When a book is mentioned to me three times in the span of a week, I take it as a sign. Hello, Fifty Shades of Grey. I downloaded and breezed through two books in the trilogy and am halfway through the third. Here’s the capsule summary of these works sitting atop The New York Times Best Sellers List in several categories: “An inexperienced college student (Anastasia Steele) falls in love with a tortured man (Christian Grey) who has particular sexual tastes.”
Does he ever. This book is filled with sex, so right there it should be no mystery why it has become such a sensation that women are reading it in droves. But there’s so much more to the appeal of this erotic novel and I’ve been thinking about why I haven’t been able to put it down, aside from the obvious.
Back in December when I turned 50, I felt better than I’d ever felt before. Not just physically and emotionally, but sexually as well. There is something about this age that brings not just confidence, but for many of us, a heightened sex drive. Yeeha. What makes us feel more alive than that?
But then in February came my knee injury and the successive deaths of loved ones. My physical limitations and my profound sadness started to take a heavy toll on my productivity and ability to engage in almost anything that wasn’t essential. To say I became disconnected from my sexuality is an understatement. I went into a numb zone.
But then, along came Anastasia and Christian. As I turned the pages and became consumed in their magnetic attraction, it was a nice reminder that my hormones are alive and kicking. I needed to feel on this level. There’s chase, love, possession, obsession, intrigue, passion, awakening, foreplay, pain, risk, trust and — over and over — intense pleasure expressed on its pages. It is not literary genius, but it is alluring and pure and raw.
I’ve also thought about why it’s captured so many women who don’t relate on the level I’ve described here. I have a few theories. An obvious one is the escape it provides. Not to mention (spoiler alert here) that, like it or not, many women in our culture adore the idea of a man changing because of his love for a woman. To boot, we learn that in the world of dominants and submissives, it is the latter who really hold the power.
But let’s talk more about the erotic element for a moment. In most of the sex in the books, Christian’s first priority is pleasing Ana and he is tantalizingly good at it; her pleasure ultimately brings him satisfaction as well. I believe this is so enticing for women because, sadly, so many have not experienced it.
(A little aside here. Gentlemen, you want to know what women want in the bedroom? Read these books. A woman wrote them. I’m not talking about the rough stuff, although some may want that. I’m talking about the “vanilla sex” this couple has. Christian knows the female anatomy and Ana is all too happy to be his student. Just sayin’.)
This trilogy is filled with push-pull and provides background that explains how the wealthy Christian developed sexual preferences that prompted him to build a playroom and seek out submissives to share it with. The title of the book actually derives from his admission that he is “50 shades of fucked up.” Author E L James has effectively hooked us in by getting us to empathize with a controlling, tortured man and to root for the smart, in-over-her-head Anastasia to heal him.
What a welcome, titillating diversion it is.