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Are Women More Pervy Than You Think (& Why We are Reading “Fifty Shades of Grey”)


Last week Megan asked about the recent book frenzy among women, “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  Megan innocently asked “ Is it worth checking out? Is it actually sexy? I’m super curious…”

Since I’m obviously the one who watches bad tv around here, it might be no surprise that I have already downloaded and finished reading all three of the “Fifty Shades” books onto my iPad. Are they good? Eh, define good.  They are not well-written, but I never thought “The Da Vinci Code” was well-written and that didn’t stop it from being an enjoyable read.  However, I find myself recommending this book to my female friends (usually after I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine).  Let me explain.

If you’re not up to speed on “Fifty Shades of Grey,” it is an erotic (ugh, writing that feels so cheesy) novel by E L James that chronicles (in 3 books because nothing can be written these days unless it’s a trilogy) the love story between young, virginal Anastasia Steele and her obsessive, sexually dominant, billionaire mogul lover, Christian Grey.  I would say it’s the love story that has ladies hot and bothered, but it’s really the descriptive and aggressive world of dominant and submissive sex.  Like myself, I really  had no idea about the world of BDSM (which is defined as “an erotic preference… involving the consensual use of restraint, intense sensory stimulation, and fantasy power role play”) until reading “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The initials BDSM come from bondage and discipline, dominant and submissive and sadism and masochism.  Sound interesting? Well, apparently it has everyone interested.

In the last few weeks, this book has become a New York Times e-book best-seller and just had it’s film rights purchased for $5 million by Universal after an intense bidding war between the studios.  Needless to say, an overly-dramatic, averagely-written, e-book, with a healthy dose of descriptive sex scenes is taking the literary world by storm.  There are a million articles out there explaining the phenomenon of the book’s success – with terms like “Twilight for adults,” “Mommy porn,” and good old-fashioned “erotica.”  But maybe it comes down to something simple that I’ve known for a long time: When women are alone or in the company of trusted other women, we are a lot pervier or explicit than men might think.  When I say “pervy,” I’m not talking about a windowless van cruising playgrounds.  I’m talking about explicit talk or curiosity about penis size, oral sex, toys, good sex, bad sex, outrageous sexual experiences or stories, and all of this probably fueled by wine or margaritas.

So why is “Fifty Shades of Grey” so successful?  Are women in need of a good, pervy read? Or were we all just wishing Stephanie Meyer had given us a little sex between Edward and Bella and our pent-up frustration came out in James’ 50 shades of sex?  Either way, here are the top 4 reasons why we are reading this:

1. Same Old Story
As I pointed out about the Twilight series, author Stephanie Meyer leaned heavily upon romantic literature’s most beloved stories as inspiration for her novels.  Her storylines echoed “Romeo & Juliet,” “Wuthering Heights,” and “Pride and Prejudice.”  If you think about it, E L James has done the same except she went the route of the tortured hero.  In Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” isn’t it a young, naive woman who is lured by the dashing, mysterious, wealthy Maxim De Winter, only to discover his twisted secret and vow to save him?  What about “Jane Eyre?” Young Jane is both poor and innocent, but her devotion to Rochester sees her going back to the man who kept his ex in the attic, a scarred face and a really mean disposition.  By no means does E L James have the literary ability of Daphne Du Maurier or Charlotte Bronte, but you can understand the theme that so many women are drawn to.  Compared to De Winter’s murder and Rochester’s imprisonment, some restraints or a little spanking doesn’t seem so bad?

2. Women Like Sex (doing, talking about, discussing, reading) Much More Than Society Allows Us
Men talking about sex, porn, inappropriate jokes, off-the-cuff comments about balls, dicks, asses or body parts and body functions is nothing new.  I would say it’s a cultural norm for women to be shocked, disgusted or not interested when these types of conversations come up.  However, I’ll also counter that when it’s all girls, we too can have some fairly shocking conversations.  From personal experience, women don’t go for disgusting, but we will share and laugh about all things sexual.  So I’m not really surprised that a book that is incredibly descriptive about sexual acts involving a dashing but tortured man and a young, smart woman is fascinating to women.  Personally, I found the sex scenes both shocking and enticing.  I don’t necessarily want to rush out and do the things listed in the book, but the fantasy and forbidden nature of it all was a welcome distraction during a ridiculously stressful and difficult week.

