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6 take-away messages for teenage girls from 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

We can’t stop teenagers from seeing Fifty Shades of Grey, but we can teach them to view it with a critical eye.

Yesterday morning I went by myself to the cinema and saw Fifty Shades of Grey.

So what did I think?  That’s what you want to know, right?

The truth is it doesn’t actually matter what I thought. It’s irrelevant whether I thought the film was an abomination or two hours of steamy, kinky escapism.  It doesn’t matter what the critics are saying. Or religious groups. Or protestors.  Or even Lisa Wilkinson (as much as I respect her).

Read more here: Lisa Wilkinson reviews 50 Shades of Grey movie: “It’s more appalling than appealing”.

The movie is out. The ship has well and truly sailed.

“The ship has well and truly sailed.”

What matters instead is that the cinema I went to yesterday morning was filled with teenage girls.

I was surrounded by them. Hemmed in.  Seventeen-year-old girls who looked like they were possibly wagging school. Uni students. Workmates. Groups of friends.  At least half the people in the cinema with me yesterday morning were young women aged between 17 and 22.

And there we all were, ready to devour a tale about a brother and sister who are locked in an attic by their physically and emotionally abusive grandmother and who – bored out of their brains – turn to each other for affection and fall in love. Oh no wait – that was me reading FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC WHEN I WAS 12.

Read more: The honest-girls guide to Fifty Shades of Grey.  No spin. All truth.

We can’t stop teenagers from seeing Fifty Shades of Grey.  With an MA rating, anyone over 15 can buy a ticket and see the film. What we want to do is use the film as yet another opportunity to discuss THE BIG STUFF.  Like the nature of consent, the difference between obsession and love, the concept of red flags and safe sex and what a healthy relationship looks and feels like.

So with that in mind, here are my six take-aways from Fifty Shades of Grey:

1. Consent is an ongoing conversation when it comes to sex.

One positive thing I noticed in Fifty Shades of Grey is the fact that when it comes to the kinky sex, Ana’s consent is constantly checked, monitored and rechecked.

“Are you okay with this? Do you want me to stop? How did that feel? Are you sure? Did that hurt? DO YOU WANT ME TO STOP?”  Nice work, Christian.

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Go Christian. At least you got something right.

The thing young women and men need to remember when it comes to consent is that it’s not a one-off question and answer. Consent is a fluid conversation that you continually have with a partner as you engage in different activities behind closed doors.

You are allowed to say yes at the beginning and no in the middle. You can say yes to one thing and no to the next. You can say yes to something one week and not to it the next week. Or the next hour.

A great relationship is built on great communication. And ‘no’ means ‘no’ whenever you say it and whenever you feel uncomfortable and want things to stop.

2. Losing your virginity is usually a lot less sexy and way more awkward.

Look, props to Ana for losing her virginity to a partner who is so focused on her pleasure and comfort. (High-five, sister!) But, um, I can’t say I know anyone whose ‘first time’ was that epic.  For most people (unfortunately) that first sexual experience is clumsy and awkward and, you know, a bit painful. For most people their memory of their first kiss is far more special and romantic than the first time they had sex.

And there’s many an awkward pause.

3. Obsession and persistence are not signs that someone really, really loves you.

I don’t have any issues with the sex scenes in Fifty Shades of Grey.  What people want to do in the bedroom is their business. If you want to dress up as nuns and priests or Bert and Pattie Newton and spank each other with curtain tassels while listening to Barry White – to each their own so long as each party feels safe and respected.  (Aside: According to sex therapist Dr Laura Berman, safe submission fantasies for women are incredibly common. So let’s not shame women for wanting to role-play in the bedroom.)

But.

But the alarm bells should be ringing really, really loudly with Christian’s behaviour OUT of the bedroom. Breaking into someone’s house? Selling their car without their permission?  Turning up at their parent’s house uninvited?  Illegally monitoring someone’s movements?  Saying things like “You are MINE!”? Welcome to the Fatal Attraction School of Dating. These are all relationship RED FLAGS. They are not the signs of a healthy relationship.

Christian shows up at Ana’s work unannounced.

But those fiercely protesting the film may want to expand their target. In his book ‘The Gift of Fear’, Gavin De Becker – one of America’s leading experts on the management and prediction of violence – lists movies like The Graduate, Flashdance, Tootsie, The Heartbreak Kid, Honeymoon in Vegas, Indecent Proposal, and the TV series Cheers as prime examples where ‘persistence’ is sold as a viable romantic strategy.   “Boy wants girl. Girl doesn’t want boy. Boy harasses girl. Boy gets girl,” says De Becker. He points out that this same strategy of “persistence” is at the core of every stalking case.

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“Persistence only proves persistence – it does not prove love,” writes De Becker. “The fact that a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn’t mean you’re special – it means he’s troubled.”

BINGO.

You might also enjoy… Rosie reviews Fifty Shades of Grey

On the big screen, Ana is going to ‘save’ Christian and as an erotic story, I can go with that. In real life he’d most likely end up alienating her from her family and friends, checking her email accounts and mobile phone records and threatening to kill her if she left him.

4. Condoms DO NOT KILL THE MOOD.

Well played, Christian Grey. You just shot down in flames the “condoms kill the mood” argument.

They most certainly DO NOT kill the mood.

 Read more here: Mia Freedman on Fifty Shades of Grey: “IT IS FICTION” 

5. Fifty Shades is a messed up fairytale.

The fairytale aspect of Fifty Shades of Grey is not in the idea that a hot, rich businessman sweeps a wide-eyed virgin off her feet using handcuffs and helicopters.  Nope. The fairytale aspect of the film is that Christian starts to change his behaviour for Ana. “I’m not a hearts and flowers guy. I don’t do romance,” he growls but by the end of the movie he’s offering to break all his rules and take her to movies or ice-skating.  Nawwww.  I loved that. But I’m also savvy enough to know it would never happen in real life.

SO MESSED UP – “I’m savvy enough to know it would never happen in real life.”

The reality is that men (or women) who display the type of obsessive, controlling behaviour of Christian Grey are unlikely to change simply because the person they love wants them to change.  If you’re dating a man who tells you what to wear, what to drink, breaks into your house, sells your stuff and turns up unannounced at your mum’s house (WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?) … the likelihood of him suddenly changing because he loves you is slim to none. Instead you are likely to become one of the one in four women who finds herself in an abusive relationship.

6. When something you are doing in the bedroom is making someone else cry (and they’re not tears of happiness) – you stop.

Even if they don’t ask you to stop. YOU. JUST. STOP. That’s called “being a decent human being”.

Teenagers are going to watch Fifty Shades of Grey in the same way millions of us read Flowers In The Attic. The key is to encourage them to view it with a critical eye. Take the blindfolds off and watch this tale of screwed up love and obsession with your eyes wide open. Talk about it afterwards with your friends and let it help you define what is and isn’t okay in a relationship.

Podcast: Bec drops more words for teen wisdom on the Mamamia Outloud Podcast 

Rebecca Sparrow is the author of several non-fiction books for teenage girls including Find Your Tribe (and 9 other things I wish I’d known in high school) and Find Your Feet (the 8 things I wish I’d known before I left high school).

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