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May 29, 2012

The Takeover of the Female Fantasy: Fifty Shades of Grey

What does this mean for us when moms across the country start reading erotic fiction?

Last week I was introduced to a startling phrase: mommy porn.

It sounds like what it is: soft-core, “safe” porn for suburban mothers and bored New York housewives alike. The culprit of this prototype is the creation of E. L. James’ Twilight-based fan-fiction trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a New York Times #1 bestselling story about a young, sadomasochistic billionaire, Christian Grey, who hires a recent college graduate, Anastasia Steele, to work for him. The catch? She has to give him complete control of her life, including (and especially) sexually. This becomes more complicated when the reader finds out that Grey has intensely painful sexual preferences, which find their roots in abuse he suffered as a child.

These books explore sexual dominance, BDSM (bondage, discipline/dominance, sadism, masochism), and kink in a way that leaves feminists all over the world scratching their heads, wondering how the women’s rights movement of our foremothers has led to women across the United States running out to buy books that use the term, “Red Room of Pain.”

The market for Fifty Shades of Grey skyrocketed with the sales of Kindles and Nooks. Women are able to download and read these types of books in privacy.

What troubles me most deeply about this recent development is that the women who are reading this book are often doing so in line at the grocery store, at the gym, or in the elementary school carpool pickup line. The primary demographic is mothers who are over 30 years of age—women who only put down their bondage erotica “literature” because they need to do things like tuck their children into bed, or make them an afterschool snack. They’re living the lives they are “required” to live while fantasizing about something completely different—something they’d never want for their daughters or friends, but something they themselves find enthralling.

Last week a friend informed me that she’d read the entire trilogy—twice. She’s a sweet, loving mother of three.

“And just so you know,” she informed me, “Christian feels bad about what he does to Anastasia, but he can’t help it. He even gives her healing creams for her cuts and welts. He’s so tortured. But they’re in love.”

My stomach churned.

While I love my friend, I find myself fearful for her and the millions of American women who feel the need to fantasize about a different story from their own in order to live out their own stories happily. They’re mentally substituting a story of pain and abuse, told in an attractive way, for the marriage relationship that God created for them. I can’t see this leading anywhere good.

A recent Newsweek article discussing this recent cultural phenomenon explains, “[There is] something more basically liberating about being overcome or overpowered. The thrill here is irrational, untouched by who one is in life, immune to the critical or sensible voice, the fine education, or good job. . . . [There is a] continuing investment in this fantasy, the residual desire to be controlled or dominated in the romantic sphere.”

I see a lot of truth in this statement.

Humans are constantly looking for something to worship—to idolize. Without a life based in Christ, perversions like sadomasochism can become outlets for this worship. It causes women to contemplate what it would be like to worship men—to give them complete control, to trust them, to let them do anything, because of the intense love they feel.

But the crack in this illusion is this: The idolization of a man is only possible if that man is worthy of worship. Although that man doesn’t exist in real life, the development of the female fantasy continues to grow.

As women, we battled against pornography, calling it degrading, protesting it as setting impossible standards for real women. We’ve witnessed marriages torn apart because of a husband’s online addiction. But suddenly the tables have turned, and instead of being concerned, women are slapping each other on the backs, applauding one another for their sexual independence. Instead of dealing with the flaws in their actual marriages, women are delving into fantasy as an escape. And isn’t that what it’s all about these days, anyways?

The demographic for these books means something. It’s no fluke that these books are being read most widely among married, child-rearing women. Women are struggling with a supreme feeling of emptiness these days. They are successful, financially savvy, family-oriented and well educated—but they’re trying more desperately than ever to fill the void that only Christ can fill. This turn toward an outright disregard for traditional morality is jarring at first. But as odd as it may seem, I’m actually relieved that women are no longer trying to hide behind the image of their “innate moral goodness.” Once the charade ends, we as Christians are reminded that women need Jesus just as much as their male counterparts.

