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Fifty shades of sex-positivity

Image of Fifty Shades novels.
(Photo courtesy of Dollar Gill via Unsplash)


Whether it is in the form of a BDSM romance novel or a solo romp with a gender-neutral vibrator, sex-positivity deserves to be celebrated—whatever shade it comes in.

I remember getting on a plane at 18 years old, setting off for my first away-from-home stint. As I made my way to a seat somewhere near the back, likely lodged between two other passengers, I couldn’t help but notice it seemed like every second passenger was nose-deep in the same book. 

It was the final book of the Fifty Shades trilogy.

The passengers probably didn’t even notice the roar of the plane’s engines as they feverishly flipped through the titillating pages. The flight attendants’ safety demonstrations were no match for the novel either. They were likely eager to sneak in a few pages before takeoff themselves.  

None of the readers seemed concerned about reading the erotic romance novel in plain sight. In fact, showing it off seemed to be the thing to do, as if to wordlessly announce, “I’m a sexual being and proud of it!”

It seemed like an unlikely pairing—a polarizing sex symbol joins a demure sexual wellness brand—but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. 

I never read the books, but I did watch the movies; my roommate loved them—for their soundtracks, she claimed—and she always had them on in the background. 

The BDSM-heavy trilogy, whose final film premiered in 2018, was met with mixed reviews. Some thought it promoted violence against women, while others thought it promoted sexual liberation. Mixed reviews aside, the trilogy positioned starring actress, Dakota Johnson, as a widely known sex symbol for both men and women. With a recent career pivot, however, Johnson’s sex symbol status shifted. 

In November 2020, Johnson announced she was joining Maude, a modern sexual wellness company, as its co-creative director. Founded by Éva Goicochea, Maude promotes sex-positivity through its simplified, inclusivity-focused product offerings. Think gender-neutral vibrators in sleek shapes and even sleeker shades, or candles that melt perfectly into massage oils.

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

I was scrolling through Maude’s Instagram profile (@getmaude) when I first read about the partnership. It seemed like an unlikely pairing to me—a polarizing sex symbol joins a demure sexual wellness brand—but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Johnson’s public-facing sexual persona has evolved, but it has not lost its sex-positive sentiment. I don’t think it matters if it is through her Fifty Shades character or her new role at Maude; what matters is that sex-positivity is being promoted.

“Dakota so clearly embodies Maude’s mission,” said Goicochea in a November 2020 Vogue article about the announcement. “She fearlessly has taken on the subject of sex and intimacy through her work—becoming a powerful voice for inclusivity and progress.”

Goicochea’s words convinced me even further that the partnership was a good fit. By working with a gender-neutral and progressive sexual wellness brand such as Maude, Johnson is driving inclusivity in sexual wellness just as her work with the Fifty Shades trilogy advanced sexual liberation in mainstream media. 

Sex-positivity is for everyone and comes in many forms. Whether it is in the form of a BDSM romance novel or a solo romp with a gender-neutral vibrator, it deserves to be celebrated—whatever shade it comes in.


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Madison Krupa

Madison Krupa (she/her) is passionate about sustainability, fashion and beauty. Growing up, she saw feminism all around her, as she was surrounded by strong women who supported one another. Completing her degree in 2021, she aspires to one day be a creative director for a fabulous brand with stand-up values. She says that cereal is soup if you want it to be.