I'm worried about this country. "Fifty Shades of Grey" is the No. 1 best seller? Is this another example of the dumbing down of America?
The Wall Street Journal
I don't read romance novels anymore, so until the "Fifty Shades" trilogy became the fiction du jour, I was unaware of a relatively new and popular subgenre known as erotic romance or romantica. Now, having read the first of E.L. James's novels, I confess to being somewhat baffled by the appeal of a romantic hero who, while filthy rich and preternaturally handsome, gets sexual pleasure from beating his girlfriend with a belt.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" actually belongs to a subgenre of romantica that involves consensual sexual relations between dominant and submissive partners (sometimes called BDSM for bondage, discipline, sadomasochism). In Ms. James's books, the dominant partner is Christian Grey, "the richest, most elusive, most enigmatic bachelor in Washington State." His prey is Anastasia Steele, a newly minted college graduate who describes herself as mousy, wide-eyed and uncoordinated and whose idea of cussing is "Holy hell," "Holy Moses," "Holy cow" and "Holy crap." She might have a hot body—Christian Grey certainly thinks so—but her bulb is strictly low-wattage. Not to mention that she managed to get through four years of college not only without her own computer but without even an email address.
Unlike the librarians of Brevard County, Fla., who temporarily removed all 19 copies of "Fifty Shades" from their shelves to protect their borrowers' sensibilities, I say if women want to read about getting tied up and hit, that's none of my business. But the popularity of these books did make me wonder if there's something in the culture now—or the water?—that draws women to fantasies of submission.
In an article in "Psychology Today," a sex therapist, Sari Cooper, points out that "subs" and "doms" are nothing new and that throughout history, men and women have occupied both roles. In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novella "Venus in Furs," for example, it is the man who desires domination by a woman. (The novella has been adapted as a play, "Venus in Fur," now playing on Broadway.) Ms. Cooper warns against looking at "Fifty Shades" through a "socio-political lens"; this is an "adult form of play," she says, that often takes place only in fantasy.
Fair enough. Yet there's something deeply unsettling about Christian Grey being a romantic hero for contemporary women. Talk about the man in the empty suit. Grey may have luxuriant hair and other robust body parts, but his only topic of conversation is himself and his feelings. He doesn't go to movies, bars or the gym, he doesn't watch television, read, discuss current events or have friends. He plays the piano, but only "oh-so-sad music." When pressed about his boyhood, he describes his mother as a "crack whore."
The question of why E.L. James has reportedly sold some 10 million books in the U.S. alone has been chewed over by many cultural commentators and psychologists. Some have theorized that so-called mommy porn appeals to women who wish their partners would take charge in the bedroom. In a 1973 article in "Psychology Today," a researcher, E. Barbara Hariton, concluded that "force" fantasies are not about rejection or abuse, but "appear in dominant and independent women" who imagine themselves desirable and attractive. The "Fifty Shades" books, some psychologists say, give women permission to express their sexual desires without shame. ...
The power couple of Australia's increasingly open polyamorous community, Rebecca and James Dominguez, have made Senate submissions urging the legalisation of same-sex marriage, as they promote greater acceptance of multiple-partner relationships.
The couple have led the way in publicly outlining their own journey from monogamous marriage to one in which each has another lover as well.
In her blog, Ms Dominguez, who is an adminstrator with IBM in Melbourne, writes: "My life rocks . . . I am incredibly happy and have almost everything I could possibly want . . .
"I've built a house with my husband and my husband's boyfriend so there are four of us living together in nice harmony. (The fourth household member is Rebecca's boyfriend.)
"James outed himself to me as bisexual a year after we got married. Remarkably, this didn't really phase me.
"He talked to a nice female friend of ours that was interested in him, informed her about my boundaries and they agreed to have a sexual relationship.
"I felt more secure in my relationship with James . . . I knew that James wasn't going to leave me, that he could have sex with and love another woman and still love me and want to be married to me."
