Fifty Shades of Grey

What 'Fifty Shades' tells us about sexuality

THE SCENE: a bookshop in a rural town. The announcement: “Today we have a three-for-two offer for children which includes wooden jigsaws. And for yourself, the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy – exciting, liberating, and totally addictive. The perfect holiday read.”
A worn and predictable narrative holds no answers for those seeking true intimacy, writes BREDA O'BRIEN 
( Irish Times)
The feeling: a strong desire to retch. The perfect holiday read will allow you to enjoy such immortal prose as “No man has ever affected me the way Christian Grey has, and I cannot fathom why. Is it his looks? His civility? Wealth? Power?”
More importantly, at Anastasia’s third meeting with him, Christian Grey buys cable ties, rope and masking tape, which sounds to me horribly like something Ted Bundy might have stocked up on at the weekend.
Guess it must be that prudish, puritanical, pleasure-hating Catholic thing, but the only response it evokes in me is a strong desire to scream, “Run! Get out of there, girl!”
If Christian Grey were real (as opposed to a self-made billionaire who never does any work) and Anastasia were not a cheap copy of Bella from Twilight, but someone you cared about, you would be worried sick that the next thing you would hear about her is that her dismembered body was discovered on waste ground.
There are some wonderful and hilariously sarcastic reviews online. (I particularly recommend Cassandra Parkin’s “Adventures In Trash: Fifty Things That Annoy Me About Fifty Shades Of Grey”. It is so funny that you could almost forget the depressing fact that many women’s sex lives are apparently so dire, that reading Fifty Shades improves things.
If you skip the sex, which is easy if you just read every seventh page after he first beats her – a very worn and predictable narrative emerges. Innocent, virginal young woman manages to attract world-weary, wealthy, sophisticated man who inexplicably is besotted by her but won’t admit it. He takes care of her every need and she eventually marries the control freak. Worn, predictable, and utterly scary, because the new twist is that women’s alleged liberation leads us straight to putting up with abuse.
The internet takes you to strange places, including to the online home of Tracy Clark-Flory, full-time sex reporter for Salon. (Gosh, in my day, people were just reporters. Whatever next? Degrees designed to qualify you for such an exalted role?)
But guess what? Tracy faked her orgasms until she was 27. “Raised on online porn,” she felt bad about taking too long, so became a virtuoso at faking it. Then, she discovers she loves a guy called Steve, and everything changes. Love makes it possible for her to experience really great sex. What an unexpected development.
The sexual revolution was supposed to achieve this? Sex reporters who fake orgasms so as not to inconvenience men, and the fastest-selling novel being about an ingenue who gets beaten and abused, and is so turned on by it that she can’t keep her hands off the obsessively controlling man who dishes out the punishment?
Is it just possible that the reason so many married couples are apparently not having tumultuous sex is not the lack of cable ties, ropes, and a “red room of pain”? Could it just be things like being up several times in the night with a sick toddler? And is the lack of sex helped by so much time spent focusing on the pornographic version of great sex, and so little time on how to really love each other?
Sex is a way of communicating. When couples who love each other enough to marry find that something is awry in their sexual communication, they can look at “spicing up their lives”, or they can look at what might be the deeper problem. (Wonder how many husbands feel great about creepy Christian Grey occupying their wife’s mind at moments of intimacy?)
There’s a book called The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, which I think should be mandatory on pre-marriage courses. one caveat – it is written for the US, and some aspects of the style grate. Not as much as EL James, though.)
It sold only seven million copies, but I bet it’s saved a lot more marriages than Fifty Dollops of Farcical Fan Fiction. The concept is deceptively simple. There are five basic ways in which people express and receive love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Everyone has a primary love language both for giving and receiving.
Words of affirmation are words, or signs, of appreciation. Quality time means real listening and presence. Receiving gifts is not rampant materialism, but cherishing the care and attention expressed in a gift, no matter how tiny. Acts of service are self-explanatory, as are many men’s preferred language. Most men expect that physical touch will be their primary language, but it’s about much more than the bedroom – it’s about hugs, thoughtful touch and physical signs of affection.
The problem arises when someone is expressing love in the way most comfortable to them, but the other person doesn’t speak that language. The classic “Of course I love her – don’t I look after her car for her?” scenario arises.
The good news is that you can learn a foreign language. And for many couples, once they begin to feel mutually appreciated and understood, their love life begins to get better, too. And all without the need to normalise porn, punishment and pain.


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