Why I Won’t Be Watching 50 Shades of Gray

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Why I'm Not Going to See

The 50 Shades of Gray movie releases next week and I feel thoroughly icky about it.

When the book came out a while back, part of me wondered whether I should read it. I have read a trashy novel or two in my time, but the lustre of smooth-chested literary lust lost its appeal a while back. I wondered whether I should read it because so many of the women I knew were reading and talking about it. I wondered whether I would be able to participate in any conversation, even if it was to hold out a redemptive view of sex, if I hadn’t read it and was thus disqualified from commenting from the get-go.

In the end, I decided not to read it. And I didn’t comment either.

But for some reason, I feel I need to comment on the movie – even though I have no intention of seeing it. I know enough about myself to know that I am deeply affected by the things I see – no matter how philosophical or detached I try to make myself. I know that watching commercials with beautiful things often leaves me feeling discontent with what I have. I know that that watching horror movies makes me afraid and sad. I know that watching stories where terrible things happen to women and children make me blind with anger and heavy with hopelessness.

And I know that watching movies with lots and lots of unhealthy sex will elicit feelings (illicit feelings!) of desire and fear.

Desire and fear don’t belong together.

I know, too, that once you’ve seen something you can’t unsee it. And for me, the echoes of the image on the walls of my mind bring with them echoes of the feelings that accompanied them. I don’t want sex and fear to go together in my heart or in my head.

I believe that God made sex to be beautiful, celebratory and intimate. As an expression of marital love, it is meant to be all the things that 1 Corinthians 13 says: not self-seeking, not arrogant, not easily angered.

Sex is meant to be an expression of love, and perfect love casts out fear. A sexual relationship laced with fear is not one where love will find expression.

I am all for amazing sex, and I believe God is too. Perhaps one helpful analogy is to think of sex like Lake Tahoe. We live within driving distance of one of the deepest lakes in the world: it is a gorgeous body of water surrounded by the most glorious mountains.


Lake Tahoe is stunning for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it is a stunning, crystal-clear, shimmering blue lake. It is also a popular tourist destination spot, and is vulnerable to all sorts of pollution. Californian and Nevada drivers alike sport “Keep Tahoe Blue” stickers on their cars: an appeal to the world at large to consider what they dump in the lake… because the water is deep, and once the gunk gets in there, the entire lake is affected.

It is, by definition, adulterated.

Sex has all the potential beauty of Lake Tahoe: something of vast beauty, but deeply vulnerable to human pollution. The way I see it, seeing 50 Shades of Gray would dump a toxic load into the lake. You can’t unsee the filth once it’s in there.

Skip the Gray, and Keep Tahoe Blue. 

Photo credit: Steven Dunleavy (Secret Cove Harbor) – Flickr Creative Commons

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31 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Be Watching 50 Shades of Gray”

  1. Good thoughts, but I think you’re skimming the surface of 50 Shades’ biggest problem: it’s different from other sexually explicit R-rated films in that it attempts to glorify sex that is actually rape. I haven’t read the books, but I’ve talked to enough people who have to get the gist that Christian repeatedly ignores Ana when she’s clearly uncomfortable and nervous about what they’re doing. She attempts to cover his bruises and sometimes fears him when he sees her talking to other people. These are the classic hallmarks of an abusive relationship, and it makes me sick to think impressionable people are reading/will be viewing this and holding it up as some twisted ideal.

    I will not be seeing it not only because I have no desire to watch graphic sex that borders on porn, but because it would be a 2-hour trigger for me.

  2. I felt the exact same way about reading the book – I have a very active imagination and I wasn’t sure I wanted my brain picturing the scenes in the book. Not because I am a prude, but because I know it will change how I view my partner and how I view sex. As you said – you can’t unsee things – whether on a screen or in your imagination. Yes, it may be exciting – but so is racing a car – and not necessarily good for you.
    (I also know that I didn’t want to waste my time reading something where the general consensus was the first 100 pages were a waste of time. Pretty much – the book is only worth reading when the sex scenes start and even then, the literary prose is at best average. There are far too many brilliant books to read without wasting your time on average writings.