The grace of Christ is greater than any social phenomenon, and more comforting than any overwhelming void. Maybe this best-seller is just the kick in the pants we need to remember that we cannot be selfish with the gospel. We have to share it, because without Christ, our friends are, first and foremost, completely lost.

What do you think?

Ashley Moore is the editorial coordinator for Kyria.com and Discipleship Resources for Christianity Today. You can view her blog, where she writes and rants about God and life, here.

Related Tags: books, culture, marriage, mission, motherhood, porn


While I respect your "opinion" of the books, I know you have not read, based on your second paragraph summarizing the content, the trilogy. I have a very hard time understanding any of your comparisions to the books - in regards to demographics, the lack of concern or the void any readers may be trying to fill. I feel these books are adult in nature both in story content and plot yet no one I know has lived a flawless life where we can not relate to these books, any books or movies for that matter, in some form-which is possibly the real draw to the books. Yes, as master level social worker, mother, wife and community advocate I find these books, personally, just an escape for a brief moment. They do not define who I am, where my marriage or my morals are and they certainly do not conflict with the relationship I have with our Heavenly Father.

This is so well put, Ashley. I think comparing these types of books to porn is so right on! Imagine if your husband was really into a book or trilogy that was all about sex and domination and abuse. How disturbing. And definitely not something our Lord and Savior would want any of us to use as an escape from or entertainment for our lives. I'm really saddened that so many women love this book, and heartbroken that Christian women advocate in their favor. I also justify certain sins in my life, but call it what it is - justification - and ask the Lord to reveal why we accept this sin, then ask for forgiveness and strength to destroy this sin in our lives. Thanks for speaking boldly about this, Ashley!

Thank you for this article Ashley.
I am so tired of hearing the EXCUSES women out there are giving to make it okay for them to read this filth.
"oh you don't know the whole story......poor Christian Grey, he was abused....poor poor him, he really cares......oh they're in love, awww"
Come on! Give me a break!!!
Grown up women, with careers, or husbands, children, social workers, doctors, nannies, whatever else, fantasizing with an imaginary man filling the void that only Jesus can fill.
No, it's not NOT harmless reading. It is NOT just a book. Just like the Bible is NOT just a book.
Simply put, if something doesn't get you closer to God, then AWAY WITH IT! And I'm pretty sure the book won't get you closer to God.
Another way to put it? This is what we in our family ask before watching movies or tv or read a book: Would Jesus sit by us and watch that? Would Jesus read that book with us? Yes? Awesome! No? Then why bother?
If you don't care that Jesus won't sit and the read the book with you, then you need to learn about God and why Jesus came to die for our sins. You need salvation. You need forgiveness and you need to turn away from a sinful life. He will save you with his Grace. And you will have eternity with him. :)

If they're turning to these books to fill a void in their lives that only Jesus can fill, can it also be true that they married for the same reason? Maybe so many marriages are miserable because women feel a need for a relationship that has never, and will never, meet their expectations. If seeking a fantasy in books is bad, how much worse is it to enter into a permanent relationship with a man in an attempt to fulfill a fantasy?

I read the first book and I'm not planning on reading any of the others - not because of the BDSM relationship, but because of the writing - the author repeated the same thing on every page and I was bored to death; it took me over two weeks to read it because of boredom, but I was determined to finish it. Now - did reading mommy porn change my relationship with Christ? No, I don't believe it did. Fantasy is a part of life whether it is role playing in your marriage bed, watching any TV program (especially "reality TV") or reading anything other than the Bible.

