By Sheila Wray Gregoire
When our family vacationed in Cozumel earlier this year, my 17-year-old was appalled at how many women were reading 50 Shades of Grey by the pool. “That’s like a guy watching porn in the open!”
This book series has become mainstream. After $100 million in book sales, and the highest advance ticket sales of any R-rated movie ever, the story of a naïve 21-year-old being introduced to a world of sexual submission by a 25-year-old billionaire (yes, billionaire – the series is not exactly known for its realistic plotting), has made bondage fantasies seem normal.
It’s easy to dismiss this series as evidence of how sinful our society has become. But sexual deviance has always been with us. Something has made this series take off. Before we can speak into it, we need to understand the root of its appeal.
In her book The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts (W Publishing Group, 2012), Shannon Ethridge showed how the root of our fantasies often speaks directly about an unmet heart need – and illuminates our particular brokenness. If we get rid of the whips and chains from this story, what is the root appeal to women? A strong man rescuing a young woman adrift in the world.
I remember being 20 and feeling alone and scared. I had a multitude of decisions in front of me. I was on my own. The idea of a strong, confident man who would swoop in and take charge would have been awfully alluring. We don’t have to do anything, decide anything, even think anything. We just have to feel. To frantic multitaskers, that’s pure intoxication.
Then there’s the allure of vulnerability. Sex is not supposed to be solely physical. We’re supposed to truly “know” each other when we make love. When we take sex outside of the marriage context, we lose the commitment and therefore the emotional and spiritual intimacy. The physical is all we have left. Then, anything goes.
The fear of being alone, the yearning for intimacy, and the replacing of that intimacy with someone else being in control – those are all things God warned us about in Genesis 3:16: “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” It’s not surprising we’re seeing it acted out on such a large scale.
Here’s where things get really ugly. God created our physical sexual response to be paired with a committed marriage relationship. When women (or men) start reading erotica, we’re pairing sexual arousal with something other than a spouse. We’ve already seen that large-scale social experiment go awry with pornography. Italian researchers have found that porn use is the leading cause of sexual dysfunction among men.
Now, erotica is doing the same thing for women. Arousal is paired with fantasy, not relationship, making it more difficult to achieve arousal in marriage. You’re not making love to your husband – you’re using him while your mind is elsewhere.
If we have to fantasize to perform, then it’s only a small step to acting out those fantasies, leading to relationships that are degrading and abusive. A study out of Michigan State University found that women who read the series were more likely to have abusive partners, binge drink and suffer from eating disorders.
How should the Church respond?
First, address the root needs. Churches need to major in authentic community with real discipleship and accountability, rather than just being an intellectual or social club. Raise up men to step up to the plate and act responsibly. Start with the young men in your church who seem to be adrift. Help women recognize that books like 50 Shades of Grey are just as much porn as what their husbands might be viewing online.
Then let’s be vocal about healthy sexuality. There are no shortcuts on the road to true intimacy. Let’s preserve the promise of a great sex life that doesn’t need erotica by the bedside, handcuffs on the bedposts or something requiring batteries in a drawer. Intimacy is the best aphrodisiac. When I did my surveys for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (Zondervan Trade Books, 2012), I found that the women who enjoyed sex most were those who felt the most spiritually intimate with their husbands. And that’s not grey. That’s black and white.
Sheila Wray Gregoire of Belleville, Ont., is an author, speaker and Faith Today columnist. This column will appear in the March/April issue of Canada’s Christian magazine. Find more of her columns at www.faithtoday.ca/MessyFaith. Subscribe today for Faith Today‘s best price ever.