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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Are Women Who Read Fifty Shade of Grey Likelier to Be Abused By Their Partners?

Posted by on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 11:40 AM

The authors of a recent study published in the Journal of Women's Health claimed that women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are likelier to be abused by their partners and likelier to be abused by themselves—likelier to binge drink, develop eating disorders, and engage in risky sexual practices. The authors of the study claimed a "a dose-to-effect relation," meaning the more Fifty Shades a particular woman read, the greater her risk for intimate partner abuse, binging, risky sexual practicing, etc.


Robert James King—School of Applied Psychology, University College Cork, blogger at Psychology Today—took a look at the study's methodology, the questions asked of its subjects, and the data these researchers actually generated. And guess what? The study is so shoddily constructed that it amounts to scientific malpractice:

Let’s start with the so-called eating disorders. What was actually measured? Two things.

Q1 “Have you ever fasted for a day (or more)?”


Q2 “Have you ever used diet aids?”

That’s the lot. No. Calling the use of diet aids an eating disorder is just scare-mongering. These people didn’t have eating disorders—at least not that we know of.... [And the] criteria the authors use for prevalence of risky sexual practices were two:

Q1: “Have you had five or more sexual partners?”

Q2: “Have you ever had anal sex?”

Really? Boy, you young people! These are the criteria for risky sexuality?

So some "sex researchers" with pronounced sex-negative and kink-negative biases decided to do a "study" of Fifty Shades and—surprise!—they managed to gin up some bullshit correlations that appeared to ground their biases in some sort of objective reality. "All the authors have done is import their moralising and attached some numbers to it," says King. You don't have to be a fan of the books—and I'm definitely not a fan—to enjoy King's scathingly delicious takedown of this bullshit study. Go read the whole thing.


Comments (44) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
S & M of no interest to me, nor Fifty Shades (but that's for literary reasons) -- however, yeah, that "study" is bullshit.

To each (consenting) adult their own.
Posted by judybrowni on August 26, 2014 at 11:55 AM · Report this
AFinch 2
And time, once again, from the fields of scientific academia and statistics to remind everyone: correlation does not imply causation. Which is to say that even if the questions were any good and there was some kind of correlation (higher co-incidence) of abuse in the readership of 50 shades or BDSM in general, it's not necessarily the book that's causing it.

All hyperbole about bad literature making you want to gouge your eyes out, nobody ever does.
Posted by AFinch on August 26, 2014 at 11:58 AM · Report this
AFinch 3
ps - the infographic "humans" were awesome.
Posted by AFinch on August 26, 2014 at 12:00 PM · Report this
dnt trust me 4
"All the authors have done is import their moralising and attached some numbers to it," says King"

Thanks Dan! I've always wanted a quote to summarize the entirety of Slog.
Posted by dnt trust me on August 26, 2014 at 12:09 PM · Report this
Wow, have these authors ever heard of the book Seduction of the Innocent? It linked reading comic books to juvenile delinquency at a time when the overwhelming majority of kids read comic books.

It's not as if Fifty Shades of Grey is a well written book, but... egads.
Posted by Cat on August 26, 2014 at 12:12 PM · Report this
brandon 6
Even if there were evidence (which there isnt) of abused women reading Fifty Shades, how the hell can you draw the conclusion that the book caused their abuse?! Maybe the abuse made them attracted to the kink?

Still, its all bullshit from the get go so my point is moot.
Posted by brandon on August 26, 2014 at 12:26 PM · Report this
The only thing we know for sure about 50 shades is that a lot of women must have extremely boring sex lives to find any of it interesting. And that's sad.
Posted by Ricardo on August 26, 2014 at 12:32 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 8
If you read the journal article's abstract, the authors only use the relatively tame words "health risks." They're not using incendiary words.

They don't imply that subjects are more likely to be abused by a partner (although they do ask them about being threatened and/or stalked), and they don't call 5 sex partners or anal sex "Risky sex practices," they simply refer to that as "sexual behavior," which is exactly what it is.