I have not and will not read the books, but I was troubled as I read the article. I say this in love, its hard to hear my tone in my font, and at the risk of sounding preachy, I just need to say: For any Christian woman to feel or think that it doesn't matter, Jesus doesn't mind, needs to review Philippians 4:8 and memorize it and chew on it daily for a month. In fact, Whenever I hear someone say "WHATEVER" it has become a trigger for me to review that verse in my mind: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable...think on these things. I don't want to sound preachy, but I have seen the effect of such reading in the lives of some I love. Whatever does not build us up, will tear us down. I believe (see CT's discussion on demons and spiritual powers)that there are spiritual entities attached to these types of readings. And the way these entities work is to first convince you there is no harm, it is just escape, it is just imagination, it is just fantasy. That's how the enemy sets the hook. I have seen impressionable women go from condemning to condoning to actual participation. That's how our enemy works. We need to help our sisters stay away from these traps. I feel like I am standing by a cliff watching my sisters go over the edge, and yelling into the wind, "Stay away! Stay away!" - Jan Brown

I just want to say thank you. I am a mom who has been a leader in the church for a long time. Due to a recent transition for my family, I have found myself with little ministry work to do as we find a new church home. During this time, I would download the free books offered by my e-reader. One day, much to my surprise, a book that looked innocent wasn't. I read more than I should have before putting it down. Since that day, I have found myself WANTING to read more books like it. Even though I have not read this particular series, I had made the decision to do what I knew in my heart I shouldn't. I have been trying to stop this downward trend for a few months, but my success was always short lived. I just couldn't figure out why I was so drawn to something that had never even interested me before. Your article caught my attention when you commented about "women who feel the need to fantasize about a different story from their own in order to live out their own stories happily." My first reaction was, "No way! That is not me!" but the more I considered it, the more I realized that it was me. I have the most wonderful family and a sweet, caring husband who would do anything for me. I lack for nothing...except a ministry to keep my mind and heart focused where it should be. I never realized how much this transition had affected my view of my own success and happiness until you made me face the truth. Thank you for reminding me of just how blessed I am, and for being willing to take a stand that made a huge difference to me! I am done fantasizing. I am ready to jump back into living! :D

To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you. ” Genesis 3:16
So, women's desire for men to rule over her is in the Bible, in Genesis, it is a part of the curse because of original sin. This is nothing new. What has changed, is the way that that manifests itself in our society. It is not acceptable for any man to rule over a woman with a heavy hand in public, nor should it be, even though it once was and in some cultures, still is. With the woman's lib. movement, we have taken away, in many ways, the roles of men. We have stated that we can do it ourselves.

C.S. Lewis pointed out in The Screwtape Letters that: “A woman means by unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others...thus, while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people’s rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish.” Oy! Here in lies this problem: American women (by and large) have taken on more than they can chew. Few and far between are women who think that they are "enough." Between working in and out of the home, caring for our husband and children, running here, there, and everywhere with the children, we rarely have time to simply rest in the knowledge of Him. To understand that we don't have to do everything, to be everyone's savior, we already have One, that we are enough because of Christ, not because of all that we can do.

All that to say this: 50 Shades of Grey is popular, because it, in a way, puts women "in their place." A place where men dominate, and women are punished "in love." Sadly, this is what some women want. In their everyday lives they have to make a million decisions, yet feel like no matter what they do, they just can't do it all, that they are not enough. Here, they relinquish control. The fact that it is a novel, that "no one really gets hurt", is a bonus.

In their fantasy, they get to have both "love" and punishment and they, finally, get to have a moment where they don't have to be in complete control. A role, that we were never supposed to have and thus exhausts us.

In response to the commentary on the curse in Gen. 3:16: even though labor pains would increase (this was part of the curse and was different from God's original design for childbirth), a woman would still have a desire for sexual intimacy with her husband even though man would now seek to dominate the woman. The tendency to dominate the woman was his curse, not God's original design. In Gen 2:28 "God blessed them (male & female -both made in His image),be fruitful, fill the earth and subdue it (subdue the earth - not each other)... rule over fish...birds...living things that creep on the earth (neither male or female was told to rule over the other).
The only time in scripture that I have found the word authority (e.g., rule over) actually stated in relationship to husband and wife is in I Cor 7:4 "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does,; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body but the wife does". This authority is regarding sexual relationship and is mutual and exclusive between husband and wife. Though "headship" in the New Testament is often interpreted as authority, such an interpretation begs the question: are we superimposing on scripture an interpretation that is not spelled out in a definitive way in scripture thereby leaving women to being abused rather than being recognized as co-heirs of the grace of God, the suitable helper who was also commanded to subdue the earth.
Are Christian women seeking to understand their husband's dominance by this type of extra curricular reading? Is this merely a symptom of a greater unerlying problem?

