Fifty Shades of Grey is now the fastest selling paperback in history. Its success has generated a debate about sex, fantasy and the nature of desire
When a book sells in the huge numbers that EL James's Fifty Shades of Grey is maintaining this summer, the world must surely be full of people who have enjoyed it and then told their friends.
Fans were certainly quick to defend Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code as it broke publishing records back in 2003, and Harry Potter addicts, both young and old, have been proud to wave a wand on behalf of JK Rowling's bestsellers since 1997. But what makes the triumph of James's book surprising is that a story involving such a succession of overtly kinky sex scenes can conquer the mainstream publishing market. After all, the plot is so singlemindedly titillating that it makes the unconventional "modern" relationships that leaven Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy read like Charlotte Brontë in comparison.
Last month the first novel in this series telling the story of Anastasia Steele and her obsessive love for a man with a predilection for bondage and domination became the fastest-selling paperback since records began and last week it also became the first ebook to sell more than one million copies. Yet its story pivots on the young heroine's sexual submission to Christian Grey, a millionaire she scarcely knows, who promptly introduces her to his favorite fetishes, as well as to the contents of his "Red Room of Pain".
Sadomasochism has always had its articulate evangelists, from the Marquis de Sade, the 18th-century French libertine and erotic novelist, to Kenneth Tynan, the Observer's illustrious theatre critic, who once argued that spanking was the path to emotional and intellectual freedom. Yet James has managed to get millions of average readers to consider the place of erotic pain in a relationship without even advancing an argument or pretending to any literary merit. The book is "my midlife crisis writ large", Erika Leonard, the middle-aged British woman behind the pseudonym EL James, has recently admitted, adding that she put "all my fantasies in there".
So has James created the latest commercial genre for our age – what the commentator India Knight has called "the porn version of cupcakes and Cath Kidston"? Or does her racy trilogy answer a deeper, unmet need among women readers?
The feminist writer and academic Marina Warner believes the unexpectedly wide appeal of this explicit fiction could be a sign of how difficult people now find it to feel aroused in an era when sex and nudity have become so commonplace. "There has been a general unveiling of the body in our culture and there is a connection between prohibition and arousal," she said. "It is in some way linked to our feelings about the sacred and the profane. I definitely don't want to go back to censorship, but I don't think the answer is to reach for extremes either."
Warner, like the late writer Angela Carter, has a strong interest in the power of myth and folklore. "Women should be allowed to read what they want, and to write what they want, but maybe they should not be so confident that they are not just playing a part in some larger commercial nexus."
The nature of a myth or a fantasy always has something to say about society, she argues. "It is an effect of sexual politics and I don't think it is neutral. In fact, I rather believe in the power of fantasy. We are driven by what we dream and by what we desire and hope for. I don't think fantasy is hermetically sealed from the rest of our lives."
Warner cites Carter's provocative 1979 essay, The Sadeian Woman, as a smart approach to the politics of abusive fantasy. In it the writer suggested provocatively that de Sade merely mirrored honestly the male-dominated hierarchy of his times.
"A book like Fifty Shades of Grey can collude with the status quo, where men are still largely in charge, even though it appears to be playful," says Warner. ...
There appears to be an infinite number of shades of grey as the mega-popular trilogy has spawned a movie, merchandise, BDSM seminars, a worldwide celebration of a fictional character's birthday and, now, a hotel getaway experience. (Photo: Courtesy of The Edgewater Hotel)
The Edgewater Hotel in Seattle, Wa. is now offering a "50 Shades of Romance" package in honor of E.L. James' erotic trilogy.
Guests will stay in one of the hotel’s waterside rooms, and while the package doesn’t include Grey himself, it does pay homage to several elements in the books: Ana's favorite champagne (Bollinger Rose) available in-room, a romantic sailing excursion in Puget Sound, a demo drive in an Audi (Grey's ride of choice), a custom “50 Shades” landmarks map to tour the area in and hard copies of the books themselves on the nightstand to "inspire love."
Thankfully, the hotel does not seem to be providing ropes, whips or any of the other questionable accessories that make several appearances in the novels.
For more than three times the price of The Edgewater’s weekend getaway package, you could go spelunking in Portland, Ore., at The Heathman Hotel, the actual fictional site of Anastasia and Grey’s first romp. The excursion, dubbed the “Charlie Tango” package, includes a variety of appetizers, drinks, private dinner and a helicopter tour of Portland. For a slightly cheaper price of $40, you can get a bottle of wine, a grey tie and a rose in the hotel room. ...
With its kinky sex scenes involving whips and rope, E.?L. James’s 50 Shades trilogy has certainly grabbed people’s attention. Dubbed “mommy porn” by Ellen DeGeneres, the best-selling erotic novels about a young literature student’s relationship with an older, wildly successful, dominating businessman who likes to tie up submissive brunettes have made its author very rich quickly—despite her writing being critically panned.
