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'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Opens Women Up To Porn, Study Says

02/13/2015 03:13 EST | Updated 02/13/2015 03:59 EST
Focus Features/Universal Pictures

The "Fifty Shades of Grey" book series is opening women up to pornography online, and helping them take their sexuality "into their own hands," say researchers at the University of Waterloo.

A study titled "Fifty Shades of Complexity" by Prof. Diana Parry and Prof. Tracy Penny Light that was published in the Journal of Leisure Research is gaining attention as the film adaptation of E.L. James' popular book hits theatres Friday.

"The 'Fifty Shades' series is an excellent example of the way that technology is facilitating women's consumption of erotica or pornographic material," Parry said in a university news release. "In the past, consumers and producers of sexually explicit material were almost exclusively men," she added.

The researchers say that the book marked the first time many of its readers were consuming porn or sexual content produced by women for a female audience, Parry told Salon.com.

They interviewed 28 women between their 20s and 50s about their porn consumption and found that the book also moved them into other literature and sexual material they could access online.

"It is exposing them to a genre of material that they either didn’t know existed or they didn’t know that they liked — but they’re reading the book and then they’re curious," Parry told Salon. "They want to know more. They want to see what else is out there, so they're going online to find that material."

That includes both visual and literary content, and subject matter they find on websites such as Good for Her and PornHub. And while they're taking in content that's been traditionally produced for heterosexual men, they're also looking into feminist porn.

"It's no longer solely about heterosexual male desire and that's one of the interesting components of this, it's women taking their own sexuality into their own hands," Parry said.

Prof. Light pointed out in the university's news release that women are also using technology to find support among online communities and blogs that are "normaliz[ing] the act of reading erotica, giving them the confidence to take the hard copies of books into the public sphere."

But while "Fifty Shades of Grey" may be helping women take control of their sexuality, there are questions about how liberating the digital, and traditionally male, space really can be for women. After all, it is pointing them to erotica that preserves patriarchal narratives, Parry said. And that's something "Fifty Shades" does, too.

“Despite empowering women to openly read erotica, the 'Fifty Shades' trilogy reproduces one of the oldest stories in the book: the Cinderella fantasy where a young, poor, heterosexual woman is swept off her feet and rescued by an older, highly successful and domineering, but damaged heterosexual man," she said.

But ultimately, many women see their engagement with such material as a positive experience that benefits both their quality of life and sexual wellbeing, said the news release.

"Women's sexuality in relation to technology isn't black and white, it really is fifty shades of grey," Parry said.

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