Menu Close

Fifty Shades of Grey: Does Erotica Harm Women?

fifty shades of grey

According to Paula Hendricks, reading or looking at erotica like Fifty Shades of Grey harms women, especially single women. Hendricks writes:

So you don’t have the love (and sex!) you want.

Does that mean that erotica is a good outlet for your sexual frustration? Before I answer that, let me tell you how I define erotica.

Erotica is art, literature, or movies intended to arouse sexual desire. It doesn’t have to be a harlequin romance novel or an X-rated movie to count.

I can hear you protesting, But when I read a book or watch a movie, I’m not actually having sex myself. So isn’t that the lesser of two evils?

This Valentine’s Day, the world offers you a solution: You don’t have to have sex yourself; you can watch someone else have sex, or you can read all the steamy details through erotica like Fifty Shades of Grey.

While that might initially sound better than having sex yourself, don’t believe for a minute that erotica has any place in a genuinely born-again believer’s life…

…Here’s why Dannah Gresh shares that erotica is not the solution for your sexual desires:

While erotica might originally heighten sexual feelings, over the long haul it erodes something much more important—intimacy. Whether you are married or single, you are longing for more than sex. Your body, your mind, and your spirit were created to crave intimacy.

The Old Testament [word] for sex [is] yada—to know, to be known, to be deeply respected. Transcending the physical act, God’s language speaks of the deep emotional knowing you ultimately long to experience.

The physical aspect of sex is just one part of the equation, but our culture tends to hyperfocus on it with no attention to the ultimately more fulfilling aspect of yada—emotional intimacy. Sexual activity by itself is an empty substitute for true intimacy, and will never be enough. Erotica places undue emphasis on the physical and disables your ability to connect emotionally.

f you’re still skeptical, take it from a girl who’s been there. Dannah and Juli share this girl’s story in Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart,

I am single and erotica has ruined my life. I have been addicted for ten years, and I am only twenty-five. No one knows that I have lived an isolated life because I have found more solace in fantasies aroused in my mind by erotica than in real relationships.

Erotica seems harmless because it’s just words on a page but it brands your mind, creates false expectations for future relationships. I can’t even maintain real relationships because I feel like a shallow pretender hiding one of the biggest parts of my life.

Erotica perpetuated my “need” for meeting people online because I didn’t know how to develop or maintain relationships with people outside of the screen. Eventually, I decided to take my online relationships into reality. Many of the stories I read portrayed rape or power-struggle situations as exciting. A no didn’t always mean no because, in the end, the girl always seemed to end up just fine.

So when I met one of my first guys offline, I was thrust ever too quickly into a scenario I had read about but, unlike the stories, I didn’t end up fine. My no didn’t mean no, and I was sexually abused by a man who did the same things to me that I had read about in those erotic stories. But in my story, there wasn’t a happy ending.

Ever since then, I have carried the weight of shame and guilt from putting myself into that situation six years ago. Erotica makes it seem normal for us to be used and abused, but it’s not normal.

Dear single, erotica is not the answer to your longings for intimacy. Christ is.

He’s also provided community so you can experience emotional intimacy right now. And if and when He provides you with a godly spouse, the physical intimacy of sex will just be the icing on the cake of the friendship and emotional intimacy you already share together…

The Evangelical community is all hot and bothered over the book and movie, Fifty Shades of Grey. Evangelical  preachers, bloggers, and websites are fearful that Christian women will be drawn into the dark world of eroticism and BDSM if they read the book or go see the movie. Instead of reading a trashy, filthy, sinful book like Fifty Shades of Gray, women are encouraged to read wholesome, uplifting Christian literature/romance novels, novels that rarely have any resemblance to real life.

Why is it that Evangelical churches and preachers are having such a hard time keeping church women in line? Instead of blaming erotica, how about taking a hard look at the root cause of the guilt and fear motivited sexual dysfunction in the Evangelical church? Literature and movies aren’t the problem. The constant harping on sexual sin, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, petting, and pornography leads not only to sexual frustration but to sexual acting out.

Why do we see sexual acting out in Evangelical churches? Humans are drawn to that which is forbidden. Don’t look don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t hear is what is heard from Evangelical pulpits. Sexually aware Evangelicals say to themselves, but I want to look, touch, taste, and hear. Result? Bizarre sexual acting out. Wouldn’t it be better to teach people sexual responsibility? Wouldn’t it be better to see looking at pornography or erotica as normal, perhaps a passing fad, and nothing that will harm a person?

Thanks to generations of Puritanical, sexually repressive preaching, Evangelical churches are filled with sexually frustrated people, people who have wants, needs, and desires that their pastor says is a sin. Even something as normal and healthy as masturbation is considered a sin.

On the extreme right fringe of Evangelicalism you will find preachers and churches that forbid any physical contact before marriage. No kissing, hand holding, no physical intimacy of any sort. Just today, I read a Jack Hyles sermon where Hyles bragged about his daughter Cindy not kissing her fiance until  their wedding day Hyles was quite proud of his daughter and son-in-law for waiting until they were married. I wonder what his thought would be now that his son-in-law is in federal prison for committing a sex crime and his daughter is divorced.

