The official Fifty Shades Of Grey collection has found a home in Brisbane, but is this erotic series really about empowering women, or is it glorifying abuse?

Fifty Shades of Grey fever has gripped Brisbane.

The highly anticipated film adaptation of the best-selling erotic romance novel by British author E. L. James will have fans tied up in cinemas all over town this week, as the movie hits screen just in times for Valentine’s Day.

However, just like every other cultural phenomenon that ensnares our social media and minds, the franchise has not been without its controversy. Claims of sexual intimidation, violence against women, misrepresentation of the Bondage, Discipline, Dominance and Submission (BDSM) community and ridicule over starting off its life as Twilight fan fiction have all plagued the series.

It has also amassed an army of devoted fans and followers, as well as being held responsible for a new breed of women seeking out adult products and experimenting with their sexuality. In fact, it turns out Brisbane is at the forefront of Australia’s sexual revolution, with the company who holds the exclusive distribution rights to the Fifty Shades Of Grey – The Official Pleasure Collection Approved by EL James products and Fifty Shades of Grey board games nestled happily in West End.

When I approached the building to meet with The Love Group founder Rob Godwin, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d read descriptions of what Christian Grey’s ‘red room of pain’ looked like and so images of bondage equipment, whips and blindfolds back-lit with scarlet light floated through my mind. What I wasn’t expecting, was a brightly lit office with a bustling team hard at work and two adorable rescue dogs bounding through the rooms.

However, this was still a business distributing products dreamed up in one of the most sexually explosive franchises of all time, so there was plenty to see.

Author E.L James has been personally involved in the collection’s inception and design. “I’m so excited that the toys I described in the books have come to life,” she has said, and come to life they certainly have. Tucked away in the showroom was all manner of sexual paraphernalia. The Tease Feather Tickler, the No Peeking Soft Twin Blindfold Set, Pleasure and Pain Nipple Rings, the Please, Sir Flogger and Restrain Me Bondage Rope could be found next to an array of BDSM equipment, blindfolds and even a replica of Christina Grey’s tie.

EL James and Rob Godwin

EL James and Rob Godwin

Godwin left his role as CEO of Sexpo to found The Love Group and exclusively distribute the Fifty Shades line throughout Australia. He has worked closely with James (real name Erika Mitchell) in the line’s production and believes that the franchise has had a positive effect on women.

“We work with Erika and she’s great,” he says. “She’s like your next door neighbor and is always more interested in asking about my kids and dogs than anything else. She’s very passionate about all this. We saw in Australia that after the books came out, adult stores across the country increased their sales by 40 per cent. They are tracking far bigger than that now.

“I get contacted by stores everyday who need more stock; we recently had to fly in eight pallets worth of stock from the UK just to keep up with the Australian demand. We’re seeing a massive increase in our products being sold in mainstream outlets. Many Queensland pharmacies stock our products. Even hotels and florists in Brisbane stock our products.

“The growth in stores and sales comes from new people buying these products for the first time. Sexual empowerment is such a positive thing and I think it’s the best thing Fifty Shades has done. Most of the demand for Fifty Shades of Grey products has been from females. 65 per cent of people buying our products from pharmacies are female.

“More than 51 per cent of the attendees at Sexpo are now women. So we’re seeing this strong growth, particularly from women in their late 20s to early 40s. They are what we call the ‘tepid explorers’, they are now embracing an independent sex life. Men need to catch up.”

Fifty Shades of Grey may be empowering one group of women, but that doesn’t mean there are not tribes of others who are calling for a boycott of the film and objecting to its very existence.

’50 Dollars not 50 Shades’ is a grassroots, women-led campaign, encouraging people to boycott the 50 Shades of Grey movie and give a donation to a domestic violence shelter or agency instead. The campaign, founded by international feminist organisation Stop Porn Culture, is trending across social media.

Collective Shout, an advocacy group campaigning against the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in media, advertising and popular culture, have also added their voice to the chorus of concern and disapproval.

The group has highlighted a blog post, published on The Rambling Curl, entitled Fifty Abusive Moments in Fifty Shades of Grey, which is starting to go viral.

When questioned about the claims of abuse leveled at the 50 Shades franchise, Godwin said both his and James’ teams in no way encourage or support sexual violence. Rather, he believes the story is centered around female empowerment.

“The concerns raised are about communication and that’s where people’s frustrations come from,” he says. “It’s about not being happy in their own adult lives and the more people can discuss their lives collectively, the richer you are in terms of sharing what you want.

“I don’t think the film advocates or embraces sexual intimidation or anything like that. The true ethos of Erika’s story is about female empowerment.

“At first the story is very much weighted towards what Christian wants to do. But if you read books two and three and see the next two films, which begin shooting next month, you’ll see it comes full circle and is about her empowerment.

“It’s the female love story that eventually conquers. Don’t take the first book in isolation, it is a trilogy. Erica and her management team, the last thing they’d want is to encourage sexual intimidation or violence.”

Fifty Shades of Grey opens in cinemas this week. Do you think the book has had a positive impact, or do you wish E.L. James had stuck to writing Twilight fan fiction? Let us know in the comments!