There has been a lot of buzz around Fifty Shades of Grey. With the release of the movie, it poses the question; why is the series so popular? The writing is mediocre, the author hits every cliché, and then there are the over the top sex scenes.

However, sex in books is not new, nor is the classic bad boy stereotype. But for centuries, books have been written about these abusive men–think of Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights–and the women they seek to dominate.

Like most relationships, not everything is black and white and there are various shades of grey. Many arguments have been made about why a person like Christian Grey deserves to be in jail. Perhaps he does, but there is a whole victim mentality (for both Christian and Ana) that is overlooked. Fifty Shades of Grey is a story about two people with low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth, who begin an unhealthy relationship with each other with unrealistic expectations.

When Ana leaves Christian at the end of the first book, both characters—primarily Christian—are forced to reevaluate the choices they’ve made up to that point and get clear with what they really want. In the books, this is the moment when Christian decides Ana is more important to him then BDSM and Ana…well, Ana stays in character and continues to believe she is not good enough for Christian.

So, what has happened to shape the characters into who they are?

The Fifty Shades of Christian Grey

Raised in a family of wealth and privilege, Christian Grey is first introduced into the BDSM lifestyle by the infamous “Mrs. Robinson” and thus builds upon his own insecurities, self-hatred, and emotional baggage.

Before condemning Christian for the lifestyle he’s chosen to participate in, why not ask the question: why is he participating in the BDSM lifestyle?

For some, the answer might be because he is sick and twisted. With a closer look at his character and what drives him towards his addictive personality, it is important to understand that he is a man who, through a trauma he experienced as a child (a drug addicted mother and unimaginable abuse), is using the BDSM lifestyle in an unhealthy way to maintain control and deal with his own emotional pain.

So then, why does he turn back to his addictive lifestyle instead of dealing with the problem?

Christian uses the BDSM lifestyle as a coping mechanism to stay in control, detached, and void of intimacy. Like any addiction, Christian finds pleasure in BDSM, but the feeling doesn’t last and he is left feeling hollow until he meets Ana. Like many addicts, they find something missing in their lives, usually within themselves, and use outside influences to fill that void.

These questions are not here to justify or excuse Christian, but to hopefully make you pause a moment and understand there are factors that play into the reason people go down the unhealthy path of sexual/pornography addiction.

The Ana Steele Complex

In the books, Ana is an educated young woman who falls quickly for the charms of Christian Grey. And with the growing female fan base, she isn’t the only one. What is surprising is how many women seem to want a man like Christian.

There are so many warning signs, aside from the BDSM lifestyle, that Ana ignores or misses. Christian likes control (even he admits that) but his need to isolate and control her; plus, the complete background check on her, are all huge red flags to avoid a relationship.

Throughout the series, Ana is filled with self-doubt and is always questioning if she is the right person for Christian. What if she can’t meet his needs? Ana is so wrapped up in Christian’s happiness, she never takes the time to find out what she really wants or needs. As the books progress, she gets better at finding her voice and is a little less concerned about Christian’s needs (spoiler alert — primarily because of her pregnancy).

In addition to her own insecurities, there are many unrealistic expectations placed on Ana throughout the books. There is an unspoken understanding that Ana is going into the relationship with Christian to “save” him. Because Fifty Shades of Grey is a hyper sexualized telling of Twilight (aka Beauty and the Beast), we expect a happy ending and we get it.

In the real world, the “happy ending” is an illusion. Many women in relationships with sex or pornography addicts find themselves in unending spiral of emotional numbness, shame, isolation, and a negative body image.

Finding Strength to Heal

No matter if you are an addict or a spouse of one, sexual/pornography addiction hurts everyone. In Christian and Ana’s situation, they are able to heal and grow stronger throughout the series, but not every relationship can survive or recover from such betrayal and emotional baggage. For Christian, he finds the courage and the ability to heal from his childhood trauma through therapy and Ana’s support.

Like with any addiction, for addicts, it is important to remember that this is a disease and you must make a conscious decision every day to not partake in the lifestyle. Remind yourself why you no longer want to participate in unhealthy sexual behavior and set daily goals. Find a support group, a therapist, or someone you feel comfortable talking with who can help you. Take time to recognize what your triggers are that turn to repetitive, unhealthy sexual behavior or pornography use and find ways to replace your harmful sexual habits with others (such as volunteering, yoga, or taking a class). If you still cannot shake the habit, you may want to consider rehab.

For spouses, remember their addiction has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Although you can be supportive, it is not your responsibility to save them, and while they are going down their path of recovery, you need to take care of yourself. Find a hobby or group where you can get the support you need. In Fifty Shades, Ana has strengths, but having a support group, someone she could have confided in, would have helped her find her own self-worth.

Sexual addiction and pornography addiction are serious issues and contribute to the objectification of women. No matter how much Fifty Shades of Grey and Hollywood want to glamorize pornography and sex, the fact remains; there is nothing romantic about someone who wants to control and dominate another.