Michigan State University researcher Amy Bonomi says that young adult women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are more likely than nonreaders to suffer from eating disorders, binge drinking, and abusive partners.
The study, which is one of the first to investigate the relationship between popular fiction and health risks, appears in the current issue of the Journal of Women’s Health.
The researchers studied more than 650 women aged 18-24, a prime period for exploring greater sexual intimacy in relationships, Bonomi said. Compared to participants who didn’t read the book, those who read the first “Fifty Shades” novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them; 34 percent more likely to have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies; and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than 24 hours.
Those who read all three books in the series were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink – or drink five or more drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month – and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime.
I do have some quibbles here. Examining a single age cohort is always dangerous, especially when most of the women I’ve witnessed reading this book are married and in their 40s or later. Bonomi also says that her research isn’t aimed at banning the book or slut-shaming women, but she uses a rather prudish standard of promiscuity at just five partners. My experience is that most women who graduate college today already meet or exceed that number.
And Bonomi may have the cart in front of the horse: perhaps college-aged women with bad relationships tend to read the bestselling novel because it speaks to their experiences, not the other way around. Has Bonomi controlled her study for the influence of, say, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, which has also been accused of promoting unhealthy relationships?
Last but not least: are these effects mirrored in male readers? If literary depictions are so powerful that they lead to so much bad behavior, surely men who read Fifty Shades are more likely to abuse their partners after reading it, too. You’d think this trend would be less subjective, and therefore more easily studied, than deciding how many sexual partners are “too many” for a 24 year-old woman.
Of course, the obvious answer to these questions is that more studies are needed; the more distressing answer is that American popular fiction is crap.