Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstrual Considerations in Fifty Shades of Grey

July 25th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

SPOILER ALERT: Plot details in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy are revealed in this post.

Second book in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

Fine literary fiction it is not, but the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James can certainly claim to be libido-boosting storytelling. Deirdre Donahue at USA Today summarized the books’ appeal in 10 reasons ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has shackled readers. She pretty much nailed it. And she’s read the books, which is more than can be said for other writers, including this one who implied that heroine Anastasia (Ana) Steele signs a contract to become hero Christian Grey’s submissive in a BDSM relationship. She doesn’t.

Until he meets Ana, Christian’s sexual history has included only BDSM relationships, those involving bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sadomasochism.  BDSM plays a role in their love story, but the most sadistic thing that Ana submits to is a shot of Depo-Provera. re:Cycling readers know what I think of this contraceptive: I. Am. Not. A. Fan.

As a menstrual cycle advocate, I pay attention to menstrual mentions wherever they appear. It was impossible for me NOT to hone in on how James handles menstruation and birth control.

Christian quickly ascertains that Ana, a virgin when he meets her, is not using birth control. (His unflinching communication about sexuality is one of the books’ most appealing aspects.) As their sexual affair begins, he uses condoms. Within a week or so he asks when her period is due and says, “You need to sort out some contraception”. But our hero is a rich control freak, so he arranges for “the best ob-gyn in Seattle” to come to his home on a Sunday afternoon. Ana, the narrator:

“After a thorough examination and lengthy discussion, Dr. Greene and I decide on the mini pill. She writes me a prepaid prescription and instructs me to pick the pills up tomorrow. I love her no-nonsense attitude — she has lectured me until she’s as blue as her dress about taking it at the same time every day.”

Alas, Anastasia, just 21, is the perfect example for why researchers with the Contraceptive CHOICE Project are recommending that women under 21 use long-acting reversible contraceptive methods. She forgets to keep taking her pills when she and Christian briefly break up. It’s back to condoms for this couple, until Dr. Greene reappears, confirms Ana is not pregnant, and, after Depo-Provera’s side effects are dismissed as irrelevant because “the side effects of a child are far-reaching and go on for years”,  gives her the shot. I almost had to stop reading.

I get it that James uses Depo-Provera as a plot device, as becomes apparent. But the author’s decision to give Ana Depo-Provera is not in keeping with either Dr. Greene’s or Christian’s characters. I don’t believe for one minute that the best ob-gyn in Seattle would give Depo-Provera to any patient; she’d recommend a Mirena IUD. As for control-freak Christian, he is adamantly committed to Anastasia’s safety, evidenced in many ways. He would never consent to her taking a drug with these potential side effects: weight gain, digestive problems, depression, loss of bone density, vaginal dryness, and — especially — loss of sexual sensitivity and desire. Never! And he’s too smart not to know this.

Christian’s occasionally expressed distaste for condoms also seems to be a plot device considering he uses them so skillfully, and without obvious diminishment to either his or Ana’s pleasure, through 986 pages of the 1594-page trilogy. The tearing of foil condom packets is a leitmotif that in no way hinders this man’s exceptional “sexing skills”.

But James gets full marks for this: Christian Grey is not afraid of blood. While making love in a spacious hotel bathroom, he gently removes Ana’s tampon and tosses it in the toilet. Later, sitting on the bathroom floor, Ana remembers she has her period:

“I’m bleeding,” I murmur.

“Doesn’t bother me,” he breathes.

  

6 Responses to “Menstrual Considerations in Fifty Shades of Grey”

  1. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    Glad you found one redeeming feature in 50 Shades of Grey, Laura. I haven’t been interested in reading it, because most of what I’ve read about it is about how awful it is — like this piece, 50 Things Wrong with 50 Shades of Grey I came across yesterday.

    • Laura Wershler says:

      She makes some good points. The fact that the graduating English major didn’t have her own laptop or email address in 2011 just didn’t ring true. And the fact that, virgin or not, she had never engaged in self-pleasure despite all the romantic English fiction she’d read made me “roll my eyes.”

  2. Kat Bouchard says:

    I also have read the books and thought they were an okay read. I found it interesting that they even talked about birth control. Most books that have any sex in them generally just skip right to the ‘passionate love making’ at least this book talked about birth control and the consequences of not using anything. I think that that is refreshing.

    • Laura Wershler says:

      Good point, Kat. Their consistent use of condoms and the way they didn’t interfere with their sexual activity or pleasure was especially refreshing.

  3. I hate-read all three books. By the final installment I was skim reading the sex scenes to get to the plot progressions. I found it interesting that they opted for the ultra-convenient form of contraceptive considering one extra prop in the form of a non-hormonal contraceptive method could hardly have gotten in the way of the rest of their drawn out preparations for the actual act. I mean, they’re not exactly into sex I would call “convenient!” It’s so inconvenient in fact they barely get anything else done without massive amounts on staff help.

    • Laura Wershler says:

      Ha ha, you’re right about their sexual activity being “inconvenient.” Oh that we all could have so much help with the rest of our lives that we could concentrate so heavily on pursuing sexual pleasure.

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