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When it comes to the Fifty Shades trilogy, there are two types of people: those who haven’t read it, and those who have read it but will never admit it. They are the kind of books Kobos and Kindles were made for. You know the ones, the ones where, as you commute to work, everyone can think you are reading something “respectable,” like Stephen King‘s latest novel or some teen lit set in a dystopian future rather than E L James‘s guilty pleasures. It’s OK, we’ll never tell.

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The erotic romance novels — be it Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker or Fifty Shades Freed — is often referred to as “mommy porn,” a way for many women to privately indulge in their sexual fantasies. But turns out, it’s really done nothing for them as far as sex goes. In fact, according to new studies, the Fifty Shades books are very, very bad for women — in more ways than one.

One study, from researchers at Michigan State University, found a link between reading the novels and eating disorders, binge drinking, multiple sex partners and being in a verbally abusive relationship. Yikes, now that is 50 shades of f*cked up. On the bright side, the study doesn’t exactly say the novels are responsible for that list of awfulness; rather, women who were already dealing with those issues may just be attracted to the books.

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Now, researchers out of Illinois State University had less horrible news (though some might still find it depressing) as their results suggest the books are actually a turn-off, at least among a group of college-age women.

“We found a decrease in sexual behaviors after reading the Fifty Shades books, and no change in sexual self-esteem or sexual desire,” psychologists Marla Reese-Weber and Dawn McBride write in the journal of Psychology of Popular Media Culture (via Pacific Standard).

Ninety-one female university students, who reported that they had read the books, took part in the study while another 49 agreed to read the first two of the set specifically for this experiment, reports Pacific Standard. All filled out a detailed questionnaire about their sexual experiences and desires but those in the second group filled it out twice, before and after reading the first two books. All participants also had to see how and whether they could relate to the main female character, Anastasia Steele.

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The results:

  • There was a decrease in sexual behaviors after reading the Fifty Shades books
  • There was no change in sexual self-esteem or sexual desire after reading the Fifty Shades books
  • Those who had already read Fifty Shades had stronger sexual desires than those who had not read the books, specifically those who highly identified with the main character
  • There was no increase in sexual behaviors or desires after reading the books.
  • There was a decrease in sexual behaviors after reading the books, particularly for those who did not identify with the main character.
  • Those who had read the books reported higher sexual desires than those who had not read the books
  • There were no differences for sexual self-esteem or sexual behaviors between those who had chosen to read the books and those who had not.
  • Participants who did not identify with the main female character may have judged her sexual behavior negatively, and decreased their sexual behavior as a response.

So, basically, the books aren’t a turn-off; Ana Steele is. Seriously, though, that saying “comparison is the thief of joy” might have something to do with this. If the participants were asked to express the degree to which they could relate to Anastasia, well, then that itself could be an issue because while it’s natural to compare ourselves to others, she’s a tough character with whom to identify. Now if participants were asked to gauge their reaction to the central male character, Christian Grey, well, the results might be vastly different.

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