  3. You said desire and fear. The desire part I understand, but I don’t get the fear part. You didn’t know that Beth would write her comment and I understand this is an awkward question coming from a man, but I would really like to know why fear is one of your reactions. There is no doubt this is being billed as women’s porn. This is also the next step after The Twilight books in depravity,

    1. Robert, the book/movie deal with a deeply unhealthy relationship involving S&M and bondage. Every review I have heard of it comments on the relationship between the protagonists (Ana and Christian – how ironic) being characterized by control and fear, as Ana frequently experiences pain, uncertainty and real fear during their exploits. It turns my stomach, really.

      1. Obviously, I haven’t read the series, but I know two or three women who couldn’t put it down. Pastor Douglas Wilson says that Shades of Grey should be called Shades of Prey. I just read his review. I will put the link up.

    2. Fear would be my reaction as well. I read all 3 books, but I will never see the movie. It’s not a love story. It is a story of total sexual brain washing and control of a very young woman. That in itself is scary. If I was the book banner type, I would disallow any female under the age of 3 to read it. It’s as this this type of abuse and control is normal. My biggest fear is that there are young ladies out there that are thinking this is normal sexual behavior.

  4. I haven’t heard many women talking about this book; none, in fact. But Alabama has a far different cultural climate than California, so probably all the closet 50 Shades readers around here are keeping it a secret from fear that their fellow church members won’t approve. I read a summary on Wikipedia and was thoroughly disgusted; I read reviews on Goodreads, too. There were two extremes: those who thought it was “brilliant” (really?) and those who trashed it. Horrible writing, rape disguised as sex, etc.

    Life’s too short to waste time on trashy novels.

    Incidentally, some of my fiction has sexually explicit material. Rape, in both cases. I tried my very best to be as careful in my depiction as I could, because I couldn’t tell the story without some depiction. (The rapes play a large role in the plotlines and the stories.) But I tried not to be detailed, kept it short, and above all, tried not to show more than necessary to convey what happens. Those writing sessions were some of the most emotionally draining and intellectually difficult days I’ve ever had.

    1. I agree: Life’s too short to waste time on trashy novels. I didn’t always think that, though 🙂

      I can’t imagine the difficulty of having to write about sex in a novel: whether redemptive or damaging, it must be incredibly tough indeed. But tough themes notwithstanding, I hope to be a reader of one of your novels one day!

    2. I literally have read thousands of books. This is one of the most poorly written, trashy novel series ever written. But I wanted to be sure if my adult daughter read them (she read the first one) I knew what she was getting in her head. It was interesting to say the least. Especially when things turned around in the 3rd book. That was just ridiculous.

  5. Well said – and such great comments, too.

    As for me, words affect me just as much as films. (When reading, it’s maybe easier to skim the passages that make me uncomfortable. I can close my eyes when watching a film, too. But we can’t always know in advance where a scene is going.)
    I wish I could un-read some of the things I’ve read. Erase them from my memory. And since that’s not possible, I’m becoming increasingly careful of what I dump in my mind 🙂

    1. Me too: it is interesting how as I am getting older I am reading more widely (outside of my usual comfort genre and putposefully reading older lit or people I disagree with)… And yet even as I’m reading more broadly I am also reading far more selectively. My tolerance level for smut and vapidity in both literature and Gil has dropped amazingly.

  6. Well done, Bronwyn. Shunning bad art foisted on the public by greedy publishers and film producers is a talisman of maturity. Withholding coin is a vote for sanity. The glorification of a piece of writing for the degree of emotion, including sexual arousal, it stimulates denies everything humans can and must learn about self-control to survive and thrive. That sweeping, destructive force so infects some people’s definition of “art” that they cannot claim to have good or godly purpose in their creative endeavor but only “entertainment.” It invades political concepts of liberty and freedom; yet, freedom does not exist without the rational capacity to choose and to say “no.” Incapacity for self-control of some poets, novelists, and other writers is taken by many critics to be proof of the “validity” or “value” of what they write. This point of view equates insanity and depravity with the highest human good; it negates the meaning of Jesus’s life and teaching. It gift-wraps reeking trash and sells it to children of all ages. Once again, Bravo!

