Fifty Shades of Grey: Has It Changed the Way Women Think About Sex?

Photo credit: Todd Mecklem

Photo credit: Todd Mecklem

No matter how you feel about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ one must admit it has opened up our national conversation about sexuality,” says sex educator Elle Chase.

In response to the recent movie release and blockbuster hit, Elle Chase reflects on the fame of this story and why the book trilogy resonates with so many women. In many ways, she argues, it has actually changed the way women think about sex and sexuality. Elle brings up three very interesting and original points that many critics have overlooked.

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has changed the way we think about sex in at least three ways:

  • The book was released during the economic recession. Such hardships have forced many people to reflect on their basic needs, but also find escape from the stressors of work and joblessness. Our carnal desires are something we do have control over, and it has no monetary cost!
  • Due to massive public acceptance of the trilogy, women are finding it easier to openly talk about traditionally taboo subjects like female sexual pleasure and fantasy.
  • It is not a standard love story. It isn’t even about BDSM. It is about a woman’s self discovery. Our sexual experimentations (or lack of experience) play an important role in the process of self discovery for each one of us.

This post was originally published on smutforsmarties.com

BY ELLE CHASE | ElleChase.com

Image from smutforsmarties.com

Image from smutforsmarties.com

By now, you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t at least heard of the E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, let alone not read the trilogy. Fifty Shades is Twilight for the “Soccer Mom”, and just as poorly written, yet women can’t get enough of it … in fact, no one can. Sex clubs, sex shops and even New York’s Museum of Sex are having Fifty Shades themed events. Even cottage industries of vanilla-friendly BDSM seminars and ladies nights have popped up faster than you can say “Yes, Sir, may I have another?” Dateline, Primetime, Nightline – all the news shows have covered it since it’s blockbuster release in 2011, including the dependably milque-toast morning shows. Back in 2011, even Psychology Today and People Magazine, two publications that couldn’t be more different, had written articles about the Fifty Shades phenomenon. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about Fifty Shades, and not only did the E.L. James blockbuster birth a movie franchise, but it continues to inspire merchandise, news articles, events and sex toys. In fact, even one of the bastions of conservative family ideals, Target, is selling Fifty Shades of Grey sex toys. But why did a poorly written romance novel, originally self-published as a fan-fiction e-book, capture the imagination and sex drive of American women? Erotica isn’t new, and neither is BDSM.

Why is this particular book resonating with so many women? I have a few ideas:

#1 IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID

Timing. My feeling has always been that under times of socio-economic stress or crisis that people tend to move inward and reflect on what they really have in life, what they can call their own. Taking personal inventory and whittling ones needs down to just the basics illuminates within us what we really care about, what we have control over and how it adds to our life. In a time of economic unreliability, we are forced to define what it is that really makes us happen, what we really need and how to pare down all the extraneous trappings of a life distracted by panaceas of success. Without the sparkly diversion of “things” we want or need, discovering that there is nothing more “our own” than our bodies and our sexuality, can be a realization that changes how we look at sex forever. Sex: if we’re not doing it, we’re thinking about doing it because let’s face it … it’s fun, it’s free and it feels good.

To paraphrase John Mayer, our bodies “are a wonderland” … a wonderland of sensation, feelings and hormones that can give us great pleasure. What could feel more exciting and enticing than a semi-subversive roll-in-the-hay with your neighbor? Or, letting go of your Type-A personality and allowing someone else call the shots … in bed? Maybe the scintillating thought of sharing a surruptitous touch with a stranger on a train, has put a little spring in your step or devilish grin on your face? Our sexual desires are inherent, and for some, might not have been exploited to their fullest potential. Feeling free to indulge in our carnal desires, is the gateway to exploring our sexual selves or at least choosing whether we indulge or not. In a recession, there are very few things we feel we have control of, and even fewer that has the emotional and physical potential to bring us a respite from the stressors and the financial constraints of seeking out a living.

In 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey arrived at such a time of economic upheaval. It’s no accident that it garnered it’s initial success by word of mouth as a free online publication. Mostly hetero/cis women sought out distraction from the hamster wheel of daily life and, in the face of joblessness, foreclosures, war and waning affordable healthcare, and made this book a must-read. Easy and inexpensive escapism into a world of passion, lust and romance … as J. Lo says “Love don’t cost a thing,” and that is precisely the appeal of a Rabelaisian fantasy like Fifty Shades of Grey.

