In a recent, unexpected turn of events I became publicly associated with pornography. Speaking at a conference about the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon, this was not altogether surprising (I was asked to do so; I don’t have an attention-seeking need to engage in racy chit-chat with strangers. Well, only sometimes). More surprising were the conversations this prompted with Christians. Views differed from the mainstream excitement, ranging from dismissive – “It’s just pornography” – to guiltily indulgent “Don’t judge me, but…” – to intrigued “I want to know what I’m missing” – to opposed “It’s abuse”, yet no-one mentioned (without qualification) the one, simple reason almost every other reader in the English-speaking world was desperate to get their hands on it.
Why not? Wasn’t that why the books had broken records? Why people had bought e-readers and downloaded content with the urgency of brooding hero Christian Grey ripping the delicate, lacy… I digress. People were determined to read these books faster than publishers could print them. Uninterested in analysing the spiritual pitfalls, they heard fun lurked between the covers, and wanted similar fun between their own. The books had become a source of life (literally: a wave of pregnancies prompted by the enlivened libidos of readers is now being labelled the Grey Boom), of fun and awakening, of creating closeness as well as excitement. They became known as ‘mummy porn’ because the most avid consumers were women in stable relationships, apparently now pouncing on their startled men-folk. Couples were suddenly keen to invest time, effort and unusually-shaped objects into their relationships, and it seemed the warning signs spotted by Christians were invisible to the rest of the world.
While we were getting our collective knickers in a twist, others were casting theirs aside with abandon. Christian viewpoints once again became largely irrelevant and unsexy. Killjoys. Was anyone talking instead about truly intimate relationships developing first without sex and then the possibilities of sex within marriage? Sex with trust and real intimacy rather than the fairy-tale of life-changing intimacy developing through physical experimentation and emotional distance. Yes, fairy-tale. Not a ‘how to’ manual for the curious, Fifty Shades has the dream ending of ‘Can’t live without you’ love and marriage, despite the context of the central relationship. The myth is played out that someone seeking to dominate another’s body while remaining emotionally cold and controlling is a victim of life experience who simply can’t cope with closeness, and allowing them free reign over someone physically can change and heal them and introduce them to pure and genuine love.
It feels like Christians should have something better than this, something genuinely sexier. Not condemning or dismissing those chasing fantasies as a way of livening up committed relationships, but instead presenting something founded on deeper relationship, truly knowing and being known, and committing to find that in the other person. Can we demonstrate the missing, must-have quality in our relationships that has sent the world rushing for 50 Shades or will we be the ones who seem grey?