50 Shades of Grey: Harmful to Your Health?

It’s being hailed as a “provocative new study” worthy of Christian Grey himself a group of researchers have just published an article in Journal of Women’s Health claiming that women who read “50 Shades of Grey” are at a higher risk for domestic abuse, disordered eating, a high number of sexual partners and even binge drinking. But don’t throw your romance novel to the curb just yet: The study is another example of the good old “correlation does not equal causation” trope.

During the study, a group of scientists surveyed 655 18-to-24-year-old women online, a third of whom had read some or all of the ’50 Shades’ series. They asked them questions about their personal sexual practices, their experiences of partner victimization such as sexual and psychological abuse, and binge drinking. When they adjusted their findings for age and race, researchers learned that women who had read at least the first book in the series were more likely to report partner victimization, cyberstalking, fasting and using diet aids. Women who had read all three books in the series were also more likely to report having five or more sexual partners in their lifetime. Their conclusion? There is an association between reading the series and negative health outcomes for women.

However, even the study’s authors admit that it’s hard to figure out which is the chicken and which is the egg here. Do women who have been sexually victimized come to the books as a reflection of their own experience? Do they read the books, then engage in unhealthy behaviors? Are the books simply a reflection of cultural norms? Does the existence of these books, in the words of the authors, “[normalize] these risks and behaviors in women’s lives”? Since the study didn’t ask women about what, specifically, the books do for women, it could be missing out on important information.

The media has been quick to spin this story into a “50 Shades is harmful to your health” lede, but only one thing here is clear we don’t actually know what effects the books, if any, have on women.With overwhelming evidence that reading can actually improve health (on neurological, physical and psychological levels), one study on one series of books is unlikely to turn the tide of what health professionals believe about reading. And looking at one series’ impact on a subset of readers is interesting, but also dangerous. If medicine does decide that a single series or genre of books is connected with unhealthy impacts on women, what comes next? Will books about racy subject matter be banned, discouraged or stigmatized?

Until we have more information on the impacts of different series, it’s hard to see a concrete link between domestic violence and women’s fiction. But perhaps it’s the first in a line of inquiry on how books we read impact lives or the other way around.

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Fiona Stonehouse
Fiona Stonehouseabout a year ago

I cannot believe this tripe! This is not a scientific study! I read just about anything (which has included the first 50 shades book) and although I have had my share of life experiences I do not think that what I have read has influenced those experiences occurring. If anything my varied reading has increased my ability to deal with negative relationships and self image issues, along with positive support from my family and friends.

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F.about a year ago

could care less

BJ J.about a year ago

Read a couple chapters but lost interest.

Jessica L.
.about a year ago

Practice safer sex, including minimal number of partners and no abuse. And use condoms, etc.

Margie Szelmeczka
Margaret Szelmeczkaabout a year ago


Jennifer H.
Jennifer H.about a year ago

I don't think this study proved much of a point especially when it points to the fact that they don't know, in their own words, "the chicken and the egg". I have heard people (women) talk about the book but most thought it was awful and stopped reading within a chapter or two. It doesn't sound like a book I would have much interest in.

Rose Roma
Rose R.about a year ago

Take note; irregardless of this article's purported points, as a result of the book's popularity and upon release of the film soon, there WILL BE an uptick of S & M as commodity, sport & fad, S & M products, S & M injuries & deaths, permission to justify and groom. I do not think the book's author originally intended this. It made her money and was a cathartic release of working through her own issues, interests and creativity/fame/fortune ego needs. Just because we CAN do something doesn't mean we necessarily should go ahead. Reading is not the problem. Self - indulgent careless actions are.

Aud nordby
Aud nordbyabout a year ago

ty for sharing

john pierce
John Pierceabout a year ago

I read a LOT,(don't watch tv), but not interested in this kind of garbage.

Jen White
Jen Whiteabout a year ago

this is ridiculous, pointless, crap. i'm sure none of these women had issues in their lives prior to reading a BOOK.

might as well study the same subset for women who drink milk.