The times 'Fifty Shades of Grey' stretched out with sex onscreen
Credit: AP Photo

The times 'Fifty Shades of Grey' stretched out with sex onscreen

Did it sometimes even get it right?

"Fifty Shades of Grey" is not a good movie. The script is clunky, the tone is inconsistent. Jamie Dornan is a snooze-fest. Its source material was poor literature, even as harlequin and romance writing traditions go, and the film's loyalties to the book's structure and characters is a real detriment.

The film -- now a massive box office success after its opening weekend -- does have its redeeming qualities. For one, Dakota Johnson is a trooper, providing some much-needed fun to the frequently strained story. Also, even and especially as large-scale release geared toward women, "Fifty Shades" treats sex differently than many commercial dramas and rom-coms (and not just because of the BDSM). For all its controversies, the film purposely eschews some of the book's pitfalls to hint at a much more complicated tale about the bedroom and consenting adults.

Below I outline some things the "Fifty Shades of Grey" movie brings to the conversation about sex and women onscreen, and where those notions run into trouble in the film.

The woman doesn't orgasm

Not every woman "finishes" singing the sweet strains of "'Ah! Sweet Mysteries of Life." And, in fact, 30% of women have difficulty reaching orgasm and some studies say as many as 25% of women cannot achieve orgasm at all. That's why it's interesting that a film such as this -- that is centered on sex, sexual curiosity and experimenting in bed -- doesn't focus on the "finish line," but the journey. Perhaps Anastasia made her "O face" with all the gasping enthusiasm of the "When Harry Met Sally" diner scene at some point in their romance; however, for a film about a man who knows what he likes in the bedroom and a woman who hasn't a clue, the fantasy stayed firm on her arousal (and when she quit being aroused).

The problem: It's a shame that the story, as written, is about a virgin, and a girl who can't bring anything to the table (as it were) as to what arouses her.

Condoms and birth control

Christian Grey puts on a condom -- twice -- and it's no big deal. He doesn't open the condom packages with much fanfare, there's no lasting shot on his or her face nodding in flushed and self-satisfied approval, no lingering on the amount of time it takes to put the condom on. Safe sex is an ingredient of healthy sex and the film is just like, "We got this." Rom-coms have made a romp of the dramas behind condom usage; and distinct lack of condoms in dramas is actually pretty stressful -- either because the female lead can or will get pregnant or everyone in the audience is thinking "I hope they're STD-free."

And Ana's totally down with oral contraceptive clause in her contract -- cool! -- and even makes a joke about it right before they get-it-on, just to mess with him. Kinda funny. There's clearly a lack of good birth control jokes out there.

The problem: The oral contraceptive clause could be conflated with sub-dom terms. And, sure, it could be part of that whole interplay, but more importantly safe sex between two consenting adults should ALSO include a mention on Christian's part that he's STD free and will not have sex other partners, including with his "friend" Mrs. Robinson, whom Ana does not trust. It seemingly shifts the impetus of safe sex to the woman's side, which considering Christian Grey's specific tastes and number of partners, deserves a fair agreement from both sides. Ana could've used a sex lawyer to negotiate that term, so the whole audience could benefit.

Also, doctors suggest waiting to have sex (or using additional contraceptive) seven days after first taking birth control.

Female arousal and foreplay

Yes, a sex contract is ridiculous. But the contract negotiation scene was HOT, and the pair barely even touched each other. The fact that Christian recognizes all the signs of Anastasia's arousal, and calls them by name, is hot. The fact that merely talking about sex can be a form of foreplay is really hot.

After putting a blindfold on wary Ana in his playroom for the first time, Christian explains that it's "all in your head" -- pain, fear and arousal -- and then he lightly swats her open palm with a leather switch. Her reaction is seemingly of surprise an relief.

At one point, as a "punishment," Christian bends Anastasia over his knee and spanks her. This is new to her, and he's not exactly tactful about it, and it is hilarious. So she laughs.

