I have followed with some amusement the hoopla surrounding these erotica novels. Are they good or bad? Of course, that question takes on two meanings. Are the books good or bad from a purely literary point of view and are they good or bad from a more personal perspective? It would seem that the jury is no longer out about the literary merit (this ain't no "classic") but it would seem pundits, therapists, and even Christian moralists have been having a field day postulating on what the consumption of erotica in general and this erotica specifically is doing to the moral and sexual compass of women and their men everywhere.
You will note that I first said the compass of women because it would seem that women more than men are reading the novels. Does this in any way support the notion that women are more cerebral and men more visual? (women read romance novels slash erotica slash mommy porn while men watch… well, you know, that stuff) Then again some studies have shown that women can be just as affected as men by visual stimuli which suggest that if we currently perceive that women are generally more cerebral than visual, there may be a social component to this supposed difference.
I also first said women because it would seem reporters have spent more time talking about the reaction of women to the novels than men. Is the nature of the story something which piques the curiosity of anybody to know what women really think about the ideas brought up in the books? Gee, do women have a secret fantasy for a little BDSM? Do they want to be dominated? To paraphrase a 1930s radio serial, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of women? The Shadow knows!" So far though The Shadow hasn't written an article on the topic so I thought to chime in with my own two cents.
The Daily Mail – Apr 21/2012
The book that made women want sex again by Rowan Pelling
Thousands of readers say novel has changed their life. They are the books credited with bringing sex back to suburbia: Fifty Shades, the mega- selling erotic trilogy by E. L. James, a fortysomething television executive and mother of two from West London. If internet chatter is to be believed, the novels have become something of a self-help phenomena, with on-line forums bursting with women who claim that reading them has revived long-dormant sex lives.
Thousands of readers? Revived long-dormant sex lives? Wow. I have heard the expression "mommy porn" used to describe these novels originally used to describe romance novels or "bodice-rippers". The word porn has a negative connotation so maybe erotica or sexually explicit may be more acceptable terminology but whatever the words used, best seller should also be included.
[Christian author Dannah Gresh] says reading the novel is a form of adultery: "anything other than my husband creating arousal in me would be missing the mark of God’s intention." She also argues that over time, reading 50 Shades and books like it will render women unable to enjoy sex with their husbands, because "erotica robs you of real sex."
Crystal Renaud, who founded Dirty Girls Ministries and has made something of a name for herself advocating that Christian women stay away from porn, has also spoken out against 50 Shades. She told BuzzFeed Shift she believes Christian and non-Christian women seek out the book for the same reason: they want "the passion that exudes from the pages to happen in their real lives, especially if their emotional needs and even sexual needs are not being met in their real life relationships." But she says women should turn to God instead: "without a genuine relationship with Christ, it's our belief that women will continue to seek satisfaction for their emotional needs in places that just won't ever fully satisfy."
As anybody who has read my blog knows, I demand that anybody back up their statements with documented proof. You can't make supposed statements of fact without providing a university sanctioned analytic methodology of double blind testing with a statistically significant cross-section of the population.
[Christian author Dannah Gresh] says that "erotica robs you of real sex." Really? Says who? Where's your proof?
Crystal Renaud, founder of Dirty Girls Ministries, says that women should turn to God instead: "without a genuine relationship with Christ, it's our belief that women will continue to seek satisfaction for their emotional needs in places that just won't ever fully satisfy." Wow. I can't think of anything more sexually exciting than the idea of God and Jesus Christ. Ah guilt, the gift that just keeps on giving.
Two points. In my blog "Sex fantasies make for better sex lives", I wrote:
It is now considered a sign of pathology not to have sexual fantasies rather than to have them. For example, infrequent sexual fantasy is one of the defining criteria for the sexual disorder "inhibited sexual desire" described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed., rev.; DSM-III-R; American Psychiatric Association, 1987).
In the same blog, I also wrote:
Of course the biggest stumbling block to any sexual fantasy is guilt. Much of our culture involves guilt when it comes to sex and guilt is a huge impediment to not just sex itself, but to fantasizing about it.
I don't care where you get your appetite
Years ago a guy told me that his wife said this to him at the start of their marriage, "I don't care where you get your appetite just as long as you come home for dinner." Think about that. Take a moment. I'll wait. La dee da dee da.
Finished? Okay, we live in a world full of, ah, sex. Advertisements, television, movies, novels, there are any one of a number of things which may spark our imaginations. Is "sparking our imagination" a good thing or a bad thing?
