Are the Characters of Fifty Shades of Grey Caught in a Bad Romance?
Last week on the Science of Love, I examined why the sadomasochistic sensation Fifty Shades of Grey is appealing and reprehensible all at once. We left off wondering if our female protagonist Ana Steele would receive a diagnosis of Sexual Masochism disorder. Here are some of the questions I considered this week:
1. Is Sadomasochistic Sex Abnormal? Yes. Approximately 3% of sexually active people report being involved in masochistic sex in the past year, but just because something is unusual does not necessarily mean that it is pathological.
2. Is the Masochism Causing Significant Distress? No. Ana is often anxious and fearful, but are her negative emotions the direct result of her masochism? A colleague cleverly framed the question this way, "Would Ana be anxious even if the sex with Christian was 'vanilla?'" We also want to consider that if masochists are functional at work, have gratifying social ties, and they function well psychologically, then they do not receive a diagnosis.
In my opinion, Ana’s would not receive a diagnosis of Sexual Masochism. But that doesn't make her 100% stable.
3. Should Other Diagnoses Be Considered? Definitely. Ana seems mildly depressed and very anxious most of the time, which would raise the possibilities of mood or anxiety diagnoses. As for Mr. Grey, his charms do not exempt him from scrutiny…
Although the sadomasochistic sex in Fifty Shades arouses readers' senses of right and wrong, the true relationship dysfunction manifests between the sexual encounters. Christian Grey might be "hot" or "sexy", and Ana might seem annoying, but Christian is the real antagonist in this dysfunctional love story. Christian wants more than anything in life to be in control, yet there is nothing less controllable in life than a romantic relationship. The sad prognosis for someone who goes through life trying to completely control a partner is never grey.
Christian would be up for a smorgasbord of diagnoses, including Narcissism and Sexual Sadism, but regardless of formal diagnosis, it is Christian’s inability to give up control in his relationships that dooms him to never find what he truly desires. Achieving a real sense of connection in relationships hinges on our ability to relinquish control over others and fully embrace the accompanying uncertainty.
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