Love, Sex

It's More Than BDSM! The REAL Fantasy Behind 50 Shades Of Grey


The intercultural phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey has taken the literary world by storm. Many disagree on the reasons why. Some praise the books' illustrations of libertine feminine sexuality embodied by a strong female lead. Others place the book on a spectrum that begins with abusive perversion and ends at poorly written mommy-smut. 

There are innumerable books within the genre of erotic romance that dabble in whips and chains. If you browse the book aisle of any major supermarket, you will discover more six pack abs and grey-blue eyes than generic headache medicines.

How did this book, which most critics argue (publicly anyway) is sub-par quality prose, captivate so many readers, most of whom are women? Some argue that the book leverages typical female stereotypes or reveals secret female fantasies.

For example, Dr. Tammy Nelson, counselor and therapist, argues that women loved this book because Christian Grey's borderline dangerous jealousy adds to the fantasy and the mystery, which cultivates an irresistible sexual tension. Exchange, however, Grey's chiseled physique for a beer belly and instead of a fantasy, you have a restraining order.  

Others argue that it is not Grey's physique, but his impeccable masculine control that readers find appealing. He is a study in discipline, having achieved a mass amount of success at a remarkably young age. If this is case, where are all the Mark Zuckerberg-inspired fantasies? From a relationship perspective, I wonder if the explanation is more subtle, one to which both women and men can relate.

Author and relationship expert David Schnarch describes committed relationships like a house, of which, sex is a window.  If this is the case, what secrets would we discover if we cracked open the window on Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele?

The obvious start seems to be with Grey's obsession. He has tunnel vision, and at the end of that tunnel is Steele, who could potentially be any woman holding the book. She is innocent, flawed, and just ordinary enough to be real.

Grey, by contrast possesses adonis-like qualities that Anastasia believes should place him quite firmly out of her reach. Christian's fixation with Anastasia may help explain why this story appealed to a largely female audience. His desire for her never dries up, even when it seems that they are over.

The sex scenes receive most of the story's attention, but they are only a distraction. Sex is the stage upon which Anastasia's quest for intimacy and desire is fulfilled. But even that is only half of the story. The real reason why this relationship captivated its audience is more fully explained by what Anastasia never had to do rather than anything Christian Grey did.

Readers connected with this book not because Grey was the perfect mix of devoted and dangerous. Perhaps the book attracted such a vast audience because so many people long to captivate someone like Anastasia did. What did she receive? Constant attention. Near obsessive devotion. Focused sexual energy.

She could always depend on his affection, his touch, his words, and his infatuation. What did Anastasia never have to do in order to maintain his perfectly-timed devotion? She never had to ask for it.

Not once did she have to seek his affection. Not once did she have to reach out to him and risk rejection. Not once did she have to be afraid that he would turn her away because he was tired or angry. She never had to demand that he listen to how her day went. She certainly never had to ask him to show her he wanted her.

Forget the elaborate sex scenes. Ignore the chiseled abs, the money, and the charm. Christian Grey is not the fantasy. The real fantasy is invulnerability, intimacy without risk.

Those of us who seek intimacy in our committed relationships often place our hearts behind walls and hope our partners have x-ray vision. Like Anastasia, we do not want to risk. We do not want to be afraid that our partners could reject us, especially if they have a habit of turning us away. So instead, we keep quiet.

We do not authentically discuss our needs and desires. We drop subtle hints or scream until our partners decide to buy the Christian Grey-inspired toolkit that comes with a user manual, all the while we forget that they are afraid too.

Never has a book so clearly captured the desire of intimate partners. We want to be wanted. We just don't want to have to ask for it.