They also specifically point out that it's correlation and they state outright that no causal path can be concluded.

Yeah, it's a pretty lame study, but you guys are making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe the full article is more inflammatory, but the abstract sure isn't.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on August 26, 2014 at 12:32 PM · Report this
When I last saw the study mentioned, it actually made a point of saying that they had not made any causative claims and had pointed out it was a correlation and discussed possible reasons why it might be correlated other than reading the book causing abuse. So, the study creators should not be blamed for bad reporting when people claim they stated causation, when it doesn't look like they did. However, those questions are crap. By that definition, both of my parents have an eating disorder, since they fast for 25 hours once per year for Yom Kippur.
Posted by uncreative on August 26, 2014 at 12:47 PM · Report this
Agree with 8.

There doesn't seem to be any judgment implicit in their questions with respect to sexual practices. They note specifically that they ask these questions because they correlate with higher rates of sexual violence, which has been well established by numerous studies. Likewise with the dieting aids and fasting, these questions have also been shown to correlate with higher rates of eating disorders, as has been established by other peer-reviewed studies.

I also agree that correlation is not causation. As do the authors. They specifically note that their study is unable to establish temporality. Given the basic tenets of modern biomedical ethics, it wouldn't be very feasible to conduct a randomized, controlled trial to expose one group of women to 50 Shades of Grey and compare them to a non-exposed control, with the hypothesis that you will cause the former group to be abused. What we're left with is observational studies which attempt to establish correlation. Welcome to statistics and scientific literature.

You also fail to address their primary finding, which is that having read 50 Shades of Grey does, in fact, correlate with having been the victim of emotional abuse from a partner.

Finally, putting "sex researcher" into scare quotes is a churlish move. The lead author has 44 peer-reviewed article on the topic of intimate partner violence and sexual abuse, which is good enough for me. Maybe some of her opinions differ from mine, but I'm glad that there's someone who has dedicated her life's work to studying domestic violence in an effort to reduce it.
Posted by RGW on August 26, 2014 at 12:53 PM · Report this
I'm no scientist...but I can make my own generalizations about anyone who reads Twilight fan-fiction...
Posted by Zinc Whiskers on August 26, 2014 at 12:57 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 12
You what really damages women's health? Rampant poverty! And the Republican south is not only a place where women are more likely to be killed or seriously injured by their male partners, it is also hostile to a decent quality of life. Let's start a movement called "10% More" where we all pledge to get 10% more women to vote! That would be a game changer.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on August 26, 2014 at 1:14 PM · Report this
rob! 13
I'm honestly curious why a number of good commenters go unregistered (like "uncreative" @9), and a Dan thread is as good a place as any to ask.

I'll assume you realize that many registered commenters leave that little "Unregistered" switch at the top set to "Off," which means that comments by unregistered users are all hidden.

Are you worried that even with an anonymous handle and a throwaway email your identity will be somehow unmasked and trumpeted to the world?

Do you like extra clicks and doing Captchas?

Whywhywhy? A lot of good registered commenters have departed in recent months. There's plenty of virtual space on the promenade deck; you don't have to stay down in steerage.
Posted by rob! on August 26, 2014 at 1:23 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 14
You "know" ... fuck.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on August 26, 2014 at 1:32 PM · Report this
Sea Otter 15
Are people who watch incest porn more likely to have sex with family members?
Posted by Sea Otter on August 26, 2014 at 1:44 PM · Report this
I would be interested in hearing the "next take" - who is more culpable here of malpractice: The authors, or the journal? We all know writers are allowed to write whatever kooky shit they care to; and magazines are allowed to publish whatever the heck they like. But we also know that, this is disinformative and essentially wrong. Who should [society] withhold their scorn for?
Posted by fetish on August 26, 2014 at 1:52 PM · Report this
There's incest porn? How do you know? Do the actors have dad/ daughter/ son/ mom( mum), labels on their foreheads?
Posted by LavaGirl on August 26, 2014 at 1:57 PM · Report this
care bear 18
Can you guys please go over to Seattle Central and take some basic statistics classes?
Posted by care bear on August 26, 2014 at 1:57 PM · Report this
Kind of like the definition of binge drinking, which is laughable.
Posted by Reader01 on August 26, 2014 at 2:41 PM · Report this
Call me Scott 20
The survey is shoddy. Period. And I encourage you to do what feels best, certainly--as long as nobody's getting hurt. AND, true confession, I've always identified anal sex as abusive.
Posted by Call me Scott on August 26, 2014 at 2:42 PM · Report this
Alison Cummins 21
Call me Scott @20,

