50 Shades of Grey- Book Club

Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey Series)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.

 

Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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111 Responses

  1. Annie B. says:

    Dang, I wish the book clubs around here were that fun and open about sex.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Annie B.
      Maybe you can create one yourself. It only takes one or two like-minded people who know one or two people, etc. It’s actually better in a smaller group. I think 20 was too many, 10 would have been better.

      • Annie B. says:

        Ah that sounds scary! I don’t know if I could start one. Social anxiety aside, it still seems scary. I’d definitely go to one if invited though.

    • Debbie says:

      If you like fifty shades, try School of S&M by an author called Damon Close – blows fifty shades away!

  2. karen says:

    I was one of the 20 women in attendance, and will confirm that the book club that night was awesome! It’s so refreshing to be able to talk openly about sex with a great group of women of all kinds of different backgrounds and experience.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Karen,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the group as well. Hope to see you at future events!

      • Jinnifer says:

        Shoot I wish the Relief Society where I lived was as cool as this. I’m pretty sure that if I even mentioned wanting to read 50 Shades of Grey to most of my LDS friends they’d look at me with even more judgment then they already do. -rolls eyes-

    • Reni87 says:

      You call yourselves LDS sisters? I think you need to read the introduction of ‘let virtue garnish thy thoughts’. It clearly states we as members should not read book like 50 shades of grey.

      • amelia says:

        Renis87,

        You’re entitled to your opinion, but our comment policy specifically does not allow judging others and questioning their worthiness. Which is all your comment does. Do feel free to share an opinion in the context of this discussion. You should not, however, feel free to challenge others’ worthiness no matter how confident you are in your righteousness.

      • katie says:

        I, too, am amazed with the acceptance of this book. “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

  3. I assume your ward RS book group does not need the bishop’s approval for reading choices. I can’t imagine why a book group would agree to that, but I’ve heard it’s pretty common.
    The RS book group in our ward disbanded when a new RS president insisted on choosing the books to correlate with the presidency messages.

  4. Boston H. Manwaring says:

    So do you ladies have any suggestions for an old dog looking to learn new tricks that won’t invalidate a temple recommend?

    • Jessawhy says:

      Boston,
      I don’t think there are any tricks that will invalidate a temple recommend provided both partners are comfortable with them (and the tricks are just between husband and wife, no third-parties)

      But yes, I did learn quite a bit about the idea of pushing the limits of pleasure, among other things. It’s not something I was familiar with and the idea is intriguing to me. Of course the fictional nature made me take everything with a grain of salt.

    • Annie B. says:

      I would say read up on sexual health online. Just be wary of clicking link after link until you find yourself in the nether-reaches of the internet. There are often good resources that talk about how to improve your sexual relationship with your partner that don’t devolve into links to porn and other stuff you may not want to be exposed to. I’d also say picking out a helpful book on the topic and reading it with your spouse could be a fun adventure.

  5. Rivkah says:

    Um, how is that different from a bunch of LDS men watching porn together and talking about how it relates to their sex lives? (Or maybe you think there isn’t much difference, and you’re okay with that?)

    • heidikins says:

      I agree with this comment, and am glad Rivkah posted it. I think there is a big difference between a group of friends talking about sex and pleasure and making it better for all parties involved (a good thing) and reading a book/series that is generally considered one of the smuttier, poorly written books of recent publication (not exactly “lovely or of good report”).

    • LovelyLauren says:

      Watching porn is SO different from reading romance novels. People try to draw a comparison, but it falls flat for a number of reasons.

      1. There are no real people involved. This means no exploitation, no STDs, no underage women, etc. No one is having sex on camera.

      2. Watching something versus reading it is an entirely different experience. If you don’t have a good imagination, book sex isn’t going to do anything for you. Porn require no imagination or even work of any way.

      3. If they’re reading this book for a book club, they aren’t reading it to get off, they’re reading it to see what the hype is and how they personally relate to it.

      Basically, no, it’s not the same thing at all.

      • Boston H. Manwaring says:

        If not porn, what about erotica? Would it be acceptable for priesthood holders to read and gather to discuss erotic literature (and whatever techniques are thereby learned) as a way of spicing up the marital bed?

      • amelia says:

        Sure, Boston. Why not? If a bunch of men want to read the same romance novel and then discuss what they learned and how to use it to make their marital sex lives better, I really don’t see where the problem is.

        I would, however, draw a distinction between “erotica” and “romance novel.” They’re not the same beast. Erotica is usually much more explicit. It also does not care as much about story and character as romance novels do. In erotica, the plot and characters generally exist only to create a framework for the sex. In romance novels, the sex is simply a natural element of the plot and character development. See the difference? Sure it can be a fuzzy line between the two, and I’m sure there are plenty of pieces of erotica that have decent plots and characters, but these two things are quite different. I haven’t read the 50 shades series, but my understanding based on what I’ve heard about it is that it’s more romance novel than erotica.

    • Annie B. says:

      I agree with the differences that Lovely Lauren stated…there’s a big difference to me between porn and a romance novel. I’d say though that if my husband felt threatened or uncomfortable with me reading one, I wouldn’t. Just like if I felt threatened or uncomfortable with him reading one, or watching porn, I’d expect him not to, and he could fully expect my sexual trust and our relationship to suffer if he did, and vice verse. I think it’s very possible and even likely for a book group like this to be a healthy experience, not a dirty or harmful one. I think my own personal preference would be to be careful not to discuss anything that might embarrass my husband. And likewise, i’d be cool with him doing something similar with his guy friends so long as he was respectful of me throughout. In my experience though, my husband has no issues opening up sexually to me, but I’ve had an immensely long journey opening up sexually to even myself first (darn conservative programming) and then eventually to him. Something like this book group would have definitely helped me along the way. And I imagine having a more sexually open environment growing (and less sexuality shaming growing up) would have made that journey far less arduous and maybe even eliminated it to begin with.

    • Jessica F says:

      Yes I think it could be the idea that there are less physical people involved in making porn, but the effect on the person consuming a video or a book are not different.

      • amelia says:

        Jessica F, have you consumed both romance novels and porn in order to develop a solid opinion based on your own experience? If not, I’d say you aren’t really qualified to opine.

        As a reader of romance novels for two decades, I assure you that the world of romance novels is a varied and nuanced one. Research has shown that reading romance novels has helped many women find greater self-confidence and strength, as well as enhanced their sex-lives with their partners (which, of course, includes the partners they’re married to, since many, many married women read romance novels).

        The reality is that consuming representations of any kind affects different people differently. I know many people who have consumed some porn in their lives and it has not hurt them to do so. They’re not sex addicts or porn addicts. They didn’t begin to compare their real life partner with the fantasy characters on the screen. They didn’t suffer from having seen a little porn. In fact, in some cases it enhanced the happiness and fulfillment of their own sex lives with their spouses. I’m sorry that such a reality is so different from the rote explanation of porn that gets advanced over the pulpit, but that difference doesn’t make it any less true.

        And yes. There are some people for whom watching porn has been deeply destructive. I freely acknowledge that and would support them in making any necessary change in their own personal lives to overcome those problems and find better ways to deal with their sexuality. But the fact that some people have a negative reaction does not mean all people do.

        The same is true from romance novels. There are some people who cannot read anything about explicit sex. Okay. Fine. They shouldn’t read it. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t or that anyone else shouldn’t. We know our own personal limits and we should abide within them. But it is no one else’s business to tell us what we should or should not read and how what we read must obviously affect us for bad.

  6. Jessawhy says:

    Rivkah,
    I cited that quote from the Female Brain as an illustration of how women and men don’t match up very well with their interest in sex.

    Therefore, I think when women read, think and talk about sex, it can potentially make them better partners on a level closer to where their husbands already are. Some of my friends have no problem with their husbands watching porn, or watching it together, but it’s not something I’m comfortable with. For me, the difference between reading about something and watching it is pretty big.

    As far as the group discussion aspect for men, I think it could be beneficial, especially if it was focused on the relationship aspect. I’ve heard that there are lots of young Mormon men (probably young men in general) who don’t know how to pleasure their wives. Having a group where men were bragging about giving their wife 5 orgasms in one night would help other men realize their potential as sex partners(of course some women don’t want that many orgasms).

    • EmilyCC says:

      I think a discussion group for men like Jessica mentioned is a good idea. Not surrounding porn, of course, but I suspect groups like this are good for both sexes. Where does a Mormon turn who is looking to spice things up or is dealing with sexual dysfunction in the bedroom? It seems to me a mentally-healthy group of friends could do some real good.

      • alix says:

        In my experience, honest discussions among friends, in a safe environment, regarding sex are healthy and strengthening. What I fear is that some discussions may be based on unrealistic expectations. What books like 50 Shades of Grey and pornography have in common is portrayals of sex that are unrealistic. We can argue endlessly about what is or isn’t pornography, but I think it is okay to assume that if one is consuming materials that deteriorate your spouse’s confidence regarding your sex life, then that can’t simultaneously strengthen your marriage. Also, portraying sex as a situation in which submission occurs, and thus inequality between spouses occurs, can really be damaging-not liberating. I read the Female Brain and thoroughly enjoyed most of the book, but one thing I disliked and am sick of hearing is that women have a lower libido than men. I think this is cultural. I think this is sad. And I know I want/enjoy/initiate sex as often as my spouse. This is true liberation-realizing that you, as a woman, can want and initiate sex as much as or more than your husband and this is acceptable. Coming to that realization has been a wonderful strength in my marriage.

      • amelia says:

        Alix, I love your comment because it’s focused on people finding what really will help their own sexual relationships with their partners. I like, for instance, that you discount what is often seen as basic reality–that women don’t have as strong a sex drive as men–because doing so allowed your own relationship to be stronger and more honest. That said, I think that just about any portrayal of sex in a book or a movie, whether that book or movie is erotica or porn or just your typical box office fare, is going to be unrealistic in some fashion. And I think most of us understand that when we look at fictional representations of sex, they’re unrealistic. As a culture, we don’t run around repeatedly telling readers of sci fi or fantasy that they must be careful to not forget that the worlds of their books are fictional and they shouldn’t base their lives on them. Why should we do that for readers of romance novels? The romance readers I talk to are well aware that the relationships, including the sex, in their books are fantasy and that reality is very different from them.

