Selected Podcast

What 50 Shades of Grey Says About Women's Sexuality

What 50 Shades of Grey Says About Women's Sexuality
When 50 Shades of Grey hit bookstores, it created a national phenomenon. Since its release in 2011, it has sold millions of copies.

In fact, the first book of the trilogy became the fastest-selling paperback, far surpassing the Harry Potter series (one of the fastest selling paperbacks of all time).

The movie based on the first book is set to release Valentine's Day 2015. However, even though it may seem like every woman and their mother is overly obsessed with this storyline, there are plenty of women who don't have any interest in seeing the movie or reading the book(s).

In an article written by Kathryn Casey, she raised some undeniably important questions about what this book says about your sexuality.

"Is anyone else out there wondering what I am: Do middle-aged women, the main audience for this book, really view the threat of violence as an aphrodisiac? And, isn't it dangerous to turn a BDSM-addict into a romantic hero? Would we want our daughters dating Christian Grey?"

Regular blogger on Psychology Today, Dr. Lisa Firestone also raises other important questions you may have about 50 Shades of Grey, your sexuality, love life and your partner.

For example, How important is intimacy in a relationship? How much are you drawn to real romance, connection, passion, and affection with your partner? And, how much are you drawn to fantasy? Why are SO many women drawn to 50 Shades of Grey?

Dr. Firestone discusses the important questions 50 Shades of Grey raises about women's sexuality, and why so many women seem to drawn to it.
Featured Speaker:
Lisa Firestone, PhD
Lisa FirestoneLisa Firestone, PhD, is the Director of Research and Education at the Glendon Association and Senior Editor at

She is the coauthor of several books including The Self Under Siege Sex , Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice and Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion and Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships.

Dr. Firestone is a regular blogger on Psychology Today and Huffington Post. She is also national and international presenter on topics that include couple relations, parenting, suicide and violence prevention assessment and treatment.

RadioMD Presents:HER Radio | Original Air Date: February 12, 2015
Hosts: Michelle King Robson and Pamela Peeke, MD
Guest: Lisa Firestone, PhD

Pamela: Michelle, did you read 50 Shades of Grey? Just tell me.

Michelle: I didn’t read it. I listened to it.

Pamela: So you did the audio thing. I could barely read the thing. I don’t know. First of all, it was written so poorly. It’s really taken off. Good gosh, you’ve got a whole revolution going on around this and the movie is coming out. I read this fabulous blog on Psychology Today written by Dr. Lisa Firestone who is the Director of Research and Education at the Glendon Association and senior editor at I really wanted to hear what she had to say so we’re going to bring her on. We are so happy to have Dr. Firestone here on HER Radio, to help us understand this whole 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon and what it says about women’s sexuality. 16 million copies of it are out there, and it’s not going to be just 1 movie, but apparently 3 movies are coming out soon. Dr. Firestone, welcome to HER Radio. Why are so many women in to 50 Shades of Grey?

Dr. Firestone: I do think that, for whatever reason, and like you said, you didn’t think it was very well written or whatever, for some reason it made women think about their own sexuality or sparked them, made the come more alive to it for some reason.

Michelle: It certainly did.

Pamela: Yeah, but what did it say, though? There’s a controversy out there, clearly. Is this just women having fun? You know, we’re just doing our little naughty thing, or what are the other pieces to this? What’s going on here, Dr. Firestone?

Dr. Firestone: One thing is that it is male dominance and maybe makes women feel less guilty about their sexuality and for owning their own sexuality. I think that the really important message women should get is that it’s okay to be a sexual person. You are a sexual person.

Michelle: Amen. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that’s a problem. Women don’t feel like they should or can. It becomes a real problem in relationships. Why does sexuality generally tend to deteriorate in long term relationships, do you think?

Dr. Firestone: I think it’s partly because of something my father, Robert Firestone, calls a fantasy bond: Illusions of connection. When they do that they sort of form a merged identity with the person and the person becomes like their left arm and there are no more attracted to them than they are to their left arm. Of course they feel like they’re going to die if they lose the person: “Oh my gosh, I lost my left arm.” It is a way of losing the sense of two separate people.
Dr. Firestone: I think we have to have our two separate identities; we can get really close together but we’re still 2 separate people. If we do that, we can keep the romance alive.

Michelle: That’s interesting, don’t you think?

