Portrait of naked woman --- Image by © Arman Zhenikeyev/Corbis

Study: Reading “Fifty Shades” Says Bad Things About You

According to research from Michigan State University, women who have read the erotic best-seller are more likely to make poor choices. Like reading "Fifty Shades of Grey"

Fifty Shades of Grey has been called everything from “mommy porn” to a “manual for sexual torture,” and in light of new study about the erotic novel’s effect on young women, we can now add really bad influence to the list.

According to research from Michigan State University, young women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner. Beyond that, women who’ve read all three of the books in the series were more likely to binge drink and have multiple sexual partners—all of which are behaviors commonly exhibited by women in abusive relationships.

“Fiction or not, millions of women are consuming messages in Fifty Shades that normalize and glamorize violence against women, under the guise of romance and eroticism,” reads the study’s introduction. The novel, written by British author E.L. James, traces the relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, a business magnate who introduces her to the world of BDSM—bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism.

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Researchers surveyed 655 women between the ages of 18 and 24 and found that readers of the first Fifty Shades novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them, 34 percent more likely to have a partner who showed stalking tendencies, and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet pills or fasted for more than 24 hours.

Readers of all three books were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime.

It should be noted that the study, which appears in the Journal of Women’s Health, was not able to prove causation. But according to lead author Amy Bonomi, chairperson and professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development, the strong association between the novel and negative behaviors is concerning no matter how you slice it.

“If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading Fifty Shades might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma,” Bonomi says. “Likewise, if they read Fifty Shades before experiencing the health behaviors seen in our study, it’s possible the books influenced the onset of these behaviors.”

This isn’t the first time that the racy read has gotten flak. A previous study of Bonomi’s, which analyzed the relationship portrayed in the book according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definitions of domestic abuse, found that it perpetuated violence against women. And early this year, one physician proposed that the promiscuity it promotes could be to blame for the rise in sexually transmitted infections among people over 50.

Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey—in theaters on Valentine's Day, 2015.

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As with rap music and violent video games, blaming a best-seller for societal ills can seem absurd and overzealous, but the study is corroborated by a wide body of literature that has found an association between entertainment mediums and real-life behavior.

“We’re all influenced by the broader social context that we live in,” says Bonomi. “We’re all exposed to music, TV, movies, hyper-sexualized magazines and fiction, and when those things normalize and glamorize domestic violence, it can make it difficult for young women to recognize signs of abuse in their own relationships.”

Even so, Bonomi isn’t advocating book burning. Rather, she hopes parents and schools will take an active role in educating youth about the importance of healthy relationships and body image. “We are advocating that kids and young adults be taught to consume fiction with a critical eye,” she says. “They need to be able to recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors.”

Respond Now
  • I can’t bring myself to buy or read this book….. atogluhh I have heard so much about it and I’ve been tempted. I’m a mother of three young girls (two of which are reading) and I try not to do, say or read anything that would make me feel ashamed if either of them saw or accidentally read something in it. I can’t cross that line….. say what you will.

  • What an absolute load of tosh! Firstly, the idea that these books promotes violence and accepted abuse towards female is so utterly ridiculous I can only treat it with pure contempt. Perhaps the author of this article should take to reading AND digesting all three books properly before sitting and writing this piece of drivel! The book does one thing and one thing only…. to make people aware of a type of lifestyle, that quite frankly, exists in every single person today, male and female and promotes CONSENT! The female character wa sin no way coerced, forced or bribed into experimenting within the BDSM lifestyle…..it was completely consentual….so where is the abuse???  So many people are afraid to break the chains that keep them ashamed and do nothing else BUT read these types of books, then think they have some kind of authority to speak for ‘abused women’. Whether your a voyeur or practioner of BDSM…the interest is there. Stop making a mountain out of molehill with these ridiculous articles that quite frankly sound nothing but dumb and naive. If you haven’t tried it, how can you possibly expect anyone to take your opinion seriously? Authors of these types of articles are 3D…Dangerous, Dumb and Deluded! BDSM has existed for centuries now, heightening eroticism to many different levels for different individuals. One person may fancy being tied up blindfolded and have a feather trailed all over their naked body…to them that’s erotic. Someone may prefer to be restrained and spanked…to them that’s erotic…..every individual is different and if it works between a CONSENTING couple/party etc…..who the hell is anyone else to say it’s wrong??? My advice to the writers of these types of articles…..find a new day job! Perhaps actually physically researching your subject, rather than just spouting out the first piece of nonsense that comes into your heads….

  • I am in no way advocating on the part of the book series. I read them in the height of its popularity. I agree that it perpetuates the narrative that sexual violence is acceptable and that to an unknowing young woman, the line between kinky sex and abuse can be blurry. However, the statistics this article uses are ridiculous. According to this account, anyone who has fasted for more than 24 hours (say for religious or scientific purposes) has an eating disorder, anyone who has had more than five sexual partners by the age of 24 is promiscuous, and it gives credit to “a physician” who then connects the book to STDs among the 50 and up age range. I don’t know when they were introduced to the series because accodring to the study, only people ages 18-24 who read the book are relevant to report on. By aligning with a study that follows such outdated definitions on societal norms, you do a disservice to your cause, which ultimately I agree with: BDSM perpeturates misogyny. 

  • The book is fiction the real BDSM lifestyle is a bond and trust fo you studied the lifestyle the right way with training you would understand or lived in real. you gotta live it to understand. I have never read this book I know the lifestyle before this book. But people do need to careful its earned not just given find your limits and know you still have a brain.

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    • The book is fiction the real BDSM lifestyle is a bond and trust  you studied the lifestyle the right way with training you would understand or lived in real. you gotta live it to understand. I have never read this book I know the lifestyle before this book. But people do need to careful its earned not just given find your limits and know you still have a brain.

  • Very judgemental article. I read a lot, many different types of genres, and have read this trilogy numerous times – but it has in no way had a negative effect on my life. None of those effects apply to me, ie. binge drinking, eating disorders, etc. I understand I am just one person who these statistics don’t apply to, but I feel eating disorders, sexual behaviour, binge drinking, etc are brought on by other factors (your friends, family, neighbour, what you find socially acceptable), not a mere book trilogy, that, if I recall, isn’t the only erotic book out on the shelves today. 

  • People reading these are more likely to make bad choices? Being verbally abused is a bad choice? Saying if a woman has five or more sexual partners is a mysogynistic comment. 

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    • Not all people who read these kinds of these books do not make bad choices just by a book.  Some of them probably do not have the satisfaction the need in their sexual needs, it just another book to get all the fans excited but it’s does not make them a bad person to think about it.  On another hand if woman has five or more sexual partners are their problem and their sexual needs.  Who are we judge them of sexual attention they want if they can’t get from someone.  However there are a lot of women out there just wants to know how it is in the book by reading it but doesn’t them to go do bad choice just because a book.  All books out there have some similar like 50 Shades of Grey just to read them does not a bad choice to read…maybe just they are bored and want something new.          

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  • They would have to be. I have probably put down, oh, maybe three books in my life. I barely got through the first twenty pages, so I didn’t even know what the story was going for. It is poorly written, predictable, and boring, and I didn’t think the writing would improve. I was stunned to see how much was being made of it – and a movie – seriously? Give ‘em something salacious, no matter how dumb, and people will go for it.

  • University of Michigan and Michigan State are two very different schools.

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