In the newest — and, tragically, final — installment of the Fifty Shades franchise, Fifty Shades Freed, there’s a darkly memorable scene wherein human pommel horse Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) appears to be seconds away from feeding an entire spoonful of Ben and Jerry’s into Anastasia Steele’s (Dakota Johnson) vagina. After stealing the spoon from Anastasia — who, only minutes earlier, had been melancholically enjoying the midnight pint in the storied tradition of anxious rom-com heroines before her — Christian “playfully” drives the kitchen implement in the direction of her most precious innards. The spoon hovers in midair in the most twisted iteration of “here comes the airplane” imaginable.
Mercifully, Christian changes course at the last possible moment, instead drenching Ana’s thighs in the ice cream, licking up the sticky substance, then immediately going down on her. Though both Ana and the audience seemed relieved to have escaped a spontaneous spoon-fucking, I turned to my seatmate, deeply concerned. “Isn’t that bad for her pH levels?” I whispered.
As the rest of the film unfolded before me, a hazy blend of Rita Ora’s tracksuits and oblique references to Africa, I couldn’t help but wonder: How would Ana’s gynecological health fare post-franchise? Could any woman hardily and happily endure years (… months? Time and space both seem to bend at E.L. James’s iron will) of engaging in “rough” sexual intercourse up to four times daily, with the occasional intrusion of a dairy product; attending hours-long masked balls while stuffed with foreign objects; misusing old-timey birth-control shots forced upon you by your recalcitrant lover; and boating in broad daylight to a Taylor Swift song?
To find out, I reached out to an expert: Lauren Streicher, M.D., medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause and author of Sex RX: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever. (Full disclosure: Dr. Streicher employs my mom, a nurse practitioner with a focus on sexual health who has been known to wear a vibrator as a necklace.)
What’s your level of familiarity with the Fifty Shades franchise?
I read the books when they first came out, mainly because I was getting inquiries from writers about what I thought. As a sexual-medicine expert and gynecologist, I needed to know what was in them! Fortunately, it didn’t take me very long, because they’re, as you know, a very fast read and very poorly written [laughs]. [E.L. James] uses the same words again and again, and they’re not very long words.
Was any part of you alarmed by any of it, from a sexual-health perspective?
Certainly the whole idea that she was coerced, in many ways, into this relationship, into a dominating sort of thing. That’s always a little uncomfortable. But it’s fiction. It’s really about fantasy. Fantasy and reality are two different things. I didn’t really find it that alarming. I was mostly alarmed by the bad writing.
Let’s talk about some specific Fifty Shades gynecological issues that have been troubling me. In the first book/movie, Christian is worried about Ana getting pregnant and demands that she see a gyno, and goes so far as to pick one out for her and shuttle her to and from appointments. Would that weird you out?
The referral in and of itself wouldn’t bother me — in fact, that’s happened many times. I might know a man socially and he knows me to be a good gynecologist, or maybe I took care of another girlfriend of his, or his other wife. That’s fine. But what isn’t okay is that if he dictates what the treatments should be, or calls up and wants information. Once he makes the referral, she’s my patient, and he’s not. If she comes in and wants birth control, he can’t call up and say, “I want her to have a shot.” That should not happen.
Ana’s contraceptive journey starts off with a prescription for the mini-pill, which she regularly forgets to take. Then her gyno recommends a Depo-Provera shot. Is that what you’d recommend for a 22-year-old recent virgin?
In general, no. Somebody who’s forgetful might want to use a contraceptive vaginal ring, like NuvaRing, which they can put in and change once a month. There’s a little implant that goes into the arm, Nexplanon. I can’t remember the last time I gave someone a Depo shot. It’s been literally years. Because these other methods are so much better.
I’ve always thought of Depo as sort of an old-timey option. What are the standard side effects?
A lot of women tend to gain weight, so I’m kind of surprised that Christian would [approve] of her gaining weight, since he was so obsessed with her having a perfect body. But he may not have known that. And then there’s also the concern, if somebody’s on it for a very long time, they can get some bone loss from it.