Ashley, I am so glad you have the courage to boldly question this publishing "event" aimed at addicting a new generation of female readers to the world of fetishism and sexual idolatry. There is nothing new about this kind of "lady porn" and the multi-million dollar p.r. and advertising effort that is being invested in this series of books and the Hollywood film series that is scheduled to follow. Pornographers are using this triology to addict another generation of guilable women who think they are too strong to get hooked. If any Kyria reader is "curious" about this and wants to explore this series, I would say "Run, baby run" because this genre of publishing really is demonic.

I agree with Bill Bray on the DEMONIC nature of this type of publishing. Like to read? Pick up a copy of C.S. Lewis "The Screwtape Letters" - EYE OPENING! I am APPALLED at how many of my Christian sisters talk about their love of reading books like Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, etc. (during Bible Study even!) AND sharing those books with their daughters yet! Each set becomes worse and worse! And now this absolute TRASH ("mommmy porn" - what a sad, sad, comment on our world!) Simply ask yourself, would Jesus read this? Would God approve? If not, PUT THE BOOK DOWN. Question - would you share this book with your teenage daughter, or is that thought revolting? I hope so! REMEMBER YOUR ENEMY THE DEVIL DOES HIS BEST TO MAKE SIN LOOK LIKE VIRTUE (ie, "but they're in love!" - aaargh!!! Certainly not God's definition of love! Nor any sane person's!) Don't let the enemy make a fool of you! The Bible says there will be a "special place in hell" for those who lead others off the path (especially if they're children) and the authors of these books certainly qualify. Don't let them drag you down with them! Remember as Christians we are called to be IN the world, not OF it. SPEAK OUT AGAINST THIS TRASH.

"They do not define who I am, where my marriage or my morals are and they certainly do not conflict with the relationship I have with our Heavenly Father..." Sweetie, they most certainly DO. Maybe you should go back and read "The Good Book" again. I'll pray for you.

Hi y'all. I just want to make sure that in these comments, we're not tearing each other down. I know this topic brings out a lot of very strong feelings, one way or the other, but let's remember that we're sisters in Christ. Also, Annie to clarify, I am not putting the Hunger Games or Harry Potter in the same category as Shades of Grey, by any means. I'm actually quite a big fan of both! I am not saying this to be argumentative, but simply because I don't want others to feel condemned for reading them. I appreciate all of your feedback very much!

Thank you so much for exposing it all. No excuses whatsoever!

Amazing article! You not only drove the point home but your a great writer! I'm thankful I landed here on this Sunday afternoon! Blessings!

The key word in this article is "bondage", but not just in the book. The women who indulge in this kind of fantasy will find themselves in bondage, and it will not be as easy to break free as just closing a book.

Thank you, Ashley, for uncovering what lies beneath the dark surface of "Fifty Shades of Grey." I won't be reading the book, but I know how to communicate w/those who chose to open the addictive pages.

I have heard about this book through friends and coworkers who brag about how wonderful the books are. Once I knew what the books were actually about, I'd be so embarrassed to admit ever reading them. It's a good thing I haven't read them, so now I have nothing to be embarrassed about. I think alternative Christian literature like Karen Kingsbury's life changing fiction can leave you fulfilled and fantasizing about loving your spouse and children the way these people do in her books. Anyways, thank you for your article, you are a wonderful writer!

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