Newswise — ITHACA, NY — "Fifty Shades of Grey" is credited with a sexual awakening among tame housewives and staid girlfriends, and the addition of lower-lip-biting spice to vanilla bedrooms across America. But for Rebecca Plante, an associate professor of sociology at Ithaca College, the BDSM exploits of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele are hardly an erotic revelation.

"The idea of women coming out of the closet and saying 'Oh, that sounds like a nice idea' doesn't feel new to me," Plante said, whose expertise includes sexuality and gender, and who has written about erotic adult spankings.

One example she gives: "My Secret Garden," a 1973 compilation of sexual fantasies submitted by women to editor Nancy Friday, which caused quite a stir upon publication.

"When that book came out, people were shocked to learn that women have fantasies of being tied up and having 20 people there watching, or that women have fantasies of tying 20 people up," Plante said.

In her view, what makes "Fifty Shades" truly revolutionary is the role technology played in author E.L. James turning the story, published online for free before she was offered a book deal, into the world-wide phenomena it's become. The film adaptation of the first novel in the series hits theaters on Valentine's Day.

"Self-promotion and the democratization of publishing enabled her to get her creative vision onto the landscape in a particular way and then [ultimately] sell it as a film," Plante said. "But in terms of the rest of it, it's not new."

She cites the 2002 film "Secretary," starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal, which explores similar sexual, emotional, and sadomasochistic themes between a boss and his younger employee. "Or just watch some pornography, and you've got the exact same story without the pretense of character building," Plante said.

What she finds revelatory about the study of sexuality is the work society still needs to do to accept such a common aspect of human existence, regardless of how it's expressed (or not expressed). "The most ridiculous thing about human sexualities is how mundane it all actually is," she said.


From day one, Ithaca College prepares students for personal and professional success through hands-on experience with internships, research and study abroad. Its integrative curriculum builds bridges across disciplines and uniquely blends liberal arts and professional study. Located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, the College is home to 6,100 undergraduate and 400 graduate students and offers over 100 degree programs in its schools of Business, Communications, Humanities and Sciences, Health Science and Human Performance, and Music.