Here’s what people like Paula Hendricks don’t or won’t understand; Evangelical church members, like everyone else, have normal, healthy sexual desires. No matter what is preached from the pulpit, they are going to find ways to act on these desires. They may have to do it in secret, beyond the prying eyes of the church, but they will act on their desires. The sex drive is too primal and strong to be stilted forever. All the preaching and Bible quoting in the world won’t change this fact.

According to a 2013 Barna Group study:

A new study has revealed there is no difference between the percentage of Christians who have read Fifty Shades of Grey and the percentage of all Americans who have read the book, which has at times been described as “mommy porn.”

According to Barna Group researchers, nine percent of practicing Christians have read E.L. James’ erotic novel, and the same percentage of all American adults have done the same. Sixteen percent of women have read the bestseller, which was more popular among older readers – one out of ten of both Busters (ages 29-47) and Boomers (ages 48-66) say they have read the book. Among those adults who read Fifty Shades, one-in-five (19 percent) were practicing Christians.

I have no idea if Fifty Shades of Grey is good or bad literature. I haven’t read it and my wife hasn’t either. Since she is a fiction fan, I suspect she will some day read it. If she does, I have no fear of my wife turning into a slutty woman who loves bondage. It is just a book. I might be inclined to read it if has lots of pictures.


Here’s a Catholic take on Fifty Shades of Grey: (link no longer active)

Why isn’t it okay to read books like this?

Because sex is more than use. Sex – and all the things that physically, emotionally, and mentally lead to sex – was created by God to be shared between a married man and woman. Sex is an expression of love that reflects the Divine Love of God – a Love that is free, total, fruitful, and faithful. Pornography and erotica are a mockery of the intimacy and beauty of Sacramental love. It reduces the mystery of sex to mere use, turning something sacred and Godly into something profane and dark. As Blessed John Paul II said, ‘The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is use.’ The lust that these books infect us with is all about self-gratification – it’s all about use.

Because the Church teaches us it’s not okay. Pope Benedict addressed the issue of pornography and erotic literature saying, “A relationship that does not take into account the fact that a man and a woman have the same dignity represents a serious lack of humanity . . . The moment has come to energetically halt the widespread distribution of material with an erotic and pornographic content, including through the internet in particular.”

Because lustful thoughts lead to lustful actions. Pope Benedict and Blessed John Paul II both understood that erotic words and images (like in Fifty Shades of Grey) create lustful thoughts in us. Those lustful thoughts don’t just end there; they cause in us physical reactions which end in lustful actions. Even St. Augustine struggled with this disordered and vicious pattern in his own life. After his conversion he wrote about his struggles with lust saying, ‘Lust indulged became habit, and habit unresisted became necessity.’

If you want to live a virtuous life, you have to be vigilant about it. Evil only needs to find a tiny little chink in your armor of holiness to begin to work. Don’t let these books crack open your virtue and start you down the vicious cycle of self-gratification and lust. Avoid these books, this author, and authors like her (V.C. Andrews comes to mind).

A woman by the name of Selena Sarnes has written a Biblical response to Fifty Shades of Grey

fifty shades of black and white

According to Wikipedia:

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic romance novel by British author E. L. James. It is the first installment in the Fifty Shades trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM). Originally self-published as an ebook and a print-on-demand,publishing rights were acquired by Vintage Books in March 2012.

The second and third volumes, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, were published in 2012. Fifty Shades of Grey has topped best-seller lists around the world, including those of the United Kingdom and the United States. The series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide and been translated into 52 languages, and set a record in the United Kingdom as the fastest-selling paperback of all time.


  1. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    I’ve read opinions about the book, that it was badly written. And people who practice BDSM have offered their opinions, that what happens in the book isn’t BDSM, but abuse. Maybe if it was excellently written I would read the first one to see what it’s about. But I have zero interest, and I’m not rushing out to see the movie either.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      The issue for me is that it is a book. Objections like the ones I mentioned in this post give inanimate objects power they do not possess. It is not my cup of tea, but evidently many people think it is theirs.

  2. Avatar

    I have to agree with Becky. I am horrified they made this into a movie. I am all for fully-informed, enthusiastic, uncoerced, ongoing, adult consent to whatever floats your boat. These books DO NOT depict responsible, informed, and consenting BDSM. They depict violence, sexual assault and rape. As someone who works with survivors of domestic violence, I can’t even remotely endorse it, but, that’s not a moral objection, it’s a violence-against-women objection. (If anyone cares, Google “50 shades of abuse” to find an excellent blog identifying these books for what they really are. Be aware that this blog author is a therapist, going through the books chapter by chapter and quoting some really disturbing and potentially triggering scenes. )

    That said, I totally agree with your points about prudeness in the church, Bruce. It’s a total disaster.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      While I am certainly anti-violence against anyone, perhaps the greater issue is the depiction of violence in general. For example, I watched Criminal Minds tonight. The show was/is quite violent. Is watching this violence making me less of a person or somehow desensitizing me towards real flesh and blood violence? I don’t think so, but it is a subject worthy of debate and discussion.

