Sex experts condemn Joy Smith's criticism of Fifty Shades of Grey

Depending on who you talk to, Fifty Shades of Grey could be an erotic BDSM romance, a depiction of violence against women, or a watered-down kink film.
Fifty Shades of Grey has shifted the way people view “female entitlement to sexual pleasure by making representations that most blockbusters steer clear of," said Ummni Khan, author of Vicarious Kinks. (Universal Pictures )

Clinical sexologist Susan Wenzel is firing back at Manitoba Conservative MP Joy Smith for her criticisms of the film, Fifty Shades of Grey.

Smith told CBC News on the weekend that the movie glamorizes violence against women and that behaviour in the movie resembles techniques used in human trafficking.

She has urged Manitobans to boycott the film, which like the book, tracks the seduction and evolving relationship between the virginal Anastasia Steele, an English Literature University Student, and Christian Grey, a billionaire with a need for dominance in the boardroom and the bedroom.

Wenzel said Smith doesn't understand that BDSM — erotic practices involving dominance and submission, role-playing, restraint — can be a part of healthy, consensual and safe relationships.

The stigma around kink can be compared to repression of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning) people and their sexual expression, Wenzel said.

"If we don't understand these areas of eroticism and fantasy, it's easy to judge," she said.

Since the Fifty Shades of Grey book came out, sales of BDSM paraphernalia have skyrocketed — in some places by 300 per cent, said Ummni Khan, author of Vicarious Kinks.

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson embrace as Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in the hotly-anticipated movie Fifty Shades of Grey. (Universal Pictures/
Khan, who attended the Fifty Shades film on opening day, traces perspectives on kink through law, feminism, psychiatry and film.

“It was so cute. It was just filled with women of every age and they were riveted and got so much pleasure from this film. To me, it was such a moment of witnessing female pleasure,” Khan said.

“And we don’t see that in films, ever.”

But the film has its flaws because it perpetuates some common myths about kink, Khan added. One of those myths is that BDSMers are "pathological" or emotionally damaged, she said.

The lead male character, Christian Grey, shows problematic behaviours that aren't sexual, Khan said.

"In the book, he's really controlling outside of their sexual relationship … and that feels a little yucky," she said.

The reader discovers that Grey's desires trace back to his traumatic childhood of abuse and being raised by a sex worker.

Although the book is supposed to be sex-positive, it reinforces the stereotype that sex workers are bad parents.

The pop culture representation that BDSMers have childhood trauma can shame and sexually repress people who might feel drawn to kink, Khan said.

The movie’s formulaic approach to relationships as “monogamous, marital, reproductive, and romantic” is “watering down the more hardcore BDSM identity,” Khan said.

“In the end, they’re basically a normal couple.”

But for all its flaws, Fifty Shades has shifted the way people view “female entitlement to sexual pleasure" by making representations that most blockbusters steer clear of, Khan said.

And that's why Wenzel, who is a relationship therapist, said Smith shouldn't criticize the movie on "moral grounds."

"People have the right to express their sexuality without others categorizing it as abuse," Wenzel said.

Smith was unavailable to respond to the criticisms.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.