TV & Movies

The Problem With Fifty Shades of Grey

And we're not talking about the writing. Recent research shows that readers are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviours related to alcohol, food and relationships

Summer 2012 Hot List: Read 50 Shades of Grey

(Photo: Courtesy of Random House)

Binge-reading Fifty Shades of Grey could be a problem in more ways than one.

A new study out of Michigan State University found that young women aged 18 to 24 who had read the erotic novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who was verbally abusive and 34 percent more likely to be with someone who displayed stalking tendencies than those who had not. What’s more, Fifty Shades of Grey readers were also 75 percent more likely to engage in disordered eating behaviours such as using diet pills and fasting, while those who devoured all three books were 65 percent more likely to drink excessively and 63 percent more likely to have five or more sexual partners in their lifetime (which, despite slut-shame-y undertones, is considered a risk factor for being a victim of relationship violence).

These findings present the classic chicken-egg conundrum: which came first, Fifty Shades on the nightstand, or the unhealthy habits?

No one knows. For one, the study didn’t determine whether or not the women were dealing with these issues prior to reading the E.L. James novel, which sees 21-year-old student Anastasia Steele fall under the spell of sexual sadist Christian Grey. But lead researcher Amy Bonomi suggests that’s not really the point. Rather it’s the interconnectedness of fantasies related to S&M and real-life unhealthy behaviours that should raise a red flag.

“If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading Fifty Shades might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma,” said Bonomi—who previously led a study which found that 50 Shades perpetuated violence against women—in a statement. “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.”

While Bonimi stresses that her study isn’t advocating that women clean up their sexual fantasies, her research does suggest we should turn a more critical eye toward books, films and TV shows that marry sex and violence.