A study conducted at Michigan State University found that young adult women who have read the popular erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey are more likely to exhibit symptoms of eating disorders and to have verbally abusive partners than women who haven’t read the book.
Furthermore, reported MSU Today this week, women who have read all three books in author E. L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy are more prone to binge drinking and risky sexual behaviors.
The study, which appeared in the Journal of Women’s Health, attempted to assess whether a connection exists between unhealthy behaviors in women and an affinity for popular culture — like the Fifty Shades series — that glamorizes and eroticizes violence against women.
“Fifty Shades — a blockbuster fiction series — depicts pervasive violence against women, perpetuating a broader social narrative that normalizes these types of risks and behaviors in women’s lives,” said the study’s background statement.
Researchers surveyed 655 women between the ages of 18 and 24 and found that women who had read the first book in the trilogy were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them, 35 percent more likely to have a partner who exhibited stalker-like behaviors and more than 75 percent more likely to have used “diet aids,” or fasted for more than 24 hours.
“Those who read all three books in the series were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink,” said MSU Today, “or drink five or more drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month – and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime.
Lead study author Amy Bonomi told MSU Today that the study did not attempt to assess whether risk behaviors occurred before or after reading the novels, but said, “If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading ‘Fifty Shades’ might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma.”
“Likewise,” Bonomi — chairperson and professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies — continued, “if they read ‘Fifty Shades’ before experiencing the health behaviors seen in our study, it’s possible the books influenced the onset of these behaviors.”
Previous studies have linked heavy viewing of violent TV programs to incidences of violence in the home and frequent consumption of beauty and glamour magazines with unhealthy obsessions with body image.
Bonomi said she doesn’t believe that the books themselves are harmful or should be banned or censored. Women should be free to read whatever they want, she said.
The important thing to take away from the study, she said, is that all of the unhealthy behaviors it assessed are commonly observed in women who end up in violent or abusive relationships. Parents and educators, she said, “should engage kids in constructive conversations about sexuality, body image and gender role expectations — and that these conversations start as early as grade school.”
Bonomi said that she feels that kids and young adults should be taught to consume entertainment and popular culture with “a critical eye.”
“We recognize that the depiction of violence against women in and of itself is not problematic, especially if the depiction attempts to shed serious light on the problem,” Bonomi said. “The problem comes when the depiction reinforces the acceptance of the status quo, rather than challenging it.”
[image of man behaving aggressively toward woman via Shutterstock.com]