Because people who are deprived of food tend to have more frequent daydreams about food (Keys, Brozek, Henschel, Mickelsen, & Taylor, 1950), it might be expected that sexual deprivation would have the same effect on sexual thoughts. The little evidence that exists, however, suggests otherwise. Those with the most active sex lives seem to have the most sexual fantasies, and not vice versa. Several studies have shown that frequency of fantasy is positively correlated with masturbation frequency, intercourse frequency, number of lifetime sexual partners, and self-rated sex drive (Crepault et al., 1976; Giambra & Martin, 1977; G. D. Wilson & Lang, 1981). (Sexual Fantasy by Harold Leitenberg and Kris Henning, University of Vermont: American Psychological Association, Inc., Psychological Bulletin 1995)
What!?! The more we think about it the more we do it? The more we do it the more we think about it? Hmmm, and the opposite is… the less we think about it the less we do it and the less we do it the less we think about it. Is this some sort of circular reference?
Tradition: Women vs. Men?
What about tradition? Traditional viewpoints, traditional roles? I'm saying this as one of my suspicions, not that I have done a scientific survey.
A "traditional woman" gets upset if she's discovers her man shows any interest at all in another woman. Is she threatened? Does she not subscribe to the idea "as long as you come home for dinner?"
On the other hand, if you (the woman) and I go to the movies and you get hot because of George Clooney or Brad Pitt am I really worried? After all, you're going home with me. George Clooney and Brad Pitt aren't in the room. There is no competition. If you've gotten excited, I take it that I am going to be the target of your ardour and am I going to complain about that?
All cats are grey in the dark.
-proverb attributed to Benjamin Franklin (I do a half decent Clooney impression in the dark)
Fantasies vs. Reality
I love James Bond. I have loved James Bond since I was a little boy. Smart, tough, attractive with savoir-faire to spare, what's not to love? However despite my overactive imagination, you are not going to see me trying to live out my fantasy. Drive like a maniac? Take on 5 bad guys bare handed? Pull out a Walther PPK and kill somebody? Up to now Her Majesty has not deemed me worthy of a Double O licence to kill. In other words, while I love my fantasies I would very much like to see my fantasies remain fantasies.
I have a confession, a confession for the ladies. Pick out somebody you think would be admired, no desired by all the guys. Catherine Hendricks of Mad Man? Beyoncé of the music world? Angelina Jolie of films? Whatever. If any of these women showed up at my doorstep dressed in a trench coat then threw it open to reveal themselves stark naked (No wait. It's my fantasy; I want a garter belt!) and told me they were there to make all of my dreams come true, I would slam the door then run and hide in the closet. Why? I like my fantasies but I like them as fantasies. Okay it's a fantasy to walk on the Great Wall of China or climb the Eiffel Tower but they're realistic fantasies. I don't want all my fantasies to come to life. Some of them I recognise are best left as fantasies. Besides, do I want Jay-Z or Brad Pitt punching me in the snoot?
Ballroom Dancing and BDSM
One of the biggest debates brought up by the books 50 Shades of Grey is this supposed female fantasy of domination. Outrageous! Who would want that?
[E]rotic fantasies about being overpowered by a man are very different from real rape (Bond & Mosher, 1986). In the fantasy, women are in perfect control over what takes place, whereas the reverse obviously is true in actual rape. The imagined violence is much less, they do not experience physical pain, and they know they actually are safe and do not have to fear for their lives. Bond and Mosher (1986) further pointed out that the typical female erotic rape fantasy involves imagining a sexually attractive man whose sexual passion is irresistibly stimulated by the woman's sexual attractiveness. In the fantasy, the man uses just enough force to overcome her token resistance and to arouse her sexually. (Sexual Fantasy by Harold Leitenberg and Kris Henning, University of Vermont: American Psychological Association, Inc., Psychological Bulletin 1995)
I'm sure that everybody will have their own take of any of this but I am reminded of a few personal experiences.
Several years ago I took ballroom dance lessons. As a man, I have the duty to lead. In order to lead I must develop skills. I must be knowledgeable. I must be confident and I must take charge. However my teacher, a woman, showed me that the relationship between a man and a woman was not dominant and submissive but assertive and receptive. I stick out my hand and ask the woman to dance. She can accept or refuse but if she accepts, we both have a role to play in order to dance as a couple.
I saw this and still see this as part of the relationship between a man and a woman. I also see this question of irresistibility mentioned in the quoted article above. What woman doesn't like the idea of being attractive, so attractive that a man can't resist her beauty? "You are the centre of my universe." It has a catchy ring to it, doesn't it? I worship at your feet and no, I'm not particularly into leather. (I will go along with the gag though.)
