There has been plenty written about Fifty Shades of Grey‘s meteoric rise to the top of the bestseller list. Articles have documented how the book has enlivened marriages, criticised it for its depiction of the BDSM scene, and debated whether or not the book’s popularity reflects a glut of closeted submissives. My personal favorite was the TMZ post about how the book is influencing dramatic increases in SmartBalls sales. Admittedly, there are plenty of problematic things about this book, from the Twilight-esque I-stalk-you-because-I-love-you theme to the bordering-on-mediocre prose, but there are several facets of the phenomenon that my sex educator brain considers to be positive.
1. It’s bringing erotic fiction to the mainstream. From what I’ve observed, Fifty Shades isn’t hiding behind the label of “romance novel,” as has most erotically explicit fiction for women, yet libraries are carrying it and book clubs are discussing it. As my mother said to me, “They’re selling it at Costco.“ Yes, there’s better erotica out there, but I’m hesitant to “yuck someone’s yum” just because of that. After all, there’s plenty of dialogue in porn that I find cheesy, but I wouldn’t judge someone who found it hot just because it isn’t Shakespeare. I would just seize the opportunity to point them in the direction of something edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel or Violet Blue for their next steamy read.
2. It’s getting people talking about women’s sexual desire. Despite my dislike for the patronizing “mommy porn” label often attached to the Fifty Shades trilogy, I do appreciate that the popularity of these books has encouraged more mainstream discussion of women’s sexual fantasies and consumption of erotic materials. The broader culture still shames women for having sexual desire, and regardless of my ambivalence about the book, I consider this increased discourse to be a beneficial by-product.
3. The protagonists talk about sex outside the bedroom. This is Good Sex 101 stuff but it’s always remarkable to me how resistant many people are to talking about sex with the person they’re having sex with, especially in a non-sexual context. It’s nice to see that aspect of communication modeled, even if I twitch with irritation every time she talks about her “inner goddess.”
4. They normalize and eroticize condom use. At one point, there’s actually dialogue between Christian and Anastasia about the need to pinch the tip before rolling it down on his penis. I can’t recall ever reading another erotic story that described proper condom use in such detail. The couple does eventually stop using condoms, but only after she goes on the pill and they both have had appropriate sexual health checks.
5. They verbally negotiate their sexual boundaries. Not only do they, in detail, negotiate what’s acceptable to them in the bedroom, but they’re also aroused by doing so. They talk about how hot it is when they’re discussing what they’re going to do to each other later. I think that one of the reasons the book is so erotic is because the non-sex scenes are framed like foreplay.
Regardless of your feelings about Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s certainly connecting with a lot of readers worldwide. There’s nuance to its value (or lack thereof), but ultimately, I’m pleased to see that it’s catalyzing conversations that many people wouldn’t otherwise be having.
Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor or follow Kate, the author of this post @katecom