Wednesday, February 11, 2015

50 Shades of pain: sterile sex and the problem with porn

I've seen dozens of articles about 50 Shades floating around the internet the past week or so, and I've read a handful of them. One or two are worth reading, this piece and this piece in particular.

The thing that has me scratching my head over the whole situation, the fact that a trilogy of pornographic novels have been adapted to a reportedly dismally-cast and middlingly-entertaining big screen production, is how we got here in the first place.

Not whether it's wrong or weird or nasty to plan to take your spouse on a hot date to the movies on Valentine's day to see Anastasia get spanked by Christian (though it is assuredly all of those things), but how it is that we have arrived at this destination, en masse, as a culture.

Let's look at the numbers; these books have sold 100 million copies since their release in 2011. That's some kind of record, and whatever else we can take from those numbers, we can presume that there's definitely an audience for the stuff. And in the pornographic culture we live in, it has become perfectly acceptable to identify oneself as a paying member of that audience and synch up the Kindle for a little smut to ease the long layover or kill the time in carline.

Because you see, the overwhelming majority of that audience is female.

I'm sure plenty of guys have read 50 Shades too, but it wasn't written for them. Romance literature (if abuse and domination can be so categorized) is the centerfold pull-out of the female demographic. It's printed porn, spelled out in characters and punctuation marks instead of screen shots and video clips.

And there's a growing market for smut of the feminine persuasion, because yes, it has become more socially acceptable to raise one's hand and identify oneself as a woman who consumes porn, but also because, I think, there are a lot of sexually-unhappy ladies out there.

So why is that? Aren't we all liberated and unshackled from the fear of pregnancy and the stigma of unmarried sex? Isn't everyone entitled to access anything they could ever have dreamt of, in terms of the erotic, now that all bets are off and all taboos have been discarded?

And yet what we're longing for, apparently, is something so "exciting" that in polite circles and legal terms, it is actually defined as abuse and battery?

Which leads me back to the title of this piece.

I have a pet theory about sex in the current cultural climate, and it goes like this: when a couple removes all of the mystery, all of the suspense, and all of the "riskiness" from sex, perhaps it becomes intolerably boring.

Maybe your interest in your partner fades, over time, because sex becomes merely another option in a long list of activities which can be pursued after the dishes are done.

Obviously my husband and I are in a unique and temporary season of marriage, during which time it is actually possible, when everything is functioning properly, for us to get pregnant.

On paper, that means that every time we decide to have sex, unless we're already currently pregnant, we first have to discern whether or not we're disposed to receive another child into the mix. Because that is always a possibility. When the answer to that question is "not right now," we still have to enter into the act prepared that the outcome might be another diaper-wearer, even when all our calculations and observations tell us otherwise.

Translation: even when we're in an NFP "safe zone," scientifically-identified as a period of infertility, there's still always a chance that we're wrong. I might have missed an observation or miscalculated a date. Or, since I'm not God, it could happen anyway, despite our best efforts otherwise. Because I'm not the one in control of my fertility, ultimately.

I didn't design me, and, short of a hysterectomy, I cannot 100% guarantee that I can suppress my fertility.

(An aside, that's why "surprise" babies in contracepting couples always strike me as such an odd concept. I mean, sure, you were using condoms or taking the Pill, but did you really think that if you did the thing that makes babies, there was zero chance you might end up making one?)

Honestly, this does add a certain level of excitement/fear/wonder at the unknown to the mix.

I'm not saying it's comparable to the, uh, thrill, I guess? of being tied up and hit, but frankly, I don't have the time to entertain thoughts of spicing things up with whips and chains. Nor the inclination.

I wonder if couples who can have all the sex they want - as much sex as they can physically stomach, kind of like the Golden Corral of the bedroom - thanks to contraception, aren't getting a little bored?

Is that why Christian Grey is a welcome figure in the imagination of a woman who is already being used, on some level, by her partner?

Is that why a man feels comfortable taking his girlfriend to a movie where a young woman is physically and psychologically abused by an older guy, because it's a little thrilling to control her like that?