As I read about these books and followed along with reporters, pundits, and commentators exploring the various ins and outs of the BDSM world, I couldn't help thinking of this idea of letting somebody else take charge. Somebody else leads. Yes, it's a fantasy. Yes, it has overtones of danger. Yes it's pushing the envelope and treading where your average person has never been before but it's about letting somebody else lead. It's about surrender and trust. Oh boy, we're all going to be spending the 6 months on the couch trying to explain this one. Ha ha.
Fantasizing about stuff isn't bad. Fantasizing about stuff doesn't necessarily mean you want to push the envelope that far. But certainly there seems to be a documented connection between the quantity of fantasizing and the quantity of sex you're having. Go figure.
In thinking of the above Christian moral arguments against 50 Shades of Grey and erotica and I'm guessing fantasizing in general, I must laughingly say, "Guilt! Guilt! Guilt! You ought to be ashamed of yourself for having such evil thoughts outside the sanctity of your marriage and beg forgiveness not only from your husband but from Jesus Christ our lord and saviour. Hell and damnation await those who…" Oh, I'm sorry. Is that spittle dribbling down my chin?
Holy Hannah, why do some end up with the devil taking your soul for all of eternity? Geesh, can't you read a hot novel without fear of being cast into the lake of fire? Why in heaven's name did lustful thoughts turn into the worst sin on Earth? As I have written before, we collectively are so mixed up about our sexuality; it is not the least bit surprising to see the amount of guilt, shame, and as a consequence misinformation about the most natural of human experiences.
"Sex is dirty only when it's done right."
– Woody Allen
How many guys have come home to a session of love-making sparked by the woman having read 50 Shades of Grey? And how many guys would complain about that? (Maybe we can read passages to each other then…)
Sex begets sex. Sexual energy begets sexual energy. Those who fantasize have more sex and those who have sex fantasize more. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy in that if you think about sex you're going to end up having sex and vice versa. (my blog: Sex fantasies make for better sex lives)
And I for one would qualify that as 50 shades of a good thing.
Wikipedia: 50 Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic fiction paperback and e-book by E.L. James.
Originally developed from a Fan fiction work inspired by the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer, Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic romance, the first volume in a trilogy. It was released simultaneously as an ebook and a print-on-demand paperback in June 2011 by The Writers' Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher based in Australia. The second volume, Fifty Shades Darker, was released in September 2011, and the third, Fifty Shades Freed, followed in January 2012.
my blog: Sex fantasies make for better sex lives
We all seem to have sexual fantasies in one form or another whether we've admitted it to the researchers or not. – The authors cite a figure of 95% of both men and women. – Somehow this seems like a self-truth and reminds me of an old joke. The sergeant stands in front of his troops and announces, "We've just got back the results of the survey and it shows that ninety percent of you men masturbate. [pregnant pause] And the other ten percent are liars." – If you say you don't fantasize, well, I'd be inclined to think you're not telling the truth.
Time – Mar 14/2012
50 Shades of Grey: Why Is It News That Women Like Sex? By Erika Christakis
The hubbub about the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey shows we still view female sexuality in black and white.
we still act shocked that women have grown-up desires. After decades of advocacy and progress, it’s hard to believe the staying power of some of these one-dimensional portraits of women. The hype around 50 Shades of Grey feels more like 50 shades of condescension.
The Daily Beast – Apr 16/2012
Spanking Goes Mainstream by Katie Roiphe
From the steamy bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey to HBO's Girls, sexual domination is in vogue. Katie Roiphe on why women's power at work may be fueling the craze.
AlterNet – Apr 16/2012
Women, Sex and S&M: Mainstream Media Totally Wrong About Female Desire — Again
by Shira Tarrant
Spanking is en vogue. Or at least it’s popular to write about women who like to bend over. Jumping on the S&M bandwagon, writer Katie Roiphe’s cloying Newsweek cover story links wage-earning women with masochistic desire.
Huffington – May 30/2012
50 Shades Of Grey (Matter): How Science Is Defying BDSM Stereotypes by Kayt Sukel
It seems that no one is immune to E L James' controversial novel, 50 Shades of Grey. Television shows, magazines, popular blogs, even side conversations outside the school pick-up line are filled with talk about how hot it is — and how it may be solely responsible for jump-starting the sex drives of bored housewives across the country. While I agree that some of the sex scenes are quite titillating, I find myself annoyed at the overt Bondage / Discipline / Dominance / Submission / Sadism / Masochism (BDSM) stereotypes advanced by the book. Especially since the latest scientific studies concerning sexual behavior do not back them up.
Ezekiel 23:19-20 (21st Century King James Version)
19: Yet she multiplied her whoredoms in calling to remembrance the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt.
20: For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses and whose issue is like the issue of horses.
I have no idea what this Biblical passage means metaphorically but at face value, it is worth a spit-take.