It's no longer a secret: Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson will be Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in Universal's adaptation to 50 Shades of Grey. According to web sources, 50 Shades of Grey is the biggest selling book of all time! (Except the Bible, of course.)
This means that a worldwide cultural revolution has taken place -- and, of course, as authors of the New York Times best seller The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples, we wanted to survey the impact.
In our latest survey, we found some intriguing evidence of social change caused by 50 Shades. First of all, the response is overwhelming positive from readers. Only 2.5 percent women and 6.4 percent men said that the 50 Shades of Grey book(s) had a negative impact to their relationship. Negative impact included everything from, "reading the book made me want more out of relationship and I don't know what to do" to "my partner didn't like the idea that I was even reading it."
Of course, those could be seen as positive outcomes too: we think it is good for people to examine their sexual and emotional lives and if something is unsatisfying or if there is tension between partners, communicating about those differences should be a positive experience, because it offers the possibility of greater understanding and mutually acceptable change.
We wondered if some couples began a dialogue because they realized that a part of their sexual psyche was unfulfilled. So we asked, "Did reading the book make you more interested in kinkier sex?" The answer was dramatically in favor of an edgier sex life! Sixty-seven percent of women and 59 percent of men said yes, bring on the kinkier sex! If the book had this kind of impact, we can only imagine what the movie will bring.
Our study showed us interesting insights into what a large number of men and women would like if they had the nerve to suggest it to their partner. People have an active inner life that has a much wider range of fantasy that they keep to themselves. For example, they add a lot of variety to their sex lives, but it's mostly hidden in their thoughts about what they might like to do with their partner, and what they might like to do with friends, and, even strangers. We found that 61 percent of women and 90 percent of men sexually fantasize about people they meet. Makes you think twice when you meet somebody and what might be going through their head.
Since just looking at somebody can trigger sexual thoughts, we wonder what kind of impact watching this movie, or for that matter, any sexy movie, can have on a relationship? We know there is a demand for steamy sex scenes in feature films -- and the expectations for the 50 shades movie might be off the charts. The question is: Will people be able to handle the cinematic images of what Jamie is going to do to (and with) Dakota or are we only truly comfortable with our private fantasies? And more to our overall point: if we are turned on watching bondage and domination, are we going to experiment with it ourselves? Remember, most romantic stories are a lot softer sell. For example, when we asked people what was the last movie they saw with a most sensual love scene that they could remember, When Harry Met Sally and Ghost were two of the top movies mentioned. We are either way overdue for some more quality movies with sexier scenes -- or this is going to be going to be hard for a lot of women to look at! We are betting on women going in droves (maybe with friends as well as partners) to see and discuss the movie. But whether or not serious bondage and maybe even some intense spanking is going to be a world wide hit, remains to be seen.
But back to that larger question: can this, or any, movie truly impact a couple's relationship? We have some data to indicate it the impact could be more than you might think. Maybe When Harry Met Sally or Ghost didn't change people's lives, but other movies certainly did, and not always in a positive direction. We surveyed thousands of people and asked them, "Have you ever watched a sex scene in a movie or TV program that made you feel bad about your relationship's sex life?" Forty-three percent of men and 39 percent of women said yes, they did. A third of them also said they thought about breaking up after they watched the movie. When we dig deeper into our data we can see why they might feel this way.
We believe our data speaks volumes about the serious need for more sexual variety in relationships. The couples in our massive international study clearly tell us that they want more passion in their relationship. In the American sample, 94 percent men and 78 percent women said they were hungry for more intensity, variety and passion. So, if there is a huge amount of unmet desire, we can ask, how did we get this way, and what can we do about it? Why should our passion be evidenced by buying books like 50 Shades as opposed to spending more time in bed, doing more things? Why are playing sexy movies in our head, and having lavish private desires, but not executing at least some of these fantasies?
We think it's because we are too embarrassed to share our thoughts and desires, and too brainwashed about "propriety" to fully open up even to our dearest and most trusted partner. Weird, huh? But obviously true. Still, here comes 50 Shades of Grey, and this may give partners the permission to have frank discussions about sex and share their edgier thoughts. Our guess, even our hope, is that the movie allows partners to be able to honestly share fantasies and desires and let at least some of those infuse their sexual and emotional lives. This doesn't mean everyone has to tie each other up: but it does mean that partners should know what is going on in each other's fantasies -- and maybe enrich their shared sexual life with a few new and exciting acts. Stay tuned for the world post-50 Shades of Grey: The Movie!