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Fifty Shades of Grey Shines Light onto Sex Health

Fifty Shades of Grey by Flickr user rachelkramerbusseldotcom cc-byIt’s been hard to miss the hoopla over E. L. James’s blockbuster erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, in which innocent Anastasia Steele falls for worldly billionaire Christian Grey and has a dominant/submissive sexual relationship with him.

The book – the first of a trilogy that includes Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed – is prominently displayed in bookstores, in one case with a rope around a poster that reads “bound to be a bestseller.” Hundreds of fans line up at E. L. James’s book signings. The trilogy’s Facebook page has over 150,000 “likes.”

Some libraries can’t keep it on the shelves and have hundreds of patrons on waiting lists. Other libraries are refusing to carry the trilogy, saying the novels are too racy and inappropriate for their community.

Some readers feel embarrassed if caught by an over-the-shoulder lurker on the bus or train. Others are more openly exploring their options, purchasing sex toys. Even some hardware store are reporting increased sales of rope to curious customers.

Erotic literature is nothing new. “If you want to read steamy scenes, they’ve been in the library a long time,” Kate Tranquada, director of the Waltham, Massachusetts Public Library, told the Boston Globe.

What might make E. L. James’s trilogy different, however, is the attention it’s giving to women’s sexual health and the ideas of sexual exploration and fantasy.

Let’s look at some ways the “Fifty Shades” series is affecting sexuality.

Starting Discussions

If anything, it seems that “Fifty Shades” is sparking more conversations about sex, especially among couples. Some of these discussions are happening for the first time, as Washington Post writer Carolyn Butler explains:

That was the case with one 40-something friend of mine, who recently confessed that after “devouring” the book, she and her husband had a frank sex talk for the first time “that was both exciting and embarrassing.” She added: “I’ve never really thought about what I liked in the bedroom and certainly never felt comfortable talking about it, until reading this book, and I welcomed the opportunity.

Exploring Options

Even the more adventurous couples can face sexual boredom from time to time. Since reading Fifty Shades of Grey, some couples have started seeking ways to spice up their sex lives. Sex shops around the country have reported higher sales of sex toys, such as rope, handcuffs, and paddles. Babeland, a New York City sex shop, has started offering how-to classes based on the books, explaining the types of products available and how to use them.

And there could be interest in other classes. “We used to teach an introductory S & M class, but no one signed up. But I think we’ll have to start that up again,” Claire Cavanah, Babeland’s co-founder, told The New Yorker.

Understanding Fantasy and Reality

Sexual fantasies are common, but do women fantasize about being submissive? Sometimes. As one woman at the Babeland class told The New Yorker, “All day, you know, we make decisions, about what to make for dinner and that kind of stuff, and it’d be nice if someone else made decisions about everything. In the bedroom, at least.”

But does that mean they want to be submissive in real life? Probably not.

Many fantasies are just that – fantasies. They’re not meant to be played out in real life. They’re not always realistic or they could hurt someone. It’s important that the individuals involved feel safe and comfortable with what happens in the bedroom.

Your Turn

Have you read any of the books in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy? What are your impressions? Why do you think the books are so popular?

Have they prompted you to have frank conversations about sex with your partner? Have you been trying anything new in the bedroom? And what do you think about the line between fantasy and reality?

Feel free to share your story in the comments.

photo credit: Flickr user Rachel Kramer Bussel, cc-by