'Fifty Shades', the book that brought kinky sex mainstream, is back in film form. The official trailer for 'Fifty Shades Darker' has been viewed more than 17 million times on YouTube, and whether you love or hate the franchise, the new film is probably going to either get you off or outraged all over again.
When 'Fifty Shades' first hit bookshelves in 2011, people got all hot and bothered. The series sold more than 150 million copies worldwide. With the films, starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, the 'Fifty Shades' version of hot sex became visual and explicit, not just living in readers' imaginations. The audience was predominantly women, mostly in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
For most people, 'Fifty Shades' is a harmless piece of trash that allows people with vanilla bedroom antics to open a window to a different sort of sex life. For others, it's a damaging work that glorifies abuse. It's very unlikely the franchise will teach us about healthy sexual consent. But that's OK, too.
This can be a troubling fantasy in Irish society, where one in every three women experiences some form of sexual violence. Of those women, just one-in-10 reports it. From there, there's a 1pc to 2pc conviction rate. We have scary evidence of casual attitudes towards rape, too, like the survey that found 21pc of Irish people believe having sex without consent is justified in certain situations. The Eurobarometer poll late last year found 11pc of Irish people think being drunk justifies sex without consent and 9pc think it is OK if the girl is wearing "revealing, provocative or sexy clothing".
As images of Ana being beaten by Christian became the new normal for what is considered erotic, they raise questions about what it means to 'consent' to sex. Clearly, consent is necessary; but is it sufficient? The most troubling thing about the sex in 'Fifty Shades' isn't the BDSM itself. It's the characters' very bad communication skills. Throughout the books, Ana isn't expected to say what she wants. Here's a line from the first book, written from Anastasia's point of view: "'No,' I protest, trying to kick him off. He stops. 'If you struggle, I'll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you'."
But 'Fifty Shades' is neither the first nor the only romance novel to feature kink and BDSM. Consider 'The Story of O', a French erotic novel published in 1954, depicting a young girl who enters into a submissive sexual relationship with a controlling film director.
However, no other book reached such a big audience as that of EL James. 'Fifty Shades Darker' is a film that has already flooded the internet with endless trailers. If anything has the power to shape sexual norms, this does.
There's a tension right now between the mainstreaming of BDSM that 'Fifty Shades' represents and also the mainstream horror at rape culture. There's an increasing vigilance against rape culture on the one hand and the easy acceptance of porn on the other hand. There are no links between kinky sex and the wider societal abuse of women. But this rough-sex renaissance seems to be lining up with a period of history in which women have more power than ever before, and there is a connection.
This is something that has become part of popular culture and is normalising very abusive behaviours, shout some feminists. But it's a maturing of feminism that women have started to embrace all aspects of what they want in bed, rather than just the politically correct fantasies. Like sexual desire, the concept of feminism itself is not black and white.
Us women police ourselves in so many areas of our lives. Maybe sex is the one place where we want to be able to let go and, after all, this is the phenomenon that, arguably, put to bed that tired old stereotype: men like sex and women just put up with it because they have to.
'Fifty Shades' illuminated female lust, something lurking inside every woman alive. Attraction and arousal are funny things anyway. They're involuntary responses that we have little or no control over.
So, if you find yourself aroused by some of the more troubling aspects of Christian Grey's sexual demeanour, do not worry too much about it. Getting aroused by what's depicted in the film doesn't necessarily mean you have secret desires to be abused. Besides, isn't being empowered to do what all women want, even when it isn't what you feel is expected of you as a strong, self-possessed woman. It might even be what good sex is all about.