The "Fifty Shades of Grey" film goes out of its way to reveal different levels of female arousal, and how a woman does not simply go from "zero to orgasm," and that not all sexual play works off the bat. Christian's fantasies and tastes may drive the ship, but we most frequently see and experience Anastasia's different and varied levels of arousal, sometimes in her own apartment and in her own bed. His turn-ons are complex, and her being turned on looks, sounds and feels complex. Because sex can be extremely complex.

The problem: Jamie Dornan's character is boring and so despite the fact that his character is traditionally good looking and (despite his protestations) has a pretty good handle on romantic gestures, it is being extremely generous as to how and why Anastasia is turned on by him except that he is "intimidating." Jamie Dornan was miscast and his chemistry with Dakota Johnson (who is, given the circumstances, amazing) is nil. So this important foray into foreplay gets lost in the laughs.

She also seems to go from "virgin" to "let's hit the playroom and I'll stay in the sub guest room" in, what, like three weeks? I ain't judging her, but making that fast leap takes a little more care, cinematically, more than "they're falling in love, that's why."


"Fellatio" was written into the contract, but we never see it. What we do see Christian going down on Ana. This is a shift from the male gaze to the female's.

It's crazy that there are sex-heavy dramas like "Love & Other Drugs" with a bag full of blow-jobs for Jake Gyllenhaal's character but no mouth action for Anne Hathaway's. It's kind of a trip that a film of this sort managed to make a cut clean enough for an R-rating, period, but especially after films like "The Counselor," "Blue Valentine" and "Black Swan" had to fight for (or, in "Blue Valentine's" case, lose the battle) over cunnilingus.

"Fifty Shades" managed to depict Christian giving Ana oral sex without tripping that wire, and even made it so she didn't have to go tit-for-tat (as it were).

The problem: I have no problem with this.

"I thought it would be dirtier!"

More than any other movie I've watched and read about in the last decade, "Fifty Shades of Grey" is being decried for being both smutty and not being smutty enough.

There are writers and viewers who are genuinely mystified that an R-rated film created for the commercial masses and specifically women didn't get dirtier.

This has part to do with our broken, busted and misleading MPAA rating system. This also has to do with intention and audience, that perhaps the aim was not to create something "filthy," but "fantastical" or "whimsical" or "dirty 101."

What "Fifty Shades" has done differently and successfully is become a runaway box office success while existing in this MPAA... erm... gray zone. We can't have penis in R-rated films. We can't have clits or labia. We can't have realistic reactions on women's faces while a man's face is buried in her vagina. So it's not always pretty, but it had to work for the film to have its release.

The problem: Lines like "I f*ck... hard" thud on impact because we don't actually see him f*cking all that hard, plus ugh Jamie Dornan. There's some definite scriptural differences between what is said, what is seen and what is unseen, making its "promises" of kink, bondage, discipline, dominance and submission come off soft, if not outright campy.

Why Ana is a virgin

The societal obsession with women's virginity can be seen in the cruel, disdainful or downright dirty terminology around it: "first times" can be called "popping the cherry," "losing" virginity, "deflowering," "giving it up." Those terms and our condescending/edifying views of the virginal take away the agency of the woman, that having sex is a loss, a less-than, a prize to be won, a passive activity, a plucking of the petals of a systematically and historically oppressed class of person, aligning their virginity to their worth.

Christian, for his sexual purposes, views Ana's virginity as being valuable, or worth more. Which is pretty predictable, very yuck. What I like though, and what I think the film does differently than other socially awkward romantic-interest lady-klutzes, is that Christian asks 21- or 22-year-old Ana why she is still a virgin. And her answer isn't that "nobody's ever asked" or "I'm a wallflower, what is sex" or "my family has experienced deep tragedy and I'm emotionally detached" or "I have a terminal illness so it's hard to get laid." She said she hasn't slept with anybody basically because she hasn't been hot for anybody. Which may be one of the best reasons not to sleep with anybody ever.

The problem: I wish the "50 Shades" film had taken a different tack than the book, or like how "Cabin in the Woods" toyed with its "virgin" being "virginal enough" to build its character. But it didn't.