Posted by Alison Cummins on August 26, 2014 at 2:58 PM · Report this
Hmm so anal sex and fasting cause one's taste in literature to decline?

Did the survey even suggest that 'risky' behavior was more likely AFTER they read the book? Now, I haven't read 50... but it wouldn't surprise me that it would attract a readership of women with bad judgment and poor taste.

Anal sex abusive? Ask my ex-wife.
Posted by Polyphemus on August 26, 2014 at 3:01 PM · Report this
delirian 23
Redo the study with decent questions, but this time use Twilight.
Posted by delirian on August 26, 2014 at 3:18 PM · Report this
@13 I like being unregistered. I keep telling myself I should register, even though I hate having yet another login to manage. I keep saying, well, if I ever have a really important comment to make, then I will. But I don't really view comments on articles as important, so I don't. Also, yes, I've said enough things in comments at times (when various minorities I am a member of are under discussion) that it could potentially make me more connected to my actual identity than I want. But that's only a minor reason, since being outed wouldn't be too bad, although I prefer not being so.
Posted by uncreative on August 26, 2014 at 4:14 PM · Report this
There is, however, a completely accurate"dose-to-affect correlation" of people reading Fifty Shades of Grey making HORRIFIC literary choices.
Posted by let me go! on August 26, 2014 at 4:22 PM · Report this
rob! 26
@24, thanks for responding. I'll leave it there, lest I appear too much of a nudge.
Posted by rob! on August 26, 2014 at 4:34 PM · Report this
@13, @24 Some of it is reasoning similar to uncreative.

I also think that at least some of my contributions help keep some of you brave souls reading unregistered comments, which may benefit someone who remains unregistered for reasons better than my own.

Lastly, have you read the registered comments? I am not sure I want to be lumped in with those assholes.
Posted by JBITSMFOTP, But Not The Most Odious On SLOG on August 26, 2014 at 4:34 PM · Report this
Sandiai 28
I loved King's article; it was quite amusing and informative. However, I read the study too (the whole thing) and found the methodology to be sound. What was offensive to my sensibilities was simply the question itself: Why on earth would you ask about the correlation between a VERY popular book and some (debatably) poor lifestyle indicators? The question itself is so loaded as to be hogwash. King is also right that the main question should have been, "have you ever had a sexual partner?," or, "what kind of sex have you had?" since women who have experience with sex are probably a lot more likely to want to read about it.
Posted by Sandiai on August 26, 2014 at 4:35 PM · Report this
Sandiai 29
I'll be a nudge, uncreative. Do you mind if/that I quote you from time-to-time? I believe I never asked your permission before.
Posted by Sandiai on August 26, 2014 at 4:38 PM · Report this
venomlash 30
@11: Word.

