Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why I'm glad I read Fifty Shades of Grey

Hi, my name is Christina, and I read all 3 books in E.L James' Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy back in 2011 (but on the Kindle app on my iPad, obviously, so the general public couldn't tell). 

Image from

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but not ashamed. For starters, the books are poorly written. The premise of the book (and subsequent sequels) is strange at best and immoral at worst. And try as I might, I couldn't really identify with any of the characters. But I tore through them hungrily. Not my finest moment as an English major and lover of fine literature. It was like drinking boxed wine out of a Waterford goblet. 

Yes, my husband knew. No, he didn't care. (Let's pause here for a second, dear readers. My husband does not control what I read, think, or wear, but his opinion is important to me. Had he asked that I not read the books, I would not have. But in all honesty, he had no idea what the books were about, and I didn't enlighten him, which I regret in hindsight. Glad that's all cleared up. Moving along.)

But lots of people care, especially Christian people. The loudest argument I've heard against Fifty Shades is that the books and subsequent movie devalues women and promotes violence against them. I get that. But I wish we Christians could protest as vigorously other real threats to women, such as equal pay, availability of quality childcare, and the denial of health care and paid family leave for both women and men.

I don't see the same outrage among Christians over other overtly violent books or movies. According to CNN, "Of the 100 top-grossing movies of 2012, only three were rated G. Most in the top 10 were PG-13, including "The Hunger Games," a film about kids brutally killing each other for sport; two were PG and one was R."

So far the (conservative) Christian responses have been to produce their own book and movie to combat the filth and lend a Christian perspective to mainstream media. There's even a Twitter campaign to get people to donate what they would have spent on Fifty Shades movie tickets to battered women's shelters instead (which is never a bad idea). 

Pornography is bad for men and women. You'll get zero argument from me about that fact, Christian or otherwise. There are some impressive studies to prove this point. Pornography shrinks your brain. This YouTube video explains how it can be as addicting as drugs and alcohol and can even rewire your brain so that your "ordinary" sexual partner cannot make you feel aroused. 

Make no mistake: Fifty Shades of Grey is literary pornography.  And it's not the only kind out there. I'd indulged in several Nora Roberts romance novels over the years and thought they were harmless fun. That is until I didn't become like the tall, slender, successful female main character with an unlimited clothing and entertainment budget, and my husband failed to become the handsome stranger with a dark past, a secret trust fund, and a heart of gold.  Or something like that.  It's fun to pretend, but sometimes it makes reality bite even more. 

If I was hoping Fifty Shades of Grey would jump start my sagging mommy libido, I was wrong. I continued to pine for basic connection, which was lacking despite our best efforts. Two kids, jobs, seminary classes for Todd, and lots of stress sorting out Todd's call will do that to a marriage. 

If I thought I would be able to add a few new tricks to my, um, bedroom repertoire, I was disappointed to discover that what was contained in those books was grossly out of my comfort zone and I would never ever have the courage, inclination, or inhibition to indulge in such desires. 

Reading Fifty Shades of Grey and feeling icky afterward taught me that I have to "guard my gates" against things that can influence my heart and mind. Author Sarah Bessey says to "Guard your gates...means that we get to decide who influences us – how we think, how we feel, what we do...I want to guard my gates against what diminishes wholeness and holiness in me." Pornography does exactly that--dismisses the holiness in each person, distilling their worth down to one thing only.  

We were created for so much more. My marriage is hard, holy work. I am a beloved child of God and should not allow myself or someone else to make me feel any less.  
I had believed the lie: that my "vanilla" marriage would not be enough for me or my husband. That I could not be enough. I still struggle with these feelings. I still wonder about if I'm all my partner wants.  But now instead of wondering or escaping into a fantasy, I just ask.  

So contrary to what you've probably heard, Fifty Shades of Grey actually freed me from a type of bondage instead of encouraging me to engage in it. And for that, I'm glad.  


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