What can explain the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon? Why are so many women reading a book about sexual submission in an age of feminine liberation? No one can seem to answer the question satisfactorily. Several national magazines have tackled the question. Women worked so hard to achieve parity with men and to even win independence from them. The have even overtaken men in many areas. Sixty percent of all college degrees are awarded to women. Boys can't keep up with the girls in high school, even in subjects like mathematics and the sciences where the boys used to dominate. Three out of four of the last Secretaries of State were women. And about seventy percent of divorces are initiated by wives. It's the women rejecting the men and not so much the opposite. Battle of the sexes? The men lost.
Yet now women are fantasizing about submission before men, obsessing over a book where a young, liberated female college student signs an agreement to be totally submissive toward a billionaire businessmen who wants to make her into his sex slave.
I read the first volume of the trilogy, and it only compounds the question for me. It's poorly written and I found it boring. Perhaps the subsequent volumes are better. As erotic literature it deserves at best a 'C.' Yes, the contract part where the woman has to sign and an officially become submissive was novel. But that's about it. I don't mean to be uncharitable. But most of it reads like cheap porn.
Some writers have said that the explanation lies in the modern woman's inability to carry the entire burden that has been placed on her. As she struggles to balance career, family and other responsibilities she just wants someone to lighten her load. She wants someone to take full control so she gets a break. And a book about a man taking over her life is thereby, in a sense, liberating. But if that were the case then a novel about a woman getting a really good housekeeper and financial planner could have been just as adequate. Why sexual submission?
Here's the reason.
Our world has little understanding of lust. We put all our emphasis on love. We watch romantic comedies about men and women slowly falling in love, in a slow, low-simmering manner. We laugh with them until they tie the knot and live happily ever after in their comfortable, humorous, cozy little lives. We offer platitudes like love being the most powerful emotion in the world.
But here is simple proof that it is not. About eighty percent of the men who cheat on their wives claim to love their wives. But lust for another woman has superseded their love.
In truth, lust is the most powerful emotion in the universe. Yes, it is far more temporary than love and it wears off much more rapidly. Yet, like a sprinter in a 100-meter dash against a long-distance runner, love doesn't stand a chance.
That's why in Judaism a husband and wife are not supposed to get so close to a member of the opposite sex to whom they are not married. We're not supposed to allow lust to grow to such an extent where it begins to challenge love. Love can compete in the long term, but rarely in the short term.
And in truth lust is one of the most necessary components of a marriage. I pity the husband and wife who have ceased lusting after one another. In so doing they have lost the deep, passionate, raw, carnal desire that draws them to one another and makes each feel deeply desirable. We all want to be wanted, need to be needed, desire to be desired.
The Bible concurs. The tenth commandment is that a man should not covet and lust after another man's wife, which means, by direct implication, that he sure as heck ought to be lusting after his own wife.
So why do we so disparage lust? Why do we trump love at lust's expense?
For two reasons. First, we mistakenly think that lust is something merely physical. We wrongly attribute it to being of the body. In truth lust is the feverish, intuitive gravitation of masculine to feminine and feminine to masculine. Real lust occurs when there is perfect polar alignment between masculine and feminine opposites. Lust is what magnetizes an otherwise ordinary man and woman to become infatuated with each other. It is not of the merely of the body but is rather the arrangement of two opposing energies that causes us to passionately incline toward one another.
I once counseled a French man married to an attractive woman who, after a few years together, refused to have sex with her. She desperately wanted children. She was convinced he was gay but forced him to come and see me to discuss his sexuality. He swore to me he was straight. 'Then why aren't you attracted to your wife?' I asked him. 'Because she puts me down constantly,' he said. 'She's not nurturing at all. She's harsh and mean.'
What he was saying was that his lust for his wife had disappeared once, to his mind, she had lost her femininity. Sexual polarity had vanished and with it the feverish gravitation a man is supposed to have for his wife. They divorced, the man later remarried and enjoys a healthy and regular sex life with a wife to whom he remains deeply attracted (although ironically his second wife did not want children).
