Sadie Leder Elder, Ph.D.

A Lesson Plan for Love

Should You See Fifty Shades for Valentine's Day?

You'll want to read this post before making your Valentine's Day plans.

Posted Feb 12, 2017

  EvelynGiggles / necktie / License: Public Domain
Source: Source: EvelynGiggles / necktie / License: Public Domain

As you likely know, the Fifty Shades books are among the top selling novels of all time. In fact, worldwide sales are said to be over 100 million, and at its height one of these provocative page-turners was being sold every second. Given the popularity of Fifty Shades, it is no wonder that the geniuses in Hollywood are planning to cash in on the “feels so good to be bad” phenomenon this Valentine’s Day. Of course, the question remains, should you go see this movie?  Well, for those of you who haven't already purchased your ticket, it is likely prudent to consider how this deliciously salacious movie may impact your relationship, for better or worse.

The Good

A few years back, researchers published an interesting study examining how our need for connection may be met when we immerse ourselves in relationship narratives.  This is because we have a tendency to “become” part of the story. For instance, when participants were asked to read excerpts from the Twilight series, they reported becoming (or incorporating into their self-concept aspects of) vampires, and those who read from the Harry Potter series reported becoming wizards! Moreover, participants who incorporated aspects of these narratives into their own self-concepts reported increased life satisfaction and improved mood.

To put it delicately, there are a few things that one might “become” from watching the Fifty Shades movies. For the sake of this article, let’s assume that this narrative might make us feel more aroused, sexy, amorous, or adventurous. Christian and Anastasia are a lot of things, but underneath it all, they are a loving couple. Although my Fifty Shades hypothesis is currently untested, one could infer from the previous findings that this would lead to positive outcomes (i.e., feeling sensual, loved, connected), which might be particularly well-suited for Valentine’s Day. Thus, it may not only be beneficial to see the movie, but also to speed-read through the guilty pleasure of their twisted relationship one more time before hitting the theaters.

The Bad

Before you click submit on your ticket purchase, there is contradictory research that merits consideration. Namely, people who frequently immerse themselves in romantic media (movies, TV shows, books, etc.) are more likely to hold unrealistic beliefs about relationships. Endorsing erroneous ideals, like believing that sex should be perfect every time and that in good relationships partners can read each other’s minds, unfortunately leaves people ill-equipped for reality. Rather, individuals may find that their real life relationships fail to live up to their lofty beliefs, leading to lower satisfaction.

What If You Are Single?

Think you are out of the woods just because you are currently single? Well, think again. In another study, participants were exposed to either a romantic comedy (in this case, Serendipity), or a non-romantic movie and then asked to rate their overall level of satisfaction with their current (or most recent) relationship. Compared to the singles in the non-romantic condition, single participants who saw the Rom-Com reported significantly less satisfaction with their previous relationship.

Quite possibly, exposure to relationship media may lower satisfaction as the result of upward social comparisons (i.e., comparing the self to someone better off). Let’s be honest, as a billionaire, philanthropist, and sex god, Christian Grey sets the bar pretty high. Of course, Anastasia’s purity, intelligence, and physical responsiveness also exceeds normal expectations. By comparison, most real life partners (past or present) may be found lacking.

The Take-Away

I can’t predict whether Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson have finally mastered the carnal connection of Christian and Anastasia; however, if you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling, this movie has the potential to yield some sexual healing. So go ahead and indulge your desire to see the Red Room of Pain this Valentine’s Day. Just keep in mind that Christian and Anastasia are not only fictional, but also self-described “Fifty shades of *@#!< up.” If you keep your expectations and comparisons for your real life relationship in check, this may end up being a most romantic holiday. Laters!

© 2015 Sadie Leder Elder

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