Why Fifty Shades of Grey Has Changed the Way We Feel About Sex

(originally published on www.EvolvedWorld.com)

By now, you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t at least heard of the E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, let alone not read the trilogy. Fifty Shades is Twilight for the “Soccer Mom” set and just as poorly written, yet women can’t get enough of it ... in fact, no one can. Sex clubs, sex shops and even New York’s Museum of Sex are having Fifty Shades themed events. Even cottage industries of vanilla-friendly BDSM seminars and ladies nights are popping up faster than you can say “Yes, Sir, may I have another?” Dateline, Primetime, Nightline – all the news shows have covered it, including the dependably milque-toast morning shows. Even Psychology Today and People Magazine, two publications that couldn’t be more different, have written articles about the E.L. James’ trilogy. You can’t go anywhere without hearing about it. But why? Why now and why are women reacting so strongly to it? Erotica isn’t new and neither is BDSM. Why is this particular book resonating with so many women? I have a few ideas:

#1 IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID
My feeling has always been that under times of socio-economic stress and/or crisis people tend to move inward and reflect on what they really have in life that’s totally their own … what they can actually call theirs. There is nothing more “our own” than our bodies. Let’s face it, to paraphrase John Mayer, our bodies are a wonderland … a wonderland of feelings and hormones that can (at times) be used for our pleasure. What could feel more exciting and enticing than a semi-subversive roll-in-the-hay with your neighbor? Or, letting go of your Type-A personality and allowing someone else call the shots … in bed? Maybe it’s scintillating enough for you to fantasize about sharing a surruptitous touch with a stranger on a train? It doesn’t matter what it is, in a recession, if we’re not doing it, we’re thinking about doing it because let’s face it … it’s fun, it’s free and it feels good. Fifty Shades of Grey arrived at such a time of economic upheaval. It’s no accident that it garnered it’s word of mouth as a free online publication. Women sought out distraction and pleasure in the face of joblessness, foreclosures, war and waning healthcare and made this book a must-read. Easy escapism into a world of passion, lust and romance … as J. Lo says “Love don’t cost a thing”! And that is precisely the appeal of a Rabelaisian fantasy like Fifty Shades of Grey.

#2 WE’RE MAD AS HELL AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!
For far too long in western culture, women’s sexuality has been at the very least marginalized and at the most extreme, vilified. In modern society, if you were a feminist you were taught that pornography is offensive and objectifies women. You might have been taught that men are dogs and only want one thing. You were possibly led to believe that sexual freedom for a woman only meant the right to say “no”. Like any argument, there’s always some truth to it and circumstances as well as common sense are usually needed to dictate veracity. However, as a woman AND a feminist, I have benefited from the freedom of choice to say “yes” to my sexuality and “yes” to how I choose to express it. This book could be the gateway for some to do just that. Women are sensual and sexual beings who should feel as free to demonstrate them as men do. As feminists, we need to teach our young women this lesson so that they know that their sexuality is healthy and their right and that to express it verbally or physically is nothing to be ashamed of. Fifty Shades of Grey has taken a bit of the taboo away for a certain segment of the female population. Women who normally didn’t discuss “such things” are now sharing the titillation and thrill they get from reading modern erotica. Because this book has been so popular the discussions have started and have even freed a great many women from the bad kind of ties that bind.

#3 YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY BABY
Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a book about BDSM. It’s not even a love story. At its core, this book is an allegory of one woman’s unanticipated journey of self-discovery. The heroine, smart yet un-experienced, follows her instincts about what might please her. She’s not an idiot, she recognizes how extreme and foreign her situation is and struggles with it. Yet, measured, she indulges her desires and discovers in the process what she does and does not like sexually. This kind of experimentation of our sensuality is essential to having a satisfying sex life, for how do we know what we like if we don’t even know what we don’t like? We do the same thing with dating, trying new foods and choosing an exercise we enjoy (or at least don’t hate). Why should it be any different with sex? E.L. James has given us a sort of “gestalt” on sexual coming of age of a woman. Fifty Shades brings us along on Anastasia Steele’s journey of sexual self-discovery and we make it our own. If we don’t identify with it we want to. For some of us this pilgrimage can come late in life if we allow it to at all – but we must. We all deserve to experience passion, discover what leads us to it and recognize there are many different roads to take and ways to travel there. Fifty Shades illuminates just one of those paths and ignites in the reader a contemplation of one’s own passage through the hallowed halls of our sexuality.

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Elle Chase