3.  Reading About Sex is Much More Feminine and Accessible Than Watching Sex
I remember in middle school when my friend Ann got the book “Just Like Ice Cream.”  It was about a girl’s first summer romance and being pressured to have sex by a guy who promised her that sex “is just like ice cream.”  Now, we 6th graders didn’t think that made much sense, but we sure as hell wanted to read about it.  Forget the crap part of the book about the young girl getting pregnant and life getting complicated – we wanted to read the more descriptive parts about ‘doing it.’  As a bunch of young girls on the verge of puberty and discovering that boys weren’t gross, Ann’s book was sought after contraband.  Back in those days, getting your hands on descriptions of sex was impossible. All of us read and discussed “Just Like Ice Cream” with a rabid curiosity and intensity, so I’m not really that surprised that in my 30’s women are telling me to read a book about sex.  Except this time the sex involves floggers, handcuffs, and the Red Room of Pain.  I believe most women prefer reading about sex than actually seeing it.  Yes, women do watch porn, but not as much as men.  I remember renting 9 ½ Weeks with girlfriends in college because we had been told it was sexy, risque and cool.  I don’t know what was worse – renting a sexy film with your girlfriends, or watching it together. It just made us all uncomfortable, so I don’t envision getting a girl’s night together to watch “Fifty Shades of Grey” they way we did for “Sex and the City.”  Perving on clothes in a group is fun.  Perving on bondage scenes in a group sounds unbearable.

Do women like sex? Yes.  Do women like talking about sex? Hell yes.  Do women like watching sex? Well, that’s where it gets a little awkward.  Hence, a book allows women to enjoy it, and discuss it, but not be forced into seeing it.  Good luck with those movie rights Universal.

4.  Women Love a Little Privacy
What anyone does in their bedroom is decidedly their business.  Personally, I don’t care. If everyone is safe, an adult and making good, healthy choices, then go on with your bad self and have a good time (focus on adults engaging in safe, healthy behavior).  That being said, there is something nice about the availability of these books on a Kindle or iPad.  You can be reading Dr. Seuss or Anais Nin and no one needs to know.  As a woman and an avid reader, I can’t stand when I’m somewhere ie. coffee shop, airport, getting my oil changed, the DMV, etc. and a complete stranger will ask “So, what are you reading” while checking out the book cover. First, it’s none of their business.  Second, they don’t care, they just want to start a conversation.  Third, I feel I have to give an explanation of what I’m reading.  No more!  With Kindles and iPad, no one’s sure what you’re reading and you can tell them it’s anything. Either way, you’re not given away by the cover. These devices allow for a lovely anonymity in our reading. Women can read anywhere and feel safe that no one knows what they are reading. Just last week as I was wrapping up the final book in the trilogy, “Fifty Shades Freed,” when someone asked what I was reading.  I politely answered “It’s Tina Fey’s biography, “Bossypants. It’s really funny. Have you read it?”  They hadn’t and that ended their questioning.  Have I read “Bossypants?” Yes.  What that a lie? Absolutely. Did I want to explain to someone I’d met the day before about the erotica I was reading? No way.  It was an easy, effortless lie, but I felt just fine about it.  Maybe my reading habits are like my bedroom, they are private.

So enjoy “Fifty Shades of Grey” if you want to.  I’ve outed myself, but you can keep your secret tucked safely away on your Kindle/iPad.



One Response to “Are Women More Pervy Than You Think (& Why We are Reading “Fifty Shades of Grey”)”

  1. April 19, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    I am not into BDSM tales, nonetheless have to say that I honestly loved this one. This was one of those books that keeps you glued to the pages; staying up reading in to the early morning. I found it to be really addicting which is really disturbing personally.

    How surprised I was to find out it was the closest thing to female erotica that I have read. But my interest in psychology kept me reading. After just thinking, this guy is “F’d UP!” I began to think of the possibilities of how he got that way. That made me keep reading on.

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