#2 WE’RE MAD AS HELL AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!

For far too long in western culture, women’s sexuality has been at the very least marginalized and at the most extreme, vilified. In modern society, women are not portrayed as wanting sex. In fact, if you grew up during any part of the women’s movement, you might’ve been led to believe that ‘sexual freedom’ for a woman only meant she had the right to say “no.” However, as a woman and a feminist, I have benefited from the freedom of choice to say “yes,” to my control over my sexuality, “yes” to how I choose to express it and “yes” to sexual pleasure. It seems that Fifty Shades was just the gateway for some women- women who may have felt stultified sexually, to give themselves permission to explore an enjoyable sex life.

Nature dictates that we are all sexual and sensual beings. It’s beginning to dawn on the modern woman that sexual pleasure isn’t just acceptable for men, but just as acceptable for women. Because of the popularity and the subsequent main stream media frenzy of Fifty Shades of Grey, women are feeling more empowered to talk about what sexual pleasure means to them, regardless of whether they are, or are not into “BDSM.” This is a huge step in the evolution of female sexual acceptance where shame had shrouded it for centuries. Through the public acceptance of Fifty Shades of Grey, women have started to give themselves permission to accept and seek out sexual pleasure. These same women began to feel as free to explore their sexual urges as men had been doing for since time immemorial.

It stands to reason, that women who have found sexual liberation in the E.L. James’ books, might possibly be more open to teaching their daughters that sex and the pleasure we derive from it is healthy, and that their right to express it verbally or physically is nothing to be ashamed of. Without trying to, Fifty Shades of Grey has taken away a bit of the taboo for a certain segment of the female population. Women who normally didn’t discuss “such things” are now sharing the titillation and thrill they get from reading modern erotica. Because this book has been so popular, the discussions have started and have even freed a great many women from the bad kind of ties that bind.

#3 THIS IS NOT ABOUT BDSM

Quotation-Tristan-Taormino-freedom-sexuality-human-feminism-Meetville-Quotes-21462-300x205Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a book about BDSM. It’s not even a love story. At its core, this book is an allegory of one woman’s unexpected journey of self-discovery. The heroine, smart yet un-experienced, yields to her feelings, and follows Mr. Grey on a titillating sexual adventure. She’s not an idiot, she recognizes how extreme and foreign her situation with Mr. Grey is, and struggles with it. Yet, measured, she feeds her desires and discovers, in the process what she does, and does not like about this specific kind of sex.

Experimenting with our turn-ons and turn offs is an essential part of discovering what kind of sex we like best and, therefore, having a satisfying sex life. After all, how do we know what we like, if we don’t even know what we don’t like? We try out what makes us curious in other parts of our lives; like trying new foods or choosing an exercise we enjoy (or at least don’t hate). Why should it be any different with sex? E.L. James has given us a sort a heroine’s journey of sexual self-discovery and we see ourselves in that journey. It’s empowering.

Even if we don’t identify with the characters in the book – we want to, it’s the pull of sexual pleasure. For some of us, we’ve masked the seduction of sexual adventure and enjoyment, putting it on the back-burner in order to (perhaps) build a career, take care of a family member or build our own families. Because of this, the tug of this pilgrimage can come late in life, if we allow it to at all.

Regardless of when we feel compelled to go on a sexual discovery journey, we all must. We all deserve to experience passion, discover what leads us to it, and recognize there are many different roads to take and ways to travel there. Fifty Shades of Grey illuminates just one of those paths and ignites in the reader a contemplation of one’s own passage through the hallowed halls of our sexuality.

Unsure what size

elle Sex educator, writer and coach, Elle Chase is best known for her award-winning and highly trafficked sites, LadyCheeky.com (NSFW) and SmutForSmarties.com, which have both garnered multiple awards, including LA Weekly’s Best Sex Blog 2013. Elle’s focus is on positive body image, reigniting sexual expression and better sex after 40. She speaks nationally at universities, conferences, and teaches workshops about all things “sex.” Currently, she is hard at work on a book based on her popular workshop “Big, Beautiful Sex”. Find Elle on facebook.com/TheElleChase and follow her @TheElleChase or @smutforsmarties.