It stuck by Ana being a virgin and Christian (who was raped when he was barely a teenager and has had at least 15 other sexual partners by age 27) is super-psyched about it. OK, whatever, I could see a point being made about why their wildly different sexual comeuppances as a source of intensity, tension and compatibility. I'll take a leap for argument's sake. But within that argument, her virginity and it being her first relationship is also their Kryptonite as a functioning couple, and Christian's excitement around her virginity has more to do with his conditioning than it does about her as a person and a character. Lame.

Addressing the line between BDSM play and abuse

Anastasia gives Christian consent to show her just how hard he actually wants to hit her in his Red Room of Pain. She wants to know the boundary -- and not in a flirtatious way. He warns her that she probably won't like it. She takes the six lashes anyway -- all of them -- delivered during a time where he is distressed about his job (or... something?) and the status of their relationship was coming to a crossroads. There is a lot of physical and emotional pain. It is at this point that Anastasia walks, and Christian recognizes a plain rift in their spoken and unspoken social-sexual contract.

BDSM on the whole has been dismissed because of the lack of belief that somebody who is caused pain, whipped, made to submit, or held in bondage can experience sexual pleasure. Practitioners of healthy BDSM play will beg to differ.

The book on the whole has been dismissed similarly, with the additional and very important note that Christian Grey does not respect Anastasia Steele's agency over the pain she can and will endure; this means that their sexual relationship is not only unhealthy, it is abusive. The film addresses this course in its final playroom scene, heavy with the weight of Anastasia and Christian's frustrations.

The problem: The script and storyline don't make this zone exactly clear -- where the line for Anastasia is drawn, whether by pain or circumstance. It is in part because of the greenness of her character, and partly because the script is written in way that in no way resembles how two people actually talk to each other in real life. Christian Grey's anger and his arousal in this final playroom scene is extremely complicated, but the scene does a poor job in explaining this convolution because the film only lightly grazed these ideas.


No fewer than four scenes in the "Fifty Shades of Grey" film address consent directly, with Christian repeating that Ana can not only say "no" to their play, but can change her mind at any time.

I heard that, originally, Ana was going to say "red" instead of "no" to Christian as she gets in the elevator in the last scene; I like that they went with "no" instead, shying away from the "cute" thing to do in a circumstance where a woman says exactly what she thinks, under her own necessity and rule.

The reality is that in America one out of four women will be sexually assaulted, sexually abused or raped in her lifetime. Claims from victims of assault, abuse and rape are frequently dismantled if the victim has previously consented to sex or consented to prior sexual contact; this false notion is a blight on freedom, stripping women of their self-efficacy and their ability to decline sexual activity whenever and however they want, even while they're in the midst of sex.

Intoxication and drugging also underlines sexual assault from national-scale athlete-rapes at universities to Bill Cosby's alleged assault tactics as told by about three dozen victims.

Now more than ever we need our political, cultural and creative leaders to engage with the problem of sexual violence and assault. A portrayal on-screen of two individuals pointedly discussing "yes" and "no" and -- yes -- even "I don't know" is not only refreshing, it's apparently very necessary. Many romantic dramas and rom-coms films skip the scene where the man and the woman discuss or second-guess their sexual desires and needs, where any baggage, fears and "don'ts" go straight out the window BECAUSE THEY'RE JUST SO INTO EACH OTHER (or drunk). The fact that there is such a confusion and needed discussion around consent makes scenes like these in "50 Shades" so important. The fact that Christian doesn't have sex with Ana when she's drunk is directly spoken. And why "yes means no" "jokes" like those featured in the "Pitch Perfect 2" trailer so off-base.

The problem: That final scene. As mentioned in the point above, there is a hazy line between abuse and sexual play, and Christian crossed it even with Ana's consent. That makes it a problematic depiction of consented sexual contact and its repercussions, redirecting and confusing that question of consent to "was that a sex act" and "what is bad sex" and "was that sex?"

Christian tries normalizing his abuse

Victims of sexual trauma and abuse can turn to BDSM as a source to normalize their baggage and behaviors. It can be a way to go back to the source of pain revamp it into a source of pleasure.

