My wife, Rita, has begun reading the first volume of the bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy with her book club. Fifty Shades has been wildly popular because it features scenes of an unmarried couple’s explicit erotic sex that also includes elements of bondage. Published reports say the book has gotten a lot of wives excited about sex and their husbands are reaping the benefits. So, of course, that’s what grabbed my interest.
As my wife cuddled in bed reading her iPad, I asked her about the book. She was tight-lipped, as she shifted her body so that I couldn’t see the screen.
“It’s just what the club is reading now. I’m not really into this sort of thing,” she said. Then she cited some “confidentiality agreement” among her book club sisters, effectively ending our conversation.
Hmmm, more on that later …
The exchange reminded me of a talk I recently had with a Baltimore-based licensed pastoral counselor (who also happens to be my sister). Minister Pamela Bell of Serenity Pastoral Counseling & Consulting recently hosted “Teach Me How to Love You,” a conference to teach Christians how to develop healthy relationships. One of the topics included God in your sex life.
God and sexual intercourse?
Bell’s point is that God clearly created us to have and enjoy sex. One of the reasons why so many Christian marriages are in trouble, singles are fornicating, and pedophilia, adultery and homosexuality are common in churches, is because leaders aren’t teaching forthrightly about godly sex. Natural urges are suppressed and hypocritical and deviant behaviors are covered up. The church has allowed the world to turn into “the nasty” what God intended to be beautiful.
“According to most Christian teachings, sex is referred to in the context of procreation or as a marital duty,” Bell said. “I talk to people about making love and bringing God into the experience, instead of having some gymnastic event where orgasm is the finale.”
WELCOMING GOD INTO YOUR SEX LIFE: “While having sex, thank God for the beauty of the body of your mate,” says Christian counselor Pamela Bell to married couples. “Making love is an expression of gratitude.”
At the conference, Bell, who has been married for more than 25 years to the same man (they have three children), said attendees seemed surprised when she asked how long they thought the average orgasm lasted?
“Oh, they got real quiet,” Bell said.
The answer is about 18 seconds for the average woman and 20 seconds for a man. Once intercourse begins it takes the average women about 12 to 14 minutes to reach an orgasm and about 2 to 3 minutes for a man.
“So we spend so much time and often make bad decisions about our sex partners over a few seconds of pleasure. When we talked about sexuality within the confines of marriage, that’s when people got comfortable and we got a lot of questions.”
Like, what do you do when your husband or wife wants to have more sex than you do? Singles asked question like, what do you do when your urge for sex is high?
“Particularly when you look in the King James Version, the word ‘know’ is used to refer to sexual intercourse,” Bell said. “God intended sex to be about intimacy.”
But for many people it’s hard (no pun intended) to think about a holy God, while having sex. Intellectually you know that God created and commanded us to be fruitful and multiply. But is a man supposed to be thinking about Jesus while he “knows” his wife?
Bell said it’s about a paradigm shift, adding that she often refers couples to passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:4.
“While having sex, thank God for the beauty of the body of your mate,” she said. “Explore how your mate’s body is made. Each aspect complements the next. Making love is an expression of gratitude. You’re thanking God for the person He gave to you. Take your time, be present in the moment, and enjoy your spouse. Remember, love is patient according to 1 Corinthians 13:4.”
For singles, there are ways to feel God’s love without a physical partner, she said.
“It’s a better experience than conjuring up some dude or woman in your mind that you were with back in the day, or that you want to be with and having some counterfeit experience,” she said. “You can have an ongoing spiritual orgasm rather than a five-second deal, followed by feeling unfulfilled afterwards because you’re relying on a fantasy to give you pleasure.”
Bell said she felt led to host the conference because she sees too many Christians who are having major sex-related problems tied to church. As the church fails to deal honestly with sexuality, it is effectively leaving lambs to be slaughtered.
“It’s heartbreaking what is happening,” she said. “Many pastors simply don’t teach this.”
Not all pastors are afraid to “go there,” Bell said. There are Christian books on the topic. There’s even a biblical response to Fifty Shades called 50 Shades of Black and White. But in general, churchgoers seek information elsewhere, such as on cable TV, the Internet, or in erotic literature.
As for my wife’s reading of Fifty Shades, she’d rather not fantasize in that way — but she won’t judge others who like it.
And if I reap some added benefits from this month’s book club selection, I won’t complain.
A few more passages from Scripture related to godly sexual love:
♥ Genesis 2:18
♥ Genesis 2:24
♥ Genesis 2:25
♥ Genesis 3:16
♥ Psalm 139:14
♥ Proverbs 5:18
♥ Ephesians 5:31-32
SUDDENLY HOT: Author E.L. James at a New York book signing. Her ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy is a bestseller, but its erotic content has sparked controversy. (Photo: John Roca/Newscom)
You ever see a trailer for a movie starring one of your favorite actors and get super excited? You mark the date on your calendar, find as many sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes pieces you can and plan to see it opening night. The day arrives and you take out a loan so you can afford the overpriced buttery popcorn, Tropical Skittles, and calorie-packed soda. You sit through the previews, the reminder to turn your cell phone off and you anxiously wait for Will Smith/Hugh Jackman/Emma Stone to appear on the screen.
