excellence & ethics

February, 2015


As you know,  a major national effort is being made to combat sexual violence. Unfortunately, the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon (the trilogy and the movie, to be released for Valentine's Day) threatens to undermine that effort by glamorizing sexual violence. Below  
are several resources that can help deal with this challenge. Please consider sharing widely.

Dr. Tom Lickona and Marthe Seales
Co-Editors, excellence & ethics
Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (Respect & Responsibility)
State University of New York at Cortland


A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People About 50 Shades of Grey

Miriam Grossman, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist; www.miriamgrossmanmd.com

There’s nothing gray about Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s all black.

I help people who are broken inside. I ask questions, and listen carefully to the answers. 

One thing I've learned is that young people are utterly confused about love—finding it and keeping it. They make poor choices, and end up in lots of pain.

I don’t want you to suffer like the people I see in my office, so I'm warning you about a new movie called Fifty Shades of Grey. Even if you don't see the film, its toxic message is seeping into our culture, and could plant dangerous ideas in your head.

Fifty Shades of Grey is being released for Valentine’s Day, so you’ll think it’s a romance, but don’t fall for it. The movie is actually about a sick, dangerous relationship filled with physical and emotional abuse. It seems glamorous, because the actors are gorgeous, have expensive cars and planes, and Beyonce is singing. You might conclude that Christian and Ana are cool, and that their relationship is acceptable.

Don't allow yourself to be manipulated! The people behind the movie just want your money; they have no concern whatsoever about you and your dreams.

Abuse is not glamorous or cool.  It is never OK, under any circumstances.

This is what you need to know about Fifty Shades of Grey: as a child, Christian Grey was terribly neglected. He is confused about love because he never experienced the real thing. In his mind, love is tangled up with bad feelings like pain and embarrassment.  Christian enjoys hurting women in bizarre ways. Anastasia is an immature girl who falls for Christian's looks and wealth, and foolishly goes along with his desires.

In the real world, this story would end badly, with Christian in jail, and Ana in a shelter - or morgue. Or Christian would continue beating Ana, and she’d stay and suffer. Either way, their lives would most definitely not be a fairy tale. Trust me on this one.

As a doctor, I’m urging you: DON’T see Fifty Shades of Grey. Get informed, learn the facts, and explain to your friends why they shouldn't see it either.

Here are a few of the dangerous ideas promoted by Fifty Shades of Grey:

1. Girls want guys like Christian who order them around and get rough.

No! A psychologically healthy woman avoids pain. She wants to feel safe, respected and cared for by a man she can trust. She dreams about wedding gowns, not handcuffs.

2. Guys want a girl like Anastasia who is meek and insecure.

Wrong. A psychologically healthy man wants a woman who can stand up for herself.  If he is out of line, he wants her to set him straight.

3. Anastasia exercises free choice when she consents to being hurt, so no one can judge her decision.

Flawed logic. Sure, Anastasia had free choice—and she chose poorly. A self-destructive decision is a bad decision.

4. Anastasia makes choices about Christian in a thoughtful and detached manner.

Doubtful. Christian constantly supplies Anastasia with alcohol, impairing her judgment.  Also, Anastasia becomes sexually active with Christian—her first experience ever—soon after meeting him. Neuroscience suggests their intimacy could jump start her feelings of attachment and trust, before she's certain he deserved them.  Sex is a powerful experience—particularly the first time. 
Finally, Christian manipulates Anastasia into signing an agreement prohibiting her from telling anyone that he is a long time abuser.

Alcohol, sex, manipulation—hardly the ingredients of a thoug
htful, detached decision.

5.   Christian's emotional problems are cured by Anastasia's love.

Only in a movie. In the real world, Christian wouldn't change to any significant degree. If Anastasia was fulfilled by helping emotionally disturbed people, she should have become a psychiatrist or social worker.

6. It’s good to experiment with sexuality.

Maybe for adults in a healthy, long term, committed, monogamous relationship, AKA "marriage". Otherwise, you're at high risk for STDs, pregnancy, and sexual assault. It's wise to be very careful who you allow to get close to you, physically and emotionally, because just one encounter can throw you off track and change your life forever.   

The bottom line: the ideas of "Fifty Shades of Grey" are dangerous, and can lead to confusion and poor decisions about love. There are vast differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, but the movie blurs those differences, so you begin to wonder: "What's healthy in a relationship? What's sick? There are so many shades of grey—I'm not sure."

Listen, it's your safety and future we're talking about here. There's no room for doubt: An intimate relationship that includes violence, consensual or not, is completely unacceptable.

This is black and white. There are no shades of grey here. Not even one.

 How Porn Wrecks Your Sex Life

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation calls for a boycott of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie, saying it glamorizes sexual violence.  

Dawn Hawkings, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, says, "The lie is that ’50 Shades of Grey’ is about a love affair. The truth is that it’s really about coercing a young woman for sadistic sex, glamorizing sexual violence.”  Read more.

Reading Fifty Shades Linked to Unhealthy Relationships

Carolyn Moynihan, Deputy Editor,

A movie based on the pornographic trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey is due for release on Valentine's Day. But a study published last year shows that young adult women who even read the title book are more likely than non-readers to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner. Further, women who read all three books in the blockbuster series are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.  Read more . . .

 Parent Survival Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey   

Miriam Grossman, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist,    www.miriamgrossmanmd.com

Part 5: How to Talk to Your Child About Sadomasochism      
See also: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Mom, who’s Mr. Grey? Dad, what do those handcuffs mean?

Parents, get ready for questions. As the release of Fifty Shades of Grey on February 13th nears, an aggressive marketing campaign is underway that romanticizes sexual violence.

Don’t underestimate the impact of the hard sell on your kids. Even if they don’t see the film, they are absorbing its toxic message, and need your wisdom and guidance.

It’s difficult to overstate the dangers. Fifty Shades of Grey teaches your daughter that pain and humiliation are erotic, and your son, that girls want a guy who controls, intimidates, and threatens.

As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I consider it my professional responsibility to help parents deal with this difficult issue, so I’ve been blogging about the harm posed by the film.

While the ideas promoted by Fifty Shades of Grey are vile, they present a precious opportunity: to explain truths your children must know, but won’t hear anywhere else. 

In this post, I provide guidance on how to speak to children – young adults, teens, and tweens if necessary – about the disturbed behaviors glamorized by what could become a blockbuster film.

First, some assurance. I guarantee you will have a significant influence on your child. What you believe matters. Your expectations matter. This is so regardless of any poor choices you may have made through the years.

To prepare, learn about the film’s plot and main characters, Christian and Anastasia – it will give you credibility. Read a synopsis such as the one on Wikipedia.  If you want more, there’s a long, detailed one at thebookspoiler ( warning: obscene language ).

Ask your daughter: Has she heard about the movie coming out called Fifty Shades of Grey? What has she heard?

You’ve learned about the film from people you trust, and are concerned about the impact it could have on her, even if she doesn’t see it. Of course, you disapprove of lots of movies, but you happen to know that this one is particularly awful, really over the top. So you must discuss it with her for a few minutes.

To begin, the movie is pornography. The destructive nature of porn to the mind and heart is well documented. (There’s enough information on this phenomenal site for several heart-to-heart conversations with your child.)  Read more . . . 

50 Shades of Grey Parent Survival GuidePart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4


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Center for the 4th & 5th Rs
SUNY Cortland