It took me longer than I expected to write this book review on “50 Shades of Grey”. While I finished reading it in 4 days, processing impressions it left have been a little more challenging. Let’s just say I’ve been tied up!
I’ll start with that I enjoyed the first book of the trilogy. The sex is great; it’s deliciously descriptive, hot, edgy and titillating. I’ll even say inspirational. I don’t know if any literary awards will be won, but I know in my house it has changed the conversations at our dinner table, the words in our internet search history, and the quality of our texting. I entirely understand why “50 Shades” is creating such a ‘buzz’.
But it is not just the steamy sex that continues to light up the grey matter between my ears.
From the outset the author’s development of the mysterious Mr. Grey has me looking for clues that will unveil the simple childhood trauma that explains both his being and his finely-tuned playroom skills. After all, The boy is father to the man; I think we all can get messed up that way.
After a couple of weeks of pondering the story line, the theme that continues to run through my head is not at all what I would have expected from a steamy summer novel. Naturally the book aroused my personal curiosity, but it also sparked a wide range of conversations between Leigh and me.
Early on, our conversations were curt:
Me: “I wonder if they have a sex camp we could go to?”
Leigh: “(Sigh). We have golf school this weekend.”
I go back to my book.
Later, the conversations became more intimate, exploring the core of matrimonial commitment:
Me: “Does it bother you when I go get a massage?”
Leigh: “No, of course not.”
Me: “How about when I see Rosalie (acupuncturist)?
Leigh: “No. Why?
Me: “Well, If I wanted to go get spanked by a BDSM professional, would you be OK with that?”
Steely glare. Dead silence.
Me: “Wha-at?” I ask meekly.
Leigh: “Don’t be an ass. Let me be very clear. No!”
Me: “OK. Just so I got this straight, it’s OK for you to get your toenails clipped, but I can’t get my nipples clamped. Right?”
More steely glares. More silence. She rolls her eyes.
Our texting has also been laced with ’50 Shades’ references as well:
Leigh: “I’m at Kim’s having a drink. Love you”
Me: “You’re past your curfew. You will be disciplined.”
Before Google, my knowledge of Bondage and Discipline was limited to my direct experience in parochial schools and from an occasional ‘smut’ magazine. In six years of formal Catholic education, lessons in ‘submission’ came at the hands of the Nuns and Brothers in the form of pinched earlobes, paddled butts, and having my mouth washed out with soap. All for the love of God!
In the 1980’s, as a young Naval Officer, I was charged with combating moral turpitude by confiscating pornographic magazines throughout the ship. While the definition of ‘pornography’ was (and is) a little murky, these searches may have resulted in a continually refreshed personal library of training materials. With the internet, you don’t need to go to sea to refresh your library! While my web browser history may actually be illegal in some counties, what I’ve learned on these topics took me by surprise.
The website www.bdsm-education.com seemed like a good place to start. Once I got past the eye-opening Terminology section, I found an emphasis on trust and communication that, quite frankly, should be taught to every boy and girl before their first school dance. It is incredibly direct and to the point. Who would have thought? It is worth the time to read.
The story-line that intrigued me the most was the shifting balance of power between the dominant Christian and the submissive Ana.
From Chapter 7.
Ana: “So you’ll get your kicks by exerting your will over me.”
Christian: “It’s about gaining your trust and your respect, so you’ll exert my will over you. I will gain a great deal of pleasure, joy even, in your submission. The more you submit, the greater my joy “
Ana: “Okay, and what do I get out of this?”
He shrugs and looks almost apologetic.
Christian: “Me,” he says simply.
He runs his hands through his hair.
“You’re not giving anything away Anastasia” He murmurs, exasperated.
Why is he exasperated? Has he been caught in his own game? At first blush it’s seems like “Christian” is using spiritual double talk in order to manipulate the young, curious virgin to satisfy his own dark fetishes. Perhaps he is. Yet the description of the Dom/Sub relationship is presented in a way that made me think beyond that.
I found the key in looking up the definition of the words. “Dom” is dominant, as in commanding or controlling; it is not domineering, as in overbearing and tyrannical. There is a world of difference between the two. In short, ‘domineering’ lacks the elements of respect and discipline that ‘dominance’ brings to the table.
Submission, on the flip side, is about willing obedience. It is not about a strong winner beating a weak loser, rather It is about the choice to submit. The mystical branches of many religions call for submission as a path to spiritual enlightenment. My friends in 12 step recovery programs maintain that a willing submission to “a power greater than ourselves” as key to quality sobriety. Submission is a choice made with both trust and an expectation of respect. This can only occur with open and honest communication. Whether it’s a path to eternal salvation, a happy marriage, recovery from addiction, or a little Tuesday night ‘Tie-n-Tease’, some level of submission seems to be the keystone dynamic in any successful relationship.
What I find so fascinating is within the grand paradox of the of the Dom/Sub relationship is that it is Ana, the ‘submissive’, who has all the power. She is the one with the choices; the one who defines the rules. The ‘dominant’ Christian, on the other hand, exerts control, but only because he has Ana’s permission to do so and is bound by a code of respect. I didn’t see that coming.
Perhaps Christian “gets his kicks” through the trust and respect afforded him by Ana. Perhaps this is the simplicity of his childhood trauma; a lack of trust, respect and communication in his childhood relationships.
If the psycho-babble and pseudo-spiritual drivel doesn’t light up your grey matter, I suspect there’s a pretty good chance the sex will. This is not just another steamy summer read.
Aside from parochial schooling and confiscated magazines, the more influential books I’ve read on the inextricable topics of love, sex and spirituality include:
The Road Less Travelled – M. Scott Peck
Getting the Love You Want – Harville Hendrix
The Soul of Sex – Thomas Moore
Sex Ecology Spirituality – Ken Wilbur
Hafiz (anything he writes)