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Erotic novel 'Fifty Shades of Grey' goes viral... for good reason
March 15th, 2012
07:22 AM ET

Erotic novel 'Fifty Shades of Grey' goes viral... for good reason

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex weekly on The Chart. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

I have read “The Book.”

Ok, I didn’t read the entire book, but I did do a hopscotch through the sex scenes and, on the basis of the naughty parts alone, I can understand why folks are getting hot and bothered.

The book I’m referring to, of course, is “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the first in an erotic trilogy by E.L. James that melds kinky sex with romance. The novel has been selling like hot cakes and is causing quite a stir due to the explicit scenes of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM).

“Fifty Shades of Grey” has put the words "bondage erotica” into the mainstream, according to Rachel Kramer Bussel, a writer and editor of more than 40 anthologies of erotica, including “Best Bondage Erotica 2012.”

“It has shown that you don’t have to be a certain type of person to enjoy erotic fiction, and you certainly don’t have to be a BDSM practitioner to enjoy reading about it,” she says.

“That’s the biggest misconception about erotica in general. Some people may read a book of spanking erotica and be intrigued and want to try it. Or maybe they’re curious and seek out erotica as a way to test the waters. But there’s nothing wrong with enjoying and appreciating fantasy as fantasy.”

Some readers and cultural critics have opined that BDSM themes may be particularly relevant to today’s women, many of whom may have power in the workplace but would like to potentially relinquish some in the bedroom. Conversely the book could also appeal to stay-at-home moms who are so busy taking care of the kids – and everything else for that matter – that they long for more TLC for themselves (even of the not-so tender kind).

But does the success of “Fifty Shades” lie in its contemporary relevance, or its timeless universality? In 1958, “Story of O” caused a firestorm of controversy with similar erotic themes, and in 1994, Anne Rice published a trilogy based on “Sleeping Beauty,” which also explored BDSM themes.

“BDSM erotica explores both the physical side of BDSM, the mixing of pain and pleasure, and, usually, the psychological and power play side - which to me is often the most interesting,” says Bussel.

“Readers will be drawn to these kinds of stories for various reasons but the idea of willingly giving up control to someone who wants to use that control to get off, and get you off, is exciting to a lot of people. BDSM is about far more than just whips and chains ... You just need characters who want to exchange power and who are complementary in those desires.”

Fantasies are just that: fantasies. Not reality. They free the brain to explore secret, extraordinary realms without the obligations of everyday life. Kaye Wellings, a respected British biologist, puts it best in her book, “First Love, First Sex.”

“Fantasies perform a valuable function,” she writes. “Most of us, most of the time, behave conservatively, sexually and otherwise. Our erotic experiences represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of possibilities. Many possibilities only see the light of day through fantasies or dreams, seldom as reality.”

Much of the popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey” has come from women talking about it with other women – but perhaps they should be sharing these thoughts with their spouses.

If you’re looking for ideas, Bussel has some recommendations:

– "Learning to Drown" by Sommer Marsden

– The collection “Wetting the Appetite” by Blake Aarens

– For very short erotica, “Five Minute Erotica” edited by Carol Queen and Bussel's “Gotta Have It: 69 Stories of Sudden Sex

– Violet Blue's “Best Women's Erotica" series

– “Best Erotic Romance” edited by Kristina Wright for those looking for love stories along with their sex.

– For the kinky-minded, Bussel's anthologies like “Spanked."

I recently teamed up with author Cate Bellow, who has created a series of erotic short stories based on Greek myths, the first of which, “Persephone and Hades,” depicts the ultimate good girl/bad boy relationship. I created a “pleasure guide” to accompany the story, which helps couples use the themes – role-playing, sexual taboos, hot kisses, and more – as a source of erotic inspiration to dip their toes into more sexually adventurous waters.

Clearly, there’s something for everyone in the realm of erotica. So instead of reaching for the remote this evening, reach for some erotica, get cozy with your partner, and take turns reading aloud.

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Filed under: Sex

soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Ganthor the Troglodyte Troll

    I claim this spot on behalf of all troglodytes and ignoramuses in the land of Krangoghan!

    March 15, 2012 at 08:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Phantom of Krang-Kor

      Your weapons are useless against me!

      March 16, 2012 at 12:06 | Report abuse |
  2. wolf

    Why does the author of this article assume that women want the submissive role?

