Do Women Want to be Submissives? A Look at Fifty Shades of Grey

50 Shades of GreyOn a recent trip to London, I took a trip to my favorite UK bookstore, Waterstone’s, and roamed the shelves. As I searched for books to bring home that I can’t get in the U.S., a book caught my eye that I had been hearing a lot about.  Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James.  I had been following the talk about this book for some time and quickly swept up a copy of the book and brought it back to the U.S.

But I have a confession.  I had heard the words “porn” and “bondage” in passing but really didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  I’m a mom (obviously) and I’m always interested when women like EL James (who is really a Jewish mother like me living in London) writes her break-out novels and they sell 2,000,000 copies in one month.

For the first 70 pages or so, I absolutely was intrigued.  It starts rather innocently.  Anastasia Steele is a young English major in her last year of university.  When her valedictorian room mate is too sick to go interview business mogul Christian Grey for the school paper, she takes her place.  Sparks fly during the interview.  Then a somewhat normal courtship begins.  He shows up out of the blue at her job.  He gifts her with a set of Tess of the U’rbervilles, takes her on his private jet and they seem to have a quick and heavy connection.  They go for coffee, they go dancing, it’s sort of normal.

Okay, that part I liked.  There is some serious chemistry going on.  She’s never been in a relationship.  He’s a slightly older man.  Anastasia falls fast and furious for him and I had memories of my own first love and how fast I fell.  He warns her not to get involved with him, we don’t know why, and that’s interesting, too. It’s a fast read, I was curious to see where it was going.

Until page 98 when he presents his RED ROOM OF PAIN.  I kid you not.  It’s his own personal S&M room.  Then he presents his plan.  She’s to become the submissive to his dominant.  He presents a long contract and pleads with her to sign it and become  his slave every weekend.  This is where my intrigue ended and I started to shake my head.  The sex that ensues is to over the top graphic, involving whips, cable ties, spanking, sucking, tongue and so much more. I’m not a prude, and I do have fantasties, but ones like this?  No!

It was around this time that I was on a NYC train and was reading the book.  I had to shield the pages from my fellow passengers in fear of being thought as a pervert.  Seriously.

A few of these raunchy excerpts (these are spoilers if you haven’t read the book) that I’m talking about include:

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

Okay, the ball scene.  Just gross.  At some point, when you’re reading this smut, you just have to wonder why????????

But I found Anastasia interesting and could relate to her being in her first relationship (to Christian she’s “vanilla”) and her struggles about the right/wrong of it all so I wanted to follow through and finish the book.  She’s really smart and at some point, you think she’ll listen to her inner goddess and run.  But for whatever reason, she sticks with him for longer than we expect, and it becomes more and more disappointing that such a smart young woman is letting herself be sucked into something she clearly disapproves of.  It’s not a life for her.  She knows it but she gets sucked deeper and deeper. It’s not just the sex, he showers her with a computer, a car and other luxuries she can’t afford.

When faced with a life of S&M, Ana decides that Christian is a man serious problems and maybe it’s worth it. She thinks that she can change him.  If she gives in with limits to his demands in the RED ROOM OF PAIN (still not kidding), perhaps he will come around and resume a normal relationship.  This is where I really start to feel sorry for her.  She’s delusional.  The more she gives in, the more insane he becomes and the kinkier the sex gets and I found it hard to take.  I began to question Ana’s own personal sense of self esteem – does she have any?  Her relationship is abusive and she can not see past Christian’s eyes and body.  As she continued to give in more and more, my respect for her just dropped away. Do women have the secret desire to be like everyone in the news is saying about our gender?  I shutter at the thought.

So, why is everyone talking about this book and will I read the next two?  I want to find to find out what happens, but I won’t be reading them.  I’ll find out from a friend.  I have a stack of books waiting that offer me much more than this.  I have nothing against sex, but when the female character is demeaned and made to look and feel as bad as Anastasia, I have to step away.  Plus, I’d like to read about consensual sex between two adults that doesn’t involve whips and chains.

If this is what the suburban moms who are reading this book are looking for in their dreams, you have to wonder.


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  1. I’m on the third book as well. I am so in love with the series…..

    I can understand how many people might look at this as an “unhealthy relationship” but when it’s gone into willingly, it’s not abusive. At least IMO.

    How great would it be if all “controlling/abusive/ahole” men would give you such an amazing heads up?!

    I’m a very independent, strong, headstrong woman by day… but behind closed doors… I like to submit. I like being “kept in check”. I like answering with “yes sir” and being punished if I do not.

    I think these books are great, especially as an introductory to the lifestyle. I wasn’t going to read them, but I’m oh so glad I did.

  2. Shaking my head because you don’t get it. And that’s okay. I’ve been in a D/s relationship with a Dominant who is very Christian Grey-like (with somewhat less money, however) for 12 years. In my day job, I am an executive at a Fortune 500 company, with all of the responsibility that entails. But when I am with him, I am his submissive, and that is the most erotic and freeing thing imaginable. Like any good Dominant, he took a long time getting to know me as a person and a woman before our relationship became sexual at all. He devotes a great deal of time and thought to our relationship, to taking care of my needs. I trust, respect, and love this man with my entire being. Weak men nauseate me. I have been in “vanilla” relationships with men who were too weak to handle me, and they shut down my libido and left me frustrated and unfulfilled. I am a very strong woman in many ways, highly educated and intelligent and successful, and I have always had a difficult time finding a man who could keep up with me. In my Dominant, I FINALLY found a man who was not only not intimidated by me, but able to handle me in every way. Reading these books (and yes, he commanded me to) only made me appreciate what I have with him all the more, particularly as I see so many women obviously hungering for what we have and not finding it.

    Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it…with an experienced Dominant, of course. That’s all I’m saying.

    • I really appreciate your point of view and thanks for visiting my site.

    • hey lily,
      thank you for your comment! i have a few questions about a d/s relationship, as like you, none of the men i’ve been with can keep up with me and bore me sexually after a few months. i have been wondering, for a while, about entering in a d/s relationship and wanted to know if i could ask you some questions

  3. Holly,
    I am midway through the first book and actually chose to download it to the kindle on my computer for the same reason you hid it on the subway. It is something of a guilty pleasure and I also have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I agree with just about everything you said and I get the sense that I will definitely not read the next two and may not even finish the first. I’m with you… there are so many wonderful books to read with great writing and strong female characters that I don’t feel the need to indulge in this… even for some momentary titilation. I have a husband for that!

  4. Holly! This book is so the talk of EVERYONE I know!

    I’ll admit I’m curious, but oh my!

    (I’ll keep you posted!)

  5. I’m actually on the third book in this series. While some of the sex scenes are a bit much for me and also too formula and repetitive – there is also an underlying plot of crime, mystery and dare I say – romance. I’m not trying to change your mind but rather to give your readers another perspective from another reader.

    I’ve actually found that I’m skimming some of the sex scenes and looking forward to reading more of the plot but also “suggesting” others to my husband. Sex is a HUGE part of the plot but not the only part. Much of the romance makes me smile.

  6. Thanks Holly! I was planning to read the book but now not so much

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