Dubbed an “erotic fiction” and “mommy porn,” the Fifty Shades books are among the top selling novels of all time. In fact, worldwide sales are said to be over 100 million, and at its height one of these provocative page-turners was being sold every second.1 Given the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, it is no wonder that the geniuses in Hollywood are planning to cash in on the “feels so good to be bad” phenomenon this Valentine’s Day. Of course, the question remains, should you go see this movie?
If you are like my sister, then you have already answered with a resounding, “Yes!” Of course, it is likely prudent to consider how this deliciously salacious movie may impact your relationship, for better or worse.
A few years back, researchers published an interesting study examining how our need for connection may be met when we immerse ourselves in relationship narratives, as we have a tendency to “become” part of the story. For instance, when participants were asked to read excerpts from the Twilight series, they reported becoming (or incorporating into their self-concept aspects of) vampires, and those who read from the Harry Potter series reported becoming wizards! Moreover, participants who incorporated aspects of these narratives into their own self-concepts reported increased life satisfaction and improved mood.2
To put it delicately, there are a few things that one might “become” from reading or watching Fifty Shades of Grey. For the sake of this article, let’s assume that this narrative might make us feel more aroused, sexy, amorous, or adventurous. Christian and Anastasia are a lot of things, but underneath it all, they are loving couple. Although my Fifty Shades hypothesis is currently untested, one could infer from the previous findings that this would lead to positive outcomes (i.e., feeling sensual, loved, connected), which might be particularly well-suited for Valentine’s Day. Thus, it may not only be beneficial to see the movie, but also to speed-read through the guilty pleasure of their twisted relationship one more time before hitting the theaters.
Before you click submit on your advance ticket purchase, however, there is some contradictory research that merits consideration. Namely, people who frequently immerse themselves in romantic media (movies, TV shows, books, etc.) are more likely to hold unrealistic beliefs about relationships. Endorsing erroneous ideals, like believing that sex should be perfect every time and that in good relationships partners can read each other’s minds, unfortunately leaves people ill-equipped for reality. Rather, individuals may find that their real life relationships fail to live up to their lofty beliefs, leading to lower satisfaction.3
Think you are out of the woods just because you are currently single? Well, think again. In another study, participants were exposed to either a romantic comedy (in this case, Serendipity), or a non-romantic movie and then asked to rate their overall level of satisfaction with their current (or most recent) relationship. Compared to the singles in the non-romantic condition, single participants who saw the Rom-Com reported significantly less satisfaction with their previous relationship.4
Quite possibly, exposure to relationship media may lower satisfaction as the result of upward social comparisons (i.e., comparing the self to someone better off).5 Let’s be honest, as a billionaire, philanthropist, and sex god, Christian Grey sets the bar pretty high. Of course, Anastasia’s purity, intelligence, and physical responsiveness also exceeds normal expectations. By comparison, most real life partners (past or present) may be found lacking.
I can’t predict how good of a job Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson will do bringing to life the perfection that your (okay, my) imagination has created. However, if you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling, this movie has the potential to yield some sexual healing. So go ahead and indulge your carnal desire to see the Red Room of Pain this Valentine’s Day. Just keep in mind that Christian and Anastasia are not only fictional, but also self-described “Fifty shades of *@#!< up.” If you keep your expectations and comparisons for your real life relationship in check, this may end up being a most romantic holiday. Laters!
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1Russon, M. A. (2014, February 27). 50 Shades of Grey joins top 10 bestselling books: How many have you read? International Business Times. Retrieved from http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/50-shades-grey-joins-top-10-bestselling-books-how-many-have-you-read-1438234
2Gabriel, S., & Young A. F. (2011). Becoming a vampire without being bitten: The narrative collective-assimilation hypothesis. Psychological Science, 22, 990-994.
3Johnson, K. R., & Holmes, B. M. (2012). Media and relationships: An emerging research area. In M. A. Paludi (Ed.), The psychology of love (pp. 89-105). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger/ABC-CLIO.
4Holmes, B. M., & Johnson, K. R. (2009). Where fantasy meets reality: Media exposure, relationship beliefs and standards, and the moderating effect of a current relationship. In E. P. Lamont (Ed.), Social psychology: New research. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
5Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140.
Dr. Sadie Leder-Elder – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Leder-Elder’s research focuses on how people balance their desires for closeness and protection against rejection, specifically during partner selection, goal negotiation within established romantic relationships, and the experience of romantic love, hurt feelings, and relationship rekindling.