This is a modified version of a blog that we posted at the end of 2012 shortly after the publication of the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. In light of the recent release of the film, we thought that it might be worthwhile to revisit this subject and offer an update of our thoughts on this book and film.
Released in theatres just two weeks ago, Fifty Shades of Grey has already grossed over 130 million dollars. The book’s success has not been simply an American phenomenon. It has sold over 100,000,000 copies internationally and has been translated into 52 languages.
Originally released as a self-published ebook in 2011, in March 2012 the book was acquired by Vintage Books who also published the second and third volumes, Fifty Shades Darker (2011) and Fifty Shades Freed (2012). That year the book set a record in Great Britain as the fastest selling-paperback of all time. It was number one on USA Today‘s best-selling books list for twenty weeks in a row.
Love it or condemn it, it can’t be denied that 50 Shades is striking a chord with women and men worldwide. And many are continuing to ask, “Exactly what is it about this book (and now the movie) that is so appealing to so many people?”
While we don’t claim to have a definitive answer to this question, my (Linda) take on the book may be representative of other women, many to whom I’ve spoken since its original publication. My curiosity about the popularity and subject matter of the book, and of its two sequels drove me to read them shortly after their publication. I admit to enjoying well-written erotic literature and the sex scenes were some of the most vividly detailed and highly erotic I’d ever read. But I don’t think that it’s the graphic descriptions of the couple’s sexual encounters alone that readers find so compelling. There is more going on here than voyeurism into the world of BDSM which stands for the practices of bondage, discipline, dominance/submission, and sadomasochism, and represents a continuum of erotic practices include restraint, sensory stimulation, and role-playing.
I believe it has a lot to do with the desire that so many women have of being swept away from their mundane lives and delivered into a world of passion and ecstasy. One of the things that for me makes this series so intriguing is that it activates the archetypal fantasy that the handsome prince is going to gallop into our lives on his noble white steed, sweep us off of our feet, take us away from our ordinary existence and bring us to a beautiful castle where we will forever live in luxury, ease, and of course, pleasure!
Christian, one of the book’s two main characters had devoted, caring, adoptive parents with wealth sufficient to provide him with the best psychotherapy that money could buy, (given the nature of his traumatic early childhood, probably about half a million dollars worth). Yet despite extensive therapy, his deep emotional wounds continued to heavily impact upon him. The books echo the theme (some would call it a romantic notion) that love and passion can heal wounds that cannot be cured through any other means. While this is a controversial claim, I believe that it has some legitimacy. My experience has shown me that sometimes genuinely loving partnerships can heal emotional wounds that even the best therapy can’t reach. The Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy is fiction, and condenses the healing process into a much shorter time span than is usually required. Yet be that as it may, the healing power of love is real, not fantasy. And I believe that that is one of the themes that is magnetizing millions of readers to the series.
It’s likely that these books will inspire many readers to be more experimental and creative with their own sexuality. Research shows that large numbers of Americans believe that they are duds in bed; they think that everyone else is having a more interesting sex life than they are and believe that their tendency to rely upon unimaginative, tried and true bedroom patterns makes them bored and boring. One of the significant messages offered in the trilogy is that consensual adults can greatly enhance the quality of that experience and by extension, the quality of their relationship itself. The key factor that distinguishes this type of relationship from one that is based primarily on sexual pleasure is Anastasia’s insistence that their relationship include the experience of mutual and unconditional emotional honesty. She took the lead took in this area while Christian exposed her to sexual delights that had previously been unimaginable to her.
For Anastasia who isn’t particularly materially oriented, having a lavish lifestyle with expensive gifts was not a driving force in her relationship with Christian. Some readers might wrongfully assume that she was attracted to his wealth, but what I was struck by was Anastasia’s determination to have them each reveal their innermost selves to each other on an ongoing basis. In doing this, she assumed the dominant position in the relationship, affirming her identity as a woman willing to take a stand for something (authentic intimacy) to which she was fiercely committed. Anastasia was willing to risk the relationship if Christian refused to join her in this intention. His desire to continue and deepen their connection overrode his reluctance to protect himself emotionally and opened a depth of intimacy for the lovers that neither had ever experienced or even conceived of.For Christian, the challenge of intimacy was every bit as daunting and compelling as the world of BDSM was for her. The contract that they made with each other stretched each of them into worlds that they both simultaneously feared and longed for. I was reminded that love, not infrequently requires us to come to terms with the existence of the seemingly mutual exclusive experiences or fear and desire.
Christian and Anastasia’s sexual relationship is unusual in that they are both “high T’s” (high testosterone and desire levels). In general, it’s more often the case that a high T pairs with a lower T, assuring a greater likelihood of balance. This can of course be a source of conflict due to differing levels of desire. Hopefully, readers and viewers won’t see Christian and Ana’s relationship as a model, or fault themselves if they don’t have a desire for sex multiple times a day. These two have a brand new relationship and we all know how strong (and temporary) an aphrodisiac that can be. And as most of us also know, it’s the quality of the experience that matters, not the frequency.
My hope is that readers and viewers of Fifty Shades will take something of value with them that will open their eyes just as Ana and Christian’s were opened in new ways with and towards each other. Great relationships are characterized by, among other things, emotional transparency and sexual pleasure. The Fifty Shades of Grey series provides one example from an infinite variety of possibilities of ways in which that can look.