“His expression pulls at that dark part of me, buried in the depths of my belly- my libido, woken and tamed by him, but even now, insatiable.” -E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey
The story that has shifted the mainstream consciousness of sexuality is about a young beautiful virgin, who doesn’t recognize her own beauty and a deeply troubled young man, that channels his childhood pain and extreme wealth into a fringe sexual lifestyle that verges on violence. The plot twists and turns around submission and dominance, one of the oldest and most common fantasy themes in human history. How this story shifted the sexual landscape of our culture and has captivated the attention of millions reveals the singular most significant truth of our collective human sex drive: our access and witness to our fantasies is where our sexual motor either revs up or languishes. The dynamics of sexual dominance and submission has been transacted throughout our ancestry so many millions of times; it is no wonder that Fifty Shades of Grey taps this deep nerve of our collective sexual history.
What is most riveting in the story is hard to say and probably is as individual as each of the millions of readers; romanticizing the acts of forced entry, displaying the mysterious neurological cross wiring of pain and pleasure, or surrendering helplessly to the orgasmic release that holds greater force over us than even the most dominating lover. Sexuality that is simultaneously forbidden and commanded of us both terrifies and titillates. These dynamics are not just fiction… Every day these juxtaposed forces play out in real life sexual scenes. Our collective sexuality is replete with scenes of confused pleasure that should never have occurred; from date rapes to incestuous touch, from the sexual crimes of politics and war to the aggression of inappropriate familial intimacy and workplace sexual harassment. In the end it is our designated politically correct and age appropriate sexual boundaries which are more fiction than reality for much of the true history of sex on this planet
Fifty Shades of Grey demonstrates the kinship between revulsion and attraction, especially when it comes to sex. The young woman’s consent to a sexuality that engulfs her somehow normalizes all of our desires to move towards something that we simultaneously long for and reject. The reader is transfixed as she submits, orgasms on command, endures profound pain and yet, even as her fear melts into un-anticipated pleasure, she remains the weak submissive. Rather than exploring the power derived from her pleasure, she is lost in codependence with her dominating lover. Their relationship dynamics are immature at best, the story flying by in mere days, rather than more realistic, months fulfilling the childlike happily-ever-after resolution that we all secretly yearn for. Their sex quickly becomes a backdrop of her need to save him from his troubled past. Unlikely in reality, yet true to fiction, he sublimates his sexual transgressions and uses his powerful wealth to save her. He is a prince after all, even if he gets off in a dungeon. When they progress to making love tenderly, she is anxious that real intimate sex is not enough to keep him interested.
In too many ways to name, Fifty Shades of Grey reflects the core of many of our sexual fantasies and anxiety. The fear of being normal sexually is matched by the anxiety of being enough. Religious stories of immaculate conception aside, what is virginal in each of us concerns our relationship to our own erotic self, which longs to submit, to be forced into the intense pleasure that we all sense living at the core of our being. Herein lies the trigger for the erotic mystery that comes with living in a body. Yet we also contain the mischievous, even cruel aspects of the violence that lies beside our sexual selves. Pain and pleasure blur. How many of us have experienced forbidden pleasure, orgasms when there should have been screams, our body denying our emotions… If nothing else, sexuality is often a jumble of raw confusion that mistakes consent and right, refusal and wrong in a myriad of circumstances that easily slip beyond our control. How many of us can’t access our ability to experience pleasure unless it is somehow forbidden?
What angle of this story wakes up your libido depends largely on your willingness to witness and experience your own erotic tales. We all have an inner erotic landscape that reveals itself through story or fantasy. These fantasies don’t have to be enacted in 3D for them to serve as the fuel of our sexual energy. They are in fact, our subconscious energies working beneath our cognitive awareness to create pleasure out of our deepest held pain and conflict. When we give up suppressing our own fantasy story lines and are willing to give them our attention without fear or judgment, we are rewarded with the gem of our own eroticism. I remember vividly the moment I stopped looking away from the fantasies that I held inside. Equally vivid were the troubling doubts about my own sexuality that followed. What, how, who, and from where did these outrageous fantasies arise? Knowing that 98% of people begin sex therapy with the question – “Am I normal?” helped slowly to ease my own fears.
Certainly this erotic tale has served the immensely satisfying role of allowing us all to take our collective libido out for a stroll. I have heard from many people that suddenly there are conversations about sex at their dinner table for the first time in their lives. Perhaps our collective attention towards sexual fantasy that cuts to the core of humanity’s history will also blaze a trail where we can start to imagine an awakened erotic life of our own. One in which consent and curiosity merge is one in which we can finally find the capacity for healing sexual pleasure.