Her bones need to be strong for all of the S&M.
Right, so when she falls from the ceiling, she doesn’t end up with a fracture.
In the book, Ana’s doctor runs her down on the street to tell her she’s forgotten to take her shots. Would you ever do that for a patient? Is that even legal?
[Laughs.] It depends how much you paid me. No, I don’t make house calls and I don’t make street calls. I can only assume that Christian said, “Look, I’ll give you $10,000 to give her the shot on the street” — fine. But the other thing is, it’s battery to grab someone on the street and put a needle in their arm. You’d have to ask permission. You’d have to say, “Hi there. I happen to be on Fifth Avenue and have your Depo in my hand. May I give you an injection here?” And if she says yes, go ahead. But you can’t just plunge the needle in. That’d be illegal.
But maybe it would be erotic for her?
One never knows.
Let’s talk about the scene that inspired me to call you up in the first place: the ice-cream spoon. I was immediately concerned for Ana’s pH levels. Should I have been?
Let me start by saying that this has never been studied in any kind of a scientific study. But in general, we don’t put food in the vagina. Theoretically, could that throw off her normal flora and cause an infection? Absolutely. It’s sugar and milk, things that do not go in the vagina. But will that happen with a one-time thing? Who knows. The answer is: I don’t know, but in general, I’d say don’t put food in someone’s vagina.
Is there any food that’s safe to put inside of you?
A food that is not going to interact with the flora. So, for example, a banana that’s not peeled could be potentially safe. A cucumber could be potentially safe, as long as it’s not going to break off or scratch you. But there have not been good scientific studies done on putting food inside of you.
Would putting ice cream inside of you be worse for you if you were lactose intolerant?
No. Because lactose intolerance has to do with gastrointestinal breakdown of lactose. So good news: [It’s not any riskier] for lactose-intolerant people to put ice cream in their vagina. Is Ana lactose intolerant?
Who’s to say?
Just thought maybe that was an issue for her.
If he had, in fact, inserted the spoon inside of her, would that be bad?
[Laughs.] Cutlery is not good in the vagina. Particularly knives and forks would be frowned upon. A spoon is a little different. If, for example, a gynecologist put a spoon in the vagina, that’d be fine, because we would know how to put a spoon in the vagina without causing an injury. As a sweeping generalization, I’d say cutlery would be frowned upon in the gynecologic world.
Later on in the movie, there’s a confusing scene where Ana is daydreaming at work about the previous night’s sexual adventure. First, Christian asks her to open a drawer of butt plugs; moments later, they’re having missionary sex. Wouldn’t that be logistically complicated? Would you recommend that?
It’s not that I’d recommend that, but wouldn’t recommend not doing it. You see that in porn a lot, actually — two orifices at once, if you will. So strictly speaking, that’s not dangerous. As long as she doesn’t find it uncomfortable, have at it.
One of the most famous scenes from the second movie involves Christian asking Ana to put Ben Wa balls inside of her and keep them there during an entire masked ball.
Ah, yes, the Ben Wa balls. Very famous scene.
What is the longest you can keep Ben Wa balls inside of you?
You can keep Ben Wa balls inside you for as long as you want to. You should ask yourself: What’s the benefit, what’s the harm? Some people say it’s sexually stimulating. A lot of people talk about using Ben Wa balls to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, because you contract your muscles around it. Theoretically, that’s possible, though it hasn’t been studied. But the bigger issue is: What’s the harm? Are you going to hurt yourself using Ben Wa balls? The reality is, no. There are a lot of things that people put in their vaginas that are much bigger than Ben Wa balls: Penises, or babies’ heads, for example. It’s not going to cause toxic shock, or cause an infection. It’s really a matter of comfort. Her vagina isn’t going to fall out, or anything like that.
If somebody wants to walk around with Ben Wa balls? First, take out the spoon. Just don’t put them in together. That could be quite dangerous.
This interviewed has been edited and condensed.