The “Fifty Shades” series is flawed, but it helped me embrace kink and sex positivity

It is the end of a cinematic era. The release of Fifty Shades Freed marks the final film in the Fifty Shades series, ending three years of questionable relationship dynamics, Girls’ Nights Out to celebrate the films in all their mediocre glory, and various portrayals of BDSM lite. As I prepare for my annual Galentine’s Day of debauchery with my girlfriends, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic. This is the last time I will put on my good bra and drunkenly watch Ana and Christian have various forms of missionary sex.

For a story that is supposed to be all about taboo desires, the Fifty Shades series has often left a lot to be desired — like a more accurate depiction of the BDSM lifestyle and better dialogue, for starters.

But despite its flaws, I can’t help but feel thankful for the books and films for kickstarting my foray into sex positivity.

When the first film, Fifty Shades of Grey, came out on Valentine’s Day of 2015, it was my senior year of college. I was dead set on losing my virginity and I had just discovered the power of Tinder. Once I heard Beyoncé’s sultry remix to “Crazy In Love,” set to a trailer that featured riding crops and a half-naked Jamie Dornan, I started researching the practice of BDSM.

I was so intrigued by something so sexually foreign to me that I listened to all three of the series’ audiobooks, and I promise you that listening to a human narrate Anastasia’s ~inner goddess~ is a priceless experience.

I had once thought of BDSM as a sexual lifestyle focused on pain and copious amounts of leather, but I learned that it actually centers around consent and verbal or written contracts emphasizing how to explore limits and create power dynamics.

I hadn’t yet heard the term “sex positivity,” but this early personal research and a budding interest in kink resulted in my first exposure to sex as something that should be pleasurable for all parties involved.

By the time I’d roped my girlfriends into seeing the first film, I had also managed to purchase my first set of handcuffs, a gold riding crop, and all kinds of massage oils — even though I was, in fact, still a virgin, and did not have a partner to grease up and whip (consensually). Being on a mission, I wasn’t without a prospect for long. I convinced a Tinder date to take me to see the film a second time, which led to a discussion about its lackluster portrayal of kink and some first-time sex that was hella awkward.

In the years since, my sex life is, thankfully, not as uncomfortable as it once was. I have slowly been learning how to advocate for what I need from a sexual partner in order to feel safe and to make sure that each naked experience feels positive. So much so that I am frequently encouraging others to do the same.

So thank you, Fifty Shades of Grey, for getting me to examine the shame I once had surrounding my sexuality, for encouraging me to let my freak flag fly, and for helping me realize that teaching people about sexual mindfulness and consent is a passion of mine.

The series has been a constant throughout my journey to find and do what feels good. While Ana and Christian’s sex life isn’t exactly one that I want to copy, I am grateful for the inspiration it gave me.