I’ve received several questions via email about a new erotic trilogy called Fifty Shades of Grey, a story about a young college woman (and a virgin) who enters into a contract with a businessman whereby he has total control of her life while she participates in a submissive sexual relationship with him. The book takes place in Seattle (my current hometown) and involves explicit descriptions of sexual encounters including bondage and S&M.

Apparently, it’s become quite a hit and women everywhere are devouring (no pun intended) the series, including women of faith.

Some quick thoughts–

  1. You are what you eat. Garbage in, garbage out. The concern here isn’t so much about sexual mores as it is with personal well being. Just as we are deeply affected by what we eat, whether it be overall health, clothing size, or mental well being, so we are affected by the images and ideas that we introduce to ourselves. Consuming a steady diet of media content that is, well, less than uplifting, takes its effect. [See the movie Idiocracy for more on this. It’s not kid-friendly and f-bombs (sic) make up half of the dialogue, but it makes a great point. Consider it WALL-E for adults.]
  2. It’s hard to tell from our contemporary culture, but sex is meant to be something deeply personal and intimate. When we allow ourselves to be shaped by outside images and ideas, especially deficient ones, we end up denying our own experience of sex. We take someone else’s ideas, a stranger in this case, and make them part of our experience surrounding sexual intimacy. But they belong to someone else. They’re not something discovered in an intimate, trusting, and exclusive relationship. They’re imposed upon from without.
  3. The brain is the most powerful sex organ. In other words, this is just porn for women, porn that is easily consumed now that e-readers abound and no one has to know what another person is reading. It’s not that people shouldn’t have sexual thoughts, but rather how those experiences should occur and how they can be used constructively. Just as regular porn isolates and disconnects the consumer from reality, particularly the reality of love, so do erotic novels disconnect its readers (largely women) from the reality of relationship and love, two things that one hopes might have something to do with each other.
  4. Escapism doesn’t work. The women enjoying Fifty Shades appear to be doing what most of us do when we enjoy media or read a book: taking a break from our busy (often troubled) lives and escaping into someone else’s story. That’s human nature and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But, let’s face it, marriages and other relationships are under a lot of stress today. When we need to take a break from them, we need something that’s going to give us the strength to get back out there and work (fight?) for what we believe in. I’m not saying that our entertainment needs to be Pollyanna. But it should be constructive. Even in our escapes or breaks, we need to be able to experience something constructive. The last thing women need is to immerse themselves in a world where the heroine is abused, degraded, and not allowed to be her own person. Just because it’s “consensual” doesn’t mean it’s good for a woman.

It says a lot about our culture when so many women find their escape in an erotic novel in which there is clearly lacking a balance of power between the female and male protagonists, respectively. You’ve come a long way, baby, so far, in fact, that you’re further back than when you started. We used to call that denial.