With sales of more than 100 million books and box office totals of over $500 million dollars, it seems like you can't swing a flogger without hitting a "50 Shades of Grey" fan. And while the book and the movie are hardly new, its popularity and the media sensation around it has failed to subside. Like, at all.

At the same time the books and film spotlighted constant controversy for what many people saw as unhealthy relationships and inaccurate depictions of BDSM. So ,for many, the cool thing to do is renounce "50 Shades" lock, stock, and barrel. There are a whole lot of folks going around loudly proclaiming that it's the worst thing ever and no one should have anything to do with it. Just go watch "Secretary"instead, like they do, because it's soooo much better.

Is that really the way to go, though? Don't get me wrong. I'm not a fan of the series. I do see the same problematic elements that are brought up over and over again. Yet, I also see something in "50 Shades" that doesn't get talked about much outside of sex educator circles - a gift. These books (and now films) have given the world a gift and a substantial one at that. Maybe you're tired of hearing about "50 Shades," but hear me out.

The 50 Shades Effect

Since the release of "50 Shades of Grey" in 2012, the adult retail industry has seen steadily climbing sales as couples (and singles, for that matter) venture into sex shops looking to explore some of what they read about. Babeland reported a 92% increase in the sale of items mentioned in the books. Sex toys are now almost mainstream. The television series "Frisky Business," which aired on a major British TV network, was devoted to them. The series follows the crew of an online retailer, Lovehoney, through their days.

Along with toy sales, many shops have reported an uptick in class attendance with events like the Pleasure Chest's "50 Shades of Pleasure" themed class consistently filling up. It seems people are feeling inspired to explore and they’re talking about it! Lingerie retailer Ann Summers recently hosted an erotic fiction contest. They noted that sex toys, accessories, and BDSM played a far bigger role in the submitted stories than in past contests. What does this mean? Well, it's great because it's creating business for shops, toy manufacturers, and educators. It's also so much more than that! It's about who is now walking into the shops, buying the toys, and going to the classes. It's about the tremendous opportunities that we all now have available to us.

Millions of New Friends

The massive popularity of the "50 Shades" franchise brought hoards of people to the table who are brand new to sexy exploration. These are people who have never entered a sex shop, bought a sex toy, or attended a sex class before. There is a whole new audience clamoring for information. We have a whole new faction of people willing to discuss, explore, and learn more about sex. For a lot of us in the sex positive bubble, where we do that stuff all the time, it can be difficult to remember the time when it didn’t come easily. For a lot of people, open discussion of sex is still taboo. This freedom is new. That is exciting and wonderful.

So, How Are We Greeting Our New Friends?

The impulse to bash "50 Shades," for whatever reason, is a misguided one because while the people doing the bashing often argue for a better depiction of BDSM, better erotica, and better sex education, they are ignoring the fact that this book served as the gateway to those things for a lot of folks.

A love of "50 Shades" brought many to a sex shop for the first time. This is a very vulnerable thing; just imagine walking into a sex shop for the time and being faced by judgment about the very thing that inspired you to walk through those doors. The consequences of that judgment could be devastating. Educator Kate McCombs put it well: " In the years since "50 Shades" was published, the single thing that’s bothered me most about some of these critiques is that they do what we in the sex ed world preach so vocally against: It yucks people’s yums."

When we reduce "50 Shades" to its problematic elements, we erase a lot of people’s experiences. When we loudly declare, "I would NEVER buy anything associated with "50 Shades of Grey". It’s awful!!!" what we are actually doing is telling a whole lot of people who are tentatively dipping their toes into the world of sexual exploration (and probably find us, who seem to know more, intimidating) that they are doing it wrong. We are telling them that what turns them on is wrong and that they are wrong. We are taking what should be a safe space and making it into the equivalent of a junior high cafeteria where the new kids are finding out that what they thought was cool isn't cool.

"But don't they have to learn?!"

So, obviously there is a lot of concern about the unsafe BDSM practices and the unhealthy relationship dynamics presented in 5"0 Shades." And, yes, those things are problematic. However, I’m of two minds on that. The first is that it’s a fiction book. To a certain degree, we must stop demanding that it is an educational tool. Erika Moen offered a great perspective on "50 Shades," describing it as the literary equivalent of junk food. Let folks enjoy the turn on they get from it and be ready to recommend actual educational resources for folks looking to explore BDSM.

Which leads us to the my second point: When it comes to educating, people need to be led and not shoved. Attempting to "teach" people by telling them that the thing that made them want to learn sucks is more likely to push them to try stuff without any guidance. On the other hand, it’s so easy to welcome a "50 Shades" fan to the fold, learn what it is they loved about the books, and point them toward the resources that will help them pursue their desires in a safe way. Then, they fulfill their fantasy, they are safe, they learn, and they probably keep coming back to learn more! It’s a win/win/win/win!!

Get in the Game

Whether you like "50 Shades" or hate it with every fiber of your being, you can’t deny that it was a game-changer for readers, retailers and sex educators. Staying in the sex snob ivory tower loudly denouncing it is a tremendous waste of opportunity. It's time for members of the sex positive community to stop preaching to the choir and instead share our knowledge with people who are excited to hear it. So, come on down and welcome our new friends into the fold. And quit bashing "50 Shades." The book - and its readers - have brought some positive things to the table too.