Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 464–485 | Cite as

Fifty Shades of Sexual Health and BDSM Identity Messaging: A Thematic Analysis of the Fifty Shades Series

  • Christine E. Leistner
  • Kristen P. Mark
Original Paper


The Fifty Shades book series is immensely popular, highly sexually explicit, and may offer an opportunity for sexual health education among readers. Past research has examined some of the messaging in the series from a variety of frameworks, but has not examined messages specific to sexual and reproductive health. Utilizing thematic analysis, the current paper aimed to examine the sexual health and BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism/Submission, Masochism) identity messaging presented within the Fifty Shades series in relation to optimal sexual well-being in the context of partnered sexual relationships. Sexual scenes (n = 44) revealed the following sexual health messages: sexual desire, orgasm, approach and avoidance goals, sexual and intimate communication, consent, contraception, and sexual/physical exploration. Trauma induced stigma and psychopathology were two additional themes identified specific to BDSM identities and practices. The findings are discussed within the context of the current sexuality literature, and opportunities for using the series as sexual health education are explored.


Fifty Shades of Grey Sexual health Popular media BDSM 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, College of EducationUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

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