Conversations (2): Fifty Shades of Grey

Conversations 50 Shades

Corralling Books and Fiddler Blue have begun a meme to inspire bloggers to engage in conversations.  Participants answer the question of the week and then discuss!  Even if you aren’t participating formally, feel free to leave a comment.  This week’s prompt is:

Is fifteen-years-old too young to be reading Fifty Shades of Grey?

I haven’t actually read Fifty Shades of Grey, and I have no plans to, so my answer cannot be based on any specifics about the book itself.  However, I think the question people really have about the book is: Is there a certain age where it isn’t appropriate to read erotica (particularly erotica that features sexual acts that aren’t necessarily considered mainstream)?

As far as I can tell, there are two very simple answers to this question.  One is: We shouldn’t stop people from reading whatever they want.  The second is: Society has general standards about what material is and is not appropriate for children, and giving erotica to minors isn’t something our society currently approves of.

Lacking any other information about a particular fifteen-year-old reader, I would err on the side of caution and choose the second answer.  Fifty Shades of Grey is not appropriate reading material for a young teenager.  American society puts age restrictions on all kinds of sexual material.  Minors are not allowed to see R-rated movies, to enter sex shops, to use “adult websites” on the Internet (with certain exceptions for being accompanied by a legal adult, etc.).  Though books are not typically rated for content in the way movies are, I think most of us can tell an “R-rated” novel when we see one.

Of course I’m not advocating ripping Fifty Shades of Grey out of the hands of teenagers or banning them from purchasing the book in an attempt to maintain some level of societal decency.  However, I do believe it’s perfectly acceptable for the adults responsible for a particular teenager (parents, guardians, teachers, etc.) to monitor the material that a minor reads.  I know some people think it may border on censorship to tell children and teens they “can’t” read something, but we make all sorts of other rules for minors–including the ones relating to what movies they can watch and what websites they can visit that I listed above.  Books do not necessarily get a free pass because they seem “more educational” or “worthwhile” somehow than other forms of entertainment.

Basically, my desire would be to defer to the parents/guardians of a particular teenager, who should know more than I do about what material they think their own child should be reading or can handle reading.  If a parent told me they were allowing their fifteen-year-old to Fifty Shades of Grey, I would accept that.  However, if I were the adult responsible for the teen (school librarian, chaperon at camp, whatever) and had no information about the parents’ desires, I would defer to general societal standards and say fifteen is too young for erotica.

Briana

35 thoughts on “Conversations (2): Fifty Shades of Grey

  1. Krysta says:

    There’s also the problem that the book apparently contains a positive portrayal of an abusive relationship. (I haven’t read it and wouldn’t know.) I don’t think you can morally justify allowing a teen to read a sexually-explicit text that glamorizes abuse. They’re still learning to navigate relationships and this is not the model they should have.

    I also have difficulty believing any fifteen-year-old is mature enough to read something like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cait @ Paper Fury says:

    I kind of just feel sad for the 15 year old, because if they’re reading this kind of stuff then they’ve definitely left their childhood behind. 😭 (Maybe I’m just an oddball here, but hehe, I was clinging to childhood when I was 15!!) I do agree that books shouldn’t be banned really. And some 15 year olds are more mature. But I would personally never want to read 50 Shades 🙈🙊 so my first reaction is “nooooo” 😂 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      It’s definitely not something I would have read at fifteen, and I doubt it’s common that many teens do. I just wouldn’t go against the wishes of a parent who said their child could. But I would not allow a child to read it if it were up to my judgment, to be safe.

