50 Shades of Controversy: My and A Sex Educator’s Take on “Shades”

Before its opening weekend, I’d planned to see Fifty Shades of Grey, namely out of duty. As a sex-positive activist and radio host, I couldn’t justify not seeing it, even though I, admittedly, haven’t read the books.

Once reviews started flooding social media, I knew I had to see it pronto. How could the same story bring fun and empowerment to some, and sheer anger and hurt to others?

I suppose I shouldn’t have been that surprised, given the fact that the way sexuality is dealt with and viewed in our culture tends to promote such dichotomy, and stir up more negativity than anyone deserves.

But it’s a movie, I figured. A fictitious story. A writer’s fantasy, played out on the screen. How bad could it be? It might be boring, I thought, or weak in plot, or offensive, based on many people’s reactions.

I was surprised when I actually—brace yourself—enjoyed it. With respect for people who’ve seen it and disagree, and compassion for anyone who’s felt hurt by the film, I found it to be entertaining and yes, in some ways, empowering. (Some of the previews before the movie, on the other hand, not so much.) While I’ll be one of the first to assert that the way women and sexuality are portrayed in the media and entertainment can and do damage how we feel about ourselves and relationships, this film didn’t raise red flags for me.

To me it seemed like an erotic thriller with strong characters, one of whom is a controlling, turmoiled stalker, both of whom, while conflicted, enjoy some BDSM. I can’t help but wonder if some of the angst over the film derives from the fact that Anastasia, the leading lady, takes pleasure in unconventional (but consensual) sex. I personally wasn’t turned on by the BDSM activity, but I found her enticement extremely hot. And beautiful.

I knew I had to explore Shades with someone who knows the world of BDSM far better than I, so I asked my favorite expert, Jean Franzblau, to join me in the studio. A celebrated sex educator, coach and activist who tours the country, Jean leads workshops geared toward cultivating sexual self-esteem.  She also wrote, produced and performs the educational one-woman show, Coming Out Kinky, about her own journey to sexual embracement.

I had no idea what Jean thought of the film before we chatted, and have heard mixed reviews from other experts. But I knew she would bring a sensible, compassionate viewpoint and offer keen, practical insight. And did she ever.

We discussed our thoughts on the movie, the surrounding controversies and some common myths about BDSM. (Who knew handcuffs aren’t common?) She also addressed the vital issue of abuse disguised as BDSM, which is an exception, but horrendous—like all abuse, when it happens, how to tell the difference and how the film might be triggering for some.

I’m so grateful for the important conversations Shades is bringing to the surface, and for the chance to have a respectful, informed one with a woman who seems to who understands all sides. I also hope the film’s success means great things for female erotic writers.

To learn more, listen to our chat on iTunes.  

Jean Franzblau Girl Boner Radio

I suspect this is to-be-continued!

I also had the pleasure of chatting with Garren James, the owner of Cowboys4Angels, the world’s large straight male escort agency, which you may recognize from the Showtime series, Gigolos. His stories about helping make women’s fantasies come into fruition amid difficulty were truly touching.

For another take on Shades, check out I Watched 50 Shades of Grey and I Liked it. Sort of. by Chloe Jeffries. I loved what she had to say about consent and who’s in control of the relationship, and found her comparison to the book intriguing.

As a side note, if you’re seeking some incredible fiction that steps outside of conventional sexual boundaries, I highly recommend Roni Loren’s books. She’s such a talent!

What did you think of our interview? Or the movie? Did you agree with Jean’s points, or mine? What’s your take on the controversies? I love hearing your respectful thoughts. ♥

Psst! The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest kicks off on Monday! If you haven’t yet signed up and would like to, visit this post.