January 17, 2015

In my previous blog, Part 2 of my Parent Survival Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey, I argued that emotional or physical abuse is never ok in an intimate relationship, even with both parties’ consent. Some people contend that if permission to be harmed is freely made, it’s a sound choice, and should not be challenged. I demonstrated how their reasoning is faulty.

In this post, Part 3 of the Survival Guide, I provide additional examples of dangerous ideas promoted by the film. (I’m assuming parents have a rudimentary knowledge of the film’s plot. If not, it can be found here.)

First, a central theme of the story: a good woman (Anastasia) can save a troubled man (Christian) from his inner demons.

Christian has demons alright. Trauma, abandonment, abuse – he’s had them in spades. And all those hours with therapists didn’t help a bit, he claims.

Where doctors failed, young, inexperienced Ana succeeds. With her by his side, Christian grows into a loving husband and father. So by the end, Ana was rewarded for picking a man whose inner life was in ruins. Could it be?

Anything is possible, but certain things are highly unlikely, and this is one of them. In the real world, it’s imprudent to expect people will change at all, let alone is a dramatic fashion. In the real world, Ana would pay for her poor decision.

Your daughter needs to hear a different message: it’s wise to pick a man based on who he is right now, not who she imagines he could be. If she is drawn to the idea of rescuing souls in distress, she might consider becoming a social worker.

Next: the idea that along with exercising her free will, Ana made a thoughtful, informed choice about Christian. The argument goes like this: she got to know him and considered the pros and cons of his demands. She read about sadomasochism on the internet, and reviewed the contract describing his rules. Therefore, the relationship was entered in a cautious, deliberate way.


Ana’s vision of Christian was blurred because very soon after meeting, they began having sex. Science suggests their intimacy jumpstarted her feelings of attachment and trust, before she knew if he deserved them. When Ana was with Christian, hormones told her brain: you’re with someone you trust now. You can relax. You can bond.

This was before the long discussions, research, and document review. By the time she got around to all that, she was partial to him. A detached choice was less likely.

Neuroscience also demonstrates that emotional memories are encoded more deeply than neutral ones. Ana’s first sexual intercourse was with Christian – an emotionally powerful experience that more likely than not would affect her impression of him.

Another obstacle for Ana: she never confided in someone older and wiser before getting involved. Christian made sure that wouldn’t happen by insisting Ana sign a non-disclosure agreement very early on. That’s right, she had to enter a legal agreement preventing her from telling anyone he was an entrenched sadist. With some alcohol in her system, Ana agreed.

Sex, alcohol, manipulation – hardly the ingredients of a thoughtful decision. For young women to believe this endangers them.

Make sure your daughter understands the power of intimacy. Without her knowing, it promotes feelings of attachment and trust. Her first sexual experience is not something she’ll ever forget, and those memories can intrude when they’re least welcome.

Girls have told me: I found my soul mate, I love him with all my heart, but when we are intimate, I suddenly think of someone else – what can I do?

I tell them it takes time. Make new memories, I say, and they’ll replace the old ones.

I tell them that, but whether they’ll succeed, I don’t know.

Other Parts to this Parent Survival Guide:

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2  – The Danger of Fifty Shades of Grey to Your Daughter

Part 4 – The Danger of Fifty Shades of Grey to your Son

Part 5 – How To Speak With Your child About Sadomasochism

I can be booked to speak at your event. Please see my speaking page.




  1. Liu Chu Ying - reply

    Great work!

  2. Lucy - reply

    I’m unable to access part 2 of this discussion – how emotion al physical abuse are never ok. The link is corrupted and redirects back to the overview page (with the original embedded links). Thank you for parts 1 and 3 – I’ve shared with as many parents as I have been able. And more importantly, I discussed the premise behind this movie with my kids and discovered that an entire ‘subculture’ exists within our high school – that is seldom discussed. I was a bit shaken up, so grateful that you brought this to light and I was able to start talking to my kids before someone else did.

    • MiriamGrossman - reply

      Hi Lucy, I apologize for the trouble you are having on my site, it should be fixed now. I thank you for your comment and would like to hear more about what you discovered is going on at your high school. Whatever it is, there are likely many schools with the same thing. I hope to hear back from you. If you want your reply to be private, please email me at MiriamGrossmanMD@hotmail.com.

  3. Joy McMillan - reply

    THANK YOU for this series! This message is SO needed, and your perspective – not to mention training and expertise – lends it a credibility unlike many others out there. Thanks for bravely turning this sticky subject over and allowing us an honest glimpse of its wretched underbelly. Keep ’em coming, Dr. Miriam!

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  8. Emily Corwith - reply

    I do not have children and the older I get the gladder I am … I can’t imagine having the strength to counteract the the relentless media distortions about relationships and sexuality which sabotage decent parenting these days … but perhaps sadomasochism is so ingrained in our culture that they will not find it as disturbing as I would hope!

  9. Diane Caldera - reply

    About six years ago my 20 year-old daughter brought home a copy of 50 Shades and left it out for me to discover. My response was to burn the book and leave the ashes of it in an envelope where the book had been. She knew it was a no-no. However, my husband sided with her, that I was unreasonable to do such a thing. This culminated in my inviting this my youngest daughter to move out of our home, which she did. She’s been living on her own for five years now, and pretty much snubs me as much as possible. My husband and I are in on-going marriage counseling. Perhaps this would be a good topic to bring up there.

    How I wish I had had your comments five years ago! But you are right also in pointing out the opening it makes for potentially life-changing conversations. I think whoever is involved with 50 Shades is stepping into an unmoored elevator ride to despair. Meanwhile, the TV news commentators send it up as a “Valentine, and Target is marketing 50 Shades sex toys. [JHowever, American Life League’s Pro-Life Waco has turned this into a street protest that got results: Small demonstration brings big Target victory: No more ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ merchandise, http://www.stopp.org/article.php?id=14664%5D

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