I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey, the soft-core erotica novel that seems to be on everyone's mind right now, or at least the mind of the American media. Unlike most of them, however, I intend to read it at some point.
Why? Because I like sex. If you've read my novel The Taker, you know that. It has a dark, smutty little thread running through it, an expertly woven play on the theme of sexual dominance. And let me tell you, from the reaction my book got from some quarters, Americans do not like to talk openly about our love of sex, especially if it is not of the straight-up missionary kind. Not exactly a shocker, in an age where Amish romance novels get more media coverage than any novel with more than a smattering of references to sex.
Think about that: the media -- and to an extent, the U.S. publishing industry -- believes more American readers identify with Amish virgins than with people having consensual sex.
So hoorah for E.L. James for being the point around which the rest of us -- and by "the rest of us," I mean the vast silence majority of Americans and readers -- can rally. Because if the phenomenal demand for Fifty Shades of Grey tells us anything, it tells us that female readers actually do want real sex in their books and they'll buy it if they know it's in there. Of course, this is no surprise to the publishers of romance novels, which is still the best-selling genre of fiction, according to an industry study by Romance Writers of America.
What other conclusions can we draw from the Fifty Shades phenomena?
- Women will enjoy the sexual fantasies of their own choosing, thank you very much Dr. Drew and the rest of the so-called authorities -- particularly the male ones -- who try very hard to police our subconscious. A little fantasy in moderation never hurt anybody. We know the difference between fantasy and reality: trust us. Dr. Logan Levkoff wrote one of the most intelligent posts on this subject March 3rd right here at the Huffington Post.
- Perhaps publishers will allow mainstream books to have more sex in them, particularly books written by women. If you think your average novelist can pour as much sex as they want into a book, think again. For example, I was advised not to use the word "erection" more than once in a manuscript. (Sadly, two erections and you're out.) That sort of cuts the fun short, doesn't it?
- Television might actually be a better barometer of our sexual tolerances than books. If you really want to know a person's tolerance for heat, find out what they watch on TV. I've observed that people seem to want to appear more conservative when discussing books than when talking about television programs. The same person who laps up True Blood will refuse to read a book that has half the sex and violence. I think there is more pressure within reading communities to maintain a conservative façade than there is in society at large. Or perhaps people aren't even aware they're doing it. But when you think about it, it is an odd double standard because reading engages the imagination whereas television tends to paint the complete picture for you. And everyone knows that what goes on in our heads is the sexiest of all.