Is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ glorifying domestic violence?

Is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ glorifying domestic violence?

A new study raises serious questions about the risqué behavior detailed in the fiction, New York Times bestselling book, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” In fact, one group of study leaders say the author goes too far.

The report, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, found that the racy acts characterized in the novel are actually closely akin to patterns of emotional and sexual abuse against women.

Comparing the novel with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s description of intimate partner violence, the group noted that one of the book’s central character’s (Anastasia) actions are very aligned with those of an abused woman—highlighting that she consistently feels threatened and often suppresses feelings about her partner (Christian Grey).  

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence one in five women report experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime. This is one reason researchers say they are not taking the findings lightly. 

“This book is perpetuating dangerous abuse standards and yet it’s being cast as this romantic, erotic book for women,” said Amy Bonomi, lead author, in a statement. “The erotic content could have been accomplished without the theme of abuse.”

Signs of an abusive relationship
Signs and symptoms of abusive behaviors or tendencies may be subtle in the beginning, says Judy Petrushka, domestic violence specialist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

Health issues such as depression, anxiety, headaches, abdominal pain and chronic pain can all be side effects of an abusive relationship,” she says. “Making this connection can help a person take steps toward a safer, healthier life.”

The following red flags may indicate a partner is potentially abusive, according to, a resource by the National Dating Abuse Helpline and the non-profit Break the Cycle:

  • Checking your cell phone or email without permission
  • Constantly putting you down
  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • Explosive temper
  • Isolating you from family or friends
  • Making false accusations
  • Mood swings
  • Physically hurting you in any way
  • Possessiveness
  • Telling you what to do

Answering yes to any of the questions above may be a first step in developing awareness about the health – or danger – of a relationship, says Sarah Katula, APN, PhD, nurse practitioner at Good Samaritan Hospital.

“Unfortunately, abuse is very common and domestic violence does not tend to go away on its own,” Katula says. “Abusive relationships are a health concern. No matter the circumstance, every person should know that the abuse is not their fault and that there are resources to disclose and get help.”

Experts say if you should find your life imitating art— in this case of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” book, there are plenty of ways to seek help. For information about safety planning, hotlines, shelters and other resources to help people in abusive relationships, click here.

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  1. I am very surprised you would even associate these books with your report. The books are not about abuse, they are about a life style that two people agree upon. It is nothing like abuse, I have seen abuse first hand physically and mentally as you are speaking of and this is not it. I would like ask Sarah Scroggins what the abuse was in these three books. I admit he was overprotective which is not right, but that is not abuse. Please explain.

  2. Sarah Scroggins
    Sarah Scroggins August 14, 2013 at 8:51 am · Reply

    Hi Cathy, thanks for your feedback. This article was written based off of a recent study published in the Journal of Women’s Health. We are simply reporting on it and certainly want people’s thoughts on it and encourage a conversation on the topic. Thanks for chiming in!

  3. I have to agree with Cathy Smith. These Books are a work of fiction, but based on an adult lifestyle that the two people involved agree on. In the books, Anatasia had safe words she could use if she felt threatened in any way.
    I have dealt with domestic abuse, first hand, and I can tell you I enjoyed the books as the work of fiction that they are.
    Not everyone will want to read these books, but if they do, I am sure they are mature enought to understand the difference.

  4. I have to agree with previous commenters. In this fictional series, Mr. Gray is very upfront with his love interest, and repeatedly warns her of his predilections. He know she is in danger getting involved with him and pushes her away on multiple occasions. She chooses to put herself in those situations, having been forewarned and it works out for both of them.

    I think the gals who just escaped in Cleveland would have a few things to say about the luxury of having those choices and upfront conversations and the ability to come and go freely within the relationship.

    Using this book series to speculate about whether or not an alternate lifestyle between consenting adults constitutes abuse demeans and diminishes the experiences of actual abuse victims and survivors, and is voyueristic and judgemental about it’s subject matter.

    Ridiculous. Domestic and partner abuse is a BIG DEAL, and getting the word out about signs and signals is valuable work, that can help a great many people get help. Just please use better high visibility examples, like the Arial Castro horror, for example.

  5. This is clearly a case of women who can’t handle any type of slightly dominant behavior from their significant others. Some women can’t deal with being in any type of submissive position (even during intercourse) with their partners. There are those of us who enjoy a truly female role in a relationship, who are willing to give some of the power to our man because it’s what we enjoy and makes us feel good as well as them. A man likes feeling like “the man” in the relationship, and so many of us truly enjoy that dynamic. And someone taking control in sexual situations can be a stimulant for the right kind of woman who enjoys it. I have as much personal power in daily life as my husband, but I enjoy the male and female role differentials in the bedroom. Some of us want to feel like a woman in the bedroom, with a real man in charge not some weak-willed boy.

