Tag Archives: sex

Fifty Shades of Grey– My Two Cents

As featured on Huff/Post 50

So—zeitgeist being the social tattle-tale that it is, I admit that I recently succumbed to the book phenomenon of, yes…50 Shades of Grey.  I’m fascinated by the collective We and what We want to read.  I once wrote an essay that I never dreamed would get published, and the darn thing went viral and landed me a book deal.  I’ve wondered over and over just why that was.  Because if I could bottle the reason, I might be able to pay for my kids’ college educations.  Not that I’m holding my breath.

On the off chance that you haven’t heard of these books, they would be considered, for lack of a better term…well, smut.  Or as it says on the back of the books, “Erotic Romance/Mature Audience.” Not that there’s anything ultimately wrong with smut.  I just am captivated by the fact that so many many people are so unabashedly hungry for these books.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one or all of them were on Michelle Obama’s nightstand.  I have not been captivated enough however to succumb to their charms…until recently.

I don’t usually read smut.  The closest I’ve gotten is Anais Nin in college and maybe a Danielle Steele or two way back when.  In fact, I’m never reading what Everybody Else is reading and maybe that’s on purpose.  I didn’t even read the HARRY POTTER series, never mind anything with a vampire in it.  I read stuff that has my teenager roll her eyes:  poetry and s***.  Not that this makes me better or worse or anything other than just busy and a sucker for poetry and s***.

HOWEVER, a friend recently sent me the 50 Shades trilogy as more or less, a challenge—a dare to be part of the living breathing collective We.  And given this captivation, I decided to take her up on it.  I’ve spent the last month reading these books with disgust and fascination, watching my literary IQ plummet.  Why are these books catapulting like little innocent darlin’s into our mainstream?  Why was the flight attendant on my last plane perfectly content to be reading Book One from her command in the jump seat, full frontal— nary a book cover?  Remember Fear of Flying?  I read that book with brown paper carefully cut and taped around its cover.  Have we no shame these days?  I guess that’s the point, right.  To not have shame.  But seriously…this book is everywhere.  I mean, come on!  Number one, two, and three on the New York Times bestseller list?  Why?  WHY?  As a book author, and as a woman, I had to investigate.

At first I was tempted to scour every last article about it on the internet, but instead, I thought I’d go straight to the source.  From the ladies locker room to the baseball stands, from grocery lines to airport gates…I’ve asked woman after woman what she thinks about this book’s explosion into mainstream America.  And most of them had the same thing to say.

I’ll try to streamline it here:  People want to know that they’re not alone.  I think that’s why we read books.  In the case of 50 Shades, I really don’t think people are going crazy for it because of the sex.  And there’s a lot of it.  (I actually ended up skimming the sex scenes they were so ubiquitous.)  It seems that one of the primary places women in our culture feel alone is in their feminism. This threw me for a loop!  Who knew?  I hadn’t really thought about this before.  According to my research, somewhere along the way, once we got the vote and equality in the work place (though some would say we still have a long way to go in this arena), sexual liberation, and physical rights to our bodies etc…we got stuck.  Stuck in anger.

Anger is good.  It moves mountains.  But being angry at the fact that now we can and do “do it all” in so many cases…feels like a double standard.  And we don’t like that at all.  Take chivalry for instance—we’re supposed to be offended by it.  But are many if not most of us privately wanting chivalry and not feeling like we should admit it?  Hmmm?  Guilty as charged.  How’s that working for us?  Is it?  Do we really hate having the door opened for us, ala 50 Shades’ male character, mega-millionaire Christian Grey?  Do we really despise being seated at a table?  Doted on.  Protected. I don’t know about you, but I love those things.  I feel thought of, respected, and dare I admit: taken care of.  That’s the dirty secret and perhaps part of our anger and I think the baseline reason for the mania around 50 Shades.  When it really comes down to it…what woman doesn’t want to be taken care of?  I can’t speak for men, so I won’t try, and besides, I doubt many of them are reading these books.

I think that E.L. James had a pretty major trick up her sleeve in conceiving these books.  Maybe more so than she thinks, though I haven’t seen her interviewed.  She takes us so far out of our normal realm (that is, if you aren’t into BDSM– Bondage, Dominance, Sadism Masochism), that we can see with new post-feminist eyes that, heck—what’s wrong with our partners providing us a personal trainer to stay fit, a personal chef who cooks us healthy food and makes sure we eat it, beautiful couture clothes, and a great job?  A house we love.  Seriously?  Bring it.

But what drives the reader and the plot, in my opinion and in the running poll I have recently taken, is the dark side of the story which has to do with the “punishment” facet of Grey’s sexual tastes.  The question of pleasure and pain somehow having something to do with each other is new for most people.  I frankly just don’t get that piece and I don’t really want to do THAT research. So I’ll leave it to the therapists out there.  But what I saw in this trilogy was a strong, smart, (even though her vocabulary was appalling—there should be a drinking game called “Oh my”) woman who refuses to stray from her values, even and especially with the pressure of a wildly attractive, successful, powerful man who wants to be her Dominant.  As the book progresses, and a surprise love for each other blooms, she (Anastasia) becomes curious about the dark side of Christian’s past and his sexuality.  And while he agrees to refrain from his usual sexual practices, Ana agrees to let him hit her out of curiosity, but more to see the extent of this man’s darkness.

