EAST LANSING (WWJ) - Researchers at Michigan State University say young adult women who read "Fifty Shades of Grey" are more likely to be abused, engage in binge drinking, exhibit signs of eating disorders and have multiple sex partners than non-readers of the erotic novel.
According to researchers, women who only read the first book in the series are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner. Furthermore, researchers say women who read all three books are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.
All are known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character, Anastasia, is in "Fifty Shades," said Amy Bonomi, the study's lead investigator. And while the study did not distinguish whether women experienced the health behaviors before or after reading the books, it's a potential problem either way, she said.
"If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading 'Fifty Shades' might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma," Bonomi said in a statement. "Likewise, if they read 'Fifty Shades' before experiencing the health behaviors seen in our study, it's possible the books influenced the onset of these behaviors."
The study, which appears in the Journal of Women's Health, is one of the first to investigate the relationship between health risks and reading popular fiction depicting violence against women. Past research has tied watching violent television programs to real-life violence and antisocial behaviors, as well as reading glamour magazines to being obsessed with body image.
The researchers studied more than 650 female Ohio State University students, 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.
Bonomi, who has a doctoral degree in health services and a master's in public health, said she is not suggesting the book be banned or that women should not be free to read whatever books they wish or to have a love life.
However, she said it's important for women to understand that the health behaviors assessed in the study are known risk factors for being in a violent relationship. Toward that end, Bonomi said parents and educators should engage kids in constructive conversations about sexuality, body image and gender role expectations – and that these conversations start as early as grade school.
Bonomi said kids should also be taught to consume fiction, television, movies, magazines and other mass media with a critical eye
"We recognize that the depiction of violence against women in and of itself is not problematic, especially if the depiction attempts to shed serious light on the problem," she said. "The problem comes when the depiction reinforces the acceptance of the status quo, rather than challenging it."
A previous study led by Bonomi found that "Fifty Shades" perpetuated the problem of violence against women.
The "Fifty Shades" series has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. A movie adaptation is scheduled for release in early 2015.
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