A scientific analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey.

By Seriously Science | August 26, 2013 12:00 pm

Photo: flickr/JeepersMedia

I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’ve heard enough about it to know how ridiculous it sounds. However, that didn’t stop these researchers from doing an in-depth analysis of the novel and arguing that it depicts a relationship rife with emotional and sexual abuse. Given that Fifty Shades of Grey is based on a Twilight fanfic, this analysis may have broader implications than even the authors realize…

“Double Crap!” Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey.

“Abstract Background: While intimate partner violence (IPV) affects 25% of women and impairs health, current societal conditions-including the normalization of abuse in popular culture such as novels, film, and music-create the context to support such violence. Fifty Shades of Grey, a best-selling novel, depicts a “romantic” and “erotic” relationship involving 28-year-old megamillionaire, Christian Grey, and a 22-year-old college student, Anastasia Steele. We argue that the relationship is characterized by IPV, which is harmful to Anastasia. Methods: All authors engaged in iterative readings of the text, and wrote narrative summaries to elucidate themes. Validity checks included double review of the first eight chapters of the novel to establish consistency in our analysis approach, iterative discussions in-person and electronically to arbitrate discrepancies, and review of our analysis with other abuse and sexual practice experts. To characterize IPV, we used the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definitions of emotional abuse (intimidation/threats; isolation; stalking; and humiliation) and sexual violence (forced sex acts/contact against a person’s will, including using alcohol/drugs or intimidation/pressure). To characterize harm, we used Smith’s conceptualizations of perceived threat, managing, altered identity, yearning, entrapment, and disempowerment experienced by abused women. Results: Emotional abuse is present in nearly every interaction, including: stalking (Christian deliberately follows Anastasia and appears in unusual places, uses a phone and computer to track Anastasia’s whereabouts, and delivers expensive gifts); intimidation (Christian uses intimidating verbal and nonverbal behaviors, such as routinely commanding Anastasia to eat and threatening to punish her); and isolation (Christian limits Anastasia’s social contact). Sexual violence is pervasive-including using alcohol to compromise Anastasia’s consent, as well as intimidation (Christian initiates sexual encounters when genuinely angry, dismisses Anastasia’s requests for boundaries, and threatens her). Anastasia experiences reactions typical of abused women, including: constant perceived threat (“my stomach churns from his threats”); altered identity (describes herself as a “pale, haunted ghost”); and stressful managing (engages in behaviors to “keep the peace,” such as withholding information about her social whereabouts to avoid Christian’s anger). Anastasia becomes disempowered and entrapped in the relationship as her behaviors become mechanized in response to Christian’s abuse. Conclusions: Our analysis identified patterns in Fifty Shades that reflect pervasive intimate partner violence-one of the biggest problems of our time. Further, our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.”

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: Study shows reading Twilight makes you more vampiric.
NCBI ROFL: The science of Harry Potter!
NCBI ROFL: Traumatic brain injuries in illustrated literature: experience from a series of over 700 head injuries in the Asterix comic books.

  • Pale HorseMan

    It’s a horribly written book. Period. Why readers would make this author rich is beyond me. Do women wish to be abused? I don’t think so. I guess most people hide sick fantasies. And that’s where psychopaths and narcissists get their victims.

  • Rasskazivats

    Rare and far between are those who do not secretly harbor some sick fantasy.

    The rabid popularity of the contents of this book can be attributed to two things:

    1. Many women experience a fascination with the abominable (and this is not a uniquely feminine trait; although it may be more pronounced among women, due to their heightened social connectivity relative to men, which helps drive any exterior abominable fascination).

    2. Many other women really do wish, on some level, to be abused; a wish which they either lack the self-awareness to identify, or lack the intellectual courage to admit to themselves/others.

    What this is certainly NOT an indication of is a pandemic of domestic violence. If there were a pandemic of domestic violence, this book would be met with anemic sales, as it would be seen as droll. The very fact that there is such a fascination with this book indicates that, relative to the desires of certain women, there is a dirth of violent sexual behavior, and that, if there were men who would fulfill such desires, more women would choose relationships with such men.


Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.

See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar