When Sex Goes "Grey"

How "Fifty Shades of Grey" is turning back the clock on a humanitarian crisis.

When my husband, Paul, tells me he’s going to spend Saturday morning at a meeting called Porn and Pancakes, I don’t even blink.

I give him a kiss on the cheek and tell him to have fun. Since before we were married, Paul’s worked as a therapist for men struggling with sexual addiction. Because of his job, I’ve heard more horror stories about the dark underbelly of the porn world than I care to think about or even count. But because of the violent nature of porn and way porn demeans women and causes a breakdown in relationships, I never thought that women would be drawn to the sexually violent, explicit material. Wouldn’t that, after all, be setting us back 50 years? Au contrare.

In the last few months, E.L. James’ first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, has gone from an underground erotica novel to
 mainstream literature, topping both the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists. Labelled “mommy porn”, Fifty Shades is the story of Anastasia Steele, a naive college student, and Christian Grey, a troubled young billionaire with a taste for BDSM. Fifty Shades, which began as fan fiction for the Twilight series, explores the relationship between the unlikely pair, complete with a plethora of NC-17 sexually violent sex scenes.

From radio to tv to online columns, people are raving about Fifty Shades. So, in keeping with my commitment to stay on top of the popular literature in our time (a commitment that has introduced me to character greats like Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and Lisbeth Salander), I read Fifty Shades. There is so much to be said about it. It’s poorly written with a terrible plot and poor character development. It’s hard evidence that the use of pornography and erotica is on the rise among women, that it’s not just part of some fringe culture (as I naively mistakenly thought), but mainstream. It is, indeed, a backsliding among a generation of women who take for granted their hard-won equality and fantasize about sexual subservience. It’s an illustration of how far our desires have fallen, how twisted and off-the-mark they have become.

It is, indeed, a backsliding among a generation of women who take for granted their hard-won equality and fantasize about sexual subservience.

But what concerns me most about the Fifty Shades phenomenon is how deceptive these fantasies are in how they twist the realities of violence against women. This week, The Atlantic published a story that documented the lives of six women from the Pakistani city of Karachi. Aeyesha, 18, was raped in her uncle’s house while she was trying to get bread for her family. Rehana, 37, says that since her husband sees her as an “animal with no rights”, broken ribs, broken teeth, and miscarriages are “routine”. Salma, 39, is often threatened with acid and cries in the shower when she sees her battered body, broken and bruised again and again by her husband.

These are only a few of the handful of stories emerging from Pakistan, the third most dangerous place in the world for women. In 2009, 8548 cases of domestic violence were reported in the four provinces of Pakistan. Four in five women face some form of domestic violence. But that’s Pakistan …surely things are not so grim in the Western world? Think again. In the U.S., the number of abused women falls to one in four, but domestic violence is still the leading cause of injury for women between the ages 15 and 44—more than car accidents, muggings, and rape combined. In America, a woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds.

But Fifty Shades is all in good fun—it’s consenting sex, and after all, Anastasia is presented with a contract that if signed, will be her consent to be a Submissive. By signing the contract, she will knowingly be agreeing to stipulations such as, “The Dominant accepts the Submissive as his, to own, control, dominate, and discipline during the Term. The Dominant may use the Submissive’s body at any time during the Allotted Times or any agreed additional times in any many he deems fit, sexually or otherwise.”

The real harm in Fifty Shades—and other “literature” like it—is that it dulls our conscience to the hideous crime that domestic violence really is. Studies show that repeated exposure to violent pornographic material (like Fifty Shades) is linked to more aggressive behavior. Feminist writers have rightfully long argued that pornography ”promotes a (cultural) climate in which acts of sexual hostility directed against women are not only tolerated but ideologically encouraged.”


Lyndsey Lovelady


Lyndsey Lovelady commented…


"Salman told the city in 2007 that he was building a garage in his backyard. He did not build a garage in his backyard."

So he lied to the authorities and built a church instead of a garage? Sounds like a little more time in the slammer might be beneficial.


Love It commented…

Im sorry, but this is a great book-trilogy. As someone who has been called a feminist myself and took many Women Studies courses, I have to disagree. First of all, like all other things, sexual addiction is a choice. No one forces it upon you, however, in this day and age, we no longer learn to take responsibility. Instead, we find someone/something to blame, this being porn. Alcoholism is a choice. No one is shoving the alcohol down your throat. Addiction is your choice. We all make choices and decide our wants and needs. I for one watch porn alone and with my boyfriend. I choose the porn I watch and enjoy the porn that I choose. If I don't like something, I don't watch it. Are there times we watch something and want to try it? Of course. But guess what, it is our choice. And it is our choice whether we do it again or not. We are talking about a book, fiction, about a woman and a man consenting to everything going on. And it even touches on how he was a submissive at one time and because of his circumstances, it is important that his submissives consent to everything and are doing what they want and only what they want. He was abused, and he has made the choice not to abuse others. Even though what everyone believes since he was abused he will be an abuser as well. Right? Wrong! Not in this book And in real life, do you know that it is more common for dominants to be female and that there are way more men that actually wish to be the submissives. Overall, I think people need to take responsibility for their decisions and their choices and not blame other people/things for addictions. And as someone who has been a volunteer and advocate for women in domestic violence relationships, that violence was not consented. It happens to women that love the person they are with and have put their trust in. Yes, it makes it harder to get out of that kind of relationship. However, a dominant/submissive relationship as this book is about is completely consensual and should not be compared to domestic violence. And in agreeing with another person who commented, Ana makes decisions, she stands her ground where she chooses, she enjoys the sexual adventures she is comfortable with and demands against the ones she is not. Can't wait to hear the reviews about the movie when it gets made!!!! :-)


Love It commented…

Great response! Thank you! Wish I had seen this post before I posted. But yes, totally agree here. Just what I was trying to say in my post, these were consenting adults and using this story to compare it to domestic violence is just not possible. Thank you thank you for this post!


Jeffery commented…

Why do you care?


Jody Crist commented…

When Haylee was describing the book I immediately thought of a book I had read. "A Stolen Life" by Jaycee Dugard. That book was scary enough that I had to stop reading it. It was not fiction and it happened recently here in the states. This is pure evil. Satan is alive and well and is trying to take as many down with him as he can.

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