Today sees the release of Fifty Shades of Grey in our cinemas and with it, comes the controversy and the heady, dizzy frenzy surrounding the novel and subsequent movie will hopefully begin to subside… There will be an undoubted rush of women bellowing for all to hear that on-screen Christian Grey is as much of a romantic hero as his character in the novel, of which most will know my opinion! I recently wrote an article over on Femtellectual that explains why he isn’t anything of the sort and why women shouldn’t let Christian Grey anywhere near their sex lives, but even I have to admit, with all of my judgements and peeling a part of the novel to reveal the less than savoury centre, that EL James and her violently domineering romantic hero has changed the manner in which we view sex and relationships exponentially.
Back in 2011, when the novel was released, I am sure I’m not the only person who reluctantly experienced, first-hand, what it was like to come face to face with a woman who had read the novel. Out of the woodwork crawled many dishevelled women who were positively tickled pink by the contents of the novel and the ‘activities’ carried out by Grey in his ‘Red Room of Pain’, many with comments articulating their desire for their own Christian Grey. It’s no secret that sexual confidence soared within so many women that I know in my real life, including family and friends, and, as much as I have nothing good to say about the novel, or the domestic abuse within the storyline, I can get on board with the sexual confidence that ensued following James’ terrible, terrible writing.
I’m not afraid to admit that I was ashamed that so many of my family and friends read the novel and got excited over the concept of Christian Grey and I was especially embarrassed when my mother and sister seemingly jumped on the bandwagon. Because they’re my family, I saved them the diatribe reserved for other folk and I let them get on, but I realised later on, especially when my mother began reading them, that her enjoyment had nothing to do with her supporting the abuse or believing that it didn’t exist, or even finding it romantic. For my mother in particular, she was positively aghast, but not necessarily in a bad way, that things like this went on, not only within the confines of the novel, but in real life too. Apparently, when she was reading the novel, she meandered into my sister’s bedroom, book in one hand, reading glasses in the other and with a presumably adorably furrowed brow said, “can I ask you to Google something for me? I don’t know what anal beads are…” turns out my sister didn’t either, so they both discovered anal beads in all of their glory and my sweet mama vowed never to ask her youngest daughter any sex related questions ever again, instead choosing to either Google them herself, or ask me. I’ve always been renowned for my cavalier attitude towards sex and all that it entails, so I think my mother felt emboldened and happy to discuss things she’d never discussed before. When we went shopping, she would slide into Ann Summers and giggle at all of the ‘sexy’ clothes and even wandered so far as the vibrators and turned pink in the cheeks as I switched them all on and told her about the merits of certain movements and how it pleasures the female, much to her amusement/horror/surprise! Yet, whipping, flogging and sex toys inserted into anus’ didn’t seem like her cup of tea but, “those jiggly ball things” that Christian uses on Ana seemed to intrigue her a great deal. When she found out I own a pair and she laughed so hard that tea came out of her nose, “Really?!” she screamed, “what are they like?!”
One of my best friends got in contact with me this week to discuss Fifty Shades of Grey and asked if I was going to be going to see it or if I would like to have a girly night in my flat and we’d watch it together with wine, provided she could get either her partner or her mother to babysit (not us, a baby!). I informed her that I wasn’t all that supportive of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie and sent her the link to the article I mentioned earlier and her response was surprisingly different to most women. Promising anonymity, she allowed me to quote her:
I understand where you’re coming from with this, right, but ever since we’ve been young, you’ve been SO sexually confident. You’ve talked about sex toys like they’re your best friends and you’ve been so cavalier with your attitudes; what you like and what you don’t. I’ve never had that. I never understood where you got your confidence from, to be honest. But, after I read Fifty Shades I began thinking differently. As much as you were a lot of the inspiration behind my desire to be more sexually confident, a lot of the content in the book helped me begin to explore that with [her partner].