In the middle of the act, when it becomes too much for her, she fails to keep up her end of the bargain and tell him to stop.  Horrified and understandably so, she leaves and he comes undone because that’s the deal—there are Safe words in BDSM for a reason.  He sees it as a breach of trust.  And this is what is fascinating to me in such a twisted way:  Christian sees the punishment component of what he does in his sexual “playroom” as a way to push limits to, in the end, find…yep, trust.  ???

I can’t imagine letting or even wanting someone to cause me physical pain.  And I certainly can’t imagine that it would somehow bring me to a place of trust.  But then again I have no research in this department.  It’s a gamethat I won’t be playing.  It does however, have me (and millions of readers) wondering about our limits in general, and especially trust in intimacy.  As I was telling my teenaged daughter, any sexual act requires a lot of trust and vulnerability.  And it can be scary to be so trusting because we know damn well that we very easily could get burned.  E. L. James has us looking at trust in a whole new light which gives us new eyes.  With half the marriages out there failing, you can bet that the lack of or loss of trust weighs in somewhere at the top of the list of reasons why.  And what’s interesting about this section of the trilogy is that Ana did not trust herself to know her limits.  A tough pill to swallow when you consider yourself a smart, strong, feminist– which is how her character is packaged.  We’re mad at her just like we’d be mad at ourselves.  As much as we want to hate Christian for hurting her, it’s ultimately something she signed up for and a game she didn’t play well.  Confounding isn’t it.  A double bind.  And so we read on…

Given all this, it’s no small surprise that I spent the first book with my arms crossed, “rolling my eyes,” but as I moved into the second one, I began to see that the protagonist, though she doesn’t ultimately succumb to being a Submissive, was really the one in charge all along.  And what drives her is her deep love and curiosity about this man and his dark past.  She enters into a war with herself.  And what she comes to find is that the more she is “herself” with Christian, the more he sheds his anger and brokenness, and can step into authentic love.  It would look from the outside that he is rescuing her, but really it’s the other way around.

Do I believe in their love?  Yes.  I do.  I won’t give the ending away, but I can say that the mother in me wanted it to end in marital family bliss.  The feminist in me (and maybe the angry feminist in me) wanted it to end similar to my favorite scene in the book:  where Grey drops to his knees in submission in a crazed moment—the love of his life leaving him, so used to control, so knowing that his usual behavior is not going to work with Ana, wanting her beyond any feeling he’s ever known and having no ability to buy his way into getting her…seeing no other choice but to relinquish all control and drop to his knees.  Oh my…that was one powerful scene.  In other words, part of me wanted the third book to end with Ana as the Dominant, holding a riding crop in her hand.

One more note:  for all its “f***ery” it wasn’t really that gory.  I was expecting gerbils and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo craziness.  It was way more “vanilla” than you’d expect, given the way the author sets us up.  And that too drives the reader to endure its scary-bad writing.  Yes, scary-bad.  We’re just plain curious about the whole “playroom” and this darker side of sex. That’s right– even you, Peoria.  Even you.  You told me so in the grocery line.

In the end, it really was a love story.  And it really didn’t promise to be one.  I liked that about it.  And something tells me that…this is not the end.  Will I read Book Four?  Will I see the movie?  Heck.  I just might.  I believe that when a person is that dark and that damaged, it can and usually does come back to haunt them.

Now it’s back to poetry and s***.  It might take Keats to undo the done damage to my literary IQ.

 

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I’d love to speak in your neck of the woods!

Sooo…some shameless self-promotion:  if your business, school, social group, club, library etc. is looking for a speaker who is all about empowerment…pick me!  Here’s the scoop:   http://www.apbspeakers.com/speaker/laura-munson

LAURA MUNSON

A writer for over 20 years, Laura Munson is the author of theNew York Times and international best-selling memoir, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. Passionate about “finding the intersection of heart and mind and craft on the page,” Munson shares a story that explores marital crisis and imparts a message of empowerment, the importance of living in the present, and the necessity of claiming responsibility for one’s own happiness – no matter what is going on in life.

It all began when Munson penned an essay, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” for the “Modern Love” column of The New York Times in 2009. Stunned by the firestorm reaction she received, Munson emerged as the face behind an essay that ignited dinner talk, office chat, and book groups around the globe. A short version of a memoir she had written during a rough time in her marriage, the essay touched people with its powerful honesty. And they wanted more. After having written for two decades, having completed 14 novels, and having endured countless rejections, Munson had a book deal within 48 hours.  Her memoir has been published in nine countries.

Munson’s work has appeared in the New York Times ”Modern Love” column, the New York Times Magazine ”Lives” column, O. MagazineWoman’s DayRedbook, Good Housekeeping, More magazine, Shambhala Sun, The Sun, and Big Sky Journal, as well as on HuffingtonPost.com and through many other media outlets. She has been on two national book tours with appearances on Good Morning America, The Early Show, London’s This Morning, Australia’s Sunrise, various NPR stations, and many other television and radio shows, including Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Hay House radio program.

