What Is the Fifty Shades Effect?

Dakota Johnson looked delighted after I told her that day-after-day my doorman hands me a recent designer dildo.

“I’m on a number of sex-positive press lists,” I said, shrugging.

She smiled warmly after I explained how most of my mom friends dream about sleeping with everyone. And she or he nodded encouragingly after I rejoiced that a newly discovered lube might actually revive my dead-and-buried slutty side.


Since I’m a sex columnist, talking about X-rated topics with celebrities is not any big deal. I recently published a book called This Might Be Too Personal: And Other Intimate Stories, through which I openly shared about every thing from having an abortion to imagining my fertility doctor and I were starring together in a fetish porn.

Sexy talk with Dakota Johnson, nevertheless, felt more intimate. We were at a candlelit banquet to have a good time the collaboration between Maude, a sexual wellness brand (for which Johnson is an investor and co-creative director), and Sephora. But in addition, and maybe most significantly, Johnson was our onscreen Anastasia Steele, an experience she recently described as “tricky.”

It’s been 10 years for the reason that birth of the erotic, hypnotic culture shock that was Fifty Shades of Grey, the reportedly over a billion-dollar book-to-film enterprise that yielded a collective orgasm heard around the globe. While the primary Fifty Shades book by Erika Mitchell (aka E. L. James) was hardly the primary sex-focused splash in mainstream popular culture (for one, Sex and the City, and its movies, had already hit), many individuals got off on it. Some laughed at it. The kink community found much of the content problematic. And others, like me, were too pretentious to listen to any of it. Whatever the angle was, no one can deny that Fifty Shades did help usher in not only sequels, but a legit sexual awakening in America. It made people wish to read, talk, shtup…and spend.

Alexandra High-quality, co-founder and CEO of the favored sexual wellness brand Dame Products, can attest to the Fifty Shades effect. Dame launched its first product, a vibrator, right before the film was released. “The impact it had on sex toy sales was huge. It tickled the female chakra…our culture as an entire seemed more aroused and excited.” Pre-Fifty Shades, High-quality remembers that when an investor reviewed the Dame concept, his response was, “Is that this a joke?” Now, High-quality says, “I even have Nordstrom. Bloomingdale’s. Sephora. I’d like to say to that guy today, ‘Is getting cash a joke?’ ”

Robinne Lee, author of the sexy, and explicit, 2017 novel The Idea of You, featuring a classy older woman who has an intense love affair with a Harry Styles type, was a first-time writer. “It very likely influenced my success in a positive way. Fans of Fifty became my fans. Due to that book, I used to be like, ‘Okay, publishers and readers aren’t going to be scared off from the fabric in my book now…thanks, Erika!’ ” Serendipitously, Lee—who can be an actress—ended up with small roles within the second and third Fifty Shades movies.

As someone who read Judy Blume’s Ceaselessly a few hundred times (when my partner suggested the name Ralph for our son, I could only consider one thing), I used to be obviously intrigued by the Fifty Shades phenomenon. But unlike Ceaselessly, these were books and movies not for horny teens, but for respectable adults, giving them societal permission to indulge. “The evolution of sex is a results of the key impact of popular culture,” says Megwyn White, director of education for Satisfyer, a sex toy brand whose panty vibrators are a current best-seller. “Now we’ve got access to resources that we didn’t have even 10 years ago to debate sex freely.”

Jennifer MacGregor, MD, an in-demand dermatologist in Recent York City, has even detected a measurable change in her patients: They began opening up about their sex lives, wanting more pleasurable sex, and asking for help with various concerns and desires. “I might take heed to people all day, and I knew we had the technology to assist. It just hit me—why not treat them? Seriously, why not?” MacGregor has since offered nonsurgical vaginal rejuvenation and sex-enhancing combination treatments with lasers, injections, and tightening devices.

“Female pleasure is just now beginning to get the eye it deserves,” says Lucy Litwack, owner and CEO of the pioneering Coco de Mer, whose boutique in London was actually E. L. James’ inspiration for Christian Grey’s Red Room. “Nonetheless, I believe a recent revolution is on the best way.” Kiki Koroshetz, vp of content for Goop, agrees. Goop now sells a compact clitoral vibrator, a double-sided wand, and a each day complement called DTF (yep!). Koroshetz says the corporate’s goals include “making it protected and possible for everybody to have agency over their sexual lives, and to feel pleasure of their bodies. And we’d like to find a way to send Gwyneth on a morning show with a vibrator.” But even in today’s world, the mainstream morning shows are unlikely to say the word ‘vibrator’ on air! And as culture has turn out to be more sex-positive, we’re also seeing a seemingly correlated backlash within the courts and legislatures, including the rollback of Roe v. Wade.

Still, we’ve, ahem, come a good distance. In today’s doorman delivery alone, I received a stunning little intimacy spray from Press Pause, with graphics that knowingly read, “Your inner sex goddess beckons” (she does!); a pair of leave-on underwear called Lorals, which creates a layer between your partner’s mouth and nose and your vulva and anus during oral sex and rimming (whoa!); and a spiked collar from iconic jewelry designer Alexis Bittar, with a note that reads, “People love to indicate they’re naughty.”

As I scurried back to my apartment to joyously unpack all my goodies, I wish I could say the primary person I desired to play with was my darling boyfriend, Sam. But the reality is, the one one that got here to mind was the divine Dakota Johnson.

This text appears within the September 2022 issue of ELLE.

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