I have heard the same from many husbands. But I have heard it even more from wives. Countless married women have told me they are not attracted to their husbands because of how poorly they are treated. Sex is a chore rather than a pleasure. They have been turned off by their husbands.
But there's another, more fundamental reason we disrespect lust. We don't know how to sustain it so we disparage it. We don't know how to hold on to it in marriage so we curse it. Be gone, you emotion of the devil. What results, however, are marriages based on the weak link of friendship as opposed to the fiery and scorching bond of lust.
To be sure, both are necessary. The complete marriage is where husband and wife are both lovers and best friends. But today we are mostly, and sometimes only, the latter. I have heard husbands tell me this countless times. Pointing to their wives they'll say, 'This is my wife. She's my best friend.' But friendship is not the nuclear bond that marriage requires in order to not just survive but flourish.
I wrote my book The Kosher Sutra in order to establish the 8 principles of eroticism so that married couples can bring lust back into their relationships. But modern marriages for the most part don't have it and modern men and women don't have a deep understanding of the erotic mind. Which is not only sad, but also explains, in my opinion, the reason that marriage is dying as an institution. It seems so boring and routine. People end up sustaining lust by regularly changing partners, a deeply counterfeit, compromising, and lazy version of lust.
Be that as it may and simply put, lust is where you are made to feel intensely desirable. It's where a man can't stop thinking about you, obsessing over you, can't keep his hands off you. It's where you're placed at the center of another person's existence and where they permanently bask in the glow of your light. You are the planet and they are drawn into your gravitational orbit. And there is no feeling in the world quite like it. Nothing can make you feel more special.
Now we get to why women -- and so many married women especially, as was parodied by Saturday Night Live -- are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. The book is really the story of a billionaire who can have whatever he wants. But he wants this one woman. He wants her so badly that he obsesses over controlling her completely, making her submit, owning her, and taking complete possession over her. Nothing else matters, only her. He doesn't want to ink any deals except her. She has to, has to, sign on the dotted line or he'll wither away. In other words, it is he who is her slave, and not the reverse. He can't be without her. He can't live without having her. He is utterly smitten.
The truth of the story is that she is the one who is dominant. It is she who has a far greater hold over him than the opposite and it is she who controls her submission. He, however, has no control, pursuing her doggedly, making her feel intensely desirable at all times.
And why submission specifically? Yes, women want to be wanted, but why in a position of subservience, even if only feigned? Simple. In a world where lust has died, where sexual polarity has all but disappeared and where sexual attraction has been reduced to the single cylinder of the physical alone, an author gives us a wild story of a man and a woman recreating extreme sexual polarity of masculine and feminine in the most extreme sense and we lap it up. The polarity is created in a manner, to be sure, but then one extreme invites another. The extremely passionless nature of today's relationships, where the poles of masculine and feminine are unaligned and therefore boring, is met with another extreme to create sparks.
There is a better, more wholesome way of creating that polarity, and we'll address it in a follow-up column.
But for now I'll make one simple point. We need make our marriages more exciting. We need to make them more passionate. Do our wives really need to find this passion only in a fantasy novel about domination? Perhaps its time to emphasize not just love but desire in our marriages. It's for that reason that one of the central planks of my campaign for Congress in New Jersey's ninth district -- whose primary is this Tuesday -- is to make marital counseling tax deductible, so that we attack the monstrous fifty percent divorce rate by giving couples the incentive to get the help they need and rescue their marriages from the cold winter of passionless attachment or divorce.
Shmuley Boteach, "America's Rabbi," is the international bestselling author of 27 books including blockbuster relationship books like "Kosher Sex," "Kosher Adultery," and "Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments." He has just published his newest bestseller Kosher Jesus. Rabbi Shmuley is currently running for Congress on a pro-family values platform in New Jersey's Ninth District. To contribute or volunteer for his campaign go to www.shmuleyforcongress.com or follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.