        Also, I think it’s important to remember that the fact that something *can* be damaging rather than liberating, doesn’t mean it always and for everyone *is* damaging rather than liberating. As you so nicely articulated, what matters is that partners are open and honest with each other about what helps and what hurts and work together to make their relationship better in all of its aspects, including sexual. Sex does have dynamics of power, submission, and dominance in it. Even non-BDSM sex. What’s inherently damaging about realizing that and thinking about it and discussing it? Even letting that be a part of one’s sex life wouldn’t necessarily mean that there’s now inequality in the relationship.

      • Annie B. says:

        Alix, I totally agree with you that women don’t always have lower libido than men. I actually believe that my sexual desire is at least as strong as my husband’s. What was keeping me from being open sexually with with my husband was not a lack of libido, it was the psychological conditioning from my upbringing. I could not inwardly acknowledge my natural sexual nature without feeling ashamed of myself, and angry at men. My parents regulated the modesty of my clothes, citing conference and youth talks, and I truly believed that my body was a sex object that needed to be covered from my shoulders to my knees in order to be thought of anything more. I also grew up thinking that my own personal preference or comfort as far as clothing choice went, was secondary to the comfort and preference of the men around me. I grew up feeling a mixture of shame for my natural sexual curiosity, and responsibility for men’s sexual thoughts, as well as anger at being held responsible for those things. The message I got was that my body was not my own, not for my own joyful experience, but was for the enjoyment of my husband. So even though I loved my husband and was very sexually attracted to him, I still had to work through the shame and distrust that I had been conditioned for.

  7. Diane says:

    I’m in full agreement with Jessawhy with respect that a women’s book club shouldn’t have to get the okay from the Bishop. As ADULT WOMEN we shouldn’t need any one’s permission other than our selves to determine what reading material is appropriate.

    To be fair, I have to say that I have not yet read the book 50 shades so I can’t really comment on that topic, but, I don’t like Romance Novels, nor do I like novels written by authors like Dan Brown,”Angels and Demons” “Deception Point,” because while his heroines are all seemingly intelligent, his love scenes sometimes border what I perceive to be sexual assault. And all the while, she’s enjoying the experience.

    Do women want to have healthy fulfilled sex life absolutely, I’m all for men and women having healthy discussions about sex and getting correct information but, the way some of these books are portraying this its almost like the Madonna/ Whore Complex. And this bothers me immensely.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Diane,
      You may not like this series if you have those issues with Dan Brown novels. In fact, I completely understand why people don’t like 50 Shades, I almost stopped reading it at several points in the first book (the 2nd and 3rd were much more gushy romance novels.)

      I think we have discussed the Madonna/Whore complex here at Exponent, but I can’t think of the exact post. Anyone?

  8. EmilyCC says:

    A few years ago, I had a visiting teaching companion who was a recent convert and a little lonely. Occasionally, she would drop by my house to hang out for a few hours. One day she dropped by while I was had some friends over. I could tell that she was hurt that she hadn’t been invited, so I explained that these were my Mormon feminist friends from other parts of the Valley.

    She got excited when she learned we were feminists. “Hey,” she said, “You are the ladies I need to talk to…I used to sell sex toys and keep thinking how great it would be to have a Relief Society Enrichment sex toy party. Will you help me plan one?”

    I suppose the MoSto group shows that my VT companion approached the right people 🙂

    • Jessawhy says:

      Emily,
      I love that story. I especially love that I was there and was so not shocked by what she said that I don’t even remember it years later.

  9. KayG says:

    I’m interested to learn that this trilogy of books is in the romance novel tradition. I haven’t read romance novels, but I was under the impression that while titillating, there wasn’t much explicit sex in that genre whereas the sex is very descriptive in Shades. I suspect the Shades heroine is like romance novel heroines in her naiveté and inexperience with romance and sex? (Naïve and inexperienced to an unbelievable degree for a 22-year-old college grad in today’s world, IMO).

    If not a trend, Shades is certainly a cultural phenomenon. There have been SNL references and skits as mentioned. Sunday on the Tony Awards show the host, Neil Patrick Harris, introduced the show as “50 Shades of Gay.” A couple of weeks ago DH called me in to see a segment of a financial news show he likes to watch on CNBC, where the co-anchors were taking a few minutes to comment on a New York Post big-headline-article about the significant uptick in purchases of rope and cable ties in New York City hardware-type store.

    If my years of early marriage, early 70s, we read (and discussed in our marriage) The Joy of Sex, a great sex manual, but it was not a book club selection. However, women in the ward commented with agitation on the bishop’s injunction during temple interviews that oral sex was forbidden.

    What a great marketing coup for the author and publisher, to produce a must-read series that people are reluctant to read between identifiable covers, so that everyone buys their own electronic version and there is much less ability to share the book with a friend!

    • Jessawhy says:

      KayG,
      I haven’t watched the Tony’s, but now I will!

      I have read the Joy of Sex (isn’t it like a cookbook, like the Joy of Cooking?) and it’s quite different from this novel format.

      As far as how 50 Shades compares to other romance novels, I think we have some other bloggers around here who have more experience with that genre who may be able to speak to that a little better.

      I can’t believe how popular these books have gotten considering how explicit they are and how women are embarrassed to be seen with them. There are new products popping up everywhere with the 50 Shades logo. It’s crazy.

      As for the heroine’s naivete and inexperience, it was very unbelievable, especially considering she was so beautiful, apparently. But that’s pretty typical of romance novels from what I’ve read.

      Thanks for your comment!

    • amelia says:

      Romance novels are incredibly varied. There are certainly identifiable trends, but it’s a very complex genre (it’s actually the largest genre of books published every year). As far as the sexual explicitness of romance novels–it covers the entire spectrum, from nothing but a kiss to full blown explicitly detailed sex of just about any variety, including the kind of BDSM it sounds like 50 shades includes.

      Romance novel heroines are also much more varied than just the innocent, naive young thing educated by a much older, stronger, worldly man. That’s certainly an identifiable trend, and it was much more common at certain points in the evolution of romance novels, but it’s not the only one. Many, many romance novels have heroines who are strong and independent, who have created their own identity against the prescriptions of their culture, who stand up for themselves. And while in certain subgenres the heroines are more likely to be sexually innocent and/or naive (for instance, in historical romance novels), they also fall along a wide spectrum of sexual experience.

      As for whether 50 shades is “romance,” I’d say that if the plot and character development only exists to get people from one sexual encounter to the next, it’s on the end of the spectrum closer to erotica. But if the interest in the book has as much to do with the story and the characters, if the plot is more than a skeleton moving people from one sexual incident to the next, then it’s probably squarely in the romance genre.

      • Jessawhy says:

        Amelia,
        Interesting distinction between erotica and romance.
        For me maybe the first book was erotica, but the second two were definitely romance in the same way Twilight was.

  10. Stefanie says:

    As one of the women that was at the group who also read these books, I can not begin to tell you all how educational it was for me. Growing up as a very conservative mormon girl, always being told “no, no, no”, when it came to sex and then getting married and being told “go, go, go” has been insanely frustrating! How am I and my spouse suppose to have this amazing sexual relationship when neither of us understands what we’re doing? As a mormon, you’re not suppose to watch porn, read erotica, go to sexual websites, and VERY few of my mormon friends would ever let their walls down long enough to have an honest discuss about sex. So where the hell am I suppose to turn to to understand my sexual potential? Now I’m not saying reading an erotic book is the only way, but it worked for me. It educated me on what types of things could turn me on, and it helped me to open up and talk about what things I liked with my husband.

    I had read a great marriage book just before starting 50 Shades and it talked a lot about how women always expect their husband’s to just “know” what they want. And I found that was very true with me in the bedroom and it was really unfair to my husband. He loves to pleasure me and now that I feel more comfortable telling him how and I have new ideas of how to do it, things have gotten so much better. I look forward to sex now, it’s not just me taking care of my priesthood holder at the end of the day. All in all, my experience has been great. And to touch on the point Rivkah made, I do think there’s a huge difference between porn and reading an erotic book. When I was reading the books, I wasn’t turned on by Christian Grey, or by them having sex, I was turned on because I was envisioning my husband and I doing that. He was very supportive of me reading this book. We talked about it at length because I wanted to make sure he didn’t feel like it was a double standard being that I’m not ok with him watching porn. And he’s very respectful at not doing so. So be careful not to judge before you know too much about it. And for the record, I’m still a proud barer of my temple recommend! And I don’t think reading this book jeopardizes that in one bit!

    • Jessawhy says:

      Stefanie,
      I’m glad the book discussion was helpful to you!
      It was eye-opening for me as well.

      Having at least one open-minded person to talk to about sex is crucial. Most LDS girls (because most are girls when they marry) don’t have that person and it’s really hard.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

    • Martha says:

      Who told you you couldn’t go to sexual websites to find about about sexuality? Porn is wrong but please women! Come on, it’s your responsibility to be aware of your own body.
      I’ve heard that some women go Into marriage without even knowing what or where their own clitoris is. I disagree with parents pulling kids out of health class for this reason. Sex should not be a taboo topic. If parents talked about sex openly and honesty with their kids, there wouldn’t be this “good girl syndrome” among lds women. There’s a difference between educating about sex and telling someone sex before marriage is ok.

  11. karen says:

    Just as a side-note to the discussion here, I think this book club night was very respectful towards sex and the sanctity of monogamous relationships, though informative in many aspects. There was a range of backgroundsand experiences represented. In fact, one person admitted that she is a virgin, and comfortable with that choice. Everyone was as enthusiastic and supportive of that life choice as they were of any other shared that night.

    We didn’t read erotic sections of the book, or anything like that. In fact, I don’t think I remember seeing any actual copies of the books there. Yes, this book is unapologetic in it’s erotic content, but that’s not all it has going for it. The discussions were more about how/if the overarching themes of the books affected our own behaviors, perceptions, and relationships. The discussions ranged from what we thought about the author’s motivation (that the book started out as Twilight fan-fic) about the main character (she was purposefully written as a kind of “blank slate”) and how/if reading the book affected our sex lives (in very general terms).

    I think that an open discussion of sex is valuable for women, even (especially?) mormon women. Without such, how are we supposed to develop a healthy and open attitude towards sex? (licked cupcake, anyone?) It’s probable that these discussions could be had without a book that is quite so explicit, but I feel like it was the widely publicized popularity of these that made the suggestion

  12. karen says:

    of this kind of event feel so non-threatening and acceptable to those of us that were raised in very sheltered environments.

