I'm glad the Fifty Shades of Grey (FSG) trilogy and its 15 minutes of fame are over. I couldn't for the life of me understand why such a poorly written book became 2012's biggest blockbuster seller since there's much better erotica to read. I also could not understand how such a vanilla, mainstream book -- one notch up from a Harlequin romance, really -- started such a controversy in the first place.
One thing for certain the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon was the perfect storm and, I believe, has forever changed the way many women perceive and read erotica.
For those who haven't heard of this book, it's an erotica book cloaked in a "love story." Handsome tycoon billionaire Christian Grey wants to dominate young, innocent college student Anastasia, and he wants her to be his submissive. But Christian is a broken man which leads him down the path of BDSM. They sign a contract, yet Anastasia constantly asks herself whether she wants this relationship.
So of course, from the time the book came out there was outrage about the BDSM theme. Which is understandable -- I would be astonished if there wasn't push back from a segment of the population.
For instance, a U.K. women's charity refers to Fifty Shades as "an instruction manual for an abusive individual to sexually torture a vulnerable young woman" and organized a book-burning protest.
How do you explain someone who doesn't believe fantasy is a good thing that a book about BDSM fantasy is an okay read? Not easy. Especially if you don't understand BDSM -- and most people, understandably, don't -- then yes, of course, a book like this can seen harmful.
What is actually going on in the novel is an "exchange of power" which puts Anastasia on equal footing to Christian Grey. Everything is consensual and agreed upon. Professionally, I wish all couples would take a chapter from BDSM in that there is a mutually satisfying exchange.
The American press had a heyday vilifying this type of female fantasy -- again. In 1973 Nancy Friday gathered women's fantasies and published My Secret Garden. Many of these average gal's fantasies were about being dominated -- just like Anastasia.
Interestingly history shows that S&M erotica comes in and out of fashion about every 20 years (or so). Ann Rice published her erotic fairytales in the early 1990s. Anais Nin was wildly popular in her day (mid-70s); The Story of O published in 1954 by Anne Desclos; and so on.
Women loved and read these books but had to pass them along secretly to her friends and family. The difference is FSG is a lot more accessible and women feel a lot more empowered to read it openly.
As much as I'm not a fan of the FSG trilogy I am glad and grateful for one thing: for once the average gal was in your face about her sexuality. Not caring that she was being titillated for everyone to see. It was almost a status symbol to be seen reading the book in public places. It's one of the few times since women "won" her right to orgasm in the 1970s that she put her sexual needs first.
As for inevitable conservative backlash here's what I think: Society still isn't comfortable with a woman flaunting her sexuality. Especially when she gets turned on by certain fantasies that are seen as taboo'ish. I really don't believe today's woman is sexually emancipated and the backlash telling her she shouldn't like this sort of book is simple proof.
Many long-term couples are stuck in a romance rut -- they love their partner but don't know how/ what to do to make things interesting. Suddenly someone hands her a book and says, "You've got to read this" and it awakens her sensuality. FSG opened up a world for a lot of women that they never knew existed. And it felt good to connect with her partner (and with her sexual self) at that level.
How could that possibly be bad or wrong?
Being titillated by erotica is as natural as breathing, and an incredibly easy and healthy way to get turned on.
If Fifty Shades of Grey doesn't appeal to you please don't give up on erotica. This book may not be your thing, but there are a lot of other story lines that might.
And for the sake of women's sexual emancipation world wide -- sorry to be dramatic, but I feel that strongly --simply ignore the media when they tell you it is harmful. It's not.
Reading erotica and being titillated is good. Very good.