So Much More to Sex than 'Fifty Shades'
E.L. James' erotic series has resonated with millions of readers, with over 100 million copies of her book sold worldwide and overwhelming attention given to the trailer for the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey movie. Less than a week after the clip went up on YouTube, it became the most-viewed movie trailer of the year.
As a psychologist who published a book about female sexuality, I love talking about the theology, biology, and psychology of sex. But when it comes to the sex in Fifty Shades of Grey, we must acknowledge what a narrow view of sex and power comes through in this very popular story.
The appeal of Fifty Shades reflects our hyper-sexualized cultural climate, in which the procreation-focused, missionary-position-only thinking of our puritanical past has been rejected. Instead, the cultural norm has become fetishized sexual behavior that equates "good sex" with over-the-top pleasure, wild foreplay, and euphoric orgasm. It champions personal gratification, and with the book's edgy BDSM details, places sex firmly in the realm of power and control.
While I believe healthy sex in marriage can and should include passion and pleasure, our sexuality encompasses a whole feast of longings and experiences that extend far beyond the sexual high in Fifty Shades.
What about the middle-of-the-night sex in which you don't need to turn on the lights because you know every crevice and wrinkle of each other's bodies? Sometimes sex is a tender exchange of quiet knowing, rather than steamy taking.
What about the medicalized intercourse you desperately want to enjoy but have begun to dread because you automatically imagine the forthcoming negative pregnancy test? Sometimes sex does involve pain, but it may be the pain of loss or disappointment, rather than whips or chains.
What about the tentative touching and reconnecting of bodies that is bathed in tears as you and your husband struggle to forgive and rebuild brokenness in your marriage? Sometimes sex is more about vulnerability and trust than novelty or tension-release.
Is sex about pleasure? Yes. But it's about so much more. Sometimes sex is amazingly pleasurable, and sometimes it's not. The range of emotions and experiences in our sexual relationships with our spouse remind us that, whether euphoric or disappointing, sex is a gift from God. Sex tells the story of our longing for connection and intimacy. We are made for one another, to know and be known.
I fear that championing the "hotness" of the kind of BDSM sex in Fifty Shades thwarts our understanding of real intimacy and transforms it into a narrative about power and control. Women are devouring the story of hero Christian Grey conquering virgin Anastasia Steele, perhaps because he appeals to submission fantasies, dominant women's longings for a "warrior lover" and subordinate women's desires for a "courtly knight."
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