50 Shades of Grey,the film adaptation of the first novel in author E.L. James’s best-selling trilogy, was released last weekend to what was widely expected to be a record-breaking box office gross. The movie grossed an estimated $81.7 million dollars through Sunday, making it the second biggest February debut ever, according to the LA Times. While the book series alone has already proven itself to be something of a cultural phenomenon, the release of the film and proportional increase in publicity for the story told therein present an opportunity to start discussions about healthy relationships and consent on your campus.
In fact the film has already sparked controversy over the way it presents issues of consent. On the one hand, much of the plot revolves around a written contract consenting to certain BDSM sex acts the titular Christian Grey wants protagonist Anastasia Steele to sign. That explicit written consent could be taken as an example of the sort of clear, enthusiastic consent students must strive for before engaging in sex. On the other hand, the book often portrays Ana as being less-than-enthusiastic about some of the BDSM sex she has with Christian. The tension between those two plot points (nicely explored in this article from The Atlantic) could be a good jumping off point for a discussion about what’s needed to obtain true consent at each stage of intimacy.
Similarly the relationship between the two romantic leads, which has been described as abusive by critics of the films and books, could be a good introduction to a discussion about the elements of a healthy relationship and the warning signs of an abusive one. Or (SPOILER) the revelation of the abuse Christian Grey suffered as a minor could be an introduction to a conversation regarding the depiction of male victim/survivors in popular culture and the often-overlooked existence of sexual violence perpetrated against men. Even if students haven’t seen or read 50 Shades (full disclosure: this author has not), the story and the sex and relationship it depicts could be a topical entry point to important discussions about communication and mutual respect.