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The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has just joined the prestigious list of books that have sold over 100 million copies; it accomplished this landmark in just three years. Also on the list are the classics: A Tale of Two Cities and Lord of the Rings, along with sacred books like the Bible and the Koran.
No disrespect to Fifty Shades author E.L. James, but her trilogy doesn’t belong with those classics. So why are these books flying off the shelves and currently being made into a major motion picture (set to release on Valentine’s Day 2015)?
As the co-founder of a ministry that talks to women about sexuality from a Christian perspective, I regularly receive emails from Christian women who see no problem with reading erotic novels like Fifty Shades. Maybe you are one of them. Perhaps you are a women of faith who is all for an erotic escape through fantasy every now and then.
If so, I have three pieces of news for you.
1. Erotica leads to false intimacy
We live in a society in which there seems to be no limits regarding what you can experience sexually. We erase the shame of hooking up, joke openly about porn, and celebrate sexual experimentation like BDSM. Yet, at the same time, more than a quarter of the American population fits the diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder like clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or substance addiction. Is there a correlation here?
As much as we may long to experience a sexual high, sexuality is about more than having sex. It’s clear that sexual freedom and expression hasn’t solved our relational problems and has, perhaps, even intensified them. Underneath all of the sex, we are lonely.
Material like Fifty Shades of Grey fuels the allusion that fantasy and a sexual release will bring satisfaction. It leads to an insatiable desire for more. Men and women who engage in pornography and erotica will ultimately be less satisfied in their intimate relationships.
Couples who really “get it” know how to fully share their sexuality — how to communicate the most intimate of experiences with and without words. Being emotionally naked makes you extremely vulnerable. Both you and your partner have to feel completely safe to let go, to share thoughts, desires, and physical sensations. The journey toward authentic intimacy is one of creating the safest environment possible so that you can explore together without fear of betrayal or humiliation.
Erotica and porn do the exact opposite. They make your bedroom an emotional landmine.
2. Erotica promotes selfish sex
The average man and woman are so different physiologically and emotionally that they can’t possibly enjoy the greatest sexual pleasure together until they learn to communicate, to listen, and to delay their own pleasure in order to please the other. By God’s design, selfish sex will always miss the mark.
Porn and erotica are selfish sex, requiring no sacrifice and no effort to love another person. You can have what you want, when you want, how you want it. The problem is that it’s all fake. You are not in a relationship with the naked woman on the computer screen or the irresistible millionaire characterized in an erotic novel. You are responding sexually to one-dimensional characters.
The more you chase the counterfeit, the further away you get from the real deal — intimacy. Becoming a great lover requires you to exercise the muscles of temporarily suspending what you want in order to understand and bring pleasure to your partner. Erotica teaches you to chase after your immediate desire with no thought of love.
3. Erotica denies sexual realities
One of the most widely known fantasy stories starts out like this: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .” From the outset, Star Wars asks you to step away from what you know to be true and imagine a different galaxy, a different time, with different assumptions — plus Wookies and talking robots, time warps, and space travel.
Erotica also lures you into a different reality, but it doesn’t announce that you are entering a world “far, far away.” Within the context of “normal life,” erotica introduces romantic stories that are not possible. But what makes erotica unrealistic is subtler and more dangerous.
E L James states that redefining morality was part of her agenda in writing the books: “What I wanted to demonstrate is that I do not look at the world in terms of black and white — and I find people who do rather scary. I think it’s all shades of grey.”
But just as there are scientific laws such as gravity in our universe, there are also principles that govern our emotions, relationships, and spiritual health. You have freedom to choose if you will abide by them, but you can never be free from the consequences of your actions. If you eat chocolate cake and potato chips all day, every day, your body will not function as it should. If you jump out of a second-story window, you will break a few bones at best. When you violate physical, moral, or spiritual laws, you have to live with the consequences.
Research consistently demonstrates that pornographic material decreases your sexual pleasure in real relationships. Doff Zillman and Jennings Bryant studied the impact of repeated exposure to porn on intimate relationships, finding that “[a]fter consumption of pornography, subjects reported less satisfaction with their intimate partners — specifically, with these partners’ affection, physical appearance, sexual curiosity, and sexual performance proper. In addition, subjects assigned increased importance to sex without emotional involvement. These effects were uniform across gender and populations.”
These same findings translate to the impact of “mommy porn.” Last week, I received this email from a woman who had this to say:
Last year I stepped into this Fifty Shades trap. I couldn’t stop reading. When I finished the first book, I borrowed money to buy the other two. In the evening I would tell my husband every detail of what I read that day. My life literally revolved around Fifty Shades. I also expected my husband to “be” Christian Grey. Suddenly our sex live thrived! We tried new things, we went wild. And just as suddenly we hit rock bottom. We were constantly fighting; in my eyes my husband couldn’t do anything right. We grew apart. I defended the book and said there’s nothing wrong with it. But to be honest, it almost destroyed my marriage.
Reading mommy porn isn’t just a little guilty pleasure. These books take you on journey that has a certain destination. Once you arrive there, you’ll wish you never took the trip.