For anybody who has read the book or watched the trailer, it was pretty obvious that 50 Shades of Grey would get an R rating. In the United States, the film was given an R rating for "Strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language." Considering that the source material centers around a rocky BDSM relationship, many Americans feel that the film was more suitable for an NC-17 rating. In France, however, they view ratings differently.
In France, a government organization called the Ministry of Culture grants licenses to films before they are shown to the public. Much like the MPAA ( the Motion Picture Association of America), they specifically state the recommended/legally allowed age for admission. Their ratings pretty much sync up with ours.
Regarding Fifty Shades, one would be surprised to learn that in France, the movie was granted a 12 rating, the equivalent of a PG-13 in America. According to the Associated Press, French Classification president Jean-Francois Mary recently said:
"[Fifty Shades of Grey] isn't a film that can...shock a lot of people...[It's] a romance, you could even say schmaltzy."
I'm sure many parents will read this and think: "how could France allow 12-year-olds to see a movie with such a heavy emphasis on sex?" On the other hand, when you look at France's history when it comes to rating films, the 12 rating makes much more sense.
With their international releases, other recent movies that got a 12 rating in france include [The Wolf of Wall Street](movie:16412) (a film with heavy sexual content and a record-breaking amount of profanity), Blue Is the Warmest Color (a movie about a lesbian relationship including a graphic sex scene), and 300: Rise of an Empire (a movie with copious amounts of blood and violence). Indeed, France is very lenient when it comes to rating movies.
Of course, France has to draw the line somewhere, but they only do so when the film is EXTREMELY violent and/or gruesome. This is why a 16 rating was given to films like Hostel, Saw 3D, and The Human Centipede. So while France is extremely liberal with sexual content, they are not the same with extreme violence.
What it all boils down to is culture; France is just generally more accepting of sexual content than America is. That's all it is, plain and simple. Even their commercials are more sexual than ours...