Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's the Big Deal about Fifty Shades of Grey?

 Unless you’re blind, deaf, or a homeschooler, you’ve undoubtedly seen the flurry of excitement and anticipation surrounding the best selling novel-turned-movie Fifty Shades of Grey. For those of you who somehow miraculously don’t know, it’s a story about a 21-year-old virgin woman who becomes captivated by a certain moody, mysterious, dark fellow named Mr. Grey.

Sounds innocent enough, but Mr. Grey is no ordinary man. His main goal in life, once he finds out that Anastasia is a sexually inexperienced maiden, is to “educate” her in the realm of making love. However, “making love” for Mr. Grey includes shackling Anastasia to a bed in various positions, blindfolding her, beating her, and performing other bizarre and shocking carnal actions. Anastasia, not knowing any better, drinks it in and lets Mr. Grey have complete control over her until she is so bruised and bleeding that she can barely move. 

Wow, I can't wait for my husband to whip me...

Anastasia submits to these strange sexual fantasies for two reasons: 1) it’s a romance novel—come on, what did you expect?—and 2) she thinks she can somehow lovingly redeem Mr. Grey from his sadistic desires and help him to live a normal and happy live with lots of kids in a beautiful home. That premise in itself is fascinating: many women, myself included, have purposely entered into bad relationships in the hope that we can change the guy through loving him. But men like Grey are never loved out of brutality: they only continue to get drunker and drunker on sexual pleasure and their power over women. Anastasia is told by a friend “It’s never over for someone like you;” words she should have heard from the minute Mr. Grey forcibly groped her in a public elevator.

Sexual pleasure is probably the most powerful human force in the universe. It has caused wars, mass murders, infanticide, gang rape, abortions, abuse, and countless other crimes. It can completely dominate the brain and body, flooding the nervous system with hormones more powerful than many modern drugs. Google “sexual addiction” and over 14 million results pop up from people who can’t stop masturbating, looking at porn, or frequenting strip clubs. The desire is constant, the hunger, insatiable. Whatever gives you a high one day will fail to produce the same result the next, so the only option is to delve deeper into the dark realm of sexual fantasy and perversion until even the most gross sexual act fails to thrill you.

This is why Fifty Shades of Grey is so fascinating to many women (and men): it unleashes our animalistic instincts to control, to dominate, to hurt, and to enjoy other peoples’ suffering at the boon of our own pleasure. When you were a child, perhaps you enjoyed stomping on ants or punching your stuffed animals. I used to like to pull my cat’s tail until she clawed me (served me right). When I was a hormone-ridden middle scholar I liked reading (and sadly, writing) horrifically gory war novels. It’s part of our twisted, darker side to want to dominate something or someone, to call all the shots. And because sex feels so good, and because the media has brainwashed us to believe that we can’t live without it, we quickly become ensnared in very unrealistic and unhealthy obsessions. 

The truth is, when you are sexually starving, you will settle for anything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched people kissing and making out on TV, or read books that I shouldn’t have, and whispered to myself “Yes! THAT is the kind of man and the kind of sex I want.” But as Kahn said in Star Trek Into Darkness, “It is an illusion.”

We can praise Mr. Grey for one thing: he certainly knows what he wants. And sadly, that’s more than we can say about most men today who bounce from couch to bar to bed with no ambition or sense of responsibility. No wonder this book is such a hit with the female crowd: Mr. Grey may be a brutal beast, but he’s a decisive one. He knows exactly what to do and how to get it, and nothing can stop him. I’m sure more than one housewife, after devouring page after page of this masochist glory, looks at her overweight hubby snoring in the easy chair and dies a little inside, wondering why the hell her Prince Charming never showed up. 

Imagine if Mr. Grey’s manic sex drive were channeled into pursuing the true love of Anastasia instead of her body. Imagine if he willingly bled and suffered torture to protect her, if he risked his life to save her, if his final words in the novel were a sincere and hoarsely whispered “Anastasia, I love you more than myself, and I want what is best for you.”

But how silly. Nobody believes in that fairy-tale crap anymore.