      My sons love MMA. I don’t. I have watched a total of one match. Even though it is consensual violence, I find it disturbing. I feel the same way about hunting. Yet, I love football, which is nothing more than organized violence eerily similar to the coliseum in Rome.

      So, I am quite the hypocrite. 🙂

      • Avatar

        I think my concern is that some people will think this is real BDSM…which it’s not. Also, this type of violence is a very real, very frequent thing. Many (by some reports, most) survivors of domestic violence have also experienced sexual violence at the hands of their partner. In other words, this is much more common than the more uncommon, abstract violence one might see on a cop show – and much more likely to incite violence against women.

        I have to add that we just finished watching the TV series “The Fall” on Netflix. It portrays a man who commits horrible, violent crimes against women. We really enjoyed it. Ironically, the actor who plays Paul Spector (the “bad guy”) was cast as Christian Grey in the 50 Shades film. Nothing like being typecast. 🙂

        I do agree we all have different tolerances, and 50 Shades is no exception. Still, sexual violence something the people I work with see in every day life, so it definitely bothers me more.

  3. Avatar

    My issue with the book was what people above stated, that is has a lot of instances where consent is not given. I find no excitement in rape. To address erotica as a whole, eh whatever. Provided that people can distinguish between reality and fantasy it shouldn’t be a problem. People seek out sexual content and sexual release. That doesn’t mean that I don’t find some depictions troublesome but that is a reflection of our attitudes toward women in society that we need to change. I watched porn once, thought it was boring and moved on with my life *shrugs*

  4. Avatar

    Hmm the O.T. word for sex is “yada”, I like that!
    I haven’t read the books. I did thumb through them, they looked very amateurish lots of emails, not a lot of ink on the page. They are bored housewife erotica for other bored housewives. Another plus they are an easy read. Some women do have rape fantasies, which psychologists say isn’t harmful so that settles that issue with the book/movie.
    The puritanical responses to the books is overthought and overwrought. Really advice could be much simpler. Human sexuality has both a physical and psychological aspect. If it turns you on do it, if not. Sex is how adults play. Notice how the fundamentalist/Catholic responses are all about the supressing the physical. May I suggest that if you suppress your desires your desires eventually become perverse.

    Bruce, you say, “uplifting Christian literature/romance novels, novels that rarely have any resemblance to real life” keep in mind 50 shades of Grey has very little resemblance to real life as well, but that’s the point.

  5. Avatar

    I read the article and i found the writer sayng that masturbation is not a sin.this is a mistake.masturbation is a sin and it can really DESTROY your relationship with God. Thinking about 50 shades,i can say that i read the book, and yes,It causes addiction to sex.( mental or phisical) you have to decide if you want to become an addicted or not.for me, today, it’ s very difficult to get out of it.( sorry for my English,i’ m italian)

    • Avatar
      Michael Mock

      Rita, you’re on a website written by an atheist and read mostly (but not entirely) by atheists and agnostics. So as far as most of us are concerned, the concept of “sin” simply doesn’t apply. And the idea that reading a book “causes addiction to sex” really isn’t supported by any sort of research. That’s not to say that pornography, erotica, and/or masturbation can’t be problems for some people, but as a general thing they are not inherently destructive.

  6. Avatar

    I do condemn the violence towards women aspects of the book, but the Christian take on sexuality infuriates me otherwise. I think it’s bullshit frankly. Subscribing to Christian views of love and sexuality has damaged me far more than sex ever did. Feeling so ashamed of myself it paralyzed me socially,wishing I could just castrate myself because I couldn’t stop jerking off (and consequently couldn’t walk right with God) believing that the one thing keeping me from a joy filled life was lust. It was almost impossible to talk to girls one, because I was looking for “the One” and two because I was so neurotic about sexuality that making any sort of pass would be construed as me being a scumbag. (Which is understandable listening to some Christian women talk)
    I’m a good looking, intelligent, talented man who is well thought of by almost everyone who really knows me and I didn’t​get a real kiss until I was thirty four. There is nothing noble about that. In my experience I do not find pornography to take away from intimacy with my girlfriend in the least. I hate how Christians call the beautiful experiences​ I have with my her dirty and shameful, I hate hearing people who’ve never gotten laid give me advice about sex, and people trapped in painfully unhappy marriages trying to tell me I should be like them.
    It’s tragic the damage “purity” culture causes, and I wish I could go back in time and get laid when I was young, life would have been so much better

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away! If You Are a First Time Commenter, Please Read the Comment Policy Located at the Top of the Page.

Discover more from The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Bruce Gerencser