Author’s note: In an attempt to engage Fifty Shades of Grey from a Christian perspective, my wife and I attended a Valentine’s Day screening of the movie, which details the sexual relationship between a literature student and a young billionaire. The conversation below captures the dialogue we had immediately following the film.
Lauren: I don’t know that I have ever been to a movie premiere that had such poor audience reception at the end of the movie as Fifty Shades of Grey. The guy behind us swore loudly that this was the worst movie he had ever seen. I really wanted to understand the reasons behind Christian Grey’s character but there wasn’t a lot of explanation. His definition of a relationship is nowhere near what a definition of a healthy relationship should be and as far as the movie goes there is no excuse for it.
Kory: I found so little of value in Fifty Shades and anything that I could say that would be of value was buried in smut. I tried to look at the wall sconce every time Anastasia was naked onscreen - I got to know that wall sconce pretty well. But the problem is that the movie offers no excuse for Ana’s involvement with Christian. I guess we’re just supposed to believe that the sex is just so good that Ana doesn’t care.
Lauren: The scene that defined the movie for me is the one where Christian has had a tough day at the office and then comes home and dominates her. This showed that Ana and Christian do not have a relationship; rather, she is his sex object. Some people have a nice stiff drink when they get home from work, some people take advantage of their submissive. That really bothered me.
Kory: The point where it bothered me was when he first proposes the idea of her being his submissive and essentially offers her compensation - a room she can stay in and decorate however she wants, extravagant gifts, etc. The fact is that this is not a relationship. She is his sex slave. So the question is, is consent really the bottom line of a sexual ethic? Christian Grey’s defense would be that he was very open with her about what she was getting into. He offered her a contract with the opportunity to define clearly what was and was not OK. He offered her a way out at every opportunity and she continues to say yes. The argument would be that this is consent.
Lauren: The red flag for me is that she didn’t really understand what she was getting into. Christian leverages his power to get what he wants. There are all sorts of red flags in Ana’s character. Her father died when she was little. Her mother cycled through boyfriends and husbands. She was a virgin when she met Christian. Christian Grey preys on her. That’s not consent. I can have a healthy respect for BDSM. If that works for you, that’s fine. But this is a significant problem with the movie. He says, “Do you trust me?” but he’s not open with her at all and doesn’t give her a reason to trust him. Trust is the basis of a healthy relationship.
Kory: The movie takes sex and makes it all about control and who has power. Christian wants to be in control and takes pleasure in being in control.
Lauren: As a Christian woman in a loving relationship where there is a basis of trust and give-and-take and where there is not one dominant figure, this is hard for me to connect with. There is room in a loving, caring consensual relationship to try new things, experiment and change things up.
Kory: Sure. To find what you like and what you don’t like. Yet it all comes back to the context of that relationship of trust.
Relationships should be both give and take. It’s about two people coming together.
Lauren: It’s possible to be in a loving Christian relationship and participate in BDSM. That’s not what these characters are doing.
Kory: So then what does it mean to formulate a healthy, positive, celebratory Christian sexual ethic in light of Fifty Shades?
Lauren: It begins with speaking more openly about sex, but not in a smutty way. We’ve been married for almost five years. There’s something really healthy about being able to celebrate that in our relationship we have boundaries, we have trust and we respect each other when it comes to sex. Christian couples can have freedom in their sex life.
Kory: And we can talk about sex because sex is a wonderful and valuable part of the relationship God gives us. Yet there is a fine line between modeling a positive, healthy sexual ethic and voyeurism.
Lauren: There’s also a fine line between being open about sex and yet also respecting the sacredness of the marriage relationship. There are things that a married couple knows about one another that nobody else knows and that’s good. But there’s a difference between something being sacred and something being off-limits and taboo. It all comes down to trust.
Kory: There is joy and delight in exploration and in building off of that relationship of trust. As a couple, do what you want to do - together. It should not be a matter of, “Women, you have to do this for your husband.” Let me put it this way. There are times when I look at you and I would love to objectify you. On the one hand, there is a healthy version of that. There is a healthy sense of delight in the rapture that I find in that I’m married to such a wonderful woman - and that includes your physicality. But I’m aware that there are times where I want to do just whatever I want to do. There are times I want to tell you what to do and just expect that you will do it.
Lauren: And that is rooted in selfish desires.
Kory: And that’s just it. That’s making it about me. And sex isn’t about me.
Lauren: And sex isn’t just about me either. I think that’s the biggest problem with Fifty Shades. Relationships should be both give and take. It’s about two people coming together and I can’t see, in my perspective, any pleasure in just being the person who is giving or just being the person who is taking. There should be balance. Relationships should be about the love and trust of two people for one another. Fifty Shades celebrates an unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship and uses well-executed color and cinematography to sell this dysfunction as beauty.