Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Krista Cline


Ever since the release of E. L. James' erotic romance novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, in 2011, more novels with bondage/discipline/dominance/submission/sadomasochism (BDSM) content invaded the romance market, targeting adult women. These novels sparked controversy: some applaud the increased popularity as a way for women to be more open about their sexuality and embrace experimentation with kink in the bedroom. Others criticize these novels as harmful examples of unrealistic, abusive relationships where women are subservient to a dominant man. Since these novels became popular in recent times, my research consists of a content analysis of popular BDSM erotic romance novels published in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey to look for common themes and characteristics of these popular novels centering around gender roles. Ultimately, this research revealed that all novels reinforce traditional gender roles where men are strictly dominant and women are primarily submissive. Novels present dominance and submission as a natural, primal phenomenon for men and women, respectively. Men tend to be older, wealthier, and have more experience than their female partners who are usually virgins and unfamiliar with the BDSM scene. Fifty Shades of Grey and subsequent BDSM erotic novels capitalize on an underground, "edgy" sexuality while safely reinforcing traditional gender roles.