@17: The sort of "wincest" stuff that infests the internet tends to be porn with caption overlays implying that the person(s) involved is (are) related. This picture represents a humorous satire of such images that contains no nudity nor, for that matter, persons.
Posted by venomlash on August 26, 2014 at 5:19 PM · Report this
venomlash 31
@26: I usually see it transliterated as "noodge" to avoid confusion.
Posted by venomlash on August 26, 2014 at 5:20 PM · Report this
rob! 32
@31, yeah, but I was dependent on the homograph for the [weak] joke over there in that other thread.
Posted by rob! on August 26, 2014 at 5:33 PM · Report this
@29 It's totally fine by me. I prefer if you quote me when I am making more intelligent comments and not when I'm sleepy and saying something full of grammar errors, but whatever. I put it publicly onto the internet, so I accepted the risks.
Posted by uncreative on August 26, 2014 at 5:48 PM · Report this
Sandiai 34
@33, thanks man. One reason why I like your comments so much is that they ARE so intelligent and devoid of (both typographical and logical) errors.
Posted by Sandiai on August 26, 2014 at 6:40 PM · Report this
Is this about getting people to buy the book? A promotional advertisement to curious persons to read the book and then judge for themselves if they want to do all the questionable things that it says will happen. Total bullshit, if you ask me.
Posted by longwayhome on August 26, 2014 at 9:36 PM · Report this
@10; I admit to having skimmed thru 50 shades. Hell, a book that famous can't be all bad , but it's worse than bad. It's boring. The writing is appalling ..
Did the researchers include education level in their questions?
Posted by LavaGirl on August 26, 2014 at 10:26 PM · Report this
Fact: Anyone who would read all the way through those books is a literary masochist.
Posted by Forthepowderroom on August 26, 2014 at 11:00 PM · Report this
sissoucat 38
@Pope Peabrain "You what really damages women's health? Rampant poverty!"

Posted by sissoucat on August 27, 2014 at 12:22 AM · Report this
sissoucat 39

Best comment on 50 Shades.

@10 "You also fail to address their primary finding, which is that having read 50 Shades of Grey does, in fact, correlate with having been the victim of emotional abuse from a partner."

There are two sides about the 50 Shades phenomenon : its subject (porn about a woman being abused by a POS, disguising himself as an honest BDSMer) which is not so unusual, and its success, which is unusual since books with such subjects rarely benefit from a bandwagon effect.

Because of this bandwagon effect, having read that book is no indication of the actual litterary/porn preferences of the readers. For the study of this researcher to have some meaning, it would have been nice to study whether the victims of emotional abuse from a partner, are more prone to following bandwagon effects, regardless of their actual tastes and preferences, than non-victims. Which could very well be.

Or, if the "abused woman porn" angle is what the researcher was after, it would have been nice (but longer) to ask the interviewees to read some less-known books featuring porn and women being abused (I've read two male-intended porn books in the 80s, and in both women characters were severely abused, so I can't imagine this genre being hard to find) and give their thoughts about it, to see if the correlation to victims of emotional abuse still holds. Which could also be.

But just establishing a correlation between her research subject (which, I agree with you, is very worthy of investigation) and an incredibly best-selling porn book : what's the use ? It just screams the equivalent of fame-whoring, in researchers' publication habits.
Posted by sissoucat on August 27, 2014 at 1:07 AM · Report this
I do realize that educated women are subjected to abuse ..
Posted by LavaGirl on August 27, 2014 at 1:24 AM · Report this
Perhaps a better question would be, "Are people who do not question or notice abusive dynamics in their real life relationships less likely to identify and call bullshit on abusive dynamics in media that they consume?"

Anecdotally, the one woman I know who has read and liked the books is the abusive one in her marriage (with a man).
Posted by Mayor Ogre on August 27, 2014 at 4:49 AM · Report this
Philophile 42
I hate it when Dan relies on idiots to evaluate studies. The abstract is transparent about what was measured. They looked at mild health risks to get a significant sample of risky behavior.

Psychology Today has some crap bloggers and some incredible bloggers who often contradict each other.

I also looked at the raw results data table. Kinda scary how the self harm (binge drinking, disordered eating, risky sex) correlates. The abusive partner data is less convincing, and the dosage hypothesis didn't work consistently. The sample was also college students which I think should have been in the abstract.

I call bullshit on your judgement that this is bullshit. Just because it's in bold print in a newspaper blog doesn't mean it's true.
Posted by Philophile on August 27, 2014 at 5:51 AM · Report this
Ophian 43
Huzzah for me: no eating disorders, but some hella risky sexual practices!!
Posted by Ophian on August 27, 2014 at 12:16 PM · Report this
All I have to add to this is: Spurious Correlations.
Posted by Scribbles on August 27, 2014 at 2:31 PM · Report this

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