  13. Jessica F says:

    I really love this blog and the magazine and I read them regularly and I really respect all the women here. I think that is why what I am feeling right now i so hard for me to express. I have to say this post made me throw up a little in my mouth. I just am so sickened not only by the post. I am so angry and women I respect who call themselves feminist could not only read but defend a book that is everything so many posts on this blog fight against.

    I am sorry that patriarchy has effected women’s sexuality, but this book is not healthy. It is not healthy. It is not feminist. I am all for having good amazing sex with my husband, but this is not what is covered in this book. Not all sex is pro women. I am just blown away that this is so popular and that this is ok with so many women on here that I really admire.

    Maybe because I do woman stats and I coded rape stats all this week, and stories about 5 year old girls being sold into sex slavery so that some sick man can have his way with her. I am just disgusted beyond words. That a blog I love and respect would advocate for a book that is everything this blog fights against, and everything I will spend the entirety of my adult life fighting to eradicate form the earth.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Jessica F,
      I’m sorry that this post has left you disappointed in the blog. We don’t all think the same around here, nor do we review each other’s posts before publishing. So, you can just feel disappointed in me.

      I think I understand where you’re coming from, but wonder if you’ve actually read the book? It supports consenting sexual behavior, not punishment for one partner and points to how unhealthy behaviors can come from childhood trauma and need love to be overcome. Of course it’s all fantasy, but it does focus on the heroine finding out what she likes and what she doesn’t like and how to navigate a relationship with the man she loves.

      To compare it to sex trafficking of children is way off base to me.

      I didn’t really intend to have a discussion about if the book is feminist or not, but perhaps that’s where this thread needs to go.

      I thought that it was clearly the woman who was in a position of power in the book (made clear by a touching scene in book 3 (I think) where C kneels before A in a position of submission). Of course I was uncomfortable with the dom/sub stuff and the motivation behind it, especially before I read it. Even my VTer asked me if I had read it and how I would feel about it as a feminist that the woman is a submissive. I didn’t know what she was talking about then, but after reading the book, I see it more as one card out of a deck of sexuality that focuses on testing the limits of pleasure.

    • amelia says:

      Jessica F,

      I have to say I’m with Jessawhy on this one. I am sorry to hear that you’re hurt and/or disappointed by anything on the Exponent blog. That said, it sounds like you haven’t actually read the book itself but are responding to the widespread chatter about it as a book with explicit BDSM sexual content. The reality is that there are many, many feminists who have absolutely no problem with BDSM sex. I would guess there are plenty who enjoy reading stories about it, many who research it academically, and many who enjoy it as an element of their own sex lives. The reality is that no kind of sex is by definition anti-feminist so long as its happening between informed and consenting adults. It sounds like that’s what’s portrayed in this book (though I’m going on Jessawhy’s account, since I haven’t read it myself).

      That key–consenting adults–cannot be ignored. Child sex slavery is the complete opposite of the idea of consenting adults engaging in any kind of sexual activity because in the situation of child sex slavery (or any sex slavery), there is no choice at work while with consenting adults, choice is the prerequisite to anything happening in the first place. And BDSM, even with its bondage or domination and submission, is similarly radically different from rape. Both might be about power, but the first, when practiced between consenting adults, is not about power as a mechanism for denying another person of their right to autonomy and choice. Instead it’s about power as one dynamic in sexual relationships. Rape is *always* about removing the choice and autonomy of another person in order to wield power in a sexual way.

      It’s completely understandable that BDSM may not appeal to a lot of people. And that’s fine. But the fact that it does appeal to others–either as a component of their actual sex lives, or as a kind of romance that helps them explore the limits of pleasure in their own sex lives even if that doesn’t end up involving BDSM–is also fine. Feminism is about respecting the rights and opportunities of others when it comes to them making decisions about their own lives; it’s not about prescribing what is properly “feminist.”

    • DefyGravity says:

      I haven’t read this book, so can’t address your concerns specifically with it. I admit, I was surprised to see a positive post about the book considering what I’d heard about it. But what I’m reading is that the discussion was about how to have positive sexual experiences. The book, from my understanding, portrays some negative sexual relationships, but these women were focusing on the positive in their own lives. It sounds like they were reclaiming the book on their own terms, like the gay community has reclaimed negative terms for themselves. They took insults and claimed them with pride. They took damaging things and changed them to positive, thus removing the damage and insult from the original term. It seems that this particular book group did something similar with 50 Shades of Gray. They took a book that could be setting horrible examples and changed it in their own reading to discuss and improve their own relationships. Part of feminism, in my experience, is reclaiming things from the patriarchy. Sex is something that patriarchy has a strong hold on, as this book demonstrated. So in changing the focus from patriarchy to women’s health and happiness, they reclaimed it in a feminist way. Does that make sense?

      I share your concern about portraying sex as this book does. I don’t read books like this because I know it would be unhealthy for me. And I also share your concern that books like this perpetuate unhealthy and dangerous mentalities. Women can be so damaged by ideas that they want to be dominated, that they should be submissive, that women only exist for men’s pleasure. It’s horrific what happens because people think this way. How is this problem solved? Clearly, people continue to think and write this stuff. Is it possible that what was done with this book in this book group was a way of undoing some of that damage because they discussed the good and bad openly, because they reclaimed sex for women by trying to improve their own sex lives? If feminists don’t engage with material like this, how will the ideas it perpetuates be done away with? How can we combat material we are unfamiliar with? These women, at least in my mind, provided a different way to read this book, in a feminist and positive way, and in doing so might have changed their own or their partner’s expectations about sex for the better.

    • Kmillecam says:

      As an abuse survivor, I am also concerned with rape statistics, child sex slavery and the like.

      I also am one of the feminists that Amelia is referring to when she says that many, many feminists have no problem with consenting BDSM sex. They are adults. They are consenting. Yes, there might be individual problems, like with a woman interested in BDSM feeling judged or coerced into being submissive because “women are naturally more submissive” or something like that. But that is a feminist issue that can follow you anywhere. It’s not necessarily a function of the BDSM lifestyle, which I see as a valid choice.

      I have also read this book, as well as the other two in the series, and I find that it is not all that problematic. My issues are mostly with the poor writing, and the fact that Anastasia is a virgin, and Christian is controlling. But they are still consenting adults.

      But then (spoiler alert) they work it out, like real people would if they were in a relationship where one person had a history of abuse and was controlling, but in therapy and working on their issues.

  14. Crys says:

    Openly discussing Sex is a great thing and should be done more among Mormon populations. However, to say that these books are “pro-women” and I find it difficult to understand why a feminist group would speak so highly of a book that displays a woman who entered into a sexual slavery contract of her own free will. This is disturbing to say the least. I agree with Jessica F. in my disappointment that this blog would talk so positively about a book that encourages a woman to ignore her human rights in order to fulfill her sexual desire.

    I understand that many women, especially Mormon women may feel sexually suppressed or oppressed, so a book that speaks so freely and openly about these sort of issues would be alluring. However, it is important to remember that this series, along with others like it, sells the power of women short. It ignores the truths about love and intimacy. Love is not selfish and does not need to dominate. Intimacy is more than just erotic sex. Perhaps you feel that in a twisted way, these things are addressed in this book. I believe you can find good in anything, but to speak so highly of a book that portrays, women’s subservience in such a positive light is horrendously wrong. I hope you will take a step back and re-think your love of this series.

    • Kmillecam says:

      You are conflating sexual slavery with a consenting contract. I read Anastasia’s character as carefully weighing her options: do I want to be with this man who wants to be a dominant? Can I be submissive? And then she goes from there.

      There is nothing wrong with the BDSM lifestyle if you choose it. I find it alarming that so many here would judge it as inherently and uniformly bad. One of the aspects I so enjoyed about the books is that they never do that. (Spoiler alert) The therapist in the book even goes out of his way to point out that BDSM sexuality is no longer recognized as a deviant behavior or lifestyle. I respect it, and those who choose it freely.

    • Annie B. says:

      Crys, I don’t agree. The original post doesn’t necessarily celebrate the book itself, but the book group experience, and the way it allowed the women to openly discuss sex, and sexual fulfillment, topics that are often seen as taboo in LDS culture.

      Their book group may very well have discussed the issues you bring up and some individuals may have come to similar conclusions about BDSM. From the descriptions of the book I’ve read here it sounds like the book at least portrays the BDSM lifestyle for what it is, a preference that is not for everyone.

      Reasons you give as to why you believe the series is demeaning to women actually makes me a little interested in reading it or learning more about the BDSM lifestyle, just because the way you describe BDSM seems to parallel the gender roles that are taught in the LDS church, (except that in the LDS church the woman is always the submissive, and as I understand it, there are some BDSM relationships where the male is the submissive).

      “…a woman who entered into a sexual slavery contract of her own free will”

      I feel like this was me when I got married. Two adults consenting to a contract of sex seems so similar to two adults consenting to a marriage covenant where the male presides, and that includes the commitment to “multiply and replenish the earth”. Except that I don’t know that everyone is brought up to believe that they’re obligated to accept such a contract in order to secure salvation, as I was taught growing up LDS.

      “encourages a woman to ignore her human rights in order to fulfill her sexual desire.”

      Could this quote describe what the LDS church teaches if we replace “sexual desire” with “divinity”?

      On a slightly different tone, I have to say that the idea of BDSM never appealed to me in the least until I felt completely secure in my relationship with my husband, and had an extremely high level of emotional and sexual trust towards him. Then it peaked my curiosity a bit. It was partly the physicality of it, of pushing against a restraint, or the thrill of knowing that I could completely trust him to make me feel good and not hurt me if for that particular encounter I put him in charge of making all the decisions concerning position, method, timing, ect… Now that I think about it though I don’t know if that qualifies as BDSM or not, but if it qualifies, then I believe BDSM is not always about a woman giving up her human rights, but about sexual play.

  15. Alisa says:

    I can see where Crys and Jessica F are coming from. I thought the recent Newsweek article about some feminist or working women’s interest in S&M fiction like 50 Shades of Grey was interesting: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/04/15/working-women-s-fantasies.html

    I can see, and I validate, why some–or many–feminists would be uncomfortable with these scenarios. I think this deserves further analysis, IMO. I’ve never read any romance novels–I find men sexy in different ways than in stalking or hitting their women. I would like to see analysis how this S&M, with the female almost always in submission, is actually feminist. I don’t get it, yet. But I am willing to hear it out.