    1. I got some backlash on Facebook for this post, Laurna: accused of being self-righteous and needing to lighten up. Sheesh. Thanks for your bolstering words: I appreciated them.

  7. I do agree with you and give a whole hearted amen that sex is supposed to be a safe place! I have read all 3 books and in the beginning it made me very uncomfortable but pushing through i found that this is in fact a beautiful love story and not just raw rape like sex, this is a love story from differ angle, Christian Grey is a broken man with a different view on love and intimacy, Ana comes into his life likea breath of fresh air and is very intrigued by him, she is never forced to do anything and gives in to him at free will, he then begins to change, Ana changes him and makes him feel safe and feel true love and then its not about raw BDSM but about making love and feeling true intimacy! Yes i do understand for us vanilla folk that lifestyle seems explicit and wrong, but look deeper than that! Its an amazing love story with a totally different flavour and i can’t wait to see it!

  8. I have to disagree with you Chantal. This maybe ‘an amazing love story’ as you say but we need to look at the underlying message it sends younger more impressionable young women. Broken people need help, often professional help! How many women do you know who are struggling in marriages with husbands they thought they could change/ help/ love to wholeness? I know many close friends and family who suffer at the hands of abusive husbands and partners because they love a ‘broken/ emotionally scarred/ baggage carrying person’! Before you ask, let me assure you that most of them are beautiful, well qualified, at-the-top-of-their-profession individuals. So I ask myself how did we get this screwed up… My conclusion is; we’ve been conditioned to think this way by accepting this genre of movies and books. I’d like to add Sex and the City & Scandal as just 2 examples, young women are being shown that adding a pair of Manolo Blahniks and the right shade of lip gloss to glam things up somehow makes everything ok! No need to use logic, values or principles (godly or other) ever!

    1. Chantal has been deluded. The insidious danger of FSofG is that it is an extended, complex lie. It reveals nothing of the truth about actual violent sexual encounters. It doesn’t even trouble to explore the social complexities of that element of human behavior. I have seen violence in relationships where one of the partners is bipolar and the other is a pacifist laying down his life for the woman he loves in the belief that love heals. Unfortunately, permitting violence and forgiving those episodes does not heal an underlying physical problem in the ears that causes bipolarity. Accepting violence becomes a way of condoning it. The gentle partner becomes infected by it.

      I have known violence so trivial (spitting) that the policeman had no cause to tackle a woman to the floor and precipitate a miscarriage of her baby. An Ontario woman was arrested for hitting her partner with a tea towel and was held in prison for days. Violence and other forms of abuse from the police is expected: one of those social atrocities, like the condoning of violence from soldiers in war, that blurs behavioral borders for individuals granted social permission to be violent — and those for those who know them. We all know them, which also deadens our sensitivities to violence in intimate and familial relations. Accepting violence becomes a way of condoning it. We become infected by it.

      Jesus taught us to love; a gentle relationship is not compromised by pain and overflows with energy to share. Love can forgive violence but must never condone violence. FSofG condones violence. Battering actually takes a toll on even the strongest love; it interrupts what might otherwise be happening that we call “normal happiness.” If children are part of the picture, they are being neglected while the couple tries to normalize their relationship because a violent relationship is extremely introverted and becomes increasingly so. Accepting violence becomes a way of condoning it. The children are infected by it.

      A very high-profile case will be tried in Canada, that of the radio star Jian Ghomeshi who claims the rough sex he had with various women was consensual. He will be tried under a law that is unconstitutional because those women will not be required to provide proof of the injuries they claim he made and their consent will be glossed over. You cannot prove a negative in a court of law without witnesses, who rarely exist in intimate relations. He has already been tried in a court of public opinion that has become strongly biased against males. Societies have a tendency to accept violence against males. Accepting unconstitutional legislation is a way of condoning it. Tens of thousands of men have been prosecuted and imprisoned when they had no reasonable means of getting a fair trial.

