The recent popularity of 50 Shades of Grey has led nearly every literate woman (and a few illiterate ones) to traipse down to the local sex toy emporium to start her own dungeon or to fantasize about doing so. For those not familiar with the book, 50 Shades of Grey is an erotic trilogy by E.L James that began its life as Twilight fan fiction. It is steeped in age-old erotic tropes, telling a story of an innocent virgin corrupted by a sexy, domineering older man who trains her in a life of ever-more-depraved sexual acts that she learns to enjoy and begins to crave. It’s full of bondage and whipping and spanking. Although I enjoyed the book, it wasn’t debauched enough for me, but that’s because the first erotic books I read as a teenager were Story of the Eye, a novel by Georges Bataille that includes priest sex, necrophilia and bull testicles used as sex toys, and 120 Days of Sodom, which contains a ton of violent gay sex,as well the classic line:” “Fart, fart: as hard as you can, as loud as you like.”
However, 50 Shades of Grey is great fun, and it is full of scenes starring sex toys, which has led to a boom in sex-toy sales across the nation. According to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, “sales of bondage gear jumped 375 percent in April” at famed women’s-owned sex-toy boutique Babeland. That an erotic book is at the top of The New York Times best seller list renews my belief in the wisdom of the American people, a belief that was tested during the recent failed recall of Scott Walker, a man who, incidentally, needs a good flogging.
But this blog post isn’t going to devolve into a paean about the recent acceptance of sex-toys in America culture. What’s more interesting to me is the media coverage about 50 Shades of Grey and its connection to an increase in sex-toy sales. The phrase that’s been bandied about is that 50 Shades of Grey has “given women permission” to indulge their wild, sadomasochistic side. The gist of the coverage is that every woman has been secretly wanting to transform their basement into a hardcore S&M dungeon, but they have hesitated because of social stigma. Once they read the E.L. James trilogy and discussed how sexy it was with their friends, that stigma begin to dissolve. Overnight, the nation’s women became BDSM aficionados. I would love to believe that every woman has been fantasizing about tying her husband up in luxurious metal chains, sticking a rubber ball gag in his mouth, and fellating him while Asian incest game show porn plays in the background. And maybe they have.
Yet I fear that all this enthusiasm for bondage will inevitably lead to disappointment. Good sex, after all, is predicated on a good relationship (one-night-stands not withstanding). Kinky sex requires communication and trust and playfulness and love. It requires uninhibited partners who are confident in their bodies, and with two-thirds of the country being overweight or obese, it’s not likely that body confidence is universal. And I question why so many women want to engage in bondage with their partners. If you’re tying your husband up (or vice versa) and beating him because you think it’s hot and it turns the both of you own, then great. But if you’re doing it because you think it’s a good way to release your anger at his inability to satisfy your emotional and sexual needs, then it’s destructive.
I don’t want to end this blog on a negative note. I’m happy about this increased interest in bondage, which is one of my favorite activities, right up there with fantasizing about all the Kit-Kat flavors that I’ve never tried before, like sparkling strawberry, and reliving Tim Riggins’ shirtless summer-break scenes in my mind. And if the pundits are correct and all women need is permission to explore their kinky sides, then consider this blog post your free pass to go out and buy your husband the steel butt plug he’s secretly coveting, to explore your ice-penis double- penetration fantasy, to tie your boyfriend to the bed and peg him while wearing a Ronald Reagan mask. Tell your partner everyone’s doing it, and by everyone I mean me.