It’s a word that makes many of us blush. Even still, it’s a word our culture will glorify once again in the finale to the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed.
Power and Control
The Fifty Shades trilogy fits into the erotic bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism (BDSM) role-play genre. The books became a runaway bestseller as a form of erotica you didn’t have to buy in an adult bookstore. The movies became famous for being R-rated, socially acceptable pornography.
Sexual control is the theme throughout. “I exercise control in all things, Ms. Steele,” says billionaire Christian Grey, the lead male character, to college senior Anastasia Steele, the lead female.
“We must recognize that our sexual fetishes are not shades of grey.”
According to articles about the series, Anastasia processes her experiences in lines like these: “He likes to hurt women. The thought depresses me.” “This evening, he actually hit me. I’ve never been hit in my life. What have I gotten myself into?”
The fetish sessions are in fact torture sessions — never about a man’s devotion to a woman, but instead motivated by pure flesh. They’re a power grab and an act of revenge, a way for Christian to retaliate against his mother and respond to childhood trauma. Christian is far from immune to objectification himself — an older woman, Elena, introduced BDSM to him as a teen to the point that he could no longer find arousal in anything less than sexual fetishes.
A Jealous Masquerade
In this third and final movie, Ana and Christian are now married. One synopsis explains the new movie like this: “Anastasia Steele must adjust not only to married life, but to her new husband’s wealthy lifestyle and controlling nature.”
Marriage sanctifies the behavior, right?
Wrong. It amplifies Christian’s control, as Katherine Blakeman explains,
This unconvincing lie becomes all the more repulsive in the third part of the trilogy, when Christian Grey tells his wife, Ana, who suspects him of cheating, that he “made a vow to love [her] faithfully, forsaking all others, to comfort [her] in times of need, and to keep [her] safe.” Apparently Christian Grey’s definition of “safe” doesn’t include physical, emotional, or psychological safety for Ana, just ultra-possessive jealousy on his part that keeps her “safe” from other men. Some might argue that Ana’s character, and perhaps women in a similar relationship in real life, consent to the abuse they suffer, and that it spices up their romantic life. But consent does not remove the psychological and physical damage created by their mistreatment and abuse.
By his own admission, Christian Grey is not a romantic. He is a control freak, using “jealousy” as an excuse to masquerade his intricate manipulation.
This sickeningly popular series glorifies patterns that twist God’s design for sexual desire. When we separate sex and our sexual appetites from God, they turn perverse. They turn toward serving self and “getting off” rather than making love.
Fetishes of the Flesh
“The more we give in, the less precious our brothers and sisters will become in our eyes.”
But the release of Fifty Shades Freed is not only a cause for lament. It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge that sexual fetishes, like the ones on the big screen and the ones in bestselling books, also dwell in the flesh of Christians.
We would be naïve to think Christians do not struggle with sexual fetishes — if not in practice, then in their secret porn searches or in the unspoken fantasies of their hearts. The popularity of the movies reminds us that these lurid desires are more common than we imagine, even within the imaginations of people seeking to follow Christ.
Brother or sister, I do not loom above you, condemning you for the dark lusts that entangle your good, God-given desire for sex. I am no stranger to this darkness. I am here beside you, with a broken past of my own, telling you that God has designed you for greater, God-glorifying outlets for your attractions.
I simply point you forward to him — to the Light.
Face the Darkness
We must recognize that our sexual fetishes are not shades of grey, ambiguous desires that don’t really matter. They are black with sin, diametrically opposed to our nature as children of God (Galatians 5:17). They are hurting you and draining your walk with Christ. Our appetite for them must be starved if we’re to walk according to our blood-bought nature.
These fetishes are also damaging your regard for precious image bearers of God. Much of what defines “fetish” requires thinking of fellow humans as bodies to be hurt and controlled rather than as eternal souls who are to be selflessly served and loved. This mind-set spills over into our relationships with friends, spouses, and everyone else.
The preciousness of the marriage covenant as well as its purpose of reflecting Christ and his church begins to diminish in our eyes. We become like Adam and Eve, forsaking the presence and relationship with the eternal God for a moment of fleshly satisfaction. And the more we give in, the less precious our brothers and sisters will become in our eyes, which does not fit our call as brothers and sisters (Romans 14:18–19; 1 Timothy 5:1–2).
Sisters, Christian Grey is not the type of man God wants for you — not for your eyes, your heart, or the temple of your body. Brothers, Christian Grey is not the type of man God wants you to be — sex idols wanted only for your body or wealth, while degrading and dehumanizing others.
Speak Your Sin
The thought of confessing is terrifying, isn’t it? It’s terrifying to verbalize your darkest sins, your pet sins, your embarrassing fantasies — the ones you’ve run to for comfort, maybe for many years. Sexual sins are especially shameful, especially hard to confess, more likely to be shrouded in secrecy.
Although my distorted attractions began when I was young, I didn’t tell anyone about them until very late in my college career (partly because they were taboo and partly because I didn’t realize until then that they were sexual sin). While the BDSM genre is not my area of fetish struggle, my long-term grappling with distorted desires has caused me to reach out to female friends for prayer, encouragement, and accountability. I’ve experienced great triumph since I first shared with them.
Confession must be done, even if you cry and tremble and nearly vomit while you do it. We should be disgusted by the cravings that have pushed us to seek arousal outside of God’s good design in marriage (Hebrews 13:4). But how can we confess such “unspeakable” struggles?
We need not dread with Christ as our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 1:30). With repentance in our hearts, we can name our sinful desires without fear (2 Timothy 1:7). Yes, even our sexual fetishes fall under God’s promise, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). That includes your fantasies about that thing, your lusts for even those.
Freed to Glorify God
In Christ, true freedom is offered to us all — even to men and women who are bound to sexual fetishes.
The King of the universe saw the lurid sexual fetishes driving human desires, and instead of ignoring us in shame, he stepped down to buy us out of our slavery to objectifying sexual practices.
In Christ, we are enabled to enter his throne room confidently unashamed (Hebrews 4:16), and invited to fill his courtroom with praise both now and in eternity (Psalm 100:4; Revelation 5:12–13). In that day, perversion will not be found, and we will be filled to the fullest measure of purity and loveliness in sight of the Lovely One, the Eternal God, our Savior from eternal damnation and current slavery to our secret sins.
“Don’t show the world that Christ is less beautiful to you than images on a screen or passages in a book.”
In contrast to the sexual fetishes that are celebrated by our culture and glorified by Hollywood, God calls each of us to manifest our union with Christ in our sexual self-restraint, as we control our bodies “in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:4–5).
Don’t let sexual fantasies run unchecked. Don’t show the world that Christ is less beautiful to you than images on a screen or passages in a book. If the Fifty Shades movies are of any value, it will be in offering a new opportunity to talk about the underlying lusts of the flesh, and to encourage sinners to turn from the sins of sexual control, to confess sexual fetishes, and to find freedom — true freedom — in the blood of Jesus Christ.