Pamela: Is it possible to have a relationship long-term, obviously it’s possible as it’s happening out there. Can you have a meaningful relationship, long-term, without that sexual connection?

Dr. Firestone: Without the sexual connection it’s really hard. Even though sexuality is a small amount of our time relating as a couple, if we don’t have that piece I think that we really lose a lot. When we lose that romantic love, part of that is sexual attraction.

Michelle: I agree. I couldn’t agree more. DO you think the book is sending the wrong message to women and young girls? How do you feel about it?

Dr. Firestone: I think that it probably is. Any consensual relationship between two adults where the people feel good about it can be okay. I like Dan Savage’s take on being good, giving and game for almost anything sexually with your partner, within reason, but nothing that actually make you feel not good about yourself. That’s the part I worry about. I also worry about the part about being dominated by a man because that’s so much of our culture still.

Pamela: There’s no question about that. The other thing is that you ask about if you feel good in this relationship. What if you’re a teenager? What if you’re someone as young as this woman here, who’s like a college student in the book and in the movie? What does she really understand about herself? Does she have enough of that executive function to be able to say: “Whoa. This isn’t good for me.” How do you parse that apart, Dr. Firestone?

Dr. Firestone: I think it’s difficult. I do think that it is important for us to have a sense of our real identity, a strong sense of our identity, going into a relationship to have a healthy give and take kind of relationship. Like you said, she might not have had that fully. Certainly, I think it’s difficult in our teen years but, certainly, teenagers do feel like sexual beings. I don’t think we can tell them not to experience that part of themselves. That just doesn’t work very well.

Michelle: No it doesn’t work very well. In a movie clip that I saw, she says something to him like: “…and I thought that you weren’t romantic.” I found it interesting that that was one of the things that they showed trying to get women to come see the movie. How much are we really drawn to romance, connection, passion, and affection with a partner? How much are we drawn towards fantasy?

Dr. Firestone: I think that we are drawn to fantasy a lot because that we can control. I our fantasy about being with somebody we are in control and we don’t have to feel vulnerable. I think a lot of people are afraid to feel vulnerable, both men and women. I also think that really feeling connected and having a real give and take with somebody, with that passion and affection , make you feel like you value your life a lot and you value your partner’s life a lot.
Dr. Firestone: That leads to fear around loss. I think that’s another reason people don’t want to go there and why they may revert to more masturbatory or mechanical sex instead of really relating and being present. I think that’s the message we should be giving women and girls. You can be really present and you can have a lot in your relationship, but you have to be vulnerable and take a chance.

Pamela: Michelle, this is such a huge issue. All these young women now days are really into hook ups, not really so much into relationships, per se. In a way, are you divorcing romance from all that? Sure you’re present, but you’re not present for a bond or a romance. Yet, maybe something like that would happen. I don’t know. It’s getting so confusing out there. How do you help us understand this?

Dr. Firestone: I think there’s a real difference with the hook ups. I even had a teenage client come to me about this, saying that that kind of sexuality didn’t feel good to her. It felt important for various reasons, to do those things, but when she was in a relationship she felt much better about her sexuality. I think that may be the culture of now, for young people, but I don’t think it makes them feel very good. I think what really gives us satisfaction is having that real give and take on a more vulnerable level, where we are in real contact with the other person. It’s personal.

Michelle: It has to be personal. It does, Pam. Even at my stage in life, being single, quite honestly the vulnerability piece is a huge factor because we’ve been hurt. We’ve been through divorces. We’ve had bad relationships. We don’t want to be vulnerable. It’s really hard for us to do. I can see that being a huge piece, across the board, for all women.

Pamela: I don’t think there’s any question.

Dr. Firestone: Having those walls up makes it really difficult to get close, you know?

Pamela: Yes, exactly.

Dr. Firestone: Even though they are based on real hurt. We don’t defend ourselves for no reason. It’s interesting, I’m going to be doing a course on becoming true self. Part of our idea is how do you get in touch with what’s really you? What is your own identity and what have you picked up from society?

Pamela: What you’ve done for us Dr. Firestone, is help us understand what 50 Shades of Grey really says about women’s sexuality. Everyone, this is Lisa Firestone. Dr. Firestone’s website is, and she’s helped us understand this whole phenomenon of 50 Shades of Grey is really all about. Thank you very much Dr. Firestone. I’m Dr. Pam Peeke with Michelle King Robson.

Michelle: You’re listening to HER Radio on RadioMD. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Stay well.