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Fifty Shades of Grey: When Love Equals Pain

Fifty shades of grey_ when love = painSo I recently read the first book of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy and just started the second one a couple of days ago. I am still at the beginning but wanted to share some of my thoughts on the BDSM (Bondage & Discipline; Dominance & Submission; Sadism & Masochism) movement and that whole idea of the pain in love by looking at the characters in the book as an example. (I am only looking at the book; the movie could not do justice to the visceral experience of the book so if you’ve only watched the movie, you may want to grab yourself a copy of the book.)

The Story Line

If you haven’t read it, the story follows the love/pain relationship between a recent college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a successful, handsome and mysterious businessman, Christian Grey. It’s a story about a contract between a dominant and a submissive, who explore each other’s sexual limits and who experiment with the grey area between pain and pleasure with all the nuts and bolts of a typical S&M relationship (the contract, the play room, the safe words, etc.). As in any romance story, however, love creeps in between the two and suddenly, all rules go out the window.

Love = Pain

Christian Grey falls in love with the innocent, virgin and inexperienced Anastasia, who blows his mind with her willingness to give herself to him completely, becoming the definition of love=pain =pleasure. How do we make sense of Christian’s kinky sexual interests and Anastasia’s fascination with what happens in his red play room?

Well, we find out in the first book and later on in the second that Christian Grey had a very difficult and traumatic childhood, during which he was neglected and physically and sexually abused by dysfunctional adults in his life. His mother is described as a “crack head” and “a whore,” who had sex with random men. We don’t know much about his father but we do know that he was eventually adopted into a healthy, emotionally safe family, to whom he owes most of his financial and physical success.


As the love story between the two of them unfolds, we come to understand that the only way that Christian Grey had ever experienced the feeling of being loved was by feeling pain – both physically and emotionally. He was seduced by an older woman, who made him her submissive, referred to as “Mrs. Robinson,” for whom Christian harbors the tenderest of feelings. She seems to be both a mother figure and a lover to him – sex through pain being the only way that Christian learns to receive and show affection for another human being.


By being a dominant, Christian turns the rather passive experience of being an abused, neglected and abandoned child into the rather active role of being in control all the time. He ensures that no one woman can ever be in control of him, his body or his sexual pleasure and in fact, he is the only one responsible for ensuring that his own needs are met. This is an emotionally safeguarding technique that the adult Christian Grey takes on to protect the vulnerable and hurt child that still lives inside of him. Until he meets Anastasia Steele…

Vanilla Sex?

There is nothing vanilla about the sex Christian and Anastasia have in the book, far from it, but the story does attempt to answer the question: How can an emotionally fragile and physically abused as a child man love a woman in a romantic, passionate and  intimate kind of way?

As Christian’s feelings for Anastasia deepen, the common hope that love can cure it all comes alive and we find ourselves rooting for Christian to allow himself to love Anastasia in the old-fashioned, traditional, “vanilla” way. Any form of intimacy that expresses love and affection seems forbidden for Christian – he does not allow Anastasia to touch him and squirms, much like how autistic children do when being embraced as if pushing the adult away from themselves. He ties her hands almost every time they make love to ensure that she doesn’t touch him and is clearly challenged emotionally when it comes to making a relationship work. 

In the end… what’s the pain all about?

I still have to finish the second and third book to know how the story ends. But it is clear that when it comes to sado-masochism, bondage & discipline, and dominance & submission in the bedroom, there is a huge difference between doing it for the pure sexual excitement and gratification (like Anastasia and her “inner goddess”) and doing it because this is the only way that you know how to express or receive the love of another (like Christian Grey).


Do you have a personal experience with BDSM? Share in the comment section what was it like for you.

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Fifty Shades of Grey: When Love Equals Pain

Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC

Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC is a licensed clinical professional counselor and founder of Inside Family Counseling, LLC in Chicago. She is a Professional Member of the American Counseling Association and a member of Chicago Psychoanalytic Circle of the Freudian School of Quebec, Canada. She is the author of Mental Health Digest electronic magazine, your free, easy-to-read electronic resource on common mental health issues affecting you and your family, plus some suggestions on how to address them. She specializes in psychoanalytic psychotherapy for troubled children and adolescents, who face behavioral and emotional challenges at home and at school. Her mission is to empower, support and guide children, adolescents and their parents to a happy and healthy family. Mihaela also writes a Parenting Blog, where parents find helpful resources and practical tips on how to support their child and adolescent's behavioral and emotional development. You may find out more about her at

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APA Reference
, . (2019). Fifty Shades of Grey: When Love Equals Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Mar 2019
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