Why I Won’t Be Going to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ (Guest Blog)

YA author argues adaptation of E.L. James’ bestselling “mommy porn” series will turn off moviegoers

It’s fitting that a work of mommy porn fan fiction spawned from the “Twilight” books and movies will hit theaters in February 2015. As a 40-year-old mother who enjoyed the “Twilight” series and the movies, I recall the moment of awkward creepiness as I watched the “Breaking Dawn, Part 1” sex scene with my group of girlfriends at the 2011 movie premiere.

It was then that it hit me that 100-plus-year-old stone-cold vampire Edward was painfully screwing his warm virgin bride, bringing new meaning to the characterization that he was a cold, hard prick. Sure, I had read the scene in paperback, but seeing it made me redefine the Bella character as a submissive — a natural story predecessor to “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

“Breaking Dawn, Part 1” was my least favorite movie of the series, and it comes as no surprise to me that it ranks No. 4 in gross adjusted domestic sales out of the five films (“Eclipse,” “New Moon,” “Breaking Dawn No. 2,” “Breaking Dawn No. 1,” “Twilight,” respectively).

Was reading the book and seeing the film so different of an experience that it would alter the story for me completely? Until I saw that sex scene, I had never thought about the mechanics of how old-man vampire and teen girl would make love. While I read the book, my thoughts were Finally, they can get some, smiling while thinking of doing something romantic with my sweet husband. In the theater, my only thought was Ouch! Poor unsatisfied, virgin Bella.

Obviously, E.L. James understood vampire sex and created her erotic tale of domination and submission. What I read as a teen love story changed. Was it because I saw the characters’ uncomfortable sex scene?

Research indicates:  yes, absolutely.

A Brief History of the Significant Research

In 2009, researchers at UC California at Davis, Dean Keith Simonton and Anemone Cerridwen found that nudity and explicit sex scenes don’t sell major motion pictures. “Sex did not sell, whether in the domestic or international boxoffice, and even after controlling for MPAA rating,” Simonton said. The biggest blockbusters kept the bedroom door closed.

In 2012, Ira Kalb, assistant professor of Clinical Marketing of USC’s Marshall School of Business, challenged the “Sex Sells” mantra in Business Insider and explained that sex sells only when the product being sold is related to sex, steering decision-makers away from explicit sex in film and advertising. For non-sexual products including mainstream teen or family films, explicit sex reduced product recall and liking.

At the same time that all this research showed studios the risk of explicit sex in film, the “Breaking Dawn, Part 2” movie released on November 2012, concluding the book and film series that inspired an erotica story trend. The “Fifty Shades of Grey” ebooks were emerging from “Twilight” fan fiction erotica e-reader shelves. First published in 2011, with the third, “Fifty Shades Freed,” in January 2012 the ebooks soared in popularity, bringing E.L. James a traditional publishing deal that has sold over 100 million copies and has the potential to sell even more than its “Twilight” parent.

The world noticed. Surely those 100,000 consumers of explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM) between a 21-year-old college virgin and a 27-year-old self-made millionaire control-freak indicate that they want more sex in everything. The “sex sells” assumption has come back from the dead.

Desperate to grab attention in an oversaturated consumer product marketplace, advertisers and film producers again hype the myth that sex sells all products. Advertisers and indie film producers continue to produce oversexualized images with minimal success, securing targeted, but limited audiences.

Meanwhile, the top grossing films year-over-year do not contain explicit sex scenes. None of the top 10 films of 2014 have an explicit sex scene. Are consumers buying movie tickets to the sexually clean types of movies they want to see or are studios too influenced from flawed research?

New research presented by Robert Lull at the 2014 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology working with Brad J. Bushman, Ph.D., professor of Communication and Psychology, again says that sex doesn’t sell out of context.

Lull’s timely research, conducted with awareness that the erotica frenzy challenged existing data, looks at dozens of previous studies to summarize the research in a specific field. The paper which will be released later this year analyzed both the effects of violent/sexual media on brand memory, brand attitudes and buying intentions and the effects of violent/sexual ads on brand memory, brand attitudes, and buying intentions. In other words, Lull examined (1) violent/sexual programs in which ads are placed and (2) ads that feature violence and sex themselves and found:

- Brands advertised in violent or sexual media content are less likely to be remembered, are evaluated less favorably and are less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent and nonsexual media content

- Brands advertised using sexual ads are evaluated less favorably than brands advertised using nonsexual ads

- Brand memory, brand attitudes and buying intentions all decreased as the intensity of sexual ads increased.

All Studios Have Eyes on the Theater Seats

As Lull’s work relates to the “Fifty Shades” film’s chance at blockbuster rankings, the questions will be if R-rated moviegoers want to consume an intense-sex story at the local cinema:  Will sex sell a sex movie to the audience that read the ebook? Will they evaluate it positively? Will they recommend it to others?

The scene lighting better be good, because all studios are watching. “Fifty Shades” is a relationship story based on sexual acts creating turmoil and plot twists between the emotionally distant, abusive dominator and his submissive. The target audience for erotic film is those consumers who want to see it on screen, not those who read it and laughed or cringed or whatever compelled 100,000 people to make it an ebook hit.

For all of the moms who said goodbye and thank you to their beloved Edward and Bella and then made its”Fifty Shades of Grey” offspring a huge bestseller, there is a difference between a bored mom laughing about some nasty sex scene with her friends during book club and watching it at the neighborhood cinema in the dark.

Will explicit sex create a blockbuster on screen?

Well, that’s up to you. For me, there’s no way I’m seeing mommy porn. I’ll just continue to laugh about the ridiculous scenes with my girlfriends while we share a few bottles of wine. No, we don’t use them that way! We’ll leave that up to the college student. (More on social responsibility later.)  Ewww.


Carla J. Hanna lived in Santa Monica, California, where her children played with the children of celebrities. She mingled with plenty of nannies and a few good celebrity moms. Her award-winning books, "The Starlet Series," are available through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and wherever books are sold. For more information please visit: www.carlahanna.com.