This article was first published on April 16, 2012.
Several weeks ago, I received a telling email from my 29-year-old sister-in-law: “Have you heard of the book 50 Shades of Grey? Get Involved.”
At this point, E.L. James’s erotica novel was a bestselling e-book, and my brother’s wife—a new mom who spends most days taking care of her 4-month-old son—had immersed herself in some pleasure reading in between changing diapers. Though paperback copies only hit U.S. bookstores yesterday, 50 Shades of Grey is the most buzzed-about series since The Hunger Games, if not a household name (my friend recently learned about it from her 60-year-old father).
There’s a reason the Grey series is being dubbed “mommy porn,” and it’s not just because of the rough sex and BDSM relationship that has its innocent, college student protagonist Anastasia Steele bending over backward (and forward and sideways) for the older, dashing Christian Grey.
Originally conceived as Twilight fan fiction, James’s 50 Shades of Grey “reimagined the Bella and Edward love affair set in contemporary Seattle, Washington with Bella as the young college graduate virgin and Edward as the masterful billionaire with secret sexual predilections.” So while the steamy scenes have no doubt sent many hands wandering beneath the sheets during bedtime reading, much of Grey’s appeal is its Cinderella story—the rich-man-sweeps-innocent-beauty-off-her-feet female fantasy. And as in so many romance novels, beneath the hero’s domineering veneer there’s a vulnerability that only the heroine can penetrate, though not without some emotional maneuvering. Jane Eyre has to confront the madwoman in Mr. Rochester’s attic; Bella has to come to terms with Edward’s immortality and bloodlust; Anastasia has to endure Christian Grey’s “Red Room of Pain.”
But some ladies may think the romance in 50 Shades of Grey detracts from the sexual fantasy. While some parts are reminiscent of 9½ Weeks and Last Tango in Paris, others are straight out of Pretty Woman, and the image of Mickey Rourke blindfolding Kim Basinger just doesn’t evoke the same mood as Richard Gere seducing Julia Roberts at a piano. E.L. James knows her S&M so well that Grey could read like a less sinister Story of O, if it weren’t punctuated by the narrator’s dithering inner monologue (every time Anastasia gets aroused, it seems, she announces it with a “Holy Crap!” or “Holy Shit!” or “Holy Moses!”)
If you couldn’t tolerate Bella’s moralizing conscience in Twilight, chances are you’ll feel similarly about Anastasia’s. That said, where Stephanie Meyer’s prose is G-rated, James’s is unabashedly explicit. Here, the most racy and alternately corny scenes from the first installment of her softcore porn series.
Anastasia and Christian’s hot elevator makeout session“Before I know it, he’s got both of my hands in his viselike grip above my head, and he’s pinning me to the wall using his lips … His other hand grabs my hair and yanks down, bringing my face up, and his lips are on mine … My tongue tentatively strokes his and joins his in a slow, erotic dance … His erection is against my belly.” (Page 78)
Anastasia’s reaction to Christian’s erect penis: ‘Holy Cow!’“Suddenly, he sits up and tugs my panties off and throws them on the floor. Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow! … He kneels up and pulls a condom onto his considerable length. Oh no … Will it? How?” (116)
Christian’s dirty talk makes us turn 50 shades of red“Show me how you pleasure yourself … Keep still … We’re going to have to work on keeping you still, baby … Let’s see if we can make you come like this … You’re so deliciously wet. God, I want you … I’m going to fuck you now, Miss Steele … Hard ... Come for me, Ana.” (114, 116, 117, 118)
Anastasia’s ‘Inner Goddess’ comes out“I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.” (137)
Anastasia climaxes ‘again and again’ … and again“He leans down and kisses me, his fingers still moving rhythmically inside me, his thumb circling and pressing. His other hand scoops my hair off my head and holds my head in place. His tongue mirrors the actions of his fingers, claiming me. My legs begin to stiffen as I push against his hand. He gentles his hand, so I’m brought back from the brink ... I come instantly again and again, falling apart beneath him … then I’m building again … I climax anew, calling out his name.” (195, 196)
Things get kinky between ‘The Dominant and The Submissive’“Suddenly he grabs me, tipping me across his lap. With one smooth movement, he angles his body so my torso is resting on the bed beside him. He throws his right leg over both mine and plants his left forearm on the small of my back, holding me down so I cannot move … He places his hand on my naked behind, softly fondling me, stroking around and around with his flat palm. And then his hand is no longer there … and he hits me—hard.” (273, 274)
Anastasia’s ‘Inner Goddess’ grapples with spanking“We lie there, panting together, waiting for our breathing to slow. He gently strokes my hair … Boy … I Survived. That wasn’t so bad. I’m more stoic than I thought. My inner goddess is prostrate … well, at least she’s quiet.” (276)
Continues grappling as Christian rubs baby oil on her ‘behind’“Sitting beside me, he gently pulls my sweatpants down. Up and down like a whores’ drawers, my subconscious remarks bitterly. In my head, I tell her where to go. Christian squirts baby oil into his hand and then rubs my behind with careful tenderness—from makeup remover to soothing balm for a spanked ass, who would have thought it was such a versatile liquid.” (277)
Wait, all this ‘Dominant and Submissive’ stuff is really confusing Anastasia’s Inner Goddess“You beguile me, Christian. Completely overwhelm me. I feel like Icarus flying too close to the sun.” (188)
But she still likes the idea of ‘silver balls’ in naughty places“He holds out his hand, and in his palm are two shiny silver balls linked with a thick black thread … Inside me! I gasp, and all the muscles deep in my belly clench. My inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils … Oh my … It’s a curious feeling. Once they’re inside me, I can’t really feel them—but then again I know they’re there … Oh my … I may have to keep these. They make me needy, needy for sex.” (362, 364)
She might even like the riding crop and wrist cuffs more!“At the touch of leather, I quiver and gasp. He walks around me again, trailing the crop around the middle of my body. On his second circuit, he suddenly flicks the crop, and it hits me underneath my behind … against my sex … The shock runs through me, and it’s the sweetest, strangest, hedonistic feeling … My body convulses at the sweet, stinging bite. My nipples harden and elongate from the assault, and I moan loudly, pulling on my leather cuffs.” (323)
When he’s not spanking/flogging, Christian’s quite sweet“He sighs, slides in beside me, and pulls me into his arms. Careful not to touch my stinging behind, we are spooning again. He kisses me softly beside my ear.” (366)
And oh-so-vulnerable “‘Why don’t you like to be touched?’ I whisper, staring up into soft gray eyes. ‘Because I’m fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia.’ ” (369)
“‘The woman who brought me into this world was a crack whore, Anastasia …’ I slip into a dazed and exhausted sleep, dreaming of a four-year-old gray-eyed boy in a dark, scary, miserable place.’ ” (367)
But she can’t resist the dominant (really, she just wants him to pull her hair)“His arms are wrapped around me, and he’s pulling me to him, hard, fast, gripping my ponytail to tilt my head up, kissing me like his life depends on it … He drags the hair tie painfully out of my hair, but I don’t care. He needs me, for whatever reason, at this point in time, and I have never felt so desired and coveted.” (478)