Christian bears the scars of physical abuse, and while he's not ready to admit to himself or Anastasia that he endured sexual abuse as teenager as a sub to an older dom, he was very clearly abused then. He admits that his fetishes and kinks have a clear lineage to that trauma. As evidenced particularly in the latest scenes, he further reveals that his fantasies can frighten his partners, and even scares himself. But here, a male sexual assault victim is trying to harness those traumas into something that is empowering to him.

This isn't something we see very often in plain view in film and, in turn, isn't always in plain view of survivors of sexual assault.

The problem: The keyword "attempt." Just because Christian knows he's trying to supplant past pains with pleasures doesn't mean he's particularly good at it. He's a poor communicator, wishy-washy in his pursuit of Ana, and unclear in his intentions of having her as a "kept woman" and as his Actual Girlfriend. Christian is a sexual assault victim who is dangerously manipulative and stalkerish with a vulnerable woman. He needs therapy more than another sexual partner. This notion of sexual healing is far too advanced and complex for this movie, which isn't even about That.

Read Full Post
A list of recent films that feature female journalists sleeping with their subjects

A list of recent films that feature female journalists sleeping with their subjects

'Trainwreck,' 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and 'Top Five' weren't the start of this Hot New Trend!

Don't get me wrong, "Trainwreck" looks hilarious and I can't wait to see it.

There ain't going to be any interview and there ain't going to be any story. Here is a list of films and TV shows from just the last 25 or so years featuring female journalists who have sex with or fall in love with their subjects and/or co-workers.

"Fifty Shades of Grey"
"Top Five"
"Crazy Heart"
"Bad Words"
"Iron Man"
"Man of Steel"
"Rock of Ages"
"Law & Order SVU"
"House of Cards"
"Three Kings"
"Political Animals"
"The Devil Wears Prada"
"How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"
"Thank You For Smoking"
"Morning Glory"
"Scary Movie 3"
"Ray Donovan"
"Up Close and Personal"
"Bridget Jones"
"Mr. Deeds"
"I Love Trouble"
"Never Been Kissed"

"Nightcrawler" is the rare breed, to call the trope a trope (in... the absence of malice, as it were).

Read Full Post
Valentines 2015: Tell them you love them with these pop culture cards

Valentines 2015: Tell them you love them with these pop culture cards

'Guardians' of your heart! 'True' respective! 'Orange Is The New' I love you! Kanye!

Have something to say to your Valentine but no way to say it?

How about letting James Franco and "The Interview" say it for you?

The Interview Valentine

Do you say he's just a friend? Taylor Swift is somewhat of an expert on friendships.

Taylor Swift Valentine

Or maybe your man's into Liam Neeson. I mean, who isn't into Liam Neeson? Seriously, name one person.

Taken 3 Liam Neeson Valentine

Check out all of our pop culture, music, movie and television-themed 2015 Valentine's Day cards below. And say "yes" even when Kanye's like "no."

Read Full Post
Good God: 'Take Me to Church' music video with famous dancer will kill you

Good God: 'Take Me to Church' music video with famous dancer will kill you

Here, let the eyeballs fall out of your head

Sergei Polunin dances for you in the music video for Hozier's Grammy-nominated "Take Me To Church." Have the smelling salts handy.

Read Full Post
Kendrick Lamar releases new song 'The Blacker The Berry' a day after Grammy win

Kendrick Lamar releases new song 'The Blacker The Berry' a day after Grammy win

Much tougher than 'i'

Last night, Kendrick Lamar took home two Grammy Awards -- Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance -- for his single "i." Today, he dropped a racially-charged rager against discrimination and hatred. Was it a response? A celebration? The next chapter to "i?"

"The Blacker the Berry" starts off with the words "I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015..." over dark beats, the flipside of of "i" with the same social consciousness and heightened urgency. "I know you hate me as much as you hate yourself," he rhymes, hearkening back to the theme in "i": "I love myself."

"Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean / I mean it's evident I'm irrelevant to society / That's what you're telling me, penitentiary would only hire me / Curse me till I'm dead / Church me with your fake prophesying that I'm 'a be another slave in my head... the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice."

The single cover art features a black woman with two infants suckling her breasts.

Give it a spin, do you like it or love it?

