MORE than 35 million pairs of excited peepers have already watched a teaser for upcoming Fifty Shades Freed, the third in the series of films in which the female lead has been clamped, cuffed, roped, cable-tied, duct taped, slapped, whipped, spanked, gagged and plugged.

When the book franchise kicked off, the complaints featured around it being metaphor-confused, plot-lacking nonsense for the erotically malnourished.

But now it’s time to look at what women across the world – 436m million plumped down on cinema seats for the first outing – are watching; two hours of systematic psychological and physical abuse. And we have to ask; what signals is this sending out to men?

Meanwhile at the National Television Awards, Suranne Jones won the Drama Performance award for her teary-eyed role in confused relationship drama Dr Foster, a character who has sex with her businessman ex – even though he smashed her head through a plate glass window.

All this in the age of Weinstein?

There’s no doubt fans of Fifty Shades et al, will argue it’s fantasy. They may even make the point that successful fiction has long featured abused women at the hands of powerful men, from Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy who destroys Elizabeth Bennet for 400 pages, or Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (the role every actress on the planet wants to play) a woman objectified by three men, whom she still flirts with. And there’s Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, the upstairs/downstairs tale of the toff whose “courtship” of the eponymous heroine features attempted rape and slavery. But after a sound ravishing, she marries him.

Yet, while these stories are products of their time, we’re still pursuing the same theme; young vulnerable woman being pursued by a hugely powerful man, lured into a world of promise. (Weinstein?) And whether in real life or fiction, even if the female (eventually) consents, does this remove the physiological damage created to reach this point?

Katherine Blakeman, of the US National Center on Sexual Exploitation, argues for storylines of domination to be booted hard in the development strategies. “It is incredibly socially irresponsible to uphold Fifty Shades as mainstream entertainment, while at the same time we express our outrage at Harvey Weinstein, and his ilk, and while we work to eradicate sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the rape myth mentality from our culture.”

Blakeman’s comment begs other questions; would Fifty Shades devotees consider watching the S&M adventures of Christian and Ana if Harvey Weinstein were the producer? And what are men to make of women’s appetite for entertainment in which female characters are debased? Some feminists argue it’s wrong for a man to place an unsolicited hand on a woman’s shoulder; touch a knee and you could be soon be reading a solicitor’s letter. Or worse.

So what are the rules? If a man chats up a woman in a bar should he be declared a sex pest by the Court of Social Media the next day? Back in student days, I boarded a London-bound bus one afternoon and the only person at the very back was an attractive female of the same age. Now, I could have sat on any of the empty 50 seats around her, but instead I approached her and asked in cheeky, hopeful voice; ‘Is this seat taken?’ She laughed, and it was the beginning of a relationship. But would a male student these days view this is a risky strategy? Probably.

It’s understandable and right the battle for equality should rage, that hostesses should complain if they’re groped at a black-tie event. And #MeToo screams out that women now have a voice. But what if the voice gets it wrong? If “sex pest” Robert Burns’ lovers were alive today, for example, would they be posting #Happyto.

Thankfully, there are signs that siren voices which suggest that all young men are rapists in waiting is being contained by common sense. The actress Zoe Wannamaker said this week men are being witchhunted like her director father Sam was by McCarthyism. Claire Foy declared she was not offended that Adam Sandler had touched her knee - twice – on The Graham Norton Show. And Kirstie Allsopp found it ridiculous that a TV production company issued an edict that no one should call each other “Darling’”. (If this was introduced in the theatre world actors would be at a loss for word.)

But if the strong feminist argument is against patriarchy and power and control, why do some women buy into these fictional representation? It’s ironic that women’s progress since Richardson’s Pamela days, in sexual freedom and social equality has manifested itself in a desire by some at least to see themselves gagged and slapped on screen. It’s frustrating that while men are now regularly lambasted for locker room talk, just listen to an audience during Fifty Shades or its theatre parody.

Fifty Shades only serves to whip up confusion in the male mind. So help us out ladies. Ignore the film and its message. Let’s thrash out the terms of engagement. But where’s there’s no pain involved.