      Like

  3. sassgasms says:

    I think it depends entirely on the maturity of the person. I’m not ashamed to say that I was one of those 15 year olds that read Mills and Boon and so did quite a lot of my friends actually, but I think the difference with those stories and stories like FSOG is the added element of BDSM. I never read full blown erotica until I was maybe 18 or 19. I think that too many books which have elements of BDSM erotica do not portray it in a healthy relationship (which it most definitely can be) and I think that’s one of the main problems with letting a 15 year old read this. It’s such an impressionable age and I hate to say that the younger children now a days are behaving more grown than I was at that age and I don’t think a lot of them are able to distinguish between fantasy and reality. With books such as FSOG they give a harmful view of what relationships should be like. (Also I’ve never read FSOG in earnest, but I have done a skim through for my GWS paper)

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    • Briana says:

      Yes, I am hesitant in general to give erotica to teens because, as a society, we’ve generally decided that it’s probably not a good thing they’ll be able to handle. When you’re just coming into your sexuality, getting descriptions of sex that many people consider harmful is probably not the best way to start out. Of course every person is different, and some teens are more mature than others, but that’s something I’m going to let their parents/guardians sort out. I would follow societal conventions and not given erotica to a teen or let them read it (if I were responsible for their behavior, as a chaperon on a school trip or something), unless I KNEW they had parental consent.

      Like

      • Krysta says:

        There was a case recently where teachers/adults associated with the school rented “50” and let the girls watch it in the car ride for a school event. I’ve seen arguments saying the girls were of age and some had seen it before. First, you do have the problem that parental consent was not given and it usually is needed for movies in school. But also, would this be a case of potential sexual harassment? In all the training and workshops I’ve gone through, dirty jokes, provocative photos, explicit material, etc. are banned in the workplace because someone might be made to feel uncomfortable because of it, but also be too uncomfortable to say anything about it. Imagine this scenario where you might be peer pressured into watching erotica in a car that you can’t leave.

        So, yes, parents get final say over what their kids watch/read, but I can also think of cases where it’s not appropriate for the teen to be reading it–in school, for example, where they might share it with teens who do not have permission to read it.

        I know everyone wants to be hands-off and “live and let live,” but sometimes doing that can cause other problems.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jubilare says:

          I would certainly feel like I was suffering sexual harassment in a situation like that. Something very similar happened to me when I was younger, though it was a choice made my peers who didn’t know better as adults should have. Ugh. I am horrified by those teachers/adults. Shame on them.

          Like

          • Krysta says:

            I was traumatized by a much tamer film in high school. Afterwards, I suggested to the teacher that the film was inappropriate for school and ended up crying for some reason I still don’t understand. It might have been the stress of telling an authority figure they were wrong.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Briana says:

          Yes, that seems to have been a bad decision all around, considering both that you usually need permission slips to show movies in schools and that all sexual harassment training anyone in education receives says this is a no-go. I’m not sure how there could be any question from the school’s end: the teacher(s) involved should get in trouble, and any parents chaperoning should not be allowed to do so in the future.

          I haven’t seen the movie either, but I’ve gotten the impression it wasn’t *quite* as sexy as people were expecting. But who knows what that means? It still had a rating way too high to show kids in a school.

          Like

  4. Annika - Hiding Books says:

    Great discussion! I haven’t read it either, but based on everything I’ve heard I don’t think anyone should be reading such rubbish. But as much as I’d like 15 year-olds to keep away from books like this, it’s not going to happen.
    The thing is, as a 15 year-old, I wouldn’t have liked anyone criticising my reading choices – and no one did. So I can’t in good conscience agree to regulate anyone’s reading. I appreciate some parents will, and I definitely think that’s their choice, and their right.
    Ultimately, it depends so much on the person. A mature 15 year-old will understand it’s not true, and that the book is just rubbish (and hopefully won’t even finish reading it). Some fifteen year-olds would definitely be better off not reading it though!
    Thanks so much for sharing!

    Like

    • Briana says:

      I think teens are disgruntled by a lot of restrictions we put on them, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. :p Of course it would be really easy for a teen to read this on the down-low even if a parent told them they wanted them to wait to read it till they were older, but I think putting guidelines in place is useful anyway.

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      • Annika - Hiding Books says:

        Guidelines are good, I definitely agree! But it depends so much on the individual – I mean, personally, I had a lot of responsibility when I was younger, so if someone had tried to control my reading (the only thing I had to myself, that would let me get away from the situation), I really wouldn’t have gone with it. But for a more… normal teenager, yes- if a parent suggests that they’d like them to wait until they’re older, I would totally understand that. And if a kid had a tantrum about it it would seem like they’re definitely not ready to read about difficult topics…. 🙂

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          A lot of teens also think they’re much more mature than they actually are. I think it’s difficult for a high school freshman to assess honestly if they’re able to handle something like this. True, many will put a book down if they discover they can’t handle it. But I would be really worried if I saw a bunch of teens reading this. They’re impressionable. Imagine if a guy saw them reading it and thought he could use it to his advantage, tell them he loves them and love plays out like that. Young girls are already vulnerable to feeling pressured to do things they don’t want/go farther than they want to keep their partner’s interest.