Admittedly, I was pretty shocked when I read her response, especially given my attitude towards the novel. I know and I do respect that people will have differing opinions and mostly, I just let people believe what they want to believe, but I have to say that it did surprise me that someone could feel so emboldened by Fifty Shades of Grey and that was one of the reasons behind one of my dearest friends exploring her sex life in a definitely more kinky detail.
My friends are, obviously, not the only people who have been affected by the novel, whether good or bad and it’s clear to see that EL James has inspired a surge within many factors of the sex industry. The sex toy industry for example, has positively boomed since Fifty Shades was released in 2011 and EL James has managed to bag herself a specific Fifty Shades inspired sex toy range that fans of the book/movie can purchase for their own sex play, which is available at LoveHoney and has proven extremely popular since it was first available online. There was obviously an existing BDSM inspired market, but with the popularity of the book and undoubtedly the novel, this has increased dramatically, and as much as I am firmly against the empire that EL James has created for herself, on the back of a book that undoubtedly promotes domestic abuse, but I can’t say that I’m unhappy that there are more and more women out there who have decided to positively and safely (presumably) explore a kinkier element to their sex lives.
It does extend beyond the bedroom, though, and I think due to attitudes towards online dating mellowing, I think a lot more freedom has been allowed for people to discuss their sexual preferences openly as part of the (for want of a better word) courting process, if you will. When I was single, I spoke to a lot of different men and used the likes of online dating to, at the very least, get my confidence (read: MOJO) back with regards to communicating with the opposite sex. Whilst I didn’t do it for very long, it did seem that every man I spoke to basically inferred elements of sex that they were into pretty much immediately. One man informed me, without any preamble, that he would like to see me hog died and insert sex toys into very specific orifices because that’s the kind of thing he was into… (three dots included) and whilst I didn’t respond to this person, it did seem to me that sex was the only thing that was on the table to this person and other people I spoke to as an immediate introduction to myself and presumably other women. In the past, where this might have been taboo to mention, or you might not have discovered until later on in the relationship, exploring kink and being open about one’s sexual proclivities has become a cultural norm and I do think the soaring popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has something do with it; sensibilities have changed and, again, as much as I’m against the novel, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
Talking about sex is, I feel, wildly important within relationships because everyone should be open and honest about their preferences and their boundaries; whilst having discussions within two sentences that reveal one’s sexual appetites is potentially a little full on, it’s still a good sign of confidences and shedding the ‘taboo’ moniker of sexual intercourse – everyone does it, but not everyone talks about it and Fifty Shades has helped that. Dating sites such as Plenty of Fish have even begun including specific sections of their website dedicated to people who like the novel and the ability to be able to specifically search for a dating site that caters to your needs has never been easier. Following the popularity of the novel, areas of the market have opened up and BDSM has become a popular, relatively normative sexual practice, with sites such as 50shadesofgreydating.com that allows you to sign up to the ‘luxury BDSM dating site’ for free and allows you to explore your inner dominant or submissive side by finding your Ana or Christian…Red room included! It’s refreshing to see that a kinky lifestyle is not only available, but widely promoted online and that people are exploring potentially dormant desires to be dominant or submissive in the bedroom by reaching out to like-minded individuals. It would be intruiging to find out whether these sites operate under the full safety of written contracts and promotion of safe words and loving/supportive after care for all involved, but even so, if two consenting adults actively go into a situation knowing full facts about BDSM, then I guess it’s up to the individuals to ascertain their boundaries, rather than the company, but it would still be interesting to find out.
It just goes to show that whether you love it or loathe it, Fifty Shades of Grey has had an impact on our sex lives and the manner we conduct our relationships in significant ways, and, whilst I am still fundamentally against the concepts of the novel and the promotion of domestic abuse within the poorly written pages, I am hoping that the movie depicts the relationship in a more consensual, loving manner that better represents the BDSM community, allowing for people who are potentially experiencing Fifty Shades of Grey to explore their potentially dormant proclivities in a more positive and safe manner.