  16. amelia says:

    I have to say that I find some of the responses to this post a little overblown. Jessawhy did not espouse some passionate love for the series. In fact, her positive opinion sounded like a pretty damn qualified one to me (she said she enjoyed it about as much as Twilight). It’s entirely possible to find a book very compelling as a read, but not to actually love it all that much (cue Twilight; that’s exactly how I experienced those books–very compelling as I read, so compelling that I actually stayed up all night reading the first two–but I didn’t love them). It’s also entirely possible to read a book with content that you find simultaneously disturbing and empowering. It happens all the time. And, setting aside how much Jessawhy expressed admiration/love for the series, the post wasn’t an endorsement of the books. It was an endorsement of open dialogue about sex and exploring the limits of sexual pleasure as a mechanism for enhancing one’s own sex life with one’s partner. That seems like a pretty good thing to endorse to me.

    As a romance reader I get very tired of critics with little to no experience of romance novels dismissing them, and the (mostly) women who read them, as being unrecoverably trash, bad, sinful, damaging/damaged, shallow, trite, unrealistic, etc. The criticisms being made here of the 50 shades books are old and tired criticisms that have been made of romance novels for many years. They sell women short. They don’t get the reality of what intimacy is. They don’t capture the essence of love. They are all about sexist domination of women by men. etc., etc., etc. As a reader of romance novels in general, I have two responses:

    1. Until you’ve read widely in the genre, you’re not really qualified to make such judgments. The only judgment you’re qualified to make is that these books don’t sound like books you’d enjoy reading. Period. The reality is that romance novels are very complex as a genre and that many of them *do* get the realities of many aspects of relationships, including love, intimacy, sexual appetite, etc. The reality is that just because they might not appeal to you because they seem to you to demean women, that does not mean they actually do demean women. Nor does it mean that any woman who enjoys them must be somehow weaker or less than or not quite feminist enough.

    2. They’re fiction. They’re fantasy. Do we castigate the writers of other kinds of fiction and fantasy for not capturing every single little detail of the nitty gritty of life? Do we offer a blanket condemnation of all movies that show romances because they always accelerate the pace of the romance to an unrealistic degree? Do we condemn paintings because no matter how pretty they are and how well they use two-point perspective, they’re still flat and therefore not accurate to reality? Of course not. Romance novels, like any other kind of artistic expression, have conventions and limitations of the form. It’s unfair to criticize romance novels because they operate within those limitations if we’re not also going to criticize every single other artistic endeavor for also not being realistic as a result of operating inside of its conventions. This is what art does. It operates within conventions, distilling and condensing certain ideas or realities into a compact space in which they can be explored and experienced by someone who may not have the opportunity or desire to experience it in real life. I personally don’t really care for Rococo art. I think it’s florid and flowery and unrealistic and little more than decorative. But that doesn’t mean that I think people who like Rococo art are less than me or aren’t serious or whatever. And it doesn’t mean that I can’t acknowledge that Rococo art is operating inside of certain conventions that held sway during that period and it’s therefore unfair of me to compare it to something like Guernica and then complain that the Rococo art isn’t gritty or striking enough.

    I think it’s fabulous that these women were willing to explore a genre and book that may not have been familiar to them in order to see what it had to offer. And then, even if they didn’t particularly love what it had to offer, to turn it into something that, from all accounts given here, was very positive and affirming. I don’t see any reason why we should be criticizing them for doing so.

      • galdralag says:

        As usual with your comments, Amelia, I really enjoyed this one. And I agree that, particularly for LDS women, being able to talk openly about sex and sexuality is a good goal.

        But now I’m curious – I have read exactly one romance novel, and it didn’t grab me at all (hence my choice to stop at one). Do you have a list of recommendations anywhere for a newbie to the genre?

      • amelia says:

        I thought I’d made some recommendations in a comment on a previous post, but I can’t find it. My recommendations depend a little bit on the kind of fiction you enjoy. Here are a few authors that I’ve found entertaining:

        Historical:

        Diana Gabaldon, Outlander (this is a fabulous read; some people wouldn’t classify it as a romance but I think it fits the bill)
        Madeleine Hunter, especially her Medieval books
        Lisa Kleypas, especially her Hathaway series or Wallflower series (but not the Christmas one, which is only so-so)
        Julia Quinn, the Bevelstoke series or the Bridgerton series
        Mary Balogh, especially her “slightly” series

        Contemporary:

        Lisa Kleypas, Sugardaddy trilogy
        Jennifer Crusie, Welcome to Temptation or Crazy for You
        Moriah Jovan, Magdalene (which is great for its Mormon content, too)

        I tend to like my romance novels decently written, but I don’t expect literary masterpieces. I want a little bit of humor, though that’s not always there. I want a decent plot beyond the romance itself. Above all, I want the read to be compelling. That happens via a combination of the relationship developing, the plot, and the writing. All of the above authors have written books that I couldn’t put down because they were so entertaining.

        That said, romance novels are not meant to be meaty, weighty books. They’re meant to be entertainment. They often do have very serious content, and some of them deal quite well with it, but at the end of the day there are genre conventions that they work within and doing so often demands that they function more like a romantic comedy than a serious drama. Like all art and entertainment, they’re not for everybody. But it does help to read something that’s well-done if you want to actually get a feel for the genre, rather than accidentally ending up with one of the truly awful romance novels out there (and there are plenty of them).

  17. Jules says:

    I agree with Crys and Jessica F. I find that this book is contrary not only everything I believe about feminism but also my core beliefs in LDS Doctrine. The Church, and Christ does not support any forms of abuse, bondage, submission of women, or ANY type of pornography found in romance novels. Let’s not justify our desire to talk openly about sex (which is good) for this junk. It only leads to dysfunctional relationships and justification for violence against women. I have read many reviews of this book, and NO I will not read it as it offends the Spirit in every way. Let us look for better, more positive ways to discuss sex than turning to this filth.

    • DefyGravity says:

      The post sounds like the did in fact “look for better, more positive ways to discuss sex than turning to this filth.” They had a positive, empowering discussion.

      Incidentally, your understanding of Mormonism is not the only understanding. Yes, the church preaches against porn, but if you’ve looked at the comments above, you’ll find that there is a distinction between porn, erotica and romance novels. Clearly, these women didn’t have a problem with it, so please remember that the comment policy bans judgements of others righteousness or worthiness.

      No one is suggesting you read this if you don’t want to. I probably won’t because Twilight annoyed me (the writing was awful) and this sounds as badly written. The post is simply saying that this particular book group had a good experience discussing sex openly. Since no one is suggesting anyone read it, maybe following suit and not condemning those who have read it or want to would be a good idea?

      • Martha says:

        These women did t have a problem with it? Of course they didn’t! It’s titilating and enjoyable! Just like men don’t have a problem watching porn, they love it. Doesn’t kea it’s the right thng to do.
        You women are saying it’s not porn because it’s “not real and made up”. Well it’s real in your mind when you’re reading it. Women actually get turned on more with reading rather than visual stimuli. So to women it is porn. Stop justifying your actions and condemning porn.
        I believe sex needs to be talked about more in the church, but without the use of pornography.
        Sure it may not harm some people, just like a little bit of alcohol or drugs, but the commandment is there to cover everyone.

    • Kmillecam says:

      I read the books and didn’t find them filthy at all. I also join Amelia in feeling tired of people dismissing erotica and even romance novels as filth or junk or whatever. All you are qualified to say is that you don’t want to read them, not to make a critique on the content when you haven’t read it!

      • Diane says:

        KM
        I’m fully aware that this is a piece of Literature. As a former English major and a lover of books I’m not going to say that any one book is either necessarily bad or good. And I don’t believe, (At Least I’m not) dismissing erotica and romance novels as junk. I believe I do make a valid point when certain authors, depict women in such a way that it seems as if it is all right for them (the women to say that they enjoy being raped as part of sexual pleasure. Is it okay for women to want to explore their sexuality in books. Absolutely.

        You ask whether or not we castigate people for reading sci, I think you know the answer is no, but, the reason to proceed with caution is that even though this is a piece of literature, you could potentially have people act on one of these fantasies. And even if it is consensual I find that disturbing.

      • Kmillecam says:

        I think it’s valid for you to find BDSM disturbing for yourself, but I don’t really get that you find other consenting people disturbing. I chalk that up to prejudice, same as the first times I thought of gay sex as being valid and non-disturbing, and I found the idea uncomfortable and strange.

    • Annie B. says:

      Your statement that you agree with Crys, and that 50 Shades, a book that tells a story about a BDSM relationship, is contrary to LDS church doctrine (granted you say “your core beliefs in LDS doctrine”, not simply LDS doctrine) strikes me as so weird, because Crys’s description of BDSM actually appeared to me to parallel LDS doctrine.

      “…a woman who entered into a sexual slavery contract of her own free will”

      I feel like this was me when I got married. Two adults consenting to a contract of sex seems so similar to two adults consenting to a marriage covenant where the male presides, and that includes the commitment to “multiply and replenish the earth”. Except that I don’t know that everyone is brought up to believe that they’re obligated to accept such a contract in order to secure salvation, as I was taught growing up LDS.

      “encourages a woman to ignore her human rights in order to fulfill her sexual desire.”

      Could this quote describe what the LDS church teaches if we replace “sexual desire” with “divinity”?

  18. Jessawhy says:

    Just to be clear, I don’t love this series. It was engaging, not good literature.

    I can see where you’re all coming from on this and perhaps I need to sort it out more in my mind, but I wasn’t offended by the book and neither were most of my friends (feminists among them).

    That said, it’s obviously not for everybody and I totally respect that.

  19. The Wizzle says:

    Well, if any given person doesn’t want to read a book because they think, based on reviews, or chatter, or secondhand information, or if you choose to avoid any subject matter or activity for any reason, or no reason, that is your prerogative.

    But to then apply that to Everyone Else In The World, and try to make specific value judgments on the very subtle tone and message of a book THAT YOU HAVEN’T READ, well, that’s not really productive, is it?

    I read the book, I was at the book club, and I don’t new anyone to tell me how I should feel about a simple piece of “literature”. :). I am an adult woman, I run a household, and I resent being scolded and fussed over by other women almost as much as I do by church leaders!

