Is 50 Shades of Grey a realistic portrayal of S&M?

Between the media build up and advance ticket sales, 50 Shades of Grey’s release on Valentine’s weekend dominated box offices (excuse the pun) and broke an abundance of records throughout the US, the UK and Europe. In Ireland it was both the biggest ever February release and the biggest 18-rated release.

Despite these records, most audiences complained about a lack of sex in a film that was supposed to be about nothing BUT sex (there was roughly 15 minutes worth throughout the two-hour film). Christian Grey (Northern Ireland’s Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) clearly did not “lose control” in their S&M relationship as the movie’s logo would suggest.

Besides having thousands of Americans spelling grey the English way, the book, which sold a 100 million copies, also had the effect of making S&M more fashionable. It has been repeatedly reported that both the number of sex toy sales and sex toy related injuries increased throughout the Western world after the book became popular. The same trend is expected as a result of the movie’s release.

The media began the build up to the release of 50 Shades of Grey around the same time that the trial of Graham Dwyer, who denies murdering Elaine O’Hara, began in January. The media has also followed this trial very closely, often describing her death as tragic.

For those who are unfamiliar with the case, Elaine O’Hara went missing in August 2012 and architect Graham Dwyer was arrested at his Foxrock home after her skeletal remains were found in the Dublin Mountains in 2013. The prosecution claims that the pair had an S&M relationship, which resulted in her murder.

photo of Elaine O'Hara in blue dress
Elaine O’Hara

The trial continued at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin today and witnesses continued to paint a very sad image of Ms. O’Hara’s life. The 36-year-old childcare worker had psychiatric problems since her early teens and she had a long history of self-harm. She continued to struggle with mental health issues in adulthood and sadly went missing the same day she was released from the care of a mental hospital.

As well as describing the condition of her mental health, the trial has also revealed Elaine O’Hara’s interest in S&M. She used a number of fetish websites, which matched submissive users with dominant users. It is clear from the evidence that she liked restraints, degradation, submission and humiliation, not unlike Anastasia Steele.

Graham Dwyer denies murdering Elaine O’Hara, but evidence has shown that he fantasised about stabbing women and the prosecution believes he killed her for his own sexual pleasure (it is one of the darkest and most harrowing trials I’ve ever heard of in Ireland).

Some people would argue that this case is much more extreme than anything featured in 50 Shades of Grey. Other people would argue that watching Graham Norton cut out the abs of a life-size Christian Grey cake was more violent and disturbing, and perhaps sexier, than anything that featured in the movie.

These people would be right! I’m not a prude and I actually think it is a positive thing that 50 Shades of Grey has Irish people talking more openly about sex. It’s about time we caught up with the rest of the world.

However, I don’t think the film realistically portrays S&M relationships and perhaps the details of Graham Dwyer’s trial gives a more pragmatic insight into sadomasochism than 50 Shades of Grey does.

I also don’t understand how certain sections of the media can be so scandalised by the circumstances of Elaine O’Hara’s murder while, at the same time, building up to and promoting a movie which features an S&M relationship. This sends mixed messages about the subject to young people, who are probably already confused about the whole thing.

Whether Mr. Dwyer is innocent or guilty, it is clear that Elaine O’Hara needed help to build up her self-esteem and fight depression so she could live a better life. Her interactions with dominators would not have allowed this.

Christian Grey poster


Photos: Trace Missing Persons Ireland and 50 Shades of Grey Official Facebook Page

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