Our local Mormon Stories group had a women’s book discussion this week for 50 Shades of Grey. We had about 20 women attend and enjoyed food, drinks, swimming, and a great time talking honestly about our sexual experiences, good, bad, and challenging.
For those of you who haven’t heard of 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, it’s a popular romance (watch this SNL skit) that began as fan-fiction of the Twilight series. The books are explicitly erotic and unlike the few traditional romances I have read, they feature scenes that involve Dominant/Submissive roles with bondage, whips, handcuffs, etc. While I was initially suspicious, I liked the books about as well as I liked Twilight, they kept me engaged but were not particularly well written. One major difference, however, is that they are clearly for an adult audience.
As the SNL skit illustrates, many women, including myself, are reading 50 Shades on e-readers for privacy. I thought this bit from Wikipedia was interesting,
“critic Soraya Chemaly argued that interest in the series was not a trend, but squarely within the tradition and success of the romance category which is driven by tales of virgins, damaged men and submission/dominance themes. Instead, she wrote, the books are notable not for transgressive sex but for how women are using technology to subvert gendered shame by exploring explicit sexual content privately using e-readers.” (my emphasis)
Chemlay’s analysis is encouraging. Like some of my friends, I read the books on an e-reader and was glad to take the book to the pool, doctor’s office waiting room, and fitness club without worry that I would be ashamed if people know what I was reading. While I do know a few women my age who read a lot in the Romance genre, most women at this book club were new to it, so the privacy was important for them to explore the adult themes.
Because reading fiction causes me to lose track of space and time such that I neglect to feed my children, I switched back to non-fiction immediately after reading 50 Shades. Ironically, my current book is 50 Psychology Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon and I love it! It’s just a sampler platter of important psychology works in bite-sized exerpts.
One insight from summary of The Female Brain explained that men (ages 20-30) think about sex every 52 seconds while women think about sex about once a day. So perhaps when women read romance novels, they think of sex almost as much as men (at least if they are reading them as fast as I did). In my marriage, reading the books did boost our bedroom life, but this wasn’t true for all women at the book club.
On the whole, the books seemed to have increased the libido of the women involved, and most of their partners were thrilled. However, in some relationships, the man felt threatened by the fantasy hero he assumed his wife wanted and was hesitant to engage for fear of not meeting some fictional standard.
But moving past the books themselves, I was impressed at the openness of the discussion in our book group. It was originally intended to have a field trip component where the women would go to a adult themed store to buy vibrators or other sex toys, but instead some of us ended up ordering them online.
Our discussions focused on what we liked about the books, what we found unrealistic or similar to our own experiences and how we had overcome challenges in our own sex lives. There were a few single women with limited or no sexual experience and some with much sexual experience, so it was quite a varied group.
On the whole, however, it was a good experience. I liked reading an interesting and erotic book that pushed my understanding of sexuality and pleasure. The book club opened a dialog that is often missing in LDS women’s meetings, a place for us to openly talk about the intimate aspects of our lives with the goal of validating each other and finding ideas to improve our understanding and satisfaction with our sexuality.