      In Ontario the bail courts are wallowing in procedures that also are unconstitutional, laying burdens on the (often innocent) accused that further violate their rights and freedoms. Thus, a partner in an abusive relationship who wants help getting out of it without losing his children is faced with a moral minefield in the legal system. The psychiatric and counselling services are run by professionals so lacking in fundamental knowledge about behavior that little or no genuine help lies in that quarter. Christians are prone to taking stands for and against certain behavior without cogent reasons for their beliefs, so they have less will and only feeble impact on political leaders to change the unjust legislation. They are no more help than the psychiatrists and for the same reasons of ignorance. Thus, people involved in abusive relationships tend to be isolated not only by their own mental illness or shame and pain, but also by a society that has not cared sufficiently for them to understand their plight and to take steps to heal them and to fix the broken system. Our society including the Christians in it have been infected with these pernicious lies about violence.

      Sorry this is so long, Bronwyn, but once again you have provided the catalyst for clarifying my convictions. Our youngest son is the person I know best (I know many others) who is caught on the horns of these dilemmas. I had a vision a few weeks ago in which I was both imprisoned at the base of a medieval tower and positioned at a window high above seeing that something WONDERFUL was going to happen. I have been waiting for a miracle. While replying to you it struck me that I might need to MAKE that miracle happen. With God’s help I am going to find a way of making inroads into this corrupt system.

  9. 565 Words written in ignorance. If you have not read the books, nor seen the movie, then you should reserve your judgment for something else. You think you know what this movie and these books are talking about based on hearsay. And all the faithful followers commend you for it…

    1. Hi Mike. thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      For what it’s worth, I feel I should point out that the reason that websites like IMDB, Yelp, Trip Advisor, Goodreads etc are as popular as they are, is that we as consumers are discerning before committing to eating somewhere, reading something, or viewing something. Publishers, movie makers and business know this – which is why they spend billions on crafting book covers, film trailers and inviting restaurant critics to review their establishments. We are a culture built on wanting to know a bit about something (via someone else’s experience) before we commit.

      I have read a number of books based on others’ reviews. I have watched many movies based on others’ recommendations. I have eaten at restaurants based on other’s suggestions. I have also not read, not watched, and not dined for similar reasons.

      After reading numerous reviews of fifty shades of grey and seeing the promotional material for the film, I am choosing not to view it.

      I don’t think that makes me ignorant. I think I’m one of many, many consumers exercising discretion. I don’t have to eat bad sushi before knowing to avoid it.

      1. Hello, very much enjoyed your article on why you would not see the movie, and have not read the books. let me share my experience with the books. I am a Christian woman in her early 70’s, perhaps you will think that it is strange to have read all 3 books. the first reading was an uneasy experience and I put them away for a few weeks. I was missing something here, so I reread them. and there it was. i’m thinking the author did not intend what I saw but here it is. this is a classic example of Gods great redeeming love for his fallen and sinful creatures. Ana is the God figure, Christian the fallen sinner and that searching, overreaching love of God will hound us to the very end. for many it is the redeeming quality of love eternal that changes lives and brings meaning, hope and love into a life. so I have to agree with the writer who stated it was a great love story, but in a most unexpected way.

  10. Hi, Mike. There’s a massive 300-foot hole in the ground beside the village near where I live. Over the years it has been filling with water so the actual depth must have been double that when the mine was active. Someone who lived in this old farmhouse where I now live drove an ore truck in those days. Someone else told him he could back his truck up to the edge of the mine safely. Not sure what went wrong but the truck and driver went the distance together.

    Shortly after he met his abusive partner and did ecstasy with her my son walked the perimeter of that mine drunk. His brother (the one who used to be schizophrenic) found him and talked him, walked him back into the village.

    Do you really think everyone has to taste and see to recognize danger? Do you think Jesus gained His knowledge of the wages of sin by trial testing? If you actually obey the commandments, you will have the opportunity sooner or later of witnessing what happens to people who do not or cannot — much the safer ground to stand on if your job is guiding truck drivers.

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  12. Bonnie, there is a certain kind of woman who sees herself as a fixer. I can fix him ican fix him.truth is, you as a woman can’t fix him..God can but you can’t how many domestic violence situations are there with such women? Tons!

  13. I would not want Jesus Christ to come back and find me with this book or in the movie…Guard what you see, little eyes…

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