And then … the movie sucks. Not in the “it was OK” kind of way, but in the “B.A.P.S.” or “Soul Plane” kind of way. You feel duped by your favorite actor, the previews, and all the critics who failed to warn you.
This horrific feeling is EXACTLY how I felt after reading Fifty Shades of Grey, the bestselling book that everyone’s been talking about. Sadly, this wasn’t the end of my turmoil. Optimistic idealist that I am, I read the sequel and was disappointed again. At this point, I was two-thirds through the trilogy and it seemed that God had forsaken me. But I read that weeping only lasts for a night and that joy comes in the morning, so I walked back into the torture chamber that is the third installment of the Fifty Shades series. I’m sad to report that morning hasn’t arrived.
The only joy I derived from reading these three books comes from the knowledge that I can warn you to avoid them.
Prior to ingesting the revolting pill that is the Fifty Shades trilogy, I saw nothing but rave reviews about the series via social media. To be honest, most of the feedback was vague — “I can’t stop reading it … I can’t put it down. It’s so addictive!” — but still positive. So, of course, as an avid reader of just about everything stirring in pop culture, from The Hunger Games trilogy to anything by Malcolm Gladwell, I had to check it out.
I could write a book, maybe even a trilogy, about the horrors of Fifty Shades, but I’ll condense it to the top three problems I had with the books. (And be warned, my reflections may include a few spoilers.)
1. No one told me it was erotica!!! Call me old-fashioned but I thought books like this came in a brown paper bag and required an ID for purchase. In all of my discussions of the book, no one mentioned that one of the primary themes of the plot involved the VERY adult subject of a sexual counterculture BDSM. My issue with the book isn’t that it’s erotica; it’s the idea that erotica is considered mainstream reading material. Since when does erotica make it to the NY Times bestsellers list? I was caught off guard, unprepared for it, and therefore, a bit nauseated by it. (Erotica is one thing; erotica I’m not prepped for is a whole ‘nother matter.)
2. The plot is implausible. Pardon me for wanting my fiction to make at least a little sense, but I’m pretty sure that there are several Disney fairy tales that are only slightly less believable than Fifty Shades. A few plot problems:
• What 22-year-old woman with several handsome and eligible men fawning all over her has NO idea that she’s attractive?
• What 27-year-old man who is savvy enough to amass a colossal wealth of billions of dollars is also silly enough to entrust it to a woman that he’s known for a few months?
• What are the odds that a billionaire who is a local celebrity has had an extremely deviant sexual relationship with over a dozen women and NO ONE knows?
GREY GROUPIES: Fans of ‘Shades of Grey’ author E.L. James snap pictures of the writer at her New York book signing. The trilogy, and its erotic themes, has struck a chord with ordinary housewives. (Photo: John Roca/Newscom)
3. The story is redundant. Possibly the worst crime committed by Fifty Shades is the monotony. You just want to shake Ana and tell her to stand up for herself; then you want to grab Christian and tell him to grow up. For those of you who must go through the pain of reading this on your own, I won’t spoil it. But I will tell you this. The characters don’t change or grow. They do and say the same things over and over. There are no plot twists. At the beginning of the trilogy, Ana is a girl with low self-esteem who believes her best friend is beautiful and she is mousy. In the third book, Ana meets with an interior designer and this same low self-esteem makes her feel mousy again. At the beginning of the trilogy, Christian is an intelligent but selfish man with a little boy temper. At the end of the trilogy, Christian is a man with a family and a little boy temper. What most people love about a book series is that you get to see the characters evolve and the story keeps getting better and better as it progresses. In this case, the story keeps going but it never changes.
Fifty Shades of Grey apparently began as an experiment in fan fiction, with British housewife Erika Leonard mimicking The Twilight series and giving her stories away for free on the Internet. Initially popular with bored housewives, the stories soon developed a cult following and exploded into a publishing phenomenon. Leonard, writing as “E.L. James,” now reportedly hauls in millions of dollars each week from her erotic trilogy.
In some ways, I can resonate with Leonard’s backstory. She turned an evening diversion into a literary jackpot. Who doesn’t love a good success story?
But that feel-good stuff only goes so far. My favorite pastime is reading and I’ve always looked at it as a temporary escape from my own personal reality. Leonard’s trilogy, however, wasn’t an escape from my reality; it was a departure from all reality.
I’d call it a waste of paper, but I at least was smart enough to purchase the e-versions. Save yourself from 50 evenings of exasperation. Leave Fifty Shades of Grey on the shelf.
What do you think?
If you’ve read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, what’s your opinion of the books? Harmless entertainment? Porn for soccer moms? How should Christians think about these books and their popularity?