For many years Ms Dominguez was president of PolyVic, which promoted the "practice of honest, open, ethical multiple relationships".
More recently the couple have taken up leading positions in Bisexual Alliance Victoria.
The two organisations are closely connected and hold picnics which, the website says, are family-friendly with "food and drinks to share, picnic rugs or chairs, outdoor games, kids, dogs, kayaks".
As president of the alliance, Mr Dominguez, an IT specialist in the Victorian public service, wrote to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in support of the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010. ...
For an estimated two per cent of the population, that classic one-liner has an automatic -- and quite serious -- retort: "OK, as long as you take mine."
In the 1950s, the media dubbed it "wife-swapping." Today, it's known by the less male-centric term "swinging." Or just "the lifestyle."
Regardless of the name, this free-love, mate-sharing lifestyle -- which Penthouse magazine once described as "the primary indoor sport of suburbia" -- definitely did not fall out of fashion after Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice crawled into bed together on the big screen in 1969.
In fact, you might say folks took that movie's tagline, "Consider the possibilities," to heart: The swinger movement in North America is four million strong, according to a 2005 segment of ABC TV's newsmagazine 20/20. And some say it's just now coming out of the closet.
"It's huge," says Kevin, a Winnipeg swinger and entrepreneur who's planning to open Ooh Zone, a private "adult-lifestyle nightclub" in the city next winter.
"I think there's a whole younger generation that's more sexually free-spirited. It's not the old wife-swapping days," says the 42-year-old construction industry executive, who asked that his surname not be published. Kevin and his wife, a local business owner, have been married 20 years and swinging for nearly three. ...
With libraries reporting waiting lists in the thousands and retailers reporting over 10 million copies sold in just a month and a half, the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey and its siblings 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed has not only dominated The Hunger Games trilogy but (mercy!) "ripped through the virginity" of America's familiarity with, and openess to, BDSM.
Much to the delight of its publisher, the trilogy by E.L. James is being banned in libraries across the nation, where "pornography," not "literature," is used to describe the tome. And the only thing nearly as popular as reading the book is writing about how terrible it is as a book. (True fact: The books started as fan fiction featuring characters from the Twilight series — now it's inspiring fan fiction.)
Capitalizing on the new craze for "mommy porn" is "leading fetish company" Stockroom.com, which reports a "a remarkable surge in inquiries." ...
As predicted and not surprisingly so, the book that's sweeping the country is still smashing the competition on USA TODAY's best-selling books list. Obviously I'm talking aboutFifty Shades of Grey by E L James. The BDSM inspired trilogy has topped the list for the month of May, with all three books taking the top three spots. It's safe to say that no one can get away from Fifty Shades news.
According to Huffington Post celebrities can't get enough either. Everyone from Hillary Duff to Pretty Little Liars' Lucy Hale have something to say about this erotic romance. Readers are positively chomping on the bit for casting news for the much anticipated movie adaptation. Unfortunately all we have heard are speculations and casting ideas. When the casting is announced I have a feeling that heads may implode and the internet may self destruct. ...
The BDSM bestseller has been a much-vaunted hit among women, but there's one group who's not convinced. Some female Christian writers say the BDSM bestseller corrupts minds and destroys marriages, and they're urging the faithful not to read it.
"I wouldn’t drive my Envoy into the front of an oncoming semi-truck any more than I would open the pages of Fifty Shades of Grey," writes Christian author Dannah Gresh. She's urging her readers to avoid E.L. James's bestselling erotic novel, and she's not alone. While secular critics have focused on the book's questionable literary merit (or what it says about women's fantasies), in recent weeks there's been something of a movement among female Christian bloggers who say the book is sinful, twisted, and even dangerous.
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."
This is much the same argument many have used against Internet pornography — and indeed, 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."
But its similarities to more conventional porn aren't the only complaint against the book — there's also the BDSM element. Christian blogger and professor Mary Kassian writes that "the relationship between a man and wife is to mirror Christ’s relationship to His Bride" and "Christ is not into domination, control, abuse, and humiliation." She also objects to heroine Anastasia Steele's submissive role: "the Lord doesn’t want His daughters to be wilting, weak-willed, wimpy women who welcome and enjoy abuse."