Read Full Post
DO NOT PUBLISH: Headlines that were deleted after the Grammys

DO NOT PUBLISH: Headlines that were deleted after the Grammys

That great music fan-baiting headline you had in mind? FIN

Put your pens away. Here are all the headlines that will never come to pass after this year's weird, chill, old Grammys came and went.


Petty Revenge: Why Sam Smith Went Home Empty-Handed

Iggy Azalea And The Forgiving Race Grace Of Grammy

Gospel Choirs: Why Are They So Under-Used

Beck Can't Catch A Break: Three Different Decades Of Disappointment

Beyonce's Album Of The Year Win: Will Her First Be Her Last?

Boy Were The Grammys Hedonistic And Godless This Year

#LeftShark Returns: Katy Perry's Sidekick Gets A Grammys Sequel

Pharrell Finally Dressed Like An Adult

All About That Brass: Meghan Trainor Wins Big For Big

Why The Recording Academy Endorsed Spotify

Redeemed! Gwen Stefani's Finally Forgiven For Harajuku Girls After Knock-Out Performance

The Softer Side Of Madonna?

Kanye West's No-Show: The Ultimate Grammy Troll

Kanye West Keeps It Low-Key After The 2015 Grammys

Taylor Swift Keeps It Low-Key At 2015 Grammys

Glad We've All Moved On From The Patriots' Super Bowl Win

Shia LaBeouf Can Be Invited Places Again

To Be Young: No Aging Rockers Sucked Air Out Of The Room, Nope, None

Why Was This Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault PSA Paired With Chris Brown And R. Kelly Wins?

'Let It Go?' Grammy Voters Said Yes, Freezing Out 'Frozen'

Rapt With Rap: Why The Grammys Aired So Many Hip-Hop Awards

Why The Grammys Aired So Many Awards

Katy Perry's 'Dark Horse' Dark Horse Honor: Pop Star Finally Scores Her First Grammy

Black Keys, White Stripes Frontman Hug It Out

Why Was Annie Lennox Ever Famous

Sia And Daft Punk Seen In The Same Room Together

Christmas Miracle In February: The Grammys Ended On Time

Read Full Post
The few women who were in the main rock Grammys categories? They won

The few women who were in the main rock Grammys categories? They won

St. Vincent and Paramore take home wins for Best

Women rarely make it into the main rock categories at the Grammys, but this year, the two solo female and women-led groups that managed to squeeze in to two categories took home the honors.

St. Vincent's self-titled album scored the Best Alternative Album win, and Hayley Williams-led Paramore earned Best Rock Song for "Ain't It Fun." "St. Vincent" was up against Alt-J, Arcade Fire, Cage the Elephant and Jack White; and Paramore was up against songs from Ryan Adams, The Black Keys, Beck and White.

Sinéad O'Connor' "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" won Best Alternative Album the year the category was launched, in 1991, and since then, no other solo female or female-led artists have won. Acts like the B-52s, Arcade Fire, Belly, PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple, Bjork, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Neko Case are shuffled into this category, but as history shows, they're not frequently rewarded.

Best Rock Song was launched in 1992, and Alanis Morrisette (in 1996 and 1999) and Tracy Chapman (1997) have been the only female-fronters to take the prize, before Paramore. Melissa Etheridge, Fiona Apple, Hole, Garbage, Evanescence, and Lucinda Williams, have been nominated.

There were no solo female performers or female-fronted acts in the Best Rock Performance category this year, but the section is very new -- it only arrived on the ballots in 2012. And only one lady-led act has been in there: Alabama Shakes in 2013, who lost to the Black Keys' "Lonely Boy." That award was the cumulative of a few previous categories: Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Bonnie Raitt was the only winner in that first group, in 1992; Eurythmics and Bonnie Raitt (with Delbert McClinton) won the middle category in 1987 and 1992, respectively; and no woman ever won Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

St. Vincent's 2014 album was among the very best-received sets of the year, and reached No. 12 on the album sales chart. Paramore's "Ain't It Fun" topped out at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles sales and radio play chart.

Check out all the nominees and winners from the 2015 Grammy Awards.