  6. I never read 50 Shades of Gray, but I doubt women read it because they long for their domestic partners to the beat the hell out of them. But I know activists and single-cause advocacy groups. They love to latch their name onto societal fads to get the word out. Me personally, I’ve grown weary of the attention whoring. I wish I could get it through their thick skulls the world does not revolve around your pet cause and to stop co-oping everything in society for your own personal soapbox.

  7. Completely disagree. I don’t have to READ to the books, I lived it.

  8. Those arguing that the events in this book are entirely consensual should read the full study:

    Coersion and manipulation isn’t the same as willing consent, and it does victims a disservice to say they’re consenting by staying, or by doing A because B would be worse. Ana herself said in the first book she’s have sex in the boathouse if it meant he wouldn’t hit her. If that’s your idea of consent, that is evidence that abuse is becoming acceptable.

  9. As someone who has been a lifestyle Dom for over a decade, and has read (unfortunately) all three Fifty Shades books, I will happily agree with the study.

    These books discuss – occasionally – dominance and submission, and do what a lot of people do, which is conflate D/s with BDSM (bondage, discipline, sado-masochism,) and then veer off into emotional abuse.

    Bear in mind that there’s only one real BDSM scene in the entire trilogy. Plenty of sex, some sessions rougher than others, but only one actual BDSM scene in the series, after which Christian gives Ana no aftercare, berates and emotionally abuses her the next day, and generally treats her like a less-than-human dishrag; an ambulatory vagina that occasionally makes noises.

    He routinely throughout the series tries to isolate her from others – a classic abuse flag – refuses to let her have any say in her day to day life, responds to any initiative on her part by either trying to freeze her out, or scream at her; he consistently bullies, abuses, and mistreats her all the way through the books.

    Everyone seems to think this is ok because according to the books, he’s sexy and a billionaire.

    This is not an acceptable standard for relationships, full stop.

    This is also not a healthy D/s, or BDSM, relationship, full stop.

    If you read these books, and think that he’s treating her well, then you should maybe talk to someone about your own relationships.

    Frankly, these books disgust me, because they’ve succeeded in giving a huge segment of the population a totally unrealistic, absolutely unhealthy view of a fairly mainstream kink, and that’s simply not a positive thing.

    D/s doesn’t equate to any of the shameful mistreatment Ana suffers in the books.

    It doesn’t equate to mistrust; it doesn’t equate to emotional abuse and manipulation, it doesn’t equate to bullying, it doesn’t equate to trauma and fear.

    In fact, a healthy D/s relationship requires far more trust, and a closer bond, than a “normal” relationship.

    The sub has to be able to trust that the Dom(me) will not mistreat them; that the Dom(me) has a plan for them; that the Dom(me) is capable of making decisions to the benefit of both of them; that the Dom(me) values them as a person.

    Christian Grey demonstrates none of that. He just has a lot of money. That doesn’t make him a good Dom.

    The Dom(me) has to be able to trust that the sub will let them know if there’s an issue; use safewords correctly, obey instructions accurately and correctly, be honest about feelings, needs, and reactions, and accept guidance.

    Ana demonstrates little to none of that. Her response when there’s an issue is to either clam up or run away; neither is a valid communication strategy.

    Neither of them demonstrates any great efforts at communicating, of course, but she’s really bad about it.

    In a healthy D/s relationship, both partners communicate constantly; it is necessary.
    In a healthy D/s relationship, both partners value each other as more than an ambulatory wallet or a sex partner who becomes a hat rack when not needed.
    In a healthy D/s relationship, both partners trust each other; they rely on each other; they support each other.

    Where, in these books, do you see any of that?

    It is not “support” to simply buy someone a bunch of things.

    It is not “trust,” to demand that your partner report in periodically and comply with frankly insane restrictions.

    It is not “value” to treat someone to a session of painful, humiliating bondage and then simply wander off, and then yell at them for some minor insufficiency in the morning.

    These books are filled to the brim with abuse, misogyny, hatred for women, child abuse, bullying, mistrust, paranoia, and psychological pathologies galore.

    If you think this is what D/s is, then I have two things to say to you:

    First, that you’ve been talking to the wrong people.

    And second, that I hope your life gets better.

  10. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and also saw Spank! (the parody of Fifty) and really, people need to lighten up. What two consenting adults agree to do between themselves is their business. Latching on to a novel of fiction for the reality of a cause is really far reaching. I’m sorry but this article is a waste of good space on the web.

  11. Fifty Shades is full of domestic abuse. BDSM is not abuse but the story in fifty shades is abuse.

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About the Author

Sarah Scroggins
Sarah Scroggins

Sarah Scroggins, health enews contributor, is the director of social media at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has a BA and MA in Communications. When not on social media, she loves reading a good book (or audiobook), watching the latest Netflix series and teaching a college night class.