Behind the '50 Shades of Grey' phenomenon

Chartered Psychologist Dr Lynne Jordan looks at the success of the '50 Shades of Grey' books from the perspective of a clinical practitioner.

The storylines in the ‘50 Shades’ trilogy seem to be stimulating open conversations in a  vast amount of the population across the world. Conversations not just about sex (that’s old?) but about what people really want in their sexual relationships. It is mostly women reading the trilogy, we are told, but men are also reading the books perhaps to see what the fuss is about. Whether people love to hate the books or are addicted to them (and much in between!) people are talking about the main characters’ relationship in intimate detail. 

As a Registered Counselling Psychologist working with complex trauma and experienced in relationships of all kinds, I find it fascinating how this series is affecting so many people. It is as if the stuff of private worlds and the so called ‘dark sides’ of humanity are on full display to be experienced,  understood and accepted, thereby giving permission for people  to explore and develop their sexual experiences both solo and with their partner.

It seems to me that the principles cut across gender and sexual orientation, focusing on use and abuse of power in relationships, the role of informed consent and the creation of boundaries to allow for relaxation and freedom within those boundaries. What that means to different people can be interpreted according to their own situation. 

There is a complex blend of the role of consent and the need by both parties to feel desired and to desire; taking control and being dominant or submissive but safe in the relationship. The references to BDSM in the different scenarios in the books demonstrate how desire and control can be both potent and exciting but also terrifying and sadistic. To my mind the books are about the developing love affair between the two characters and how their separate pasts interface with building a new exciting relationship, and how they both show the capacity to change and adapt to nurture the relationship whilst incorporating the excitement and potency of the ‘playroom’ and indeed the bedroom! 

It is my view that the storylines be taken as such storylines… there are many differences in society and not everyone who has been abused in childhood will have serious problems in adulthood, not all who favour a BDSM lifestyle have had troubled childhoods. There are choices to be made and maybe that is it in essence: the ’50 Shades’ trilogy opens up the possibilities of choice and creativity in ways people had not really thought of or had long since given up on.