  20. April says:

    Wow! This conversation has become heated! I appreciate that the Exponent exposes me to ideas I would not have considered before. After reading the post and the comments, I would not choose to read this series, but it is interesting to see why some people find it empowering and others offensive. This is food for thought.

    While I understand the points that some comments are making about how it is not fair to judge a genre that you have not read or a lifestyle that you have not tried, I do not agree. There are many, many media, lifestyles, and activities that I have chosen not to participate in because I have formed a negative opinion about them without actively engaging in them. In many cases, it is not necessary to actively participate in an activity to form an educated opinion, since there are so many other ways to learn about things. For example, without ever trying any of these activities or lifestyles, I already have determined through other means that I am against smoking, gambling, binging/purging as weight control, polygamy and corporal punishment, to name a few. I don’t see why a person should be required to try erotica, romance novels, or certain kinds of sexual relationships before they can develop an opinion about these things. I am interested in the opinions of both those who have tried these activities and those who have chosen to abstain. Both kinds of opinions are valid.

    • amelia says:

      Let me clarify that participating in something is not necessary to have an opinion about it or to make a determination about whether you want to participate. It is, however, necessary if you want to present your opinion as the definitive guideline everyone should follow, which is what has happened in so many comments on this thread.

      There’s also quite a difference between accepting the general consensus built on the publicly available insights of experts (e.g., smoking could lead to a premature death) and advancing as an authoritative opinion an idea that is not at all generally agreed upon by authorities who have actually done the research and is not universally born out by the experiences of people who actually engage in that activity (romance novels/erotica/BDSM necessarily lead to destructive consequences).

      Furthermore, no matter how much you (this “you” is editorial, not meaning you = April) are confident in your opinion and life choices, that confidence does not authorize you to dictate to and condemn others for their different choices. So long as the choices do not deny another person’s rights as a full-fledged individual, it’s not appropriate to pass judgment and condemn people for making those choices. No matter how strongly you think you’re right in the choices you have made. I have chosen not to smoke and have never smoked. But I do not get to condemn others for making a different choice. Even if they are someone I respect and admire and love. There is a very real and very important distinction between having an opinion, having an informed opinion, and demanding conformity to your opinion because you’re sure it’s correct.

  21. Diane says:

    I chalk that up to prejudice, same as the first times I thought of gay sex as being valid and non-disturbing, and I found the idea uncomfortable and strange.

    No, not prejudice at all, maybe I just don’t believe this to be healthy normal expression of love between two people. I’m quite sure that I don’t even need to ask a Psychologist that if you need to hurt someone in order to fulfill a sexual need or gratification that it’s probably not healthy. (even if between consenting adults.)

    It may or may not have something to do with the fact that I see this kind of behavior associated with sex slave operations. And it has nothing at all to do with my views about Gay Sex. Gay sex has nothing to do with degradation of either partner.

    The purpose of Bondage is to specifically make someone superior to the other. And that is what bothers me.

    • Amelia says:

      Diane, as someone already mentioned, BDSM is not considered an indicator of psychological disorder by psychologists and psychiatrists. No amount of opinion from lay people will change that.

      Individuals are entitled to their opinion and can act on it however they see fit as it pertains to their own personal lives. But they are not entitled to dictate others’ behavior based on their opinion, nor are they entitled to dismiss as “disordered” or “destructive” or “bad” others’ behavior based on their opinion of that behavior. As long as we’re talking about consenting adults, it’s just really no one else’s business to pass judgment on their behavior.

      Kmillecam makes a valid and important point: the inability to recognize that one’s own personal preferences and tastes about sexual behavior are not universal is at the heart of perceiving other people’s sexual behaviors and identities as disordered, sinful, wrong, etc. The reason so many people view homosexuality as wrong is because they cannot see beyond their own personal distaste for or inability to understand being attracted to someone of the same sex and therefore conclude being attracted to someone of the same sex must be wrong. That’s exactly the line of thinking on display in your comment and many others on this thread. The simple fact that you do not understand BDSM, that you find it demeaning, that you think it’s wrong does not make it universally so. It only makes it wrong for you. As long as someone else’s choices are not depriving another individual of autonomy and the right to make their own choices, as long as the choices are made consensually, then your discomfort with the behavior does not constitute its “wrongness” for anyone but you. Nor does it constitute its status as “anti-feminist.”

    • Kmillecam says:

      Indeed, Amelia has explained in more detail what I was getting at with my comment.

      To be completely honest, your dismissal of BDSM as a valid choice (and not as a manifestation of something “unhealthy”) is very triggering to me.

      At the risk of opening myself up to more ridicule, I will say this: As a sexual abuse survivor, I am aware of a good amount of people who have survived abuse and found healing in BDSM, because it is about trust, consent, and facing fear, pain, pleasure, and other human experiences consciously, directly, and with purpose. This can be incredibly helpful.

      Even a quick Google search can reveal this article on BDSM and Healing For Survivors of Sexual Assault. Just because we don’t understand how something works, doesn’t mean it doesn’t, you know, work. Maybe it won’t work for you. But I choose to validate the stories of friends and fellow survivors.

      But back to your comment, Diane. By using words like “degradation” and “superiority”, or saying that “you don’t believe this to be healthy normal expression of love between two people”, you reveal that you really don’t understand BDSM relationships or choices. These are the same arguments which I have heard my more, ahem, close-minded family members use to describe gay sex specifically. Because they fear it, or don’t understand it, or don’t want to participate in it, or whatever.

      And again, no, BDSM is not considered deviant, and there is nothing inherently wrong with preferring BDSM sexual activity. This is what the DSM IV says about it: With the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994 new criteria of diagnosis were available describing BDSM clearly not as disorders of sexual preferences. They are no longer regarded as illnesses in and of themselves. The DSM-IV asserts that “The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors” must “cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” in order for sexual sadism or masochism to be considered a disorder.

      • Diane says:

        As someone who has shared many personal things about myself ( than I probably should have)( And have also been ridicule and btw told to shut up) I would never ridicule someone else for their beliefs or their experience And I don’t believe that I have done so here either. I may not agree, nor understand something, but, that doesn’t mean I’m being closed minded nor willing to discuss.

        so, at which point than who gets to decide when enough is enough and than what happens when one person decides they don’t want to do this anymore. at what point would this be considered abuse. That’s what I have the problem with. Obviously, the answer should be when one person says to stop, but, when one is role playing, how does the person on the other side know that they are saying stop for real or is really just playing the part

      • Amelia says:

        Diane, those are issues I would imagine people who engage in BDSM as a healthy component of their sex lives know how to deal with via a safe word or signal that indicates it’s time to stop. Your argument is essentially a slippery slope fallacy–that once you take a step in the direction of behaviors that, in some circumstances, could be deemed abusive, you won’t be able to prevent them from eventually being abusive. That’s simply not true. I suppose there’s a risk that one partner or the other might take things too far and do real harm to their partner, violating their partner’s autonomy. That said, such a risk is part of any sexual relationship. People with completely vanilla sex lives can become obsessed stalkers or abusers, too. Making ourselves vulnerable means taking the chance that the other person might hurt us–emotionally, physically, psychologically. That risk is one of the prices we pay for intimacy with another human being. The very same questions you pose here about how a BDSM relationship plays out can be asked of any intimate human relationship.

  22. The Wizzle says:

    Hear hear, Amelia.

    No one has to read it. Anyone can have an opinion. But I’m sure you’ll excuse me if I don’t give quite as much weight to people who want me to adopt their opinion, which is formed in hearsay and not reality.

    I read these books with the same spirit in which I try to read all books: “that’s interesting. What do I think about that? Do I feel this author has an agenda? Did any of this seem useful or applicable or “true” according to my experience? Can I learn something from this?”

    It’s not a script, with stage directions. If that’s how a person reads literature, or anything, then they will get themselves into a lot of trouble no matter why the subject matter. Critical thinking is your friend!

  23. Kmillecam says:

    There are some who, amidst their cries of “censorship!”, have neglected to read the comment policy. If your comment is stuck in moderation, it is most likely due to a violation of this part:

    4. Try to stick with your personal experiences, ideas, and interpretations. This is not the place to question another’s personal righteousness, to call people to repentence, or to disprespectfully refute people’s personal religious beliefs.

  24. Jessawhy says:

    I’m actually craving someone who has read the series to give me their anti-feminist critique, specific to the book’s characters, plot, etc.

    If this is you, please post a comment or send it as a guest post. I’m sure you’d get a lot of comments 😉

  25. Nate C. says:

    I have not read the books (however, I did provide copies to the book group). BDSM is about as appealing to me as prison rape, so I never had much desire. I do understand that the books start off with a sexually submissive woman who eventually comes to embrace and dominate both her sexual self, and her partner.

    However, I do have a question. In the ongoing debate I have about porn with many feminist (including some of you who have posted her in support of 50-shades). One of the arguments against porn that I grew to accept even though I first rejected the argument is as follows:

    Porn sets a cultural standard for young men (and women) to objectify and sexualize women. Young people from conservative backgrounds are particularly sensitive to this cultural standard-setting because they get few other inputs about sexual norms. Therefore, porn should be highly regulated to ensure equality and non-objectification, and if those standards cannot be met, porn should be outlawed as gender hate-speech.

    Yet, one of your pro-argument for 50 shades is that women who don’t know much about sex because of the Mormon taboo standard concerning sex, are getting educated and enlightened about sex through their reading of 50-shades.

    Why does the same argument not apply to mainstream porn? These are also consenting adults who entered into legal contracts with the willing intent to engage in sexual activity. Adult women who are choosing to be objectified and sexualized for the pleasure, education, and enjoyment of other men and women.

    This is not me playing devils advocate just to be my normal jerk-self. I am really confused on why the pro-50 Shades argument is not a hypocrisy for feminist when compared to the anti-porn argument.

    • Annie B. says:

      I’m still not sure if ‘porn’ in general is a specific enough comparison to a particular sexually explicit romance novel (in this case, the 50 shades series). But assuming they are comparable, I haven’t taken note of whether anyone here who is pro-50 shades is also anti-porn or not, so I’m not sure if there is a hypocrisy there, but my own opinion is that it’s personal, not just for the individual, but for each couple and their relationship dynamics, and that not all media portraying sex is created equal. Some are much more exploitative and demeaning than others, and sometimes the exploitative or demeaning nature of a particular media production is perceived to be much different by different individuals, as comments here illustrate.

