One quiet night
It is 22-year-old Anastasia Steele's first night alone with Seattle billionaire sex-god Christian Grey, in his high-tech mansion in the sky.
Page 85. She is about to experience sexual climax, for the first time in her life. Let's hear her tell it:
"Let go, baby," he murmurs. His teeth close around my nipple, and his thumb and finger pull hard, and I fall apart in his hands, my body convulsing and shattering into a thousand pieces. He kisses me, deeply, his tongue in my mouth absorbing my cries.
Oh my. That was extraordinary. Now I know what all the fuss is about.
"You are very responsive," he breathes. You're going to have to learn to control that..."
Huh? Learn to control WHAT? Her responsiveness?
Why? It's not his body—it's hers. Who made him the boss?
Of human bondage
Welcome to the world of Fifty Shades of Grey:
Where the hero and heroine's first kiss consists of his attacking her in an elevator, pinning her to the wall with her arms over her head.
Where she falls in love with him despite his informing her that he can't stand to be touched or to sleep in the same bed with her.
The book's hero, Christian Grey, is a Dominant. He loves her, but he can't be satisfied unless he's forcing his will upon her.
Doesn't seem very appealing, does it? So why are hundreds of thousands of women hurrying to read this book?
Well, for one—it's sexy. Very sexy. Many American women are crediting the book with having re-awakened their libido. In an online article entitled, "The book that makes you want sex," a man discusses wanting to form a business looking for girls who have "just finished the book, before they cool off."
What makes this book any sexier than the thousands of other romance novels that are published every year? Is it the domination? And if so, why should a book about domination be so sexy?
Not made for TV
On the Today Show recently, my fellow NYC sex expert Logan Levkoff was defending the book against Dr. Drew Pinsky—who admitted he hadn't yet read it.
Levkoff was doing a good job of keeping her cool with Pinsky, despite what must have been a strong urge to tell him to shut up if he hadn't read the book.
The host of the show wanted to know: It's a book about violence against women. Why should that be sexually arousing?
Levkoff obviously knew she wouldn't be able to do the subject justice on a TV spot. She kept her answer simple:
The book, she said, is intended to be sexual fantasy. For some it's the BDSM, for others not. Either way, it's about women using their imagination to turn themselves on. And the book's word-of-mouth popularity reflects women talking to other women about what really turns them on.
OK. Not bad for a TV sound bite. But as they cued the next commercial, the the host's question still hung in the air:
Why should sexual domination ever be arousing to the woman who is its object—either in reality or in fantasy? Why would women read about it? Why would a woman WRITE it?
The question is not a new one. In her 1988 book, The Bonds of Love—Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination, psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin wondered the same thing. As have many students of the mind before and after her.
No one has yet offered an entirely satisfactory answer. Maybe there isn't one. The "problem," as Benjamin put it, of sexual domination and submission remains a bit of a riddle.
But it seems to me a novelist stands a better chance than a scholar at helping us understand something so deep and important.
The drama of a novel requires a problem. What makes Fifty Shades so interesting as fiction—and perhaps adds to its erotic appeal—is that the dominance is both a turn on and at the same time the problem.
Levkoff is right, of course. The book's images of sex, and of sexual submission, are just fantasy. But real sex contains a hefty dose of fantasy too.
Maybe good sex requires some of the same stuff as a good read. A certain something that grabs your attention and won't let you go.
In the next couple of articles, we'll ride this book a bit farther, and see where it can take us.
Copyright © Stephen Snyder, M.D. 2012
www.sexualityresource.com New York City
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