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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Therapist's Take on Fifty Shades of Grey

This book is perhaps one of the most controversial books being talked about on the web right now. E.L. James markets her fiction as "Romance~~Suspense~~Erotica" and that's exactly what it is. I got the book knowing that there would be sex.

I didn't know that I was going to crack open a book with a main character with severe mental issues.

As a therapist, the sex wasn't gratuitous for me. Each time the main characters came together, it was like the author peeled away another layer of Christian Grey, revealing an emotional cesspool under the cool, handsome CEO exterior. It was through the sexual encounters that we came to know who he was, and the trauma he had endured.

WARNING: There are spoilers below. 

In order to talk therapeutically about Fifty Shades, I have to give a few spoilers. If you haven't read the book and intend to, bookmark this page to come back to, read it, and then come back and let me know what you think.

Book One, Fifty Shades of Grey, introduces Anastasia Steele, a virginal soon-to-be college graduate who is forced to interview CEO Christian Grey because her roommate and aspiring journalist got sick and couldn't do it.

The attraction is immediate, though Ana suffers from some self-esteem issues and likens Grey to a demigod who could never be interested in her. In some ways, this instant attraction is reminiscent of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Bella is drawn to Edward in the same way Edward is drawn to her. The power differential between them is significant on multiple levels: physical, financial, sexual.

Grey slowly seduces Ana, though it's hardly traditional, and he had a very specific goal in mind: his BDSM world of bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, and sado-masochism. Ana, being a virgin, couldn't be more shocked when Grey pulls out his non-disclosure agreement and contractual agreement (which was quite shocking to me, as well).

Gradually, Ana experiments with being a submissive, though this goes against her personality and even her ideas about relationships. Grey acts dominant even outside of the "playroom," and his choice as dominant clearly reflects who he is.

Until the reader, along with Ana, begins to learn other things about Grey, usually through sex scenes.
  • He's got small, circular burns on his chest and back. 
  • He doesn't want to be touched along his chest and all. This is a hard limit for him.
  • He's adopted. 
  • He has a "thing" about Ana eating all of her meal. 
  • He was preyed on (Ana actually calls is what it was: child abuse) by an older female dominant  when he was 15 and was with her for 7 years.
  • He is thankful to this woman for steering him away from the path he was going down. 
  • He doesn't make love. He "f--ks, and f--ks hard." 
  • He doesn't do "hearts and flowers."
  • He doesn't sleep in the same bed with his submissives, and never has. 
  • He sees a Dr. Flynn for therapy (Jeannie=giggles in anticipation of couples therapy)
  • All his former submissives have dark hair and resemble Ana.
It's these characteristics of Grey's that suck you into the book. (BDSM education is just a bonus.) What in the heck happened to him to make him the way he is? Ana wonders this frequently. As a therapist, I knew it had to be the pages just kept turning.

We learn that Ana isn't like his other submissives. Even Grey himself recognizes this, and asks her what spell she is casting on him. What makes Ana so different? Why is Grey even still with her, when she basically shuns the whole contract, negotiations, etc? She frequently angers him by defying him or refusing to give him information he thinks he deserves. It's her anti-submission that forces little cracks to begin to form in Grey's armor.

He goes against many of his own rules, and is better for it. He initiates real love-making (not BDSM) with Ana to take her virginity, which is a first for him. He admires Ana's debating skills, and her penchant for sending witty emails. He ends up staying the night in the same bed with her a few times...and sleeps better for it.

I went straight from Book One to Book Two, Fifty Shades Darker, mainly because EL James leaves the reader on a major cliffhanger. Ana has a taste of Grey's true dominant self, and let's just say that taste is more than enough for her.

In Book Two, we see Grey begin to experiment with the "hearts and flowers." It's all new to him, just like Book One was all new to Ana. It's turnabout. We're all rooting for Grey to overcome his internal demons, and it looks like he's making strides. We see him mark boundaries for where Ana can touch him with a tube of hooker-red lipstick. He struggles through experimental touch in his forbidden zone (chest). He gradually draws away from the BDSM contract and non-disclosure agreement, and asks her to move in with him, so staying in the same bed is a given.  The "playroom" takes on a different meaning for them both.

His therapist makes a few cameos, and Ana even gets to talk to Dr. Flynn about Grey (which was well done). We learn that Grey has made more progress with Ana in 3 weeks than Flynn has made in 2 years. There is hope for a future for these two, for a healing for Grey, and it's that hope that keeps you reading well past the time to go to bed.

If you plan on reading this book, keep what I wrote earlier in mind: the sex scenes are the keys to unlocking the mysterious Christian Grey.

Kudos to EL James for a most provocative look into BDSM and the effects of childhood trauma.

Let's Analyze: Have you read the book? If you have, do you agree with my assessment? If you haven't (and you actually read all the way down...sorry for you), do you still want to?