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Sex & Intimacy


'Fifty Shades of Grey': The Secret Is Out

Some women want a man who tells them what to do in bed, says our sexpert reviewer

Fifty Shades of Grey: The Secret Is Out

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Some women are interested in submissive sexual play.

En español | Critics sliced Fifty Shades of Grey to ribbons. So why did the movie enjoy one of history's highest-grossing openings — $94 million in its first four days?

The reason, I propose, is simple: Women are interested in submissive sexual play; aroused by the books, they went to see the movie hoping for a second shot at sexual — and romantic — excitement.

Sadly, even admirers of the movie were somewhat to very disappointed: Fifty Shades of Grey is nowhere near as erotic as the book.

If only that were the least of the film's problems.

First of all, Jamie Dornan is miscast as Christian Grey; we needed someone colder and a bit more dangerous — Ryan Gosling, perhaps, or a younger Daniel Craig.

Second, for all the skin on display, the movie is sexually modest. Expedience played a role here, I acknowledge; the film couldn't be as graphic as the book lest it be slapped with a revenue-killing X rating.

Third, Fifty Shades reaches a dismally unsatisfying climax — one that screams "to be continued in the inevitable sequel!"

Those disappointments aside, fans and foes alike continue to debate What The Film Means. And that's just fine with me, because I think you can learn a great deal about the sexual psychology of women by untying (sorry!) the movie's significance.

Here, in my opinion, is the widely held secret that the movie brings out into the open: Many heterosexual women want the man to take over the encounter and tell them what to do in bed.

This is not to imply that all women desire male dominance, or even male leadership, outside the bedroom. But when the dance is about sex, women like the man to lead — at least some of the time. Women also like to be "possessed" — again, at least temporarily. And in any romantic or sexual fantasy, it never hurts if the guy proves to be impossibly handsome, successful and generous.

I know this is a controversial position to assume. Any number of female commentators have accused Fifty Shades of glorifying "an abusive relationship" and "violence against women." I respectfully disagree. In both the book and the movie, the woman in question is excited and pleasured by what happens. Once she asks to witness the most extreme version of what gives Grey pleasure, however, the truly sadistic nature of his sexuality reveals itself, and she opts out.

As, of course, any woman should do who is held beyond her will, or who experiences sexual submission as oppression. If anything that occurs during a dominant-submissive session is unpleasant or frightening, that behavior then qualifies as abusive — and possibly even criminal. But if what occurs is a mutually agreed-upon erotic game of male mastery and female receptiveness and submission, then it's sexy. Why? Because each party is getting what it wants.

Does this mean women should be submissive in bed? Of course it doesn't. But sexual desire is still largely an unplumbed mystery, and if a practice turns both partners on, what could be wrong with that? This sexual dynamic can also appeal to same-sex partners — gay men and lesbians can likewise have a dom and a sub — but again, it says nothing whatsoever about how they conduct any other aspect of their lives. Indeed, in quite a few of the sex-life histories I have recorded as part of my profession, this sort of sexual game-playing seems common among men who are highly successful in business. Most intriguing of all, to me, is the fact that these guys who are such dominant types in their everyday life so often want to take the submissive role in sex play. Very un-Mr. Grey!

Feel free to disagree with my interpretation of the psychosexual significance of the Fifty Shades phenomenon, but don't bother arguing with the numbers: The trilogy had sold more than 100 million copies by this time last year, while the movie took in $400 million in just the first two weeks after its release.

Even my compliant-if-unenthusiastic fiancé, whom I insisted on dragging to the screening, had to admit he enjoyed the goings-on.

Did I feel guilty about dominating his viewing choices?

Knot one bit!

Dr. Pepper Schwartz answers your sex, relationships and dating questions in her blog.