Read Full Post
2015 Grammy Awards Predictions: On Beyonce, Sia, Sam Smith and more

2015 Grammy Awards Predictions: On Beyonce, Sia, Sam Smith and more

Will Kendrick Lamar or Iggy Azalea earn any Grammys?

How and will Beyonce be rewarded for "Beyonce" at the Grammys? Will Katy Perry earn her first? Will Sam Smith and Sia be each others' main competitors?

We've already lined up what will be some of the biggest talking points and controversies that will accompany the Grammy ceremony on Sunday (Feb. 8). In the gallery below, Louis Virtel and I break down who is likely to walk away with a Grammys statuette -- or several.

Obviously, these predictions cover just a fraction of the 83 categories that will be awarded. Check out the complete list of 2015 Grammy Awards nominees here and make some guesses of your own: who deserves the most number of honors, and who will end up with the most?

Read Full Post
The Definitive guide to Grammys 2015 controversies

The Definitive guide to Grammys 2015 controversies

On Beyonce, Kanye West, race, 'Bass,' Tom Petty and 'Stay With Me' and more

For some reason, awards shows bring out a very special version of rage in everyone. Giving honors to undeserving parties, unforgivable snubs, dubious categories, high-profile celebrities meeting low-art presentations, network television... awards shows scratch an irritable itch when it comes to all the ways we talk about our favorite artworks and entertainment.

The Grammys, every year, come with their own controversies and irritants, and 2015 is no exception. Even with "safe" artists like Sam Smith, repeat entertainers like Beyonce and beloved songs like "Let It Go," there's always something bubbling right under the surface of how we reward or ignore our beloved performers.

So get your outrage ready to rumble: we've cobbled together some of the most talked-about issues going into this year's Grammy Awards nominations and races and given you a guide to when you should blow your top off (or mumble subtweets) and hit rewind on the DVR.

Read more on the race races, Madonna's scenery chewing, Taylor Swift's swipes, Kanye West's crows, Sia's undercover tactics, the "Selma" spillage and more.

Read Full Post
John Legend performed a stunning, sparse Nina Simone medley: Watch

John Legend performed a stunning, sparse Nina Simone medley: Watch

Oscar-nominated songwriter took the stage at Sundance in honor of 'What Happened'

PARK CITY, UTAH - The life and times of Nina Simone were exposed to their bare and brutal roots in new documentary "What Happened, Miss Simone?", which premiered tonight (Jan. 22) at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. But the elegant sting of the late singer/songwriter's musical works continued even after the credits on the Liz Garbus-directed film stopped rolling.

Recently crowned Oscar nominee John Legend was on hand to perform a trio of songs from the Simone canon: "Lilac Wine," "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free" and one of his covers staples "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."

Legend called Simone "wonderful, powerful, dynamic" and among one of his favorite artists of all time. He played solo, seated at a grand piano with cascading red curtains behind him, singing with pitch-perfection and restraint -- a gorgeous addendum to the warts-and-all offering that is "What Happened."



Sundance organizers have hosted a run of films that address ties of creative proclivity, mania and mental illness -- recently, consider "Frank," "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck," "Running From Crazy," and even "Whiplash." Certainly, Simone's story falls into this category, with additional storylines of civil rights activism, her experience of racial bias and history of abuse.

The eye-opening element to Simone's fame and fall is how mental health alters the self-perception of success, and of happiness. What was reiterated over and over again in the film is that Simone's home was wherever her fingers were on piano keys, and her mouth behind a mic. What makes "What Happened, Miss Simone?" (the title is a line of prose written by Maya Angelou) into a celebration rather than solely a tragedy is the perseverance of her catalog.

So even as Legend rocked a neat suit with his lung-filled warble and approachable, classy stylings, you could hear the voice of Nina Simone: troubled, unique, divine.

"What Happened, Miss Simone?" plays all week at Sundance and will soon head to Netflix, which picked up the film for distribution. Legend is currently beating the Academy Awards trail for "Glory," nominated for Best Original Song from the film "Selma" -- the story to which, too, has ties to Simone's life journey.

Read Full Post