Not a date movie: Why ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ will be a girls’ night hit

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By Brian Alexander

Sure, fans of E.L. James’ kink-romance “Fifty Shades of Grey” book trilogy turned it into a mega-best-seller, but they can read books in private. Will women want to bring a date to a movie featuring lots of sex, bondage, and submission?

Even though the film is opening on Valentine's Day — the biggest date night of the year — women are likely to turn the movie into a social event, says Lynn Comella, a gender studies professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. “I could see groups of women getting together, close friends, making it a girlfriends night out,” Comella told TODAY.

She bases her prediction partly on the reaction to the books she saw in adult stores, where women came in groups to seminars and classes geared to bondage beginners. 

She has no doubt the movie's explicit scenes will appeal to female fans of the "Fifty Shades" books. “My guess — and this is speculative because obviously the film isn’t out yet — is that the film will do well,” said Comella, who researches sexuality and popular entertainment. “I think people who read the books, and enjoyed them... will be the first ones in line.”

Fans of the books have been turning the film version into a personal cause, hanging on to every bit of news about the movie and even going so far as to start a petition over casting choices. So they are clearly invested in the film version.

It could be similar to the opening weekend of "Sex and The City 2," in 2010 when (mostly) females fans of the series bought special party packages. 



A female group dynamic around visual erotica took shape starting around the 1990s, said Brenda Knight, publisher of Cleis Press, an erotica publishing house.

“Something changed, and women were not ashamed and embarrassed, and even considered it a bonding thing with girlfriends to have them over and make popcorn and open wine and watch movies that could be very cinematically graphic in how they deal with sexuality,” Knight said.

The idea that women do not enjoy erotica, including bondage and kink, has always been a myth. Over 40 years ago, in 1973, writer Nancy Friday published “My Secret Garden,” a collection of women’s sexual fantasies, many of which included submission. It’s still selling well, proving that long before “Fifty Shades” women enjoyed the literature of submission.

From 'Simpsons' to 'SNL', pop culture loves 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

They enjoyed visual erotica, too, though it’s only been in the past fifteen years or so that research has proven it. For example, in a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior last year from Brazil, “women reported higher subjective sexual arousal than men” while viewing erotic movies.



Women do seem to process visual erotica somewhat differently than men, but the result is the same: arousal and pleasure.  

And women like it explicit. In 2008, when researchers from Wayne State University School of Medicine tried to find out what sort of erotica should be used in research studies, they found that most appealing and arousing imagery “tended to exhibit heterosexual behavior with vaginal intercourse.” In other words, no gauzy shots in the style of romance novel covers: they'd like the real deal, please.

That’s why Rachel Kramer Bussel, editor of a newly released anthology called “The Big Book of Submission: 69 Kinky Tales,” said women will demand the movie version of “Fifty Shades” give them the Full Monty.

Some fans have expressed concern that the film’s producers will sacrifice the kink for the romance, focusing on beauty shots of glinting handcuffs. But fans of the books, Bussel said, want the film “to be as close to the book as the [producers] will be able to get away with. Showing anything that deviates from that, fans will be scrutinizing it closely.”

Brian Alexander is a frequent contributor to NBC News and a co-author of “The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction.”