Linda: I just finished reading the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy. With 65 million copies sold, I had to find out what all the fuss was about. My curiosity had been burning and I must admit that I did enjoy the books. The sex scenes were some of the most vividly detailed and highly erotic I’ve ever read. But I don’t think that it’s the graphic descriptions of the couple’s sexual encounters alone that readers find so compelling. There is something much more going on here than voyeurism into the world of BDSM. (BDSM stands for Bondage, Discipline, Dominance/submission, and Sadomasochism, and represents a continuum of erotic practices involving restraint, sensory stimulation, and role-playing.)
I believe it has a lot to do with the desire that so many of us have of being swept away from our mundane lives and into a world of passion and ecstasy. One of the things that makes this series so compelling is that it affirms the classic fantasy that the handsome prince is going to ride into our lives on his noble white steed and sweep us off of our feet, take us away from our ordinary existence and bring us to a beautiful castle where we will spend the remainder of our lives living in luxury, leisure, and of course, pleasure!
Christian, one of the two main characters had devoted, caring, adoptive parents with wealth sufficient to provide him with the best psychotherapy that money could buy, (given the nature of his traumatic early childhood, probably about half a million dollars worth). And yet despite extensive therapy, the depth of his emotional wounds dating back to his first four years of life continues to heavily impact upon him in his thirties. The books affirm the theme that love can heal wounds that cannot be cured through any other means, a controversial claim, but one that I believe has some legitimacy. Some people would call this notion romantic idealism. My experience has shown me that sometimes genuinely loving partnerships can heal emotional wounds that even the best therapy can’t reach. The Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy is fiction, and condenses the healing process into a much shorter time span than is usually required. Yet be that as it may, the healing power of love is real, not fantasy. And I believe that that is one of the major themes that is magnetizing millions of readers to the series.
Another aspect of Fifty Shades has to do with the willingness of the two protagonists to press out the edge of their comfort zone in regard to their willingness to explore the realm of both sexual as well as emotional intimacy. While Anastasia took the lead in terms of emotional honesty, Christian exposed Anastasia to sexual delights that were previously unimaginable to her.
It’s likely that these books will inspire readers to be to be more experimental and creative with their own sexuality. Research shows that large numbers of Americans believe that they are duds in bed. They think that everyone else is having a much more interesting sex life than they are. They believe that their tendency to rely upon unimaginative, tried and true bedroom patterns makes them bored and boring. One of the significant messages offered in the trilogy is that two consensual adults who share a common understanding of the parameters of the limits of their sexual experience could greatly enhance the quality of that experience and by extension, the quality of their relationship itself. The key variable that distinguishes this type of relationship from one that is based primarily on sexual pleasure is Anastasia’s insistence that they each push the edges of their experience of emotional intimacy as well as the edges of their sexual connection.
Christian and Anastasia’s sexual relationship is unusual in that they are both “high T’s” (high testosterone levels and high desire). In general, it’s more often the case that a high T pairs with a lower T, assuring a greater likelihood of balance. This can of course be a source of conflict due to differing levels of desire. Hopefully, readers won’t see Christian and Ana’s relationship as a model, or fault themselves if they don’t have a desire for sex several times a day. These two have a brand new relationship and we all know how strong (and temporary) an aphrodisiac that can be. And as most of us also know, it’s the enjoyment of the experience that matters, not the frequency.
For Anastasia who isn’t particularly materially oriented, having a lavish lifestyle with expensive gifts was not a driving force in her relationship with Christian. Some readers might wrongfully assume that she was attracted to his wealth, but what I was struck by was Anastasia’s insistence that they each reveal their innermost selves to each other on an ongoing basis. Christian knew that to remain in relationship he would have to be more emotionally open with her than he had ever been with anyone in his life.
For him this level of intimacy was every bit as daunting as the world of BDSM was for her. The contract that they made with each other stretched each of them into worlds that they both simultaneously feared and longed for.
I hope that readers of this series will take something of value with them that will open their eyes just as Ana and Christian did with and for each other. Successful relationships are characterized by, among other things, emotional transparency and sexual pleasure. Fifty Shades of Gray provides one example from an infinite number of possibilities of what that can look like.