So what is it about 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades Darker, and 50 Shades Freed that’s resonating with so many female readers worldwide? And if women want to incorporate BDSM into their own sex lives, what are healthy, safe ways to do so? Local sexperts weigh in on the fire that James seems to have started in millions of women’s minds, if not their bedrooms.
“The book gives permission to more people to talk about sex and BDSM,” says Vancouver-based registered psychologist and sex therapist Marelize Swart in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight. (The acronym BDSM is a combination of words: bondage/discipline, domination/submission, and sadism/masochism.) “The book is respectable, as it’s an international bestseller. This gives women permission to read it or to discuss the subject with friends without being labelled as perverts.”
The trilogy’s success shows just how untapped the female market has been when it comes to porn, notes Vancouver clinical counsellor and sex therapist Teesha Morgan.
“Mainstream pornography is generally made by and made for men,” Morgan tells the Straight. “Women are desire-seeking, sexually driven creatures as well.…Most women want some form of porn as well; they want their imagination fed so that they too—even for a few moments—can step outside the box of their normality, outside their humdrum, monotonous sexual routines. It just has to be packaged to them in the right way.”
In day-to-day conversations, people mistakenly apply the word sadist to any cruel person and masochist to anyone who is a “glutton for punishment”, Morgan explains.
“However, in the clinical world, these words are applied to individuals who are sexually fixated on inflicting or receiving pain or humiliation,” she notes. “Most people are not willing to participate in S?&?M activities with the intensity or duration that sadists and masochists often desire or to the degree or level that the characters in the book choose to take it to. But getting a glimpse or peek into the lifestyle through this book does appeal to the general population, which is far more voyeuristic in nature. The book feeds our society’s voyeurism.
“People can include sub/dom play in their everyday sexual life without crossing too far into S?&?M play.” Morgan adds. “Through the use of things such as light bondage, couples can experiment with this lifestyle without pushing too far past their comfort zone. Many people simply enjoy S?&?M activities as part of a varied sexual diet. This book is providing another source or outlet for those desires and activities.”
Morgan has two words for those who want to try boosting the kink content of their sexual relations: safe and consensual. ...
Local group Kingston Kinksters is a social and educational outlet for people interested in BDSM
Queens University Journal
Soft-spoken and well-mannered, the voice on the other end of the phone isn’t what people typically see as someone who enjoys BDSM — a practice that encompasses bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism.
I’m speaking with Gaelach, a single mother in her 40s. She has a nine-to-five job and, now that the summer weather is here, regularly attends barbecues with family and friends.
Gaelach is her “scene name” — an alias used by those who wish to protect their identity for what’s often still seen as a sexual taboo.
Gaelach and her partner Renshu regularly engage in BDSM in the bedroom.
“We met through friends who were also into BDSM,” Gaelach said. It was a friend that first introduced her to the BDSM community.
“That person had recognized in conversation … things I had said about the way I thought [and] the way I felt about things,” she said. “[They] recognized that I was a person who might be on a different side of things, and who kind of exposed me to the community very gently.”
Gaelach and Renshu are part of the Kingston Kinksters, a group of people with similar alternative sexual interests.
The umbrella term of BDSM covers a wide variety of activities. It can range from restraints and blindfolds to psychologically humiliating actions — like using degrading comments in bed. The common factor here is that use of these consensual actions end in sexual arousal.
The Kingston Kinksters provide social and emotional support for people interested in BDSM. The group was started in early 2011 and now has upwards of 250 people involved, including some Queen’s students.
“They provide a lot of education and activism and fundraising in the local community so that people who practice alternative sexuality aren’t persecuted because of their forms of expression,” she said.
Outside of these communities, Gaelach has faced the cold shoulder from her peers.
“I personally have experienced some difficulty because of my choices [from] people who have found out just through conversation … or they suspect something,” she said. “Not everyone takes it well.” ...
An ongoing "upscale" swingers sex party was shut down at the Mondrian SoHo hotel this weekend after security guards got wind that this wasn't just a normal photoshoot. Or as the party organizers claim, because they wanted some publicity: "The hotel security wanted to gain access because we had a famous celebrity show up and they thought it would be a great chance to expose that information," Jasmine from The School of Sextold the MailOnline. Jeez, don't these people know it's too hot outside to imagine lumpy human bodies writhing all over each other in pursuit of anonymous sexual bliss? And yet, here we are.
"Some of the guests actually saw the hotel security try to snap pictures of our guests paparazzi style when people were exiting," Jasmine added. The “SiN White Party” was thrown by Behind Closed Doors and School of Sex. You can watch some testimonials about the parties from porn stars, including Nina Hartley and Justine Joli.
"We host sex parties for a very upscale and young crowd. This event was a mixer. But the hotel security insisted on policing the event. We value the privacy of our guests and shut the event down immediately.” He confirmed one couple, clad in underwear, had carried on enjoying themselves on the terrace, but “they eventually agreed to leave after being repeatedly asked to do so.” ...
PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - A married couple claim in court that they both lost their jobs after another couple they met on Craigslist, seeking "like-minded couples for consensual, discreet adult encounters," sent revealing photos to their employers, asking, "What kind of people do you employ?"
James P. and Lynette L. Ryan sued Michael R. and Sandra K. McDonnell, in Multnomah County Court.
The Ryans claim they posted an ad on Spokane's Craigslist page looking for "like-minded couples for consensual, discreet adult encounters" in October 2010.
The Ryans say they received a response from a couple whom they later learned were the defendants.
According to the complaint, the McDonnells posed as "Marc and Leah Olsen," using a shared email address and "very lengthy and complex stories" about themselves.
"Marc" said he was an attorney for the federal government, and "Leah" claimed to be a surgical nurse, and they gave the Ryans "no reason to doubt the plausibility of the couple, or their intentions," the complaint states.
After weeks of email exchanges, the couples agreed to arrange a face-to-face meeting, the Ryans say.
"On or about Thursday, October 14, 2010, the couples exchanged emails arranging for a 'date' on the following evening," according to the complaint.
It continues: "The next morning, Friday, Oct. 15, 2010, the plaintiffs' employer received an email from the same email address for 'Leah' and 'Marc,' but this time signed by a 'Megan Wilson,' and asking 'What kind of people do you employ?' with attachments detailing the email exchanges between the parties, and including the pictures of plaintiffs in various forms of undress. Also attached was a nude photo of a woman who is not either of plaintiffs, nor provided to defendants by plaintiffs. Within 48 hours of defendants' email to the plaintiffs' employer, both plaintiffs were fired from their employment as a result of the email exchanges provided by defendants to plaintiffs' employer.
"Following the termination of plaintiff's employment, plaintiffs ascertained the true identity of defendants as Michael R. McDonnell and Sandra K. McDonnell." ...
The notion of the girl next door takes on new meaning when she’s Shamaine, a girl next door like no other. Over lunch at Georgetown’s swanky Bourbon Steak, Shamaine (“No last name, please”) blends in with the other customers. The 33-year-old is dressed conservatively, looks fit, and has some attitude in her step. Don’t be fooled, though—demure is not her demeanor. In work mode, she becomes Domina Vontana, the self-described “premiere professional dominatrix” in Washington.
Of course, selling sex is nothing new here—ask Eliot Spitzer,Wayne Hays, and countless others—but Domina Vontana insists that what she does is as legal as a legitimate massage therapist’s work. She’s providing a service, not selling sex. Her website shows her in full leather—thigh-high boots, tight black dress, three-quarter-length gloves—walking near the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument in the background. Clearly the site of a good businesswoman, it includes her calendar, showing when she’s available or booked. Here’s a conversation with her.
You started when?
Two weeks after my father died—January 27, 2006. I put my first ad on Craigslist and had my first client February 3. I’m a Craigslist-generation dominatrix. I wouldn’t be here without them. Craigslist was good until they got on the radar of the police and closed down the adult-services page.
Were you nervous at the beginning?
Clueless. There was zero exposure to this lifestyle in northwest Montana, where I grew up, but I knew I had it in me. I had a background in the ministry through my work in the church. At 14 I began medical training and later did some nursing school and was certified as a medic. So I’d been working with people in vulnerable, intimate, emotional situations since I was a child.
How did you learn the tricks of the trade—were you self-taught?
I always had it in me. The first couple of months, though, I would get 20 minutes into an hour scene and be done with 40 minutes to go, and I didn’t know how to fill it. I’d made him undress, I’d made him kiss my shoes, I’d spanked him and there was still 40 minutes to go.
How did you spiff up your game?
Nine months after I started, I went to San Francisco and did a three-day intensive course for female dommes.
When did you feel you had a steady clientele?
I took a year off at the end of 2007 and went home to Montana. When I returned, not only had I grown but the scene in DC had grown. I had regular clients. Also, there were parties. People were coming out as kinksters in droves. It was no longer something to be ashamed of. It was like coming out as queer. For kinky social life, Washington is probably number one in the country. San Francisco has a longer tradition, Chicago and New York have a strong scene—but Washington is the hottest.
The intensity of this city. The people who are my clients help make decisions that affect the world. We’re in the capital of the most powerful nation. And the men who come to me for release live under great pressure. These are men who never stop working. That’s why one or two hours with me is so important. I help them let it all fall off their shoulders for a piece of time. ...
We get to hear the history of the NCSF, as well as all of the works and projects they do to support many different lifestyle choices; from helping people with child custody issues, to their recent intervention when the local NBC News went undercover in the Detroit area BDSM Community - as an odd side story of an ongoing murder investigation there.
Susan tells us about herself, her husband, that she is a member of Fet Life, and an active participant in her local Community.
Susan answered so many questions, and was such a great interviewee, that we asked her to consider coming back to cover some of the many other topics our discussion touched upon.