‘Sinful Pleasure’ or Just ‘Sinful’?


The latest cultural phenomenon creating controversy and driving public discussion is the book trilogy ’50 Shades of Grey’.  Considered by some as ‘degrading and pornographic’ and by others ‘a story of empowerment’, there are plenty of people on both sides of the debate.

Since it is often difficult to discern fact from opinion, we decided to ask average Americans what they thought about the book series.  What we found was quite different from the views that are being portrayed in the media, specifically that the ’50 Shades’ books are not appealing to Moms and housewives.  While there is undeniably a group of passionate readers they are more likely to be Young Singles.  For our test in August 2012, we contacted 1032 Rep American Adults 18 and up of whom 653 Adults who where aware of ’50 Shades of Grey’ and asked them a series of questions about the books. AWARENESS AND READERSHIP 64% of all Americans have heard of the ‘50 Shades of Grey’ series, but awareness is much higher among Adult Females (73%) than Adult Males (55%). Of those people who where aware, 12% of Adults had actually read at least one of the books.  As expected, Women who were aware were more likely to have read them (15%) than Men (9%). One of the more surprising findings came when we looked into who is actually reading the books.  In the media, the books have been frequently been referred to as ‘Mommy Porn’, a description that has been used both as a positive and as a negative phrase.  In reality, Parents are actually less likely to have read ’50 Shades’ than Non-Parents (10% vs. 14%).  Single Unmarrieds who have heard of ’50 Shades’ are significantlymore likely to have read the books (19%) than Marrieds with No Kids (10%) or Marrieds with Kids (9%).  In a similar manner, 20% of 18 – 29 year olds and 30 – 39 year olds have read the books, while only 6 – 8% of those aged 40 and up have read them.  Based on this data, we would suggest that the demographics that these books are appealing to are young, single and unmarried much more so than ‘Moms’ as the general media coverage to date has implied.  It is unclear whether this is a reflection of younger Americans’ view of marriage and relationships or more a desire to see what the buzz is about, or be titillated. ATTITUDES As pointed out earlier, there are widely varied, but passionate opinions about the book series and the cultural message that it sends.  To find out what the primary attitude toward the book series is, we gave respondents a series of statements and asked which one they agreed with most. Among people who claim to have heard about ’50 Shades of Grey’ the primary attitude is ‘the series is a fun read and not to be taken too seriously’ which was chosen by 41% of Adults and 46% of Females.  The second most commonly chosen statement was the ‘series is a bit of fantasy where the woman finds a man who will meet all her needs and appreciate her femininity’, which was selected by 30%.  Interestingly, this choice was selected more by Males (35%) than Females (27%). The least chosen option was ‘series sends a message that a woman just needs a man to take care of her’ which only received 6% of responses. When we dig a little deeper, we find a few enlightening data points.  When comparing the attitudes from those who are aware vs. those who actually read the book, we see an increase in people who believe that the book is ‘degrading to women’ (from 22% to 26%).  As the ‘degrading’ responses increased by 4 points, the ‘fun read, not to be taken too seriously’ responses decreased by 4 points. This implies that while some people may be considering the books ‘a fun read’ based on what they have heard from the media coverage, they may actually consider it ‘degrading’ if they were to actually read what is in the book. We similarly found that the more active one is in their faith and religious beliefs, the less likely one is to believe that the book is ‘fun and not to be taken too seriously’.  People who attend some form of religious service less than once per month (regardless of their claimed religion or denomination) overwhelmingly agree with the ‘not to be taken too seriously’ option (53%).  However, that number drops by over half (26%) among people who attend religious services weekly.  This suggests that the stronger one’s moral convictions, the more likely they are to reject the idea of ’50 Shades’ as being harmless entertainment. Readership Among Adults who read the book, it was about evenly split between reading the book on an e-reader (51%) and reading the soft-cover version (49%).   While the base sizes was low, we did find that of people who read the book in soft cover form, 47% exclusively read it in private.  This appears to confirm the commonly held presumption that a sizable number of people are somewhat embarrassed to be seen reading the book in public.  To make any conclusive determination, however, it would be necessary to have a larger base as well as compare these numbers with similar data for other books. GRAPHIC SCENES One of the more controversial elements of the ’50 Shades of Grey’ series is that the graphic and descriptive nature of some of the bedroom scenes is more fitting with the stereotypes of male-oriented content.  It has been speculated that many female readers are skipping the erotic passages, as they are not interested in the graphic scenes and are more interested in the relationships and the overall story.  Our data tells a much different picture.  We found that 96% of all Adult readers did not skip the erotic passages, but indeed read them.  There were no data differences between Males and Females in this regard.

Many who hold more conservative beliefs have tried to advance the argument that the story could be told just as well by leaving more to the imagination and leaving out the more explicit content.  To find out if this is in fact true, we asked readers to choose whether they would have rather have the same ‘story without the graphic elements’ of if they believed that the erotic elements made the book ‘more exciting and fun to read’.  Overwhelmingly, 83% of readers preferred the book with the graphic scenes included. We did see a slight gender difference with 80% of Females wanting them as compared to the 88% of Males.   INTEREST IN ’50 SHADES’ MOVIE When asked about their interest in watching the movie adaptation of ‘50 Shades of Grey’ currently planned for 2013, Adults who are aware of the trilogy have a 33% Intent to Watch (claiming that they ‘Definitely Will Watch’ or ‘Probably Will Watch’).  Females are more likely to want to watch the movie (36%) than Males (29%).  Those who read the books have a 78% Intent to Watch compared to only 27% Intent to Watch for those who are aware.  Overall, these numbers are in the average range of scores for other movies that are part of our Front Porch Research database. We also found that the Intent to Watch is highest among 18 – 24 year olds (51%) and that interest declines by almost half among those 45 and older (ranging from 26 – 29%).  This continues to support the idea that this franchise appeals to younger Adults and is not a Mom-driven series.   Conclusion ’50 Shades of Grey’ is a book that primarily appeals to Young, Married Adults and Non-Church Attenders.  It is not a ‘fantasy book for Moms’ as presented in the Media, but the majority of Adults who are aware of the books consider them to be harmless fun.  Women are much more aware of the books and are more likely to read them than their Male counterparts.  Only about a quarter of Adults consider the book to be ‘degrading to women’ with no differences in attitudes among Men and Women which is surprising given the dominant-male, submissive-female plotline.   Based on our quantitative and qualitative assessment, we believe that the ’50 Shades’ movie will be moderately successful at the box office, but is unlikely to be a box office blockbuster.  Overall, we expect the visibility and discussion around this franchise to increase throughout 2013 as more people become aware and engage with the books themselves.

Source: Front Porch Research Online Survey - July 2012

‘Sinful Pleasure’ or Just ‘Sinful’?‘Sinful Pleasure’ or Just ‘Sinful’? - Download