      I thought the movie The Notebook was pornographic, but I was okay with, and even enjoyed, watching it with my husband. I didn’t feel it was exploitive or demeaning to either men or women, and neither did my husband. There was a time in my marriage though that I viewed even partial nudity in media as demeaning, and would have been embarrassed and horrified to watch a movie like that with my husband. At that time, just seeing Catherine Zeta-Jones’ naked hip in the movie Entrapment made me afraid to the point of a panic attack that my husband would think she was hotter than me and stray from our marriage. Since my husband knew that about me going into our relationship, that something like that would hurt me, he would have been demeaning me if he knowingly sought it out. Even if he intended to use it to educate and enlighten himself to improve our sexual relationship, it could not have succeeded because at the time I was offended by that particular media. Likewise I think it’s demeaning to the husband for a wife to do something that would knowingly harm the marital trust she has with her husband. The OP mentioned that some of the book group participant’s husbands felt threatened by their wive’s reading 50 Shades. We don’t know to what degree, hopefully it wasn’t severe, and maybe those women decided that another similarly themed book reading would not enhance their particular relationships, but the fact that the OP included that tidbit of information is a sign that she was trying to portray the experience accurately, that it could be a more positive experience for some than it could be for others, and I draw my own conclusion that it would ultimately not be positive for me if it made my husband feel threatened.

  26. Kant66 says:

    I think this is the one area where the sexual double standard goes the other way. Okay brethren, at our next LDS book club come prepared to discuss Deep Throat.

    • Nate C. says:

      The original or the deluxe remastered version?

    • Kmillecam says:

      How exactly is that a double standard if you are compared a FILM to a BOOK? You seem to be missing the point.

      • Nate C. says:

        So if one of the more reputable porn studios in San Fernando Valley made a film based on 50-shades after buying film rights from the author and all that, it would still be “porn”. That would be ok?

      • Annie B. says:

        Nate C. I think the person you should be asking is your wife, not us.

  27. Diane says:

    @ Nate

    FYI the author has already signed rights to the major movies studios to produce the movie version of the book. Ryan Goseling and Scarlet Johanson have been talked about as possible actors along with other prominent actors/ actress, but, nothing is concrete.

    • Nate C. says:

      I figured. And I will be surprised if it ever happens. I have only read a few of the passages of 50-shades, and if they are true to the story, there is no way it will get less than NC-17. Major studios don’t make NC-17 movies. Even the super-sexed Johanson would have a hard time with the 50-shades passages I read (not that she shouldn’t try).

      My guess is that a major studio bought the rights with no intention of ever making the film. Same as was done with Snow Crash, and a half dozen other ground-breaking books that would threaten the carefully structured social standards that Hollywood manipulates to maintain their oligopoly. But that is a different argument.

      Which is why I assumed that only the porn industry could do the book justice in film. The question remains. Assuming a film version of 50-shades could only be produced as porn, and the film version held to the story, would the film get the same nod of approval from Mormon Feminists?

  28. bdsmiamaid says:

    Frankly I don’t see how any mormon woman could fail to have an affinity for BDSM. All those object lessons, before I even started menstruating or had experienced lust, where I was asked to see myself as a licked cupcake or a rose with all its petals torn off? I was trained to see myself as an object who didn’t experience desire or fulfillment in sex, only varying degrees of defilement.

    Given that that very direct message was one of the first explicit messages I received from any adult on the topic of sex, it’s not surprising that it made a pretty strong impression. As much as I disliked it, I got it: when it came to sex, I was a passive thing, not an active agent.

    (It wasn’t until much later that I wondered why we’d worry what would appeal to the kind of person who would pluck all the petals off a rose. Who CARES what someone like that finds appealing? Young Mormon women, that’s who. How submissive and masochistic is that?)

    Some Catholic comedienne once characterized the messages she received about sex at church as, “Sex is filthy and degrading; save it for someone you love.” I think it applies to Mormons as well. This great gift from God, the glue that will hold your marriage together and allow you to experience the most profound intimacy available, is actually totally gross and something that makes you fundamentally unclean–all the more so if you really enjoy it.

    But if you don’t enjoy it, you still have to do it, because what really matters is not YOUR pleasure as a woman, but your husband’s pleasure, and your willingness to be a source of pleasure for him. Pretty submissive and masochistic, aye?

    Then add in the ways that women are told, explicitly and implicitly, that it is their duty as women to submit to priesthood and patriarchal authority, even in their own homes. Why on earth would the bedroom be excluded?

    The basic erotic dynamic of an “ideal” Mormon marriage is completely BD and at least a tad SM, and I frankly am skeptical of any LDS woman who admits to having fantasies but insists that her fantasies have always been and always are completely vanilla. You might WANT them to be completely vanilla, but I really doubt that any young girl who heard the messages about sex that are dished out in YM could avoid having a libido shaped by the strong overall dynamic of domination, submission, and masochism present in LDS attitudes about gender, sex, and marital relationships.

    • LovelyLauren says:

      I’m sorry but the whole “Bad object-based LDS lessons about sex = Mormon women are secretly into submissive sex” is a HUGE leap of logic. How about all of those other (vast majority) of women who ARE into BDSM who aren’t raised Mormon.

      Furthermore, all fantasies aside, women are typically the gatekeepers of sex in their marriage, especially if they’re the lower-libido partner. That would make them entirely in control of when and how sex is happening.

      I’ll also add that while most of us have enormous problems with the patriarchal nature of the church, most modern leaders have gone out of their way to emphasize the benign nature of the patriarchy, especially in the family. I even remember reading that marital intimacy should be “sweet and sacred” and not pornographic. That’s pretty darn far from BDSM.

      • bdsmiamaid says:

        warning: possible rape trigger.

        How about all of those other (vast majority) of women who ARE into BDSM who aren’t raised Mormon.

        Well, it’s not like the basic ideas of Mormon sexuality are absent from the culture at large. Mormons are just more explicit than many people these days in insisting what the dynamic should be, and unapologetic about being 50 years or more behind the rest of the world in sexual equality. And as I noted, Catholics manage to convey a pretty virulently gross view of sex to their youth.

        Furthermore, all fantasies aside, women are typically the gatekeepers of sex in their marriage, especially if they’re the lower-libido partner. That would make them entirely in control of when and how sex is happening.

        Exactly! You could scarcely have supported my point better if you’d tried. Framing sex as a situation where women are entirely in control of when and how sex is happening and are therefore a dominant force who is expected to decide when and where to “give it up”–yes, that’s exactly the sort of deep-seated, automatic BD attitude I’m talking about and that most women are unwilling to examine or to acknowledge as BD. Thank you! That’s an attitude that springs from an affinity for BD instead of something more egalitarian. In the approach you describe, LovelyLauren, at some fundamental level, sex is not about compromise or mutual understanding and sharing to meet both partners’ needs. To quote you, it’s that she’s entirely in control of when and how sex is happening.

        Except for when she decides to relinquish her entire control to her male sex partner–or he decides to take it from her, which, of course, is why the attitude you express helps to produce and perpetuate rape culture–underlies rape culture, in fact. If a man wants to get a reluctant woman to give it up and relinquish her total control over when and how sex happens, sometimes he has to resort to coercion or violence, and maybe tie her up or otherwise restrain or gag her so she won’t struggle or scream too much while he does what he wants when HE is entirely in control.

        And the whole situation makes women naughty, in titillating and dangerous ways: a woman is naughty if she wants sex (because then she’s not really fulfilling her role as gatekeeper), and she’s naughty if she’s so assiduous in her role as gate keeper that she happily or insensitively denies a man what is really his due. Either way, there’s a great excuse for shaming and punishing her! It’s totally about domination and submission!

        In a very matter-of-fact way, LovelyLauren, you articulate a couple of basic thoughts involved in BD erotic dynamics: women are gatekeepers of sex and must therefore be persuaded to submit to sex, and the power to say YES or NO, to deny or provide at any given moment something someone else wants basically all the time, is a very great power indeed.

        In fact, the greatest power available to the passive or submissive person in a relationship is contained in their ability to say NO.

        That’s why women are pursued rather than pursuers: because traditionally their power in courtship, marriage and sex exists primarily in their ability to say no. And the contract of who acts and who is acted upon works OKish for the passive party as long as that NO is respected.

        But here’s a problem: a class of people who feel entitled to be active in every single way is often affronted by a NO, and finds all sorts of ways around it. Rape is the most extreme way–as I said, the attitude you express underlies rape culture–but there are other ways, and since women are the gatekeepers and men can’t help wanting to get past that gate, women are held responsible for sex in ways that men are not. When something goes wrong with consent, in the traditional view you express so easily, it’s almost always the woman’s fault: she wasn’t a perfect gatekeeper.

        I’m with Amelia here on the romance novel thing. Read Clarissa. Read all about all the ways Lovelace attempted to seduce Clarissa. Part of the thrill of the whole “domination” thing is getting someone to say YES when some part of them really wants to say NO. Watch the 2008 BBC version of Sense & Sensibility (where Edward Ferrars is played by Dan Stevens, who’s also Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey), where it’s made far more clear what was going on in Willoughby’s seduction of Eliza and where Marianne’s potentially disastrous failings as a sexual gatekeeper are made more explicit. Read Mansfield Park and look at the way Maria, who cannot propose to Henry Crawford, is made desperate when it becomes clear that he was just toying with her. Look at how Fanny is condemned and punished for daring to say NO to Henry Crawford when he proposes, just because she doesn’t love him and suspects he’s not actually a decent guy.

        As Fanny so clearly demonstrates, people who have no power but the power to say NO often find it hard to enforce that NO. If you’re financially dependent on someone who doesn’t respect your refusals and makes life hard for you when you do refuse, whether they’re your parent, your employer, or your spouse, well, you learn to say YES more often than you’d really like to. There’s a reason that a classic sex game is called “Master and Servant.”

        If your primary role is gatekeeper, then YES or NO at the wrong time can be unbelievably expensive. The cost of a YES at the wrong time can be so expensive that you’d be better losing your life than your virtue, as more than one prophet told LDS youth. And even if it’s not a matter of life or death, you still can’t be too free and easy with your yeses.

        If your worth derives even in part from your role as gatekeeper, you can’t be a lax gatekeeper, or you become unworthy of respect (like Maria Bertram). That’s why guys supposedly lose respect for their girlfriends if the guys manage to seduce those girls before marriage: because they respect the role of sexual gatekeeper, not the role of sexual woman, and lord knows, you can’t be both.