    March 15, 2012 at 09:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J.Crobuzon

      Well, duh. He's a man.

      March 15, 2012 at 09:07 | Report abuse |
    • technically

      Well actually he said "today’s women, many of whom may have power in the workplace but would like to potentially relinquish some in the bedroom." to me he is saying that many women enjoy power, from day to day, but "may" want to relinquish. I actually think he's implied that most women dont like to relinquish control hence the words "many" and "may". thats my take on it anyway.

      March 15, 2012 at 09:48 | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      Well ... I like being submissive. So do a few of my other friends. Almost every female I know (including myself) like to be taken control of. Females are portrayed as 'innocent and weak'. Sometimes, it's good to feel that way. (Plus I think a few men like that too. Makes them feel more 'strong' ... or, at least that's what my friend says. Idk if that's true or not).

      April 5, 2012 at 18:31 | Report abuse |
    • threesmartskirts

      Sarah, your singular experience as well as a few giggling assertions from your friends certainly speak for all of womankind.

      April 10, 2012 at 09:03 | Report abuse |
  3. J.Crobuzon

    I've been married since I was a kid to a woman I am deeply in love with, and so this kind of stuff is a yawn for me. But I have friends who are all about this lifestyle, and they enjoy it and write about it and hang out with others who do it, and that's great. As long as they don't do it out in the street and scare the horses, as the man said.

    March 15, 2012 at 09:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. curious.

    Has anyone read Persephone and Hades? I really enjoy Greek mythology. And wonder how the meshing of Greek mythology, and erotica would play out. Persephone and Hades story has always been for me an intriguing relationship. If anyone has read the book I would really appreciate your opinion. As I'm considering downloading onto my nook.
    Thanks for any input.

    March 15, 2012 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CN Red

      Can't help you with that, but it certainly sounds interesting.

      March 15, 2012 at 09:55 | Report abuse |
  5. woman of power!

    Most people seek to complain about discrimination in any instance. Others wait until they are truly offended before complaining. Usually it's women who look for any reason to complain, that want the man to open the door for us, pay for our dinner, then complain they aren't being treated as equal. Blah blah blah! Please wait until someone actually offends you before complaining about something that may be true to begin with!

    March 15, 2012 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. fidgetwidget

    I spend my entire day running a business sitting in the BIG CHAIR. As the owner and CEO, I am accountable for any decision made by my employees. When I come home at night, I can't put down the reins completely. However, when I walk into my bedroom with my DH, that is the one place where I can surrender control to someone I absolutely trust and love above all others. I've read the Fifty Shades trilogy and it is truly some of the best fiction I've ever read. Erotica aside, this trilogy is the story of a deep, complicated psychological journey by both protagonists. As for the erotica, the author of the above article has it exactly right. Turn of the TV, pick up these books and read the scenes aloud with your partner. You'll be amazed at what can happen. It might just rock your world. It rocked mine and I'm not the least bit ashamed to admit it.

    March 15, 2012 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • whan a pot calls the kettle black!

      How deep into inflicting pain does this story go? Im very interested in the trilogy, but im not really a fan of pain infliction. Could easily get past some mild cases. The fear of mixing torture, and fantasy doesn't really interest me. Any enlightenment you could inject would be greatly appreciated.

      March 15, 2012 at 10:45 | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      You said almost exactly what I was thinking. I loved this trilogy also, but I think the author of this article needs to go read the books! Skipping through and focusing on the sex scenes does not even begin to give a clue to this wonderful love story.

      March 15, 2012 at 13:05 | Report abuse |
    • J.Crobuzon

      Most people who are into this seem to be veterans of failed relationships. To me it seems like you are cynical and bruised and just want someone to play by the rules. But I am completely unsuited for this kind of thing; I bristle when people order me around and tend to gesture hypnotically and make suggestions instead of ordering people around directly. Also, "you've been a naughty boy" does nothing for me. This board doesn't want me to say I'm probably a s0ci0path but I've never felt 'naughty' in my life. What I get off on is still being the ardent lover of the girl I met at nineteen and seeing her face light up for me. If that ever gets boring, maybe I'll try B&D.

      March 15, 2012 at 14:59 | Report abuse |
  7. slvtohim

    I have had a Dominant for the past 5 years. I too make all the decisions about everything and it is nice to surrender this temporarily for a moment with Him. Our relationship is very psychologically motivated. BDSM is not for the faint at heart but it is whatever one makes of it. I think Hollywood distorts it as a poor woman clad in latex in chains being beaten by her Master but the commitment in a BDSM relationship is very deep and very bonding. I'm proud of it.

