Does Our Culture Glorify Sexual Abuse? - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog

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Does Our Culture Glorify Sexual Abuse?

How does blurring lines of perceived consent affect our culture — and you?


It’s not exactly news that sex is all over our TV shows, ads, books, and movies; but that doesn’t have to be a problem. What is problematic is portraying an abusive relationship as the romantic ideal, or to show the “assault them until they love you” method (ie. rape and assault) and say that’s consensual sex.

Does Our Culture Glorify Sexual Abuse?

When the 50 Shades of Grey trailer came out, most of my friends sent me the link with reactions that ranged from amused to disgusted. Watching the relationship in the trailer left me uncomfortable, so I checked out the book to pinpoint the source of my unease. Thankfully, I didn’t need to read far to find it: hiding behind this ‘love story’ and ‘inner goddesses’ and other such ridiculousness is an abusive relationship.

There are hundreds of prominent examples, from Star Wars to pretty much every James Bond movie made, to Game of Thrones.

In the Oathkeeper episode of Game of Thrones, Jaime rapes his twin sister/ lover Cersei, a sharp change from the consensual sex portrayed in the book. (Here’s the clip, in case you missed it.) Disturbing relationship dynamics aside, it was a troubling scene. It became even more troubling when the director and writers of the show insisted it depicted consensual sex.

The camera cuts away with Cersei still protesting, “No, stop, it’s not right!” It’s odd that writers would be confused about the definition of such a simple word, but in the English language, “no” denotes the opposite of consent. No consent is rape. And yet the influential men who bring us these ‘love stories’, like David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, and Alex Graves continue to argue about what shouldn’t be arguable, blurring society’s already foggy definition of rape even more.

Does Our Culture Glorify Sexual Abuse?

How have we been tricked into thinking that abuse is a romantic ideal?

50 Shades of Grey did the same thing to abusive relationships. It took a terrible issue faced by too many women in modern society and masked it under an idealized romance that denies the presence of a problem. I’m not talking about the violent sex, though. I’m talking about the clear patterns of emotional abuse that run throughout the story.

Anastasia is frightened of Christian in a way that is never normal or healthy for a relationship. She modifies her actions to avoid making him angry, a behavior typical of someone trapped in an abusive relationship. And the abuse in Christian’s behavior is quite clear: he stalks her, isolates her, and intimidates her. He tracks her whereabouts and restricts how she socializes. But instead of addressing these issues and condemning the abuse, 50 Shades holds up their relationship as an enviable ideal.

Does Our Culture Glorify Sexual Abuse?

Here are a few symptoms of abuse in its various forms (note: this is a very brief list and doesn’t include all signs):Does Our Culture Glorify Sexual Abuse?

  • Apathetic to your feelings / withholding care or attention as punishment
  • Constantly betrays your boundaries, like sharing your secrets with others
  • They make you feel guilty about wanting to see loved ones
  • Thinks you are incapable of most things / they know what is best for you
  • They accuse you of untrue things and try to force you into admitting to them
  • Embarrasses you on purpose / demeans you in front of other people
  • Tries to control you / everything you do, and is eager to point out your flaws
  • Hitting / biting / slapping / unwanted physical contact
  • Unwanted sexual contact / rape
  • Threats of bodily harm or general threats to your person
  • Manipulation / making things feel like they are all your fault

All of this sounds like something we’d want to obviously avoid. Yet, these things crop up in tons of media forms — and it’s having a real effect on us. A study showed that women who have read at least one of the 50 Shades trilogy were more likely to get into an emotionally abusive relationship. If that’s not proof that the media impacts our understanding of these issues, I don’t know what is.

What’s worse is that we, as women, are getting manipulated by what we see and read. Women are internalizing these patriarchal ‘ideals’ and this distorted perception of what is ‘sexy’, and self-objectifying. If you get turned on mostly by knowing that you’re turning a man on, instead of the man turning you on, or you focus on the man’s pleasure and arousal more than your own, or you strongly prefer to be dominated rather than loved during sex, then you’ve been affected by this.

A recent US governmental study by the library of medicine explains that self-objectification is “the process whereby individuals who are subjected to such objectification come to internalize the perspective of the outsider. Because objectification is often a gendered process (with women subject to the male gaze), self-objectification occurs more often in women than in men.

Women are internalizing these patriarchal ‘ideals’ and this distorted perception of what is ‘sexy’.

When self-objectification occurs, an individual focuses attention on how her body appears to others rather than on how her body feels and on how she can, using that body, perform actions in the world. The theory predicts several consequences of self-objectification, including body shame, anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and sexual dysfunction.”