        Which is one main reason that if we aren’t all that thrilled by the implications of LDS women having an affinity for BDSM, we must do something to change the fact that “women are typically the gatekeepers of sex in their marriage,” because that attitude is in itself in affinity with BDSM and is crucial to the support of all sorts of other unsavory assumptions and attitudes and so forth about how power should be and, more importantly, actually IS negotiated in real sex between real people–including married Mormons.

        most modern leaders have gone out of their way to emphasize the benign nature of the patriarchy, especially in the family. I even remember reading that marital intimacy should be “sweet and sacred” and not pornographic.

        Oh, well, if the leaders have gone out of their way to paint human relationships in a particular way, then that must be what they look like in real life. No doubt that’s why porn use is so low among Latter-day Saints: because most modern leaders say we should avoid it, and we all fall in line with what they decree.

        That’s pretty darn far from BDSM.

        There are people who characterize their BDSM sex as “sweet and sacred.” In fact, some people say that their sex is sweet and sacred because it’s BDSM. Check out the lyrics to “Only When I Lose Myself” by Depeche Mode, a languorously beautiful song about the spiritual nature of BDSM sex.

        Huh. “Sweet and sacred” and not pornographic. What does that even mean, anyway? I wonder if that’s kind of the euphemism the leaders used to tell members in the… 80s, was it, that good Latter-day Saints would not engage in oral sex?

        And, given that pretty much any depiction involving naked people having actual intercourse and achieving orgasm is essentially “pornographic” in some way in Mormon culture, how could even the most unexceptional straight vanilla missionary-position sex be anything but pornographic on some fundamental level?

    • Annie B. says:

      I found similarities between LDS doctrine and the above commenter Crys’s statements about why he finds BDSM to be demeaning to women. My comparisons are drawn from temple ceremonies and the patriarchal tradition in general though. I had never even considered the similarities before, and they just jumped out at me as I read Crys’s comments. It does explain why early in my marriage and especially as I learned about the mormon history of polygamy and the justification behind it why I felt like a sexual slave at times. It didn’t help me that I was never taught by my parents that it was acceptable to say no to my husband sexually, but I understand many LDS parents do teach their children that. Crys’s comments about why he found the BDSM in 50 shades to be demeaning is in quotes.

      “…a woman who entered into a sexual slavery contract of her own free will”

      I feel like this was me when I got married. Two adults consenting to a contract of sex seems so similar to two adults consenting to a marriage covenant where the male presides and is designated to hold the priesthood (or in other words, godly authority and sanction) and where the covenant includes the commitment to “multiply and replenish the earth”. There is a notable difference between the LDS marriage covenant and BDSM though, and that is that the BDSM lifestyle doesn’t include teaching your children that they’re obligated to enter into such a contract/covenant in order to secure their salvation, as I was taught growing up LDS. And for the record, I actually was still under the impression when I got married that I owed sex to my husband, and the temple covenants only reinforced that.

      “encourages a woman to ignore her human rights in order to fulfill her sexual desire.”

      Could this quote describe what the LDS marriage covenant portrays if we replace “sexual desire” with “divinity”?

      I am glad that in recent years the LDS church materials and even conference talks have started to word marriage responsibilities a little differently…they often now include language that includes the words “equal partners” after they designate that men preside, like in the proclamation to the family (even though preside, and equal partners mean opposite things). I hope eventually they will do away with preside entirely and just say “equal”. Maybe someday they’ll even update the temple ceremonies to reflect what they now emphasize.

      • Nate C. says:

        These last few posts have really been incredible. Things I have never even contemplated, but feel so pertinent to our marriage and religious culture.

        It is too bad that these are so far down on the comments of a thread a few weeks old. They won’t get many looks.

        I think you three should get together and develop those three comments into an article for exponent. If you modeled it as a back-and-forth between traditional Mormon woman sex thought and the actual behind-the-scenes of what is going on, I think it would be a hit.

        For me, as a man, who thought he just liked sex, but turns out what I really like is finding positive and healthy ways to get the gatekeeper to “open the gate” my mind has been blown. I want to see this conversation evolve into something more.

      • bdsmiamaid says:

        For me, as a man, who thought he just liked sex, but turns out what I really like is finding positive and healthy ways to get the gatekeeper to “open the gate” my mind has been blown.

        Can I ask you to clarify that point, Nate? Are you saying that you enjoy the process of seduction, the psychology of arousal, the erotics of power, as well as if not as much as the physical act of intercourse itself?

        Because that’s part of what is going on in BDSM. It’s not just about the actual sensation; it’s about the erotic nature of having and sharing and exercising and relinquishing power; it’s about the way sex involves power and the ways in which negotiating that power has the power to arouse.

      • Nate C. says:

        At times I enjoy the chase more than the catch, but that is also the source of a great deal of friction in our relationship (EmilyCC is going to kill me).

        When we are not doing well together either from personal conflict, kid conflict, or just over-stressed lives, it is often manifested in a gatekeeper conflict where we both feel like the other person is trying to usurp all of the sexual power in our relationship.

        We never figure out how to resolve that issue except to just talk it out, do something else together, or take little break to get some inner balance.

        Part of what is so enlightening to me is that how plain this all seems when you all talk about it but how hard it is to see when we are in the emotion of the moment.

        Its all very interesting.

      • bdsmiamaid says:

        Part of what is so enlightening to me is that how plain this all seems when you all talk about it but how hard it is to see when we are in the emotion of the moment.

        Well, I think about this stuff. And as Wordsworth said, “Insight about sex is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility.”

        Or maybe he was talking about poetry. Though enough poetry is about sex that the formula should work both ways.

  29. LovelyLauren says:

    bdsmiamaid, my biggest problem with your comment was that you framed a BDSM relationship as a negative entity entirely the result of faulty teachings about sex, whether within culture at large or LDS culture. As an un-oppressed woman who engages in occasional bondage, I find that incredibly insulting and I’m pretty sure those who also enjoy similar sexual practices would agree with me.

    When I talked about women being the gatekeepers of sex, I was responding your insistence that women are taught to submit. If women are actively in charge of when and how they have sex, even if you want to call it “dominance” it’s not ingrained submission, which is what you were suggesting.

    Honestly, I think that ALL sex involves dominance and submission, regardless of culture. It’s all about making decisions and deciding who gets to make them when. Even the most vanilla of sex has these elements, even if people are weirded out by calling it dominance and submission.

    • bdsmiamaid says:

      my biggest problem with your comment was that you framed a BDSM relationship as a negative entity entirely the result of faulty teachings about sex, whether within culture at large or LDS culture.

      I’m willing to entertain some ambivalence about BDSM. Yeah, it’s a turn-on. But I do strongly suspect that some of the pleasure we find in it stems from faulty teachings about sex.

      As an un-oppressed woman who

      doesn’t matter what follows that opening. There’s no such thing. it’s like saying, “As a mammal who doesn’t require oxygen…”

      Patriarchy oppresses everyone. We don’t know what an un-oppressed human being would look like, sound like, walk like, have sex like.

      If women are actively in charge of when and how they have sex, even if you want to call it “dominance” it’s not ingrained submission, which is what you were suggesting.

      Well, that’s a big “if.” All sorts of things might happen IF women are “actively” in charge of when and how they have sex. But a gatekeeper isn’t “actively” in charge. She’s passively in charge. She stays put, by the gate, and waits for someone to approach it. She then decides whether to allow admission, or not. She decides whether or not to submit. And her decisions are very likely influenced by all sorts of attitudes that have been ingrained in her about when and why and how she should submit.

      Honestly, I think that ALL sex involves dominance and submission, regardless of culture.

      Well, duh.

      • LovelyLauren says:

        If you’re willing to admit that all sex involves some dominance and bondage, then what is the point of this discussion. You’re basically saying:

        “Yeah, all sex has bondage, but LDS teachings and culture make it worse and it probably stems from culture anyway.”

        Oh wait, you just “strongly suspect it.”

        Culture doesn’t exist in a vaccuum. You have no frame of reference for claiming that any BDSM behavior stems at least in part from patriarchy because, like you said, patriarchy affects everything and everyone is affected by it. It’s like me saying that life sucks because of society. Well, life doesn’t exist outside of society. If patriarchy is really so pervasive, there’s no way of claiming it causes BDSM because there’s no comparison or way of knowing if it’s any different elsewhere.

        And if I get to decide when and how I have sex, by “acting as a gatekeeper,” how is that “deciding to submit?” I was using the word “gatekeeper” to imply that women decide when and how they want to have sex, but you seem to be using my analogy to express something entirely different, wherein women only “get to submit.” I just can’t see how you can call it submission in any sense if a woman is calling all the shots on when and how sex gets to happen.

      • bdsmiamaid says:

        If you’re willing to admit that all sex involves some dominance and bondage, then what is the point of this discussion.

        Precisely where do I admit that all sex involves bondage?

        You wrote in your penultimate comment,

        Honestly, I think that ALL sex involves dominance and submission, regardless of culture.

        I wrote, “Well, duh.”

        But submission and bondage are not, of course, the same thing. Saying that “all sex involves dominance and submission” is by no means the same thing as saying “all sex involves dominance and bondage.” In fact, I’m quite certain that there are people in the world who have had plenty of sex but have never had sex with any bondage whatsoever involved.

        So one point of this discussion is to clarify misconceptions like that.

        You have no frame of reference for claiming that any BDSM behavior stems at least in part from patriarchy because, like you said, patriarchy affects everything and everyone is affected by it.

        Actually, I have an excellent fame of reference for that claim, and it involves paying attention to what patriarchy prizes, promotes, and perpetuates. BDSM behavior, particularly BDSM behavior in which men are dominant and women submissive, is highly prized and promoted within patriarchy. It is actively encouraged. It is used aggressively both to buttress the claims of patriarchy (“BDSM might take things a bit further, but these are our natural gender roles”) and to sell everything from clothes to jewelry to music to literature to alcohol to religion (that whole “childbirth is really gonna hurt, but you won’t be able to turn down sex, because your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” thing). The fact that it is so highly prized, so aggressively promoted, so deliberately perpetuated, is pretty strong evidence that “BDSM behavior stems at least in part from patriarchy,” and that it is further a deeply imbedded part of the pathology of patriarchy, and as tainted by regressive ideas about gender as anything else in patriarchy, if not more so.

