Thinking Through “50 Shades of Grey”

fifty-shades-of-greyIn the very near future the movie “50 Shades of Grey” will be in the theaters. This movie is based on one of the leading best-selling books of all time by the same name. Termed “mommy porn” or “romance porn” by some in the church, the book is attacked as well as defended by Christian women. Many women I have spoken with defend the book and downplay its erotic BDSM sexuality and highlight the romance and love expressed in the story, while other women see it as another form of pornography.

Is it pornography?
Before we can go on, we have to define pornography. The word comes from the Greek word porne meaning “prostitute” and graphein meaning “to write.” Thus it literally means “writing about prostitutes.” The definition of pornography is any work of art or literature intended to cause sexual excitement.

My doctoral dissertation was in the area of sexual addiction, and in my many years as a professional counselor and minister, I have worked with many couples where one person embraces pornography and the spouse is either harmed by it or reluctantly engages in its use to keep the peace. I had even counseled a Christian woman whose husband practiced BDSM on her for years and the reason she allowed it was because her pastor told her that it was her responsibility to submit to her husband. I know of a deacon who must wear women’s underwear just to be aroused.

One wife’s experience
In her book Fulfilling Love: From Sin to Surrender, Stacey Lynn, wrote about her experiences after giving in to her husband’s sexual fantasies. She said, “The first years of our marriage were great. I thought everything was fine until my husband started asking me to do certain sexual activities in our marriage bed. I protested, telling him that we were Christians and we should not do these things. He continually insisted that the marriage bed is undefiled, and what he and I did as a married couple was not sin, as long as he and I agreed upon it. As the months passed, he continued to pressure me and I finally gave into this pressure….

“This man that I was married to, this man that I loved dearly, wanted to start playing around with fantasies in our marriage bed and I finally submitted. Speaking fantasies to one another in the marriage bed turned into watching fantasies, which is what pornography is. The images of pornography began to take over my mind, and I turned into someone that I never imagined.

“I did not even know that it was possible to have sinful sex in the marriage bed because I never heard of such a thing, but my marriage was a testament to that. Sin grows like yeast, and as my husband and I watched pornography together, as we watched perversion taking place right in front of our eyes, our minds soon became perverted also. No longer was ‘watching’ pornography enough for our flesh; it hungered for more. My husband then made it a point that our fantasy role playing would turn into actual reality.”

Healthy sexual expression
What constitutes healthy sexual expression in marriage? What are the appropriate boundaries?

In my human sexuality course in seminary, my professor made a statement I have never forgotten. He told us that the Bible does not prescribe what you do in bed; it proscribes who you do it with (heterosexual marriage). Thus, he was helping us realize that the Bible doesn’t tell couples what is appropriate behavior in bed. What sexual positions, behaviors, the use of sex toys, etc. is not addressed in Scripture. So what do we do with this? My professors told us that the principles of Scripture must apply. He stated that whatever a couple engages in sexually must build up and encourage the marriage and spouse and not lead one or both into sexual expression with another person in real time or in fantasy. He told us that whatever couples engage in sexually must be respectful and not tear down or demean one’s spouse. I have held to this as a compass for decision making in my marriage and in my counseling with others.

Boundaries in the bedroom
Based on my over 25 years of experience counseling people with sexual addiction, here are my thoughts regarding the boundaries for sex in marriage:

1. Sex must build and enrich the marital US. US is the relationship itself. When one person forces or manipulates compliance with his or her own sexual desires and needs he can harm not only his spouse but the relationship itself – the US.
2. Respect. Respect your partner’s wishes. I like what my seminary professor said: Whatever you do must build up, encourage and not demean your spouse.
3. No pornography. The use of pornography in my experience is a sexually addicted husband convincing his wife to join him in his addiction.
4. Bondage and Sadomasochism is about power and control and not love.
5. Sex in marriage is an expression of love and intimacy. Sex acts that result in power, control, or selfishness are harmful to the marital bond. Can you imagine the man and woman in the Song of Solomon spanking or using bondage to show God’s love to each other?

Sex is the second leading reason for divorce next to finances. With the prevalence of pornography and sexuality in various forms so public today, it has reached into the Church and in Christian marriages. May we protect our marriages and our families by using boundaries and principles given to us in scripture.

Dr. Richard Marks is a licensed counselor and pastoral minister specializing in marriage and family with Live the Life Ministries. He and Louella have been lovingly married 31 years and have 3 adult children and he can be reached at

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