RM Book Lounge: Fifty Shades of Grey – A License for Porn

Fifty Shades of Grey has given women around the world a license to read porn. Women who most definitely would not buy an adult movie in a hotel room, women who would most definitely not buy a magazine from the upper rack at the gas station, woman who would most definitely not step foot in an ‘adult’ shop on the wrong side of the tracks. (Why are they always on the wrong side of the tracks?) Women like the main character of the book, Anastasia Steele, who is a 22-year-old virgin when she meets Christian Grey and embarks upon a kinky sexual odyssey that turns into a great love affair (of course).

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James


As with any porn, suspension of disbelief is key in order to get anything more than a laugh out of these books. To begin, as far as I know, the population of this world doesn’t include a single self-made billionaire under the age of 27 who looks like a Greek god. With his significant wealth, we’re indulged in luxurious fantasies of what that can bring: nighttime helicopter rides over Seattle, private jets with beds where marriages are consumated, closets full of personal-shopper-picked clothes perfect for a perfect body, and my favourite, discreet-yet-warm housekeepers.

Of course, it comes with a price. Christian Steele is badly damaged from his early childhood, and has channeled that into a singular desire for bondage and domination. Anastasia must lead him out of the darkness and into the light before they can have a ‘normal’ relationship.

Unrealistic relationships are at the core of 50 Shades of Grey. The book started out as ‘fan fiction’ on a Twilight fan site, and the lead characters were based on Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. Indeed, the relationships between these two sets of characters are very similar: In both stories, an average, unassuming beauty is raised to epic heights by an exceptionally powerful babe who develops a super-unhealthy, codependent need for her.

Is this license for porn a good thing? In many cases, yes. Most women are still pretty sexually repressed. Most of them don’t have as many orgasms as their male counterparts because of the way their bodies are made. Many of them don’t know how to fix that, and wouldn’t dare buy themselves a vibrator. And while this book might not encourage them to go out and buy one*, the early, sexually-tense pages of the series might give them a glimpse into their own libidos.

But this license also means there are millions of copies of this book lying around. The other morning, shopping for a book at the airport while talking to my four-year-old, he said, “Mommy, I’ve got it! Why don’t you buy 50 Shades of Grey?” While that is innocent enough — he has heard me talk and laugh about it with friends and my husband — a good friend bemoaned the fact that her 17-year-old step-daughter was locking herself in her room and reading the books. “Don’t you think that’s kind of not right?” she asked me. I did.

I was reminded of being in junior high, passing around a copy of Judy Blume’s “Forever”. We were just starting to figure out how sex and relationships worked, and this gave us a clue. Now 50 Shades of Grey is teaching my friend’s 17-year-old daughter, who — even if no longer a virgin — has very little experience with sex and relationships. And in no time, it will be providing insight to even younger kids. And that is positively frightening. They will not read all three books to ‘understand’ why Christian Steele was so dysfunctional, and see that he was ‘released’ from it in the end. They will only read exceptionally explicit lines about BDSM, and take in the way he objectifies women. This will help shape their views of sex from a very early age.

Admittedly, this generation is different from ours. We were first introduced to provocativeness with Madonna and MTV. These girls have been exposed to highly sexualised behaviour from the moment they could focus their eyes. We wonder why at four, girls know how to strike a pose, shake their hips and pout. This is why.
With any kind of license comes responsibility. Kids are always going to find their parents’ copies of The Joy of Sex (although now that’s hopefully been replaced by The Good Vibrations Guide to Good Sex). They’re always going to find the salacious passages in books, and try to watch R-rated movies before they’re allowed. Most worryingly, this generation also has the added challenge of having the Web at their fingertips. But when the provocative material is owned by the parents, it comes with an implicit statement that this content is acceptable.

And it is acceptable. I would even say that it’s good: anything that might improve the sex life of women as a whole is good. But it’s only acceptable for people who are old enough to already understand how sex and relationships work — and to know that this story is extreme. It’s not acceptable as a starting place.

So by all means, read it if you haven’t. (Just be warned it is ridiculous.) And when you’re done, get it off your bookshelf. It’s not literature worth keeping anyway, and it could actually do your kids some harm.

* If it did encourage them, this would be a good place to start.

Balzer Family

Sarah Western Balzer grew up in Tampa, FL and worked in the music industry in New York, Washington, DC and London before she got married, started a lifestyle relocation business in London, and had a baby. Now she lives in Toronto and is a mostly full-time mom, but still oversees the Lifestyle section of London-based financial news website, Here Is The City . She and her husband, who is German, have two sons, a Brit and a Canadian.

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