Five myths about Fifty Shades of Grey

Movie | Despite what some Christians will tell you, this is a black-and-white issue
by Emily Whitten
Posted 2/09/15, 03:32 pm

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey hits theaters on Friday. The film brings to life the first story in author E.L. James’ best-selling trilogy about a virgin college student who falls in love with (or prey to) a wealthy man obsessed with violent sex. Just as Christians grappled with how to react to the books, many of them are wondering how to talk with acquaintances about the movie and whether to go see it. 

Here are some myths you might encounter when discussing the movie:

Sex is natural, therefore graphic depictions of sex are OK, too. Death also is natural, as are malaria, obesity, and about 1,000 mutations of the flu. Scripture says we live in a good world, a world designed by God, that is fallen. The world is filled with things that can hurt us, and sex is one of the sharpest blades we’ll ever handle. Like the common kitchen knife, it can be helpful or, if used unwisely, sex can cut to the bone. 

Pornography hurts us by stirring desires that it cannot satisfy, like offering a starving person only the smell of food. It offers arousal with no cost. Sex in the real world always involves giving, not just getting. It involves relationship and friendship and intimacy, but pornography separates the reader’s arousal from those noble, sanctifying contexts.

Finally, it goes against the sexual integrity called for in the Bible. Moviegoers who become aroused by others’ sexual exploits experience lust, which is itself a pollution and separates them from God.

Fifty Shades is interesting for reasons other than the BDSM and sexual encounters. Certainly, individual viewers will have different reactions to the movie. Those who have watched mildly pornographic videos before might have less of a reaction than novices. Here’s a quick reality check as to whether the porn played a role in your enjoyment: If all the sex in the movie were replaced with long scenes of the characters experiencing recurring diarrhea, would you still find the story as endearing or entertaining? Would you be willing to sit through something so disgusting to get to the love story?  If not, then you are seeing it for the sex scenes at some level.

The story is redemptive, therefore it’s good. Fifty Shades is filled with characters who are made in God’s image and, despite their sin, still espouse some good. In this case, both main characters despise the BDSM (bondage/dominance/sadism/masochism) that oppresses Christian Grey. The author introduces both of them sympathetically: We are supposed to root for them to overcome violent sex or find some middle ground. So, no, this isn’t the worst possible movie that could be written about female subjugation. As one book reviewer pointed out, the characters could have relished the total subjugation of women like the Marquis de Sade. But a story can spend so much time describing a problem that viewers find it just as captivating as the characters’ struggle against it.

I used the story to spice up my own marriage. This myth is probably one of the most deceptive. Judging by the line of Fifty Shades lingerie now available, readers and viewers aren’t just passively taking in the content. Christians may argue they are fueling the fire of their God-ordained marriages and being more fruitful, to boot. 

Some good can come from romantic stories. Movies like Sleepless in Seattle often remind me of how I ought to treasure my relationship with my husband. That kind of romantic empathy is perfectly legitimate. It’s something the Bible itself invites readers to in books such as Song of Solomon or Ruth. But nowhere does God’s Word invite us to empathize in the detailed experience of the sex act itself, something that is clearly destructive. Aren’t there ways to spice up a marriage that don’t involve such unsavory means?

Christians who tell others not to watch Fifty Shades are being legalistic. It would be legalistic or judgmental to say only people who follow the rules are loved by God. But it’s not legalistic to say something is harmful or that those who revel in pornography grieve the Holy Spirit, hurt themselves and others, and need the Lord’s healing grace.  While there might be occasion for cultural critics or individuals to read a book or see a movie like this to fight against it, the idea that these stories can be read or watched for entertainment by Christians without grieving the Lord is perhaps the greatest myth of all.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Emily Whitten

Emily is a book critic and writer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and University of Mississippi graduate, previously worked at Peachtree Publishers, and developed a mother's heart for good stories over a decade of homeschooling. Emily resides with her family in Nashville, Tenn. Follow her on Twitter @emilyawhitten.

Read more from this writer