Should Christians See 50 Shades of Grey: A Husband’s Perspective

By Greg Smalley
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Sex should always join two people together in love — it should always strengthen a relationship and not weaken it. Sure, sex involving bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism might be legal as long as both people give their full consent — but it is anything but beneficial for a marriage.

The book series Fifty Shades of Grey, written by E.L. James, has sold more than 45 million copies in the U.S. (100 million worldwide), and is now a major motion picture.

It boggles my mind why a book about erotica and kinky sex — something the media are calling “mommy porn” — is such a worldwide phenomenon.

Apparently Fifty Shades is being billed as a romantic “love story.”

What? When I saw this promotional line on a movie advertisement, I just shook my head in disbelief. Is this how romance is now being defined in our culture? Is violent sex how the new “modern” husband is supposed to act toward his wife?

I’ll admit right off that I haven’t read the books nor do I plan on watching the movie. But I have read plenty of articles online and have reviewed excerpts of the book to get a feel for what Fifty Shades is about.

I’m stunned to hear some Christian women saying that a book most notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring sexual bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism (BDSM) between characters Christian and Anastasia is helping rouse their own libido and putting excitement back into their sex life.

Violence against women — in any form — is never OK.

But, it shouldn’t matter even if a wife gives her consent to her husband’s sexual fantasies like in Fifty Shades, there is no place for violence of any type within a marriage — especially in the marriage bed. Hebrew 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled,…” As a guy and as a husband, I think it’s horrific that tens of millions of people (mostly women) have, in a very real sense, exalted sexual violence and emotional abuse by reading this book series and flocking to the theaters. 

Will depictions of Christian beating Anastasia become the “new normal” for what’s considered sexy and socially acceptable? Our country is having important (and long overdue) conversations about domestic violence at the same time that we are consuming Fifty Shades in record numbers. Do we honestly believe that a young man or woman who sees this movie or reads the books isn’t going to be confused about what should and shouldn’t be permissible in a marriage relationship?

God has called us to a very different standard:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:25-29).

As a society, why are we coming down hard on domestic violence in the NFL (rightly so), but tolerating, no scratch that, celebrating, Fifty Shades? We shouldn’t tolerate this behavior in the NFL or on the big screen! Marriage should never be about finding pleasure in our spouse’s pain. When talking about marriage, God uses words like love, respect, serve, sacrifice, honor, cherish, nourish, pure and undefiled. That is marriage according to God’s Word.

As a husband, I’m also bothered that the sexual relationship depicted in the books and movie seems to be centered on only what pleases Christian. For a moment, forget about the fact that this couple isn’t married and the sexual perversities. What readers and moviegoers are being taught about sex is that it’s really about doing whatever pleases you. The storyline is about a self-centered man trying to convince a reluctant woman to have sex the way that he wants it done. This is completely opposite of how God envisioned sex when He created it between a husband and wife. Let me explain.

Sex is a gift to a married couple from God

Sex is a wonderful gift given to a married couple by God as a means of experiencing physical pleasure together and as a way to experience the deepest, most profound intimacy with a spouse — “and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). God-honoring and marriage-honoring sex is self-giving love. Righteous sex is about self-sacrifice. I really like how Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains sacrifice in the bedroom: 

By definition, sex within marriage is not merely the accomplishment of sexual fulfillment on the part of two individuals who happen to share the same bed. Rather, it is mutual self-giving that reaches pleasures both physical and spiritual.

Sex should always join two people together in love — it should always strengthen a relationship and not weaken it. Sure, sex involving bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism might be legal as long as both people give their full consent — but it is anything but beneficial for a marriage. 1 Corinthians 10:23 says, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say — but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ — but not everything is constructive.”  These BDSM practices are at the expense of  one’s spouse. This is exactly opposite of God’s design for sex between a husband and wife. He created sex to be about love, sacrifice, mutual respect, dignity,and care. Great sex happens when we make our focus on serving our spouse. As a married couple, we need to feel safe to discuss our sexual relationship together — to talk honestly and openly about our own sexual likes and dislikes. But my primary motivation should always be about serving my wife and not about getting my own needs met. I don’t want our young people, the next generation of married couples, to read these books or watch the movie and believe that violent, self-centered sex is acceptable or beneficial.

In the end, I know that I’m talking about fictional characters. I don’t really believe the author had any “evil” plans to destroy marriages. But, there is nothing “grey” about Fifty Shades. It projects some extremely destructive messages that I don’t want in my marriage nor do I want the next generation learning. As a husband, I don’t want to be a part of anything that promotes sexual violence against women or teaches that sex is all about getting my own needs met. After reading many of the articles and commentaries about Fifty Shades, I need to “cleanse” my soul and reread what real love is:

Love never gives up
Love cares more for others than for self
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have
Love doesn’t strut
Doesn’t have a swelled head
Doesn’t force itself on others
Isn’t always “me first” 
Doesn’t fly off the handle
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others
Doesn’t revel when others grovel
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth
Puts up with anything
Trusts God always
Always looks for the best
Never looks back
But keeps going to the end.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7; The Message)

Copyright 2015 Focus on the Family. Originally published on FocusontheFamily.com.

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About the Author

Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the Vice President of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the …

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