Maybe there's no real correlation, but I do think it's worth considering that porn and contraception influence each other, even if only because they are both simultaneously so prevalent.

But sex doesn't need to be increasingly dangerous and forbidden in order to be satisfying. There isn't some kind of pleasure threshold that only riskier and kinkier behavior can satiate; indeed, the further we drift from the Christian ideal of sex as a total gift of self, the more dissatisfied (and sexually dysfunctional) we become as a civilization.

Because at the end of the day and in the dark of the night, what we do with our bodies and to the bodies of the ones we love matters. It matters very much. And a relationship that purports to be loving but that trades in the currency of use abuse is anything but romantic.



  1. I agree so much with everything you said. I'm rather amused that this movie has gotten pretty bad reviews after all the press it's gotten. Thank you for writing this!

  2. Very well put, and that second link especially is good food for thought

  3. Wow. So good. So, so well written. Thank you.

    Also - "the Golden Corral of the bedroom" - brilliant.

  4. Love it. Great job, Jenny! You manage to write well on pretty much every topic possible!?! :)

  5. I'm so glad you wrote on this-- I pretty much steer right past all the social media drama concerning this movie, most of all because the movie itself holds zero allure for me at all, and what I have read in the realm of synopses makes me sick to my stomach. It's a non-issue. But I'm bewildered about how such a large majority of people ARE actually drawn to a story which involves "lovingly" abusing each other, even within the "confines of consensual monogamy". You addressed it! "what we do with our bodies and to the bodies of the ones we love matters"
    What is America doing to the human person?

  6. It seems as if even the people involved in making the movie wanted out. So I really hope it flops at the box office and that this cultural phenomenon dies a slow death. Thinking too hard about why this is appealing to women makes me really, really depressed about society.

  7. Excellent post, as usual. I also wonder what fantasies/thoughts/actions this will generate in couples who go see the movie together. Nothing that can be healthy and loving in a marriage.

  8. HA! "Golden Corral of the bedroom"--classic. Also "a relationship that purports to be loving but that trades in the currency of use abuse is anything but romantic" is wonderful. Very insightful! As a Catholic convert that turned a new leaf from Baptist-Girl-Gone-Wild, I can rightfully testify that yes, sex gets super boring when you have no Christian foundation behind it for all the reasons you mentioned, though of course, it wasn't this obvious until after my conversion.

  9. Jenny
    You hit one out of the park with this.Best thing I've read at all on this.

    THANK YOU xoxox


  10. This is such an insightful, wise, and theologically-rich piece on the movie. Thanks so much for sharing your own perspective on it, which so artfully embodies the Catholic Church's attitude on human sexuality. You inspire me as a woman, wife, and writer!

  11. You nailed it! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :)

  12. Yup - if we were to celebrate our favorite holiday every single day, wouldn't that holiday get boring? Same with sex - when you can have it anytime, with no consequences, I can imagine it would begin to get tedious. Then you need to keep raising the bar to spice things up because you're not satisfied with regular old loving sex. Even though I detest NFP sometimes (abstinence is HARD!), I will always defend it because of it's ability to keep married love fresh, and special, and exciting. It's like counting down to the wedding night, honeymooning, and then counting down again every single month :)

  13. Very well said.

    Side note: I always chuckle (with very unfortunate glee) when contracepting couples become pregnant. It's like, "MUAHAHAH, You see, you THOUGHT you had control over it." I probably shouldn't think that way...buttttttttttt I do.

  14. Well done, Jenny! I recently discovered your blog, then I realized who your husband is. We went to Trinity together (he was in my brother Aaron's class). :) So, hi to David, and both of you keep up the great work, spreading light in the darkness.

  15. I have read a few zillion blog posts about fifty shades and this one is my favorite. Well done, Jenny, and thanks for posting about this one!

  16. LOVE! I just discovered your blog through your "Blessed is She" reflection for today. Your post commenting on this topic is the most accurate I've read so far! As parents of 6 children (and 1 little saint), we completely agree that openness to life is all the excitement/risk we need to keep things interesting! Keep up the good work! I look forward to reading more of your posts!


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