Porn doesn’t help the situation (more about that here).

Our shows, books, and movies perpetuate the ridiculous idea that a woman shouting ‘NO!’ isn’t rape and a girl afraid of her partner isn’t abuse. It’s wrong. More than that, it’s dangerous. Sure, it’s just fiction, but the awful link our media draws between love, sex, and violence spills into real life. That means fewer women feeling able to report their assault, less support for survivors, more victim-blaming, and a less educated society. How can we tackle these issues if we don’t acknowledge rape and abuse when we see it?

If you’re still not convinced, check out this article from the male perspective, with tons of examples from popular movies and TV.

Find a way to play your part in this conversation, because the repercussions are simply too awful for the conversation to be limited any longer. Take action, even if it’s something as small as seeing The Last Five Years on Valentine’s Day instead of 50 Shades of Grey. Given the studies showing it increases your chances of being in an abusive relationship, it’s for the best.

Born in France but raised all over the place, Auriane has wanted to write ever since she was old enough to spell her name. In her spare time she loves reading, hanging out with her best friends (even when they’re not in the same time zone), and spontaneous singing with her Broadway-bound roommate.

Reader Discussion: 90 Comments

  1. As women, we need to support each other and when we see someone is being abused in public, then we can try to stand up for them and help them. This way we can unite and change the way society dictates how women should live. #womenshoutforequality

  2. Doreen Morales

    “How can we tackle these issues if we don’t acknowledge rape and abuse when we see it?” This is a good question, how can we act to something when we do not even know that it is already happening to us. When your partner force you to have sex even if you are not in the mood, then it is rape already. When you are forced to do what you don’t like or you keep getting curses from your partner, then you are already being abused. But often time, we do not see these as issues because we have used to live with it. We have seen it in movies, and books and we thought it is just normal. But it is not. #stopabuse

  3. Roe Merry

    I have seen porn and series quite a lot of times and it all showed the word “NO” in the opposite way. In porn, when a woman shouts no, the man would even insist and use her forcibly to the point that she’s already liking it. And in the series, the same goes for some of the stories. The point is, the society now have this impression that a “NO” can still be a “YES” when forced. And force is associated with violence and lead to abuse. And then goes the cycle.

  4. Nellie Solano

    Porn and movies that show sex at the most extreme level only pollute the society and the mind of the people. These are the platforms where people get great expectations from their partner and do such extreme things that are unhealthy and dangerous. Sex is part of any relationship and that is one of the ways to show your love to your partner but spare yourself from all those drama and extras and just stick to your “vanilla” old-fashioned way of love making.

    • Hachi Komatsu

      We just need to remember that sex is a union of two bodies and both should be pleasured equally.

  5. Martha Stamant

    While in reality, women are expected to be sexy all the time, being sexy shouldn’t be for men’s pleasure. We have to seek our desire to be sexy for our own sake and for us to feel better and not only to make the men like us or be turned on on us.

  6. Mary Smith

    It is sad that love has been interpreted in so many movies the wrong and disturbing way. It is just scary to think that if the media keeps showing movies with abuse and violence and still associate it with love and relationship, the future generation can be affected big time. Men would get the idea of domination and women can be expected to be submissive all the time, which is obviously wrong. I guess, we just need to be more vigilant and better choose where to spend our money and time wisely.

  7. Rebecca Dunlap

    I wouldn’t recommend seeing the movie 50 shades of grey because the content can be dangerous especially for young people. The movie is about the illusion of having dangerous sex with a student and mature men who are very experienced when it comes to sex. The story is abusive and unhealthy. It talks about stalking, punishing and using of sex toys which young people might think is normal. It gives the wrong idea that abuse and pain can be romantic and be misinterpreted as love.

  8. Wendy Hartt

    I stick to the way I see how may parents love each other. I think the best way is to love the old-fashioned way still. I do not see how pain, domination, and abuse be part of what we call love. Regardless of how the society shows u how we can show love in so many distorted ways, we should all know how we want to be loved and that is how exactly we want to show love to others too.


    Stand your ground girl! We are not here to be treated as a sex slave or a sponge to absorb negativity from our partners. Practice equality in your relationship. Be both dominant and submissive and your partner should do too.

  10. Amy Bolden

    As soon as you feel that you are no longer loved, or you are abused verbally, emotionally and physically, quickly leave the situation. No woman has to suffer any kind of abuse. #violenceisnotlove

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