When should a sex therapist recommend “Fifty Shades of Grey” to couples?

Can Fifty Shades save your relationship?

I’m hearing the same thing from sex therapists all over the country — if you recommend Fifty Shades of Grey to clients who are stuck in unhappy sexual relationships, some of them will come back reporting better sex.

We sex therapists are practical folks. We’ll use whatever works — as long as it’s ethical and legal. But what is it about Fifty Shades that’s made it the latest gadget in the sex therapy toolkit? Here’s my list of reasons:

  • It’s respectable. Hey, it’s in the New York Times. Still number 1, 2, and 3 on the New York Times best-seller list this week. That gives a couple permission to read it without being labelled as perverts. Permission-giving is a crucial part of sex therapy.
  • It’s popular. You can discuss it with your friends. As I wrote in “From Beatlemania to Fifty Shades of Grey,” ultimately Fifty Shades may be so popular simply because it’s popular. So much of sexiness is power of suggestion anyway.
  • It’s a romance novel. Romance novels are the most lucrative genre of literature in the publishing world. The dashing but dangerous billionaire driven mad by his desire for a virtuous but irresistible young woman. That story has been selling like hotcakes since 1740.
  • It’s got BDSM. No, that’s not the latest hip-hop group. For those few who still don’t know, BDSM stands for “Bondage, Domination, and Sado-Masochism.”

According to my colleague Dr Wednesday Martin, the kinkiness in Fifty Shades is mere garnish sprinkled on a thoroughly conventional romance novel. I disagree. I think the whole romance novel genre has been shot through with masochism ever since Pamela in 1740. Fifty Shades takes this universal masochistic element and gives it explicit erotic form.

But I digress. Back to our list:

  • It’s just a little transgressive. Transgression has always been an important element in sex. Most readers of Fifty Shades won’t find it too transgressive for comfort. The Story of O it’s not. But maybe that’s the point.

As Dr Martin points out, the book’s BDSM fits into a conventional frame. Ana and Christian sitting in a tree, S-P-A-N-K-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Ana with a baby carriage.

Just a little bit transgressive, but within safe bounds. For many people, that’s a pretty good recipe for sexual interest.

So should a sex therapist recommend it?

Maybe, sometimes — until it’s no longer popular. Then we’ll need something else.

For now, many sex therapists are finding Fifty Shades to be a nice little app. It pushes most peoples’ boundaries just a little, and is well-suited for many couples who are on the brink of sexual renewal but require a little push.

One last thought: I’m hoping the book might also help the large number of psychotherapists who are NOT self-identified as sex therapists — most of whom still avoid sexual issues like the plague.

Maybe if enough patients came in wanting to discuss Fifty Shades, it might convince the non-sex-therapists that sexual issues aren’t too scary to talk about.

Wouldn’t that be great news?

Copyright © Stephen Snyder, MD 2012

www.sexualityresource.com New York City

Follow Dr Snyder on twitter: www.twitter.com/SexualityToday

Don’t Miss Our Latest Blogs!
Sign up for our Newsletter.

** By submitting your information, you agree to receive email from Maze periodically; you can opt out at any time. Maze does not share email addresses nor any other personal or medical data with third parties.