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Nearly 1 in 10 young people have read 50 Shades of Grey

Nearly 1 in 10 young people have read 50 Shades of Grey say relationships and sexual health education experts.

Esteem Resource Network, a project of the charity ACET (AIDS Care, Education and Training) has more than 25 years of experience in delivering workshops to young people on issues related to self-esteem, relationships and sexual health.

As part of a larger study, to be released later this year, a survey carried out by Esteem has found that almost 10% of young people report reading an explicit sex scene from 50 Shades of Grey.

Unlike the adult market, this anonymous survey shows that male readership (12%) doubles that of than female readership (6%) amongst young people.

More than 1,000 12-16 year olds were asked if, when and how they had encountered written and visual explicit sex scenes. The preliminary findings of the survey show that 67% of young people have seen explicit sex scenes, whilst 47% have encountered them in written form.

Gareth Cheesman, Project Development Officer at Esteem, who led the study said, “With more young people seeing explicit sex scenes than reading them, it raises the question as to how many young people will be seeking to watch the 50 Shades of Grey film, despite the 18-certificate rating it has been given in the UK, particularly when it becomes accessible online.”

50 Shades of Grey has brought alternative sexual activities into the public eye and it remains to be seen if this will have an impact on young people. It is significant that the book has been widely rejected by the BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism) community as an unrealistic and sometimes dangerous portrayal of alternative sexual activity.

Crucially, the 50 Shades of Grey story includes some highly concerning relationship dynamics which range from unhealthy to abusive. Many people feel that Christian Grey’s coercive behaviours are glamorised as part of his sexual fetish. There are concerns that some young people may see this story as justification for the acceptance of abusive attitudes within relationships.

This week saw the publication of an NSPCC survey which disturbingly revealed that 4 in 10 girls in England aged 13-17 years old have been coerced into sexual acts.

Sarah Smith, Project Director of Esteem said, “It is clear that with so many girls being coerced into sexual activity they are not comfortable with, and the added pressure on both boys and girls from written and visual media to behave in a certain way sexually, more needs to be done to support young people in developing skills to build healthy relationships, to challenge coercive behaviours and to help young people critically analyse messages they are surrounded by about relationships and sex.”

For more information about the survey contact Gareth Cheesman at or call 07732 427312

Notes to Editors
  • Esteem Resource Network is a project delivering education to young people on self-esteem, relationships and sexual health and training to youth workers, teachers, parents and health professionals. It is a project of the charity ACET (AIDS Care, Education and Training).

  • ACET (registered charity Number 299293) is a practical and compassionate response to HIV/AIDS and works to support the rapidly growing ACET International Alliance.  The Alliance is a group of independent organisations around the world working to reduce the rates of new HIV infection, care for those affected by HIV / AIDS and support for AIDS orphans.  Visit for more information.

Key points from the study
  • Young people are encountering explicit sex scenes from a wide range of written and visual media
  • Internet videos are the most common medium through which young people see explicit sex scenes
  • Published novels are the most common medium through which young people read an explicit sex scene
  • Young people’s definitions of what is classified as an explicit sex scene appears to change as they get older
  • 50 Shades of Grey has had an impact in how young people encounter an explicit sex scene with almost 10% of young people self-reporting that they have read explicit sex scenes from the book
  • Contrary to popular opinion that for adults the readership base of 50 Shades of Grey is predominantly women, this survey shows a greater readership amongst boys (12%) than girls (6%)

Conclusion / Recommendations
·         Young people need support to learn how to make sense of explicit sex scenes and the portrayal of unhealthy relationships they encounter through both visual and written media
·         Relationships and sex education is vital. Schools need greater support in delivering relationships and sex education to meet the needs of 21st century young people
·         An in-depth academic research project into the topic would help to clarify the issue further

Recommended resources
·         Esteem Resource Network delivers training on self-esteem, relationships and sexual health issues for youth workers, teachers, parents and health professionals

·         Romance Academy has released a “Fifty Shades of Grey Youth Worker Resource” to equip youth workers to run sessions that explore some of the issues raised by the story

·         The Sex Education Forum has collated a body of evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of relationships and sex education in schools

Quoted surveys
The NSPCC report on 40% of teenage girls pressured into having sex


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