Julia Stronks, a professor of political science at Whitworth University who has written about Fifty Shades of Grey, says the backlash is no surprise: writers who have criticized the book tend to come from "denominations that believe that faith impacts all of life," and when anything becomes as popular as Fifty Shades, members of these denominations tend to examine what it might have to do with their religion. She likens the book not just to porn but to romance novels, which she says normalize relationships in which "women resist and men overcome" and thus can contribute to sexual violence.
Not everyone agrees that Christian women must avoid Fifty Shades. Christian blogger Jonalyn Fincher says what really matters is why they read it — if they're doing so to escape their marriages, that may be "unhealthy." But she also believes the book can help women think about important issues, like sexual abuse. She adds that she read the book as a "cultural exploration" into something that's extremely popular, which she says is also a valid reason: "it's like walking in the shoes of your neighbor."
Kassian might take a dim view of such exploration — she writes, "'curiosity' has led to the downfall of multitudes who have been trapped in the destructive, downward vortex of sexual sin." Numerous commenters on her post agree and pledge to spread her anti-Shades message. Says one, "my heart breaks that young women can get so engrossed in such horrible entertainment. I will certainly forward this on to many many others."
Some Christian women, though, don't need special prodding to avoid Fifty Shades. Writes one of Gresh's readers, "A few years ago, God asked me to give up all fiction reading. To this day I have had no regrets."
The handcuffs are flying out the door. So are the floggers. Whips and rope? Forget about it.
"Things that were selling out in a week are selling out in a day," said Nick Smerecki, manager of Adult Playtime Boutique in Edison, where sales are up 400 percent over last year. "I’ve never seen anything like it."
Adult shops across the region have seen a boom in business in recent months thanks to the publication of "Fifty Shades of Grey," an erotic novel by British writer E.L. James. The book, which details the relationship between naive college literature student Anastasia Steele and a dark but brilliant billionaire Christian Grey, dabbles in BDSM — or bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism.
"It’s definitely done wonders for the adult industry," Smerecki said of the book, published in May 2011 and mainstream now, but initially hard to get.
Diego Rivera, manager of Essex Adult Emporium in Fairfield and Pleasure Plus Video in Saddle Brook, said the book has been a gift to shops like his.
"The adult industry took a hit with the internet, but now that the book came out, nobody wants to wait," he said. "They come in the store to buy everything in the book." ...
White-hot read “Fifty Shades of Grey” has left unassuming New York women so feverish, they’re snapping up all the tools and toys that bondage and S&M hunk Christian Grey introduces to “unexplored” young heroine Anastasia in the book.
They’re even slipping into hardware stores and demurely asking for bondage material — the very type of natural-filament rope in the trilogy.
“Oh, we’ve been selling rope to women,” says Clifton Kahn, owner of Lexington Hardware on the Upper East Side. “I’d say tenfold more rope than usual in the last six months. The women are definitely buying, and it’s still continuing.”
The store’s most popular item is the soft-cotton “clothes line” rope, which retails at a bargain $5 for 50 feet.
Tarzian Hardware in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has also seen a rash of rope sales. “It’s usually men buying rope, but the women, they’ve been coming in the last few months,” cashier Christina Davila told The Post. “I’ve actually read the book. So when the women buy rope, it was kind of like, ‘Hmmm, that does seem a little unusual.’ ”
Nathaniel Garber Schoen, co-owner of Garber Hardware in the West Village, says customers eager to get tied up rather than secure lumber have a telltale sign: They request softer nylon material. In which case Schoen recommends the 12-gauge, non-braided nylon — “Anything skinnier is too small. You might hurt yourself,” he says of the rope, $18 for a 50-foot spool. “For those purposes, 12-gauge is a reasonable choice and the most popular.”...