It’s a small wonder that Fifty Shades of Grey has become a target for Christians. So we also shouldn’t be surprised if, by condemning this novel to the fiery chambers of hell, we bring scorn and contempt upon ourselves for being “those undersexed and dried-up Jesus freaks who don’t know sex from Scrabble.” Our sex-saturated culture laughs at churchgoers’ supposed fear of anything raw and naked, as the usual Christian response is that God has other plans for our sexuality. Some even site how Solomon writes some rather unashamed instructions for his son to relish and enjoy his wife:

"Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love" (Proverbs 5:18-19).

Apparently, God knows what’s up, more than we think. But if sex inside marriage is supposed to be so hot, why are so many married men and women bored? Because sex in the movies is vastly different from sex in real life. If all we’ve seen are steamy chick flicks and growling men aggressively dominating softly sighing women, and we bring those expectations to the marriage bed, they are not going to be fulfilled. Worse, if a man or woman has supplemented a masturbation habit with fantasies of the perfect partner, it’s literally guaranteed that their spouse will fall dreadfully short in satisfying them. Real human beings can’t live up to computer-projected images, and this reality makes real sex so unsatisfactory that many people return to their computers and skin flicks, or turn sexual intercourse with their spouse into little more than “masturbating with assistance,” as one priest put it.

However, the truth is that fantasy sex is as cold and impersonal as real sex may be embarrassing, boring, or even painful. Once the pleasure fades and the image melts away, the person is still alone, lonely, and unsatisfied. The same goes for the shockingly erotic scenes in Fifty Shades of Grey; there’s only so much you can get out of a sterile printed page or an imagined sex scene playing over and over in your mind. You’ll always want more, and when you do get more, it will never be enough. 

So…the best thing we can do in order to protect our future marriages and relationships is to stop the poison where it starts. The biggest lie about porn is that it doesn’t hurt anyone because it’s a sex-for-one kind of deal, but any kind of perversion of the sexual act and of human sexuality wounds countless others besides ourselves: our spouse or future spouse, our children, our friends, and the very people who perform or pose in sexually explicit materials themselves. If you protect yourself now, you won’t have to deal with it later. Porn and sexual addiction are just as lethal as any drug—one little taste and you can bet you’ll be fighting like hell to resist it for the rest of your life.  

Fifty Shades of Grey certainly offers an interesting insight into how sex and porn have changed our culture. Go back about 5 years and you wouldn’t have seen this book except in an adult boutique. Go back 20 years and you wouldn’t have been able to get it except on the black market. The original script was actually written by a teenager as an online fan-fiction spinoff of the oh-so-famous Twilight saga; now, Mr. Grey and his sadistic escapades make horny vampires seem like something out of Dragon Tales. Who can we thank for this? The porn industry. It’s made us comfortable with stuff that would have made your grandma faint 15 years ago.

And now for the big, final question that’s been looming over your head: should you read Fifty Shades of Grey? I would say that there’s really no reason to—a quick browse of a Wikipedia entry will tell you all you need to know about the uncomplicated plot. If you’re craving sexual gratification, you won’t find it here—just confusion, pain, and emptiness. The real world is full of men like Mr. Grey who turn real women’s lives into a living hell. I don’t think you need a flimsy paperback book to tell you that.

The real solution to our sexual hunger is not to ignore it, suppress it, or feed it with empty images. Sex was designed for real people in real time with real needs. God’s not stupid. Most sexually starved people are just lonely and need someone to talk to and understand them, someone who will enter into their miseries and insecurities. That’s why God is there. Because He created you with these desires, He knows how to take care of them. And if it is in His will for your life, He will bring a special person to share the burden with you; if not, you can share it with Him. He can take it. 

As the great Jack Lord, who was a Catholic, once said:

"Don’t try to force events; it never seems to work out. When I’m in a terrible quandary, I say, "Not my will, but Thine," and then everything becomes very clear." 

So trust God. What have you got to lose?

And tell Mr. Grey to take a long walk off a short pier.

Ciao, Baby.

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