As a few of you know, I'm in the process of writing my first erotic fiction novel for Simon & Schuster so it seems fitting that I weigh in on the subject that everybody, and I mean everybody else is weighing in on(including the fabulous Diane Kelly): the success of the Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy. When it comes to Fifty Shades there are several angles worth examining. There's the whole fan fiction angle (Fifty Shades started as a Twilight fan fiction and was then rewritten without the vampire element) and there's the self-publishing angle, and the ereaders-have-inadvertently-further-popularized-erotica angle and so on. But the thing that has generated the most media attention is the why-are-so-many-women-into-a-story-that-depicts-female-submission angle. While Fifty Shades may currently be the most popular of the genre, the theme can be found in the majority of erotica aimed to attract female readers. Some have called it Mommy-Porn, the suggestion being that this is the kind of thing middle aged stay-at-home moms are reading to spice up their otherwise mundane lives. The problem with that description (aside from its inherent condescension) is that a lot of the people reading this book series are twenty-somethings. They're not always mommys. They're frequently not married, their career oriented and their lives are not even close to being boring (and to be fair, there are some pretty wild and crazy stay-at-home moms out there too).
So why are these interesting women, living interesting lives, fantasizing about being tied to the bed?
The answer can be summed up in two words: It's easier.
Women today don't put their lives in the hands of the men they're involved with. 50% of adults are now single, 33% of adults live alone. According to the last census, there are 13.7 million single parents in America today and in 84% of the cases the custodial parent is a mom. What all this means is that women are frequently the primary or ONLY breadwinner in their home. They're making their own career decisions, they're walking into the dealerships and buying their own cars, they're dealing with their own home repair work, they're picking their own healthcare plans and if they have a kid they're making all the important decisions for that kid as well (what school will he go to, what doctor will he see, what financial provisions need to be made to get him through should something happen to mom and so on). There is no one to delegate to. No one to pick up the dry cleaning when we have to stay late at work. No one to research which car gets the best gas milage and has the best saftey record. That's all on us. And there are some great advantages to having so much control. We get to pick which vacation spots we're going to. We get to decide on every detail of our home decor. We get to decide if we're eating brussel sprouts for dinner or Oreos. There is no need to compromise, placate or share the remote.
But having all that responsibility can also be stressful and overwhelming. Down time can be limited. Yes, we get to claim exclusive credit for every success but we also have to exclusively own every failure. It's a lot.
So is it really so odd that so many of us want to let somebody else make the decisions once we get into the bedroom? We, by necessity and desire, try to control almost every aspect of our lives. Let somebody else control the sex part. Most of us would rather die than allow a man to tell us what friends we can hang out with, what kind of job we can have, what kind of books we can read and so on. But we're more than happy to let them tell us what position to take once we're in our lingerie. Think of it as getting a good back massage. If you have to tell your masseuse exactly where the knots are and how to get them out that's okay but if that masseuse can just use her experience and skills to find the knots and masterfully massage them out without you saying a damn word that's better.
Of course Fifty Shades takes this concept to the extreme. Fantasies, by their very nature, are all about extremes. People don't fantasize about winning $50,000. They fantasize about winning $50,000,000. When people fantasize about eating anything they want without gaining a pound they fantasize about eating chocolate cake every night. But if we all did have miracle metabolisms we'd realize that even chocolate cake can become unappealing when eaten in excess. But the reality doesn't affect the fantasy.
And the great thing about sex is that, assuming you can truly trust your partner (and that's essential for ANY of this to work), it's the one place where it's safe and acceptable to live the fantasy without it screwing up the rest of your life. It's riding a roller-coaster vs. jumping out of a plane. You get the thrill of falling with the assurance that you get to walk away unscathed.
In the bedroom most women want men to be men in the most stereotypical sense of the word and in turn many of us want to be women in the most stereotypical sense. This is obviously a generalization. Some women don't want this at all, most women want to switch it up every once in a while (see the chocolate cake analogy) and a very select few want to be submissive all the time (in and out of the bedroom). But don't be shocked that liberated, proudly self-sufficiant women have submission fantasies. It's not about lack of liberation or strength. It's about the thrill that comes when you finally, for a short time, are allowed to give up control.
And, not to put too fine a point on it, it's the exhilaration of riding a theme park thrill ride knowing that you eventually get to...um...get off and then get back to your day-to-day life which you truly love.