        If patriarchy is really so pervasive, there’s no way of claiming it causes BDSM because there’s no comparison or way of knowing if it’s any different elsewhere.

        The fact that we can’t yet figure out what life would look like without patriarchy doesn’t obviate the need to figure out all we can about what life looks like with it. However, there are many of us working on this project, so if you find yourself unequal to the task, don’t feel obliged to pursue it yourself.

        As for me, I want to understand both the world and my life. The more I think about things, the more willing I am to admit that some if not most of my sexual proclivities are influenced and shaped by the culture’s overall pathology and misogyny. Plenty of people have made similar admissions and lived to tell the tale. I don’t see why the prospect should be so particularly threatening and insulting to you. Do you only like the parts of yourself that you imagine are free from the taint of patriarchy? Do you only own the parts of yourself that you find it easy to be proud of?

        I just can’t see how you can call it submission in any sense if a woman is calling all the shots on when and how sex gets to happen.

        If a woman is “calling all the shots on when and how sex gets to happen,” then what she’s doing is not submission–in fact, she’s probably the sexual aggressor fairly often. But that’s not being a gatekeeper. A gatekeeper is someone who stands around by a gate waiting for someone to approach it and say, “Hey, gatekeeper! Let me in!”

        A gatekeeper does not call all the shots on when and how traffic happens, because others decide whether or not to approach the gate in the first place. A gatekeeper is, by the terms required by that role, reactive rather than active. A gatekeeper doesn’t go out and say, “Hey! check out my gate here! Why don’t you come over to it and see if I’ll let you in!” A gatekeeper might get to make decisions about who to let through gate, and when, and how, but there’s still a significant lack of initiative, of opportunity. It’s a static role, not a dynamic one.

        It’s true that patriarchy tells us what women are static, not dynamic. But I don’t think it’s anything to aspire to. And it sure as hell doesn’t really qualify as “calling all the shots.”

        I can accept that you chose a less than adequate term for what you really want to describe, but what you describe still strikes me as both highly unlikely and highly unhealthy. Someone calling all the shots about sex is as big a threat to people’s full humanity as one person in a relationship calling all the shots about finances or where the family will live or how many kids to have or the education and training of children or whose family to visit at Christmas or where to live or how to furnish the house they all share or what to do on weekends or anything else, and I can’t imagine why anyone would put up with it. I seriously doubt that many people in the first world, male or female, do.

        Few people even treat their kids that way–good parents make a point of giving kids at least some agency in the decisions that affect them. Why would a decent adult do it to a spouse? Particularly since it doesn’t even lead to especially good sex. Studies have shown that among straight couples, feminist women partnered with feminist men have the best sex lives. Since feminists tend to value equity, I doubt many of them are “calling all the shots on when and how sex gets to happen.”

        I don’t even think what you describe is very common in BDSM relationships. I know quite a few people who engage in dialogue and compromise about when and how BDSM sex will happen–if anything, they might talk more. I mean, there’s a reason people have safe words. And it’s because seriously bad, bad things can happen when one person is unilaterally “calling all the shots on when and how sex gets to happen.”

  30. bdsmiamaid says:

    I need to retract something I said earlier, now that I’ve had time to think about it.

    I’m no longer willing to say that I think “all sex involves dominance and submission.”

    I don’t remember the first time I heard that basic statement. It was true of all the sex I had in my 20s and early 30s, so I figured it was just true. I was used to accepting it as true, so when I saw it again from LovelyLauren, I agreed with it, automatically.

    And then I spent two days trying to my make my experience conform to that statement I believed to be true. And I couldn’t.

    In the past six or so years I have had sex that I cannot say involves dominance or submission. It just doesn’t. I sort of assumed it did, because I hadn’t stopped to analyze it. But now that I have, the truth is, it did not involve BDSM at all.

    It involved surprising, being surprised, and sharing surprise. It involved exciting, being excited, and sharing excitement. It didn’t always involve love. It did always involve vulnerability and trust.

    It was also WAY better than the sex I’d had before. The best sex I’d ever had–no question.

    The only way I can claim that this sex involved dominance and submission is by pretending that vulnerability and trust are the same as submission and dominance. But I have to admit that they’re not.

    One interesting thing in all this is the effect–or perhaps lack thereof–on my fantasies. Obviously my fantasies evolved as my IRL experience shifted. But I had a slew of fantasies, oldies but goodies, that I resorted to when I wanted to get off easily by myself. They were reliable and quick–I could orgasm in a matter of minutes if not seconds. And they were always tinged with if not fullblown BDSM. Sometimes I would try fantasizing about something more like what I was experiencing IRL, but it frankly took more time and work. My body and my mind were used to thinking of sex in particular ways, and without another person whose presence and actions prevented me from falling back on easy habits, well, I’d often fall back on easy habits.

    Which I guess supports your point, Nate, that this stuff can be really hard in the moment.

    Anyway, I don’t intend to eliminate all my old fantasies; they’re mine, and they’re fun, and they don’t prevent me from experiencing other things, and I like variety. But I’m also going to spend more time on the fantasies that require more work, until they get easier, because I’d like to find orgasm easy in a variety of ways.

    • I’d even go as far as saying that sex should not be about dominance and submission any more than any other part of a relationship between a man and woman should be about dominance and submission. Isn’t it part of egalitarianism (or even feminism) that we shouldn’t need someone to be “in charge”?

      • bdsmiamaid says:

        I’d even go as far as saying that sex should not be about dominance and submission any more than any other part of a relationship between a man and woman should be about dominance and submission. Isn’t it part of egalitarianism (or even feminism) that we shouldn’t need someone to be “in charge”?

        I don’t know. I guess it’s like saying, “Isn’t it a part of egalitarianism (or even feminism) that there shouldn’t be a winner or a loser in relationships?”

        Well, overall, sure. But when you’re playing backgammon or tennis, well, sometimes there’s a winner and a loser. It can be fun. And if the playing field is level, and if other parts of the relationship are secure–if the role of winner and loser aren’t pre-assigned–it shouldn’t pose a threat to the relationship, or to anyone’s self-esteem.

        So while I don’t think that sex overall should be about dominance and submission, and while I’m REALLY GLAD I got to experience the alternative, I can certainly see why people like to indulge in the occasional game where that’s part of what’s going on. It can be fun. It can help you figure stuff out about yourself and your partner. If nothing else, it can help you see what’s cool about sex without it.

  31. Jessica says:

    I have read the first story. The reason I started reading the series because my husband and I were on the rocks and a friend suggested it with deeper meaning under it. My husband was going through some troubling things of his own and it was hard on me to forgive. I started reading the book and was able to forgive and open up our relationship to new things. It has also opened up both our minds on the depth of the book and how he has an illness and she can help him over come it.

    If your spouse had an “addiction” similar or anything sexual wouldn’t it be an illness and wouldn’t you want to help him heal? When we are sealed we are sealed together and all eternity! I think in order for someone to really judge the book or series they need to read it themselves! It has so much info in it and so much depth that you can be drifted into the story so quickly.

    I was raped as a teen and young adult. I didn’t get a choice into who I wanted to give my virginity to. This story did not bring any of that traumatization to the surface for me. When she loses her virginity I could only think how I wish my first time could have been with someone I wanted and loved. I think you have to put yourself in the characters ’ position to get a better feeling of the whole meaning. I think all that judged on the negativity is only hearing the negativity about the book. I have even been able to get my husband to read it to get his perspective on the book as well.

  32. Laura C says:

    Hey you guys, I’m a freelance writer based in NYC and I’m currently working on a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ magazine issue. After reading a number of your posts I was wondering if you would like to be featured in the magazine. If you are married or in a relationship, I would like to hear from you and your partner about what this exciting novel has done for your love life. If interested, please contact me at simmons.laurac@gmail.com. Look forward to hearing from you soon!

  33. Kiersten says:

    I am LDS and recently read all 3 books back to back. I must admit that I became pretty hooked on the story surrounding all of Christian and Ana’s sexual encounters. I received a lot of criticism for reading this series and wish that a book group like yours was near me! I found that there were some beneficial things to take from reading the series and have already seen changes in my own sexual relationship with my husband. On some level I can relate to the deeper psychological issues between the two main fictional charachters. It was also eye opening to me in the same way that some of you had said about growing up being told “no” all the time and then getting married and being somewhat lost and having a shfow over you that what you are doing is wrong or dirty so to speak. I feel more comfortable with myself and more relaxed since reading the 50 shades series, which in turn, has strengthened the physical aspect of my marriage.

  34. Maczatw says:

    I feel I should let you know how sad this makes me. You can make all the excuses and justifications in the world, and the complicated web just gets more and more ensnaring. LDS women should know where this spirit of contention comes from. I’m not attempting to control anyone, but I do know who is, and its done with silky cords. Please don’t be blind to what is going on here, the destructive effects of this type of sin are so widespread. It destroys individuals, marriages, families, children and generations. There is nothing but pain down this path. Smut is smut, always has been and always will be. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up politically. Marriage is sacred and sex is an intimate gift that should only be shared between a husband and a wife. The virtuous daughters of our Heavenly Father are a treasure above anything else. Anyone or anything that would hurt or tarnish them, even if they give their so called “consent” is evil. If you have ever had a testimony I pray that you search your own hearts and listen to the simple truths of the Spirit. There’s no grey area. I’m not here to argue about the merits of the books or the limits of our standards, but please remember that we’ve been counseled to stay away even from rated R movies – and I don’t think anyone can argue with a straight face that these aren’t worse than that.

  35. Rhoda says:

    Therese books contain graphic depictions of sex for the purpose of arousal. That’s porn. No if ands or buts about it. You are LDS women trying to justify porn.

    • MW says:

      If your bishop were to find out and were to take away your temple recommend, you can feel wronged as much as you want, but the fact is that you could have avoided it. It doesn’t matter how right or wrong your bishop is. Which is more important to you, your freedom to attend the temple or your freedom to read fifty shades of grey?

  36. Monique says:

    I don’t understand what’s to like about this book OR FILM! And LDS women that like this film should be ashamed.

    Best,

    Laurara Monique

    http://laura.productions/?p=1963 (50 Shades of Stay AWAY!)

  37. Mary says:

    It’s sad how Satan has taken something so righteous and sacred and distorted it. So much so he has confused those of even our faith. Porn is porn….this cannot be justified!

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