movie. So what might the Fifty Shades juggernaut mean for your sex life?

It Could Mean More Props

Since the first Fifty Shades book was released in 2011, sales of sex toys have reached new records, according to data from luxury sex toy maker LELO. The company says that over the past few years, corresponding with the rising popularity of the books, their sales have climbed significantly. In 2012, the company reported a 50% increase in the sales of whips, and a more than 200% increase in the sales of pleasure beads. Couples’ massagers and wearable toys have also sold more heavily. The company concludes that since the books debuted, women’s attitudes have become more adventurous and are reflected in higher sales numbers for adult-oriented props and toys.

It Might Prompt More Open Discussion

The many conversations sparked by the Fifty Shades books and movie among girlfriends and between couples tackle topics that didn’t used to be so openly discussed. This could be positive for relationships by making partners more comfortable discussing issues like fantasies, trust, and the introduction of new activities or props in the bedroom. For couples who want to take their sexual relationship to another level but are skittish about bringing it up, seeing the movie together or reading the books together could be a terrific way to bring new topics to the table. In a 2013 piece in Huffington Post, author Chrisaana Northrup and sociologist Pepper Schwartz wrote, “Our guess, even our hope, is that the movie allows partners to be able to honestly share fantasies and desires and let at least some of those infuse their sexual and emotional lives.”

It Could Spotlight the “Negotiation” Aspect of Relationships

Maureen O’Connor, a writer for New York magazine, thinks that the Fifty Shades phenomenon says just as much about dating as it does about sex. She writes, “You place yourself in someone else’s context, then ask, ‘Do I like this? Can I live with that? Do I like this enough to live with that?’ This exact negotiation drives Fifty Shades: Anastasia loves Christian, but does she love him enough to endure pain?” A big part of the book is the contract the two negotiate concerning Ana’s role as Christian’s submissive partner. O’Connor believes that the huge role that negotiation takes in the book, and inside Ana’s mind, highlights the many ways that partners negotiate different aspects of their relationship, sexual or otherwise.

Men Could Feel the Weight of Heightened Expectations

Anyone who’s been online since the movie came out has no doubt seen the meme that basically says, “Fifty Shades of Grey is romantic only because the guy is a billionaire. If he lived in a trailer, it would be a ‘Criminal Minds’ episode.” Retweeted countless times and ultimately traced to a Twitter user, the joke hits home with a lot of men. Christian is a handsome, 27-year-old billionaire who also does all the pursuing.

Men may feel that movies like Fifty Shades of Grey create unrealistic expectations in terms of looks and wealth.

Men may feel that movies like Fifty Shades of Grey create unrealistic expectations in terms of looks and wealth.

Ana, in the opinion of some, like Amanda Taub of Vox, doesn’t really have to do anything except decide what she’s going to let Christian do to her. The movie simultaneously tells men they need to be supernaturally good looking and rich, while telling women, “all you need to do to drive him wild and keep him coming back is to lie there, existing.” It’s easy to see why men may be skeptical of taking their wives or girlfriends to see this film.

It Could Mean Confronting Difficult Issues

Finally, Fifty Shades has brought up some issues that go deeper into the psyche than sexual adventures. Some academics see Ana and Christian’s relationship as just plain abusive and worry that it could prompt men to act out abusive behaviors and women to think that they have to accept them. The study found that women who read the books were more likely to have abusive partners and eating disorders and engage in unhealthy practices like binge drinking and unsafe sex.

Others are alarmed at the amount of alcohol Ana consumes, and the fact that Christian takes advantage of Ana’s drinking to get her to do what he wants. The book takes place over a 25-day period, and someone figured out that Ana consumes 365% more alcohol than what is generally considered safe.

Conclusion

Love it or hate it (and there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground), Fifty Shades of Grey has shone a spotlight on sexual relationships. What it means for couples who care one way or the other largely depends on whether they use the huge popularity of the books and movies to bring up sensitive topics in a caring, supportive manner. If they do, they could find renewed closeness with partners, and perhaps a willingness to try new things and inject new life into their relationships.

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Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+