          No, you can’t do much if a parent allows their teen to read the book. But that doesn’t make it right.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Annika - Hiding Books says:

            That is true! And I think peer pressure might honestly have a lot of effect on this.
            I would definitely be worried if I saw a bunch of kids reading it too! And I guess in a way, the fact that as a society we don’t approve of that is a good thing. But on the other hand if we make it seem like something forbidden that all the adults are obsessed with, then teenagers will be more likely to be interested?

            I’m totally not arguing that we should let every 15 year-old read Fifty Shades or that we should encourage them to! I think just never feel comfortable saying we shouldn’t let teenagers make their own reading decisions. I do think there are things that are inappropriate for kids to read (and I really don’t think anyone should read rubbish like 50 Shades) – but at the same time… As a fifteen year-old I made my own decisions about jobs, bought groceries, took care of four little sisters, and dealt with a lot of things – so if someone had decided to suddenly take issue with my reading choices, it would have seemed really… unfair, you know? That’s not to say that I ever wanted to read 50 Shades, but still.

            I’m not entirely clear on what I’m trying to articulate but I guess it boils down to two things: Firstly that it’s important that sex ed for kids comes from something other than books like this; and secondly, that we as adults stop promoting things like Fifty Shades. If we think it’s worth reading and watching regardless of the way it portrays women/sex/anything else, then I dunno… Where is this world headed anyway? And why am I writing essays on everyone’s blogs? I’m so sorry! I definitely agree with both of you to a large extent, Krysta and Briana!

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            • Krysta says:

              You’re totally allowed to write essays on our blog! We love reading comments! And I do think we agree more than we disagree. To a large extent, I think teens can make their own reading choices. I know I put down books that made me uncomfortable. I just think that “50” is a bit different from something like…I don’t know. Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. (Which I’m not sure I’ve ever read, incidentally…)

              And, yes, teens will wonder what their parents are keeping from them, but I think that happens anyway. I definitely didn’t understand why my mother told me I couldn’t watch certain TV shows (I thought if it’s wrong for me, shouldn’t it be wrong for her?), but I accepted her rules because I lived in her house. And she had her reasons. She told me I couldn’t read Gone with the Wind when I was around eight. I probably wouldn’t have made it very far anyway (I’ve still never finished it, actually) but I guess she figured she didn’t want to risk her eight-year-old finding out what a prostitute was, and I don’t think she was wrong.

              Like

          • Annika - Hiding Books says:

            We do agree more than disagree, definitely! And that’s a good point – Fifty is very different from other books that sometimes get banned or access to them restricted.

            I think you’re very lucky to have a mother who cares so much about you! And I don’t think she was wrong either – I really don’t. For a parent, I think it’s well within their rights to direct what their children are reading or watching.
            I guess I just feel like it’s difficult to draw a line on what’s allowed and what’s not once we get started on it? This is so tricky!

            Like

            • Krysta says:

              Some people just have a zero tolerance policy, like some schools, but I think generally people can just use common sense. Maybe a teacher bought a classic book for her classroom shelf and it turns out there’s an instance where a character curses once, but profanity is not to be in any books in the school. Hopefully everyone can acknowledge it was an oversight, that the book might still have value, and that the child will probably not be scarred for life. And then move on. However, if you’re being required to read a book full of expletives, that might be different, and I think most people realize that.

              Like

  5. Greg says:

    I think 15 is too young, I agree with what Krysta and Cait both said. Those are pretty much my reasons too. It’s just such an impressionable age for something like that… I don’t think the average 15 yr old needs to read that stuff but that’s just my opinion.