    March 15, 2012 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J.Crobuzon

      "I think Hollywood distorts it as a poor woman clad in latex in chains being beaten"

      Naah, they always go for the 6'6" Domme in black latex with a huge whip, snarling "You've been a naughty boy!" Then cut to a closeup of the guy's face going "Yikes!"

      March 16, 2012 at 11:46 | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      You sound like a very open minded woman. I think that is very good for a marriage. I have been married for over 30 yrs. We watched a movie called The Girl Wih the Dragon Tattoo. It had some forced sex in it for money. My wife was turned on by it and had me do some thing to her that night which we both found very exciting. You should watch the movie with your husband. Bob

      April 4, 2012 at 12:24 | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      That was a reply to slvtohim...Bob

      April 4, 2012 at 12:25 | Report abuse |
  8. Michael

    Started to read this book but kept thinking about my taxes which I haven't done yet.

    March 15, 2012 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J.Crobuzon

      Wonder if anyone ever ties up their partner and makes her do the income tax? "Faster, baby! Uh! Uh! Uh! Yeah!"

      March 15, 2012 at 15:09 | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      This isn't meant for Michael, but for J.Crobuzon ... LOL. Seriously, I laughed so hard at work after reading that. Thank god I was on mute.

      April 5, 2012 at 18:43 | Report abuse |
  9. JEANETTE Fox

    IT IS A MODERN VERSION OF "THE STORY OF O". AND BTW , THE WRITER IS A WOMAN

    March 15, 2012 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Flora

    I have to agree; fantasy is just that – fantasy. If you so desire to bring it out of the relm of fantasy with your partner, that's fine as well, but if it's only in your mind, then it's not hurting/offending/subjugating anyone. Just make sure that the both of you are equally as into it before you float the idea to them.

    March 15, 2012 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. J.Crobuzon

    People have amazing lives, and they come up with amazing things. Some guys just beat their wives without any ceremony at all, and the wives come back for more. Some make a huge production out of five or six whacks with a paddle, and the wives come back for more. Some wives beat their husbands, and some husbands make their wives watch football games. The torture never stops, as Zappa said.

    March 15, 2012 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Juvemar

      Dear Krishnaji,Thank you very much for sending brief news about Ghandruk, it erntaicly has given us pleasure to know what is going on in Ghandruk.I was born and bred in Ghandruk but due to global migration, currently living in the global village in the UK. As such I am always endeavoring to keep myself up to date with the news and views about Ghandruk. The step you have taken is good for those people living abroad. If you would kindly send us such brief notes at least every six months would be great?Thank you so much.Warmest regards

      April 9, 2012 at 05:27 | Report abuse |
  12. Ted_subby

    It would apparently surprise many people that there are hundreds of thousands of adults who enjoy BDSM. BDSM can be anything from the wild (such as the fictional stories I post about male submission at http://www.assdisc.com) to the very mild and everything in between, it can be explicitly sexual or not at all. It is up to the individuals and there is no wrong about it as long as it is safe, sane, and consensual.

    March 15, 2012 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Sooz

    Safe, sane, and consensual with and by Adults. No kids, no critters. The rest is a kaleidoscope between those consenting ADULTS. My Fiance is one of those who loves letting "go of the reins" after days full of all the decisions, powerplays, big egos. Plus, switching roles can be fun, too- although some "dyed in the wool" lifestylers cry foul at that. Some say you're either a Dominant or a subservient. My point – it is up to those playing slap and tickle, doing whatever they find to be sexually fulfilling. If you like to read erotica, find the type you like. If you are "vanilla" – enjoy those times – if you're not – enjoy – it is part of living! Passing judgment is futile – hasn't stopped anyone for eons!

    March 15, 2012 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J.Crobuzon

      "although some "dyed in the wool" lifestylers cry foul at that. Some say you're either a Dominant or a subservient." I have noticed from my friends that the lifestylers are VERY judgmental. There's always someone ready to tell you 'ur doing it wrong,' which is weirder than doing it in the first place. It's YOUR bed.

      March 16, 2012 at 09:11 | Report abuse |
  14. Myto Senseworth

    I will not be reading the book. I have a life....