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The Hefner Effect

In the third of a five-part series on love and relationships, Tom Matlack and author Laura Munson debate the question: Why do young women and older men get along so well?

MUNSON: I was raised by an “old man.” My father was 50 and gray when I was born. He used words like “davenport,” “filling station,” and “ice box.” His mother was born in the 1800s and she lived in a nursing home in her last years, where we visited her every night. My father would pass by the rooms and look in and say, “That man used to be the CEO of Sears and Roebuck. It’s hell to get old.” But I noticed that those old men loved me. In fact, as my father aged, his friends would occupy my dance card, as it were, at a multi-generational gathering. And I obliged. I wasn’t scared of their liver spots, canes, and quivering voices. I knew that it was hell to get old, and I was happy to walk arm-in-arm with them through the door, or to get them a plate of food so they wouldn’t have to get up off the “davenport.”

And let’s be honest—I knew that I was “giving an old guy a thrill.” I’d heard it in those exact words from plenty of them. They thanked me for things boys my age often missed: simple things like my smile, my thin ankles—and they meant it. As an adult, I wonder why that is. Is it that men never outgrow their need to feel important to a woman, and their own wives and contemporary lady friends have long soured on stoking their egos? Maybe so.

But why would a young girl oblige? What’s in it for her? I think it’s because I knew there was no threat of sex. No threat for a jealous episode with a girlfriend. I knew I didn’t have to prove myself. They liked my ankles and my smile and that was enough. It was a win-win. I watched that win-win all the way to my father’s deathbed, where he flirted with the nurses. I forgave him for it and so did they. Maybe it’s one of life’s secret agreements.

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MATLACK: I concede that true love is ageless, and that an outsider can never know what happens behind closed doors in a marriage. I would never comment on the success or failure of any particular couple, but the societal phenomenon of old guys and young women is worth talking about.

I sometimes think that marriage is like a boxing match. When the sparring partners are well matched, it goes on and on, with blood and guts on the canvas and beauty emerging from the violence of the engagement. When older men marry younger women, the partners have given up on the idea of going head-to-head with their peer in age and in power. The male and female roles are exaggerated into some kind of daddy-daughter dynamic that is somehow more comfortable than trying to slug it out with someone your own age.

When they give in to the Woody Allen “the-heart-wants-what-the-heart-wants” gravitational pull, both parties make a concession.

A younger woman embodies vitality and beauty—and the guy’s power, defined in its rawest form, becomes the central aphrodisiac. Everyone knows where they stand.

I can’t help but be saddened when I see this pattern over and over again among my friends and in the newspapers, because at bottom it points to our collective obsession with superficialities. We worship material wealth and youth. And boobs.

Money and power or teenage-model good looks don’t make anyone happy in the long term—contrary to the consistent message of popular culture.

At the extreme, both the old man and the young woman are stooping to a commercial transaction—prostituting themselves. She’s selling youth, beauty, and sex, and he’s buying it. Whether you’re sleeping with a guy for $100 or $100 million, it’s all the same. Both sides of the trade miss out on something more genuine than sex, and the kids miss out on having a dad—since most of these guys will be in retirement homes (or dead) by the time their children make it to college.

But maybe I am just being a prude. New research shows that this whole thing is about the survival of the race. The practice of older men chasing younger women may contribute to human longevity and the survival of the species.

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MUNSON: I find it interesting that when I read the question, I didn’t read the phrase “get along so well” as having to do with sex or marriage. I thought about it in terms of dynamic. I don’t have any friends who have fit into that societal stereotype, wherein the old man marries the young hot girl with the “boobs.” I think of that scenario as a myth some people might give in to, and I’m not that interested in it. I think we would do better as a society to start shifting away from these myths. I don’t even believe in the male “midlife crisis.” But I do believe that it’s sold to men, from the time they’re kids, that the prize is youth in women and wealth in men. And I do believe in the power of that lie. Let’s tell ourselves a different story, shall we?

Matlack:  Natasha Vargas-Cooper writes in her recent Atlantic article “Hard Core”:  “One of the most punishing realities women face when they reach sexual maturity is that their maturity is (at least to many men) unsexy.”

Yes, I think old men asking young women to dance is one thing– it’s cute and harmless– but that isn’t what’s really going on most of the time.  There is a sexual component.  There are countless old guys married to young women, and many more older men masturbating to images of young women on the web.  I don’t pretend to completely understand it, but I viscerally believe it is a sell out to true love and goodness on both sides.

♦◊♦

Read others in this series: “Great Sex or Fighting Fair?“ and “Looks and Longterm Fidelity.”

♦◊♦

Tom Matlack is the founder of the Good Men Project and one amazingly inspiring guy.  Check out what he has created!

♦◊♦

—Photo by Gizmo2469/photobucket

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My Friend Lee Woodruff’s Lanz Rap– hysterical!

Buy Lee’s book, “Perfectly Imperfect,” featuring a Lanz essay!

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