    Like

    • Briana says:

      Yes. I put in a caveat that I’d let a teen go if I knew their parents would be ok with it, because I’m not generally a fan of questioning parenting decisions unless there seems necessity. But I in general wouldn’t want to give that material to a teen, and I think society generally agrees with that. We keeps teens from all kinds of sexual material. This book doesn’t seem that different to me, or as if there should be some kind of exception just because it’s a book.

      Like

  6. Cilla says:

    I think I would’ve been so scarred if I had read Fifty Shades as a fifteen-year-old; I wouldn’t have been ready for it at all. I’m sure there are teenagers who are prepared for it (though that’s kind of sad if they are, I think, since that’d be growing up too fast), but I agree – it’s akin to an R-rated movie and it’s not necessarily wrong for parents to tell their children what they can’t read yet. The only thing with that is that being told no might actually make them more interested in the material? I think what would be fantastic is if parents could have a conversation with their teenagers about it, like “you can’t read this now, but read that one instead” kind of conversation.

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    • Briana says:

      I think a determined teenager could get around all kinds of rules, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try . We don’t lower the drinking age to 13 just because we figure, “Hm, a lot teens go behind our backs and drink anyway.” 😉 I agree, though, that it would be helpful if the parents and teen had a good relationship and were able to have a conversation and work with that.

      Like

  7. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Gonna be a bit odd with this one and say that, while in general I’m okay with teens reading about sexual content (it’s a great way to learn after all) I really *would not* recommend this book to a 15 year old. It has nothing to do with the sexual content and everything to do with the relationship in the book being completely toxic. (And also the fact that books are supposed to broaden your mind and this is appallingly written) But really, I think the second you try to discourage people of any age from reading something they’ll immediately go and do it. The best thing to do is to be frank with young people and discuss the book at length (aka why buying someone a laptop should not be a way to buy someone’s affections and I why being a creepy controlling stalker is *not* ok) (sorry rant over)

    Like

    • Briana says:

      Thanks for the comment! As I mentioned, I haven’t actually read the book so I don’t know too much about the relationship dynamics. But, yeah, I would *not* want to encourage teens to take expensive gifts from people in relationships. Or to creepily offer them, if that’s an option for them….

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    I feel tears welling up because BRIANA YOU DID AN AMAZING DISCUSSION. Analytical and concise, you really got to the heart of the question 😍Especially loved how you mentioned that other forms of entertainment have been banned – but not erotica. Very interesting discussion post, Briana~ .😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      Thank you! I think sometimes we’re tempted to treat books differently because they’re a “high form of art” and telling someone they can’t read a book is “basically censorship.” So comparing it to all the other kinds of material we’re okay with keeping away from teens made sense to me. Censorship is telling people NO ONE is allowed to read a book, not suggesting to someone they wait until they’re older. We don’t hand out Lady Chatterley’s Lover to middle schoolers. This seems like the same idea.

      Like

  9. jubilare says:

    “With books such as FSOG they give a harmful view of what relationships should be like.” This. I haven’t read the book (that seems to be a theme, here, lol!) but from what I have heard, the relationship portrayed is absolutely toxic. Many in the BDSM communities have, apparently, outright condemned the book as a misrepresentation of BDSM sexuality.

    Like

    • Briana says:

      Exactly! I think sometimes we forget what it was like to be teens–or don’t necessarily have a good idea of what we could actually have handled as teens ourselves, even with hindsight. It’s easy to say “I think would have been ok doing/reading/watching X in high school because I was mature, and I know there are other mature teens.” But sometimes you don’t know or aren’t necessarily the best judge of how mature you are. (Does anyone actually believe they’re immature?) So I would want to be as safe as possible and not give teens what could be harmful material. There’s so much other stuff they can be reading anyway. It’s not as if someone’s going to suffer because they waited till they were 23 to read FSOG.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jubilare says:

        “Does anyone actually believe they’re immature”
        Good point. I seriously doubt anyone does.

        Another argument against reading FSOG is simply how mind-numbingly bad the writing is. I’ve seen snippets, and I felt physical pain reading them. 😉
        We need to introduce young people to good writing! Which is why I love what you gals do here.

        Liked by 1 person

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