    March 15, 2012 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J.Crobuzon

      I have a life and a half, and I read about a book a week. Reading's part of my life. I eat sometimes as well.

      March 16, 2012 at 11:44 | Report abuse |
    • GrouchyKat

      I work downtown therefore I am gone 12ish hours a day. I am active in my community and I'm involved with someone, yet I still find time to read. Reading is the most precious gift my parents ever gave me. I actually feel sorry that you don't think you have time to read if you have a "life".

      March 16, 2012 at 18:20 | Report abuse |
    • sljas104

      This book is definitely worth the read! I haven't been as big of a reader in the past couple years but I heard about this through a few sources and was intrigued. I bought the nook version of volume 1 and read the entire book the same day. I literally stayed up into the wee hours and called out of work the next day because I could not stop reading it (that's how enticing and hot it is). I am definitely not a romantic reader, in fact I've never read a romantic novel and avoid romantic dramas or comedies as well but this is different....I definitely recommend it, mainly for females since the narrator is a female but I think males may enjoy it as well.

      March 19, 2012 at 22:54 | Report abuse |
    • autumn

      Do you mean to imply that people who have lives don't read? I think you are sorely mistaken, and obviously under-educated on the subject.

      April 4, 2012 at 17:04 | Report abuse |
  15. PriceL

    Not too shabby for an author that originally published this on a fanfiction site for Twilight Saga using Edward and Bella as her main characters.

    March 15, 2012 at 18:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. KanneM

    I wish the author would have looked a little deeper into this sub-culture (pardon the pun), in regards to paragraph seven. The promulgation of the idea that women are always submissive in BD/SM is pervasive and inaccurate. This trilogy may emphasize that, via the "romance" aspect, but for those of us female dominants who know just how powerfully many accomplished men desire to submit, the characterization does a disservice. And, indeed, it does to women generally by presuming them not to be the ones in interested in or, sometimes, even capable of being the leader.

    March 15, 2012 at 18:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J.Crobuzon

      My wife was undervalued as a child, and grew into a very impressive and brilliant woman. She tends to lead and want her way, and I totally understand how it chafes at her, so I bend over backwards to let her have her way. I could easily be more of a bully and get my way more often, and she knows it. Neither one of us is really a 'dominant' in our relationship, and the 'power issues' the lifestyle people make so much of are a bit tricky for us. They tend to solemnity, and we tend to giggle.

      March 16, 2012 at 11:43 | Report abuse |
  17. Jane

    This is the dumbest book I've read in a long time. C'mon, even the names: Anastasia Steele and Chistian Grey...could they BE any more "romance novel?" Ugh.

    March 15, 2012 at 19:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J.Crobuzon

      I'd have called them Algernon McGurk and Maybelline Fronkenschtine myself. But then it might have been a completely different book . .

      March 16, 2012 at 12:02 | Report abuse |
    • cyberdew41

      J.Crobuzon - that's EYE-gor to you! >;-}~ (loved the Mel Brooks reference)

      March 26, 2012 at 18:01 | Report abuse |
  18. GrouchyKat

    These books touch on BDSM, but at their heart, they are a love story of a man who was traumatized as a child (and used sadism as a way to cope) and how he learns to cope with loving a woman who is not a submissive and how to love her and still cope with what he went through. The author of this article really needs to go back and read his subject matter.

    March 16, 2012 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kozi

      I agree. There is a little bondage in the books and most of that is very mild. I didn't think these were any more erotic than the "regular" romance novels I read.

      March 28, 2012 at 22:46 | Report abuse |
  19. Lisa

    The reason I like being submissive is because it's a chance to let go. There's also that sense of being wanted so badly that he won't wait for you. Honestly, for me it does deepen the bond. You're trusting that person at you're most vulnerable time.

    April 8, 2012 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Mikel

    Shop at the Pleasure Chest.

    April 18, 2012 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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    April 19, 2012 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Iread2xs

    i am really getting sick of the press this book has been getting, i have been reading this genre for years, this story is great but i can think of 50 authors who could have writen it better and hotter and have been doing so for years. try googling one of the following ellora cave, international heat, shayla black, smuketeers, susan johnson, sylvia day, jayne rylon, nine naughty novelists
    knock yourself out!

    July 10, 2012 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
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  25. Adventurous

    Sex toys have transformed my marriage! My wife and I read 50 Shades of Grey together...and it opened our minds up beyond the vanilla sex routine that our marriage had turned into after 15 years. