The Link Between Fifty Shades of Grey, Child Abuse, and Coercive Relationships

Society is being told that abuse is normal, that abuse is sexy, that abuse is “love.”

It was time to take a stand before the Fifty Shades of Grey movie was peddled to mainstream media, but better late than never. These films have major implications for American sexuality, and perhaps the future of our children.

They set children, teens, and adults up for abuse by normalizing manipulation and coercion, making it seem sexy and appropriate for a healthy relationship. Some of the more serious consequences of films like Fifty Shades might be hidden in the shadows, but they are all too real for those who live it.

While it is understandable that the research can seem ambiguous for those in denial about brain science and compulsive pornography usage, there is still more than reasonable concern about what rape culture might be doing to the developing sexuality of our children, no matter their gender.

This needs to stop.

If we let this continue, we are on a slippery slope of consequences that cannot be undone for abuse victims. When Fifty Shades of Greynormalized as love stories:

  • Abuse becomes more normalized, especially in sexually intimate relationships (Edwards et al., 2012).
  • Children and young adults learn to see abuse as love, or at the very least mimic what they see, thereby accepting and expecting coercive and manipulative behaviors (Pandey, 2016).
  • Sex crime against adults becomes normalized, and is embraced as “sexual exploration.”
  • Children who see these films in their homes during critical developmental stages, create neuronal pathways that can stay with them for life. These pathways may have continued impact, especially during puberty (Juraska & Willing, 2017) and in high stress environments (Buschert et al., 2013).
  • Girls and women think they can save their abusive boyfriends and husbands, or that sexual abuse in a relationship is just part of sex, because it’s what they see (Flood, 2009).
  • Internet pornography has already been linked to an increase in compulsive sexual behaviors (Wood, 2011), and what children see in their homes is often repeated (Pandey, 2016). The combination of normalizing materials like 50 Shades of Grey may further exacerbate these issues for the next generation, as children are exposed to them.
  • Additionally, any popular film is broken into bite-size pieces and made available through sites like YouTube (FiftyShadesAS, n.d.). Anyone, teens and pre-adolescents included, can access and view snippets of any movie.
  • The fight for equality unravels, and women again become objects for men’s gratification, while men are allowed to become brutes who don’t have to control themselves (Graves, 2016).
  • Intimate partner abuse, trafficking, rape, and exploitation in all forms skyrockets under the guise of consent, because “She liked it before…” or just because it sells, is gratifying, and she can’t fight back. These behaviors become further normalized as the rising generation is spoon fed abuse as love (Flood, 2009).
  • We enter a grey area (pun fully intended) for crime punishment, and proof of abuse becomes more burdensome for the victims and prosecutors due to normalization of behaviors.

Welcome back to the Dark Ages.

Is it “Grey” enough for you here, yet?

We are not animals. We are human beings. No relationship without boundaries to prevent emotional, sexual, spiritual, or physical abuse, can survive, or thrive, long term without causing harm to the individuals involved.

All that is happening here is glorification of sexual violence, tied in with music and theatrics to make it look erotic, desirable, and normal. Is this the legacy we want to leave the next generation with?

But it’s just a movie…

“We talk to our kids, they know right from wrong. They know how to protect themselves from abuse.” But do they, really? That’s not what editorial or academic research is saying about how media influences kids. We can debrief our kids, but that may not help (Coyne et al., 2014; 2016). Can we have enough conversations to undo what we allow to creep in to our homes and minds?

Studies done in 2014 and 2016 by Coyne and colleagues, tells us girls and boys are, in fact, impacted by what they see in media, and do buy into the stereotypes (2014; 2016). While these studies have not been repeated on 13-17-year old children or adults, let’s not assume older kids aren’t still moldable. Research has shown brain plasticity and learning happen throughout the lifespan, definably well into adulthood

This is real, and we need to fight rape culture, not glamorize it

Children deserve more. Wives and girlfriends and young men and women everywhere deserve more.

Do something.

Take a stand with your dollars, and donate to help women, children, and even men and boys, who need rescuing from non-complicit sexual and domestic violence. Volunteer at a shelter, or donate clothes and items you don’t need. Sew clothing and bedding for children being rescued from trafficking.

Take a stand with your voice and join the movement to end sexual exploitation, sexual assault, sex abuse in marriage, and child sex abuse.

Stand up for decency and real love. Teach children boundaries and self-respect. Teach them to say no, mean it, and fight for their right to be treated well. Teach them to stand up for themselves, and not allow abuse in their relationships (Baholo et al., 2015).

And please, please realize, films like this do support abuse.


Baholo, M., Christofides, N., Wright, A., Sikeyiya, Y. & Shai, N. J. (2015). Women’s experiences leaving abusive relationships: A shelter-based qualitative study. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 17(5), 638-649. doi:

Buschert, J., Hohoff, C., Touma, C., Palme, R., Rothermundt, M., Arolt, V., Zhang, W. & Ambree, O. (2013). S100B overexpression increases behavioral and neural plasticity in response to the social environment during adolescence. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 47(11), 1791-1799. doi:

Coyne, S. M., Linder, J. R., Rasmussen, E. E., Nelson, D. A. & Collier, K. M. (2014). It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a gender stereotype!: Longitudinal associations between superhero viewing and gender stereotyped play. Sex Roles, 70, 416-430. doi: 10.1007/s11199-014-0374-8

Coyne, S. M., Linder, J. R., Rasmussen, E. E. Nelson, D. A. & Nelson, V. (2016). Pretty as a princess: Longitudinal effects of engagement with Disney princesses on gender stereotypes, body esteem, and prosocial behavior in children. Child Development, 00(0), 1-17. Doi: 10.1111/cdev.12569

Edwards, K. M., Murohy, M. J., Tansill, E. C., Myrick, C., Probst, D. R., Corsa, R. & Gidycz, C. A. (2012). A qualitative analysis of college women’s leaving process in abusive relationships. Journal of American College Health, 60(3), 204-210.

Flood, M. (2009). The harms of pornography exposure among children and young people. Child Abuse Review, 18, 384-400. doi: 10.1002/car.1092

Graves, G. (2015). When Love Turns to Fear. Good Housekeeping, 262(3), 72-75

Juraska, J. M. & Willing, J. (2017). Pubertal onset as a critical transition for neural development and cognition. Brain Research, 1654(B), 87-94. doi:

Mendelson, S. (2015) Why ‘Fifty Shades’ stars aren’t worth a (big) raise. Forbes.

Pandey, S. (2016). Physical or sexual violence against women of childbearing age within marriage in Nepal: Prevalence, causes, and prevention strategies. International Social Work, 59(6) 803-820. doi: 10.1177/0020872814537857

Wood, H. (2011). The internet and its role in the escalation of sexually compulsive behavior. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 25(2), 127-142. doi: 10.1080/02668734.2011.576492

FiftyShadesAS. (n.d.) 50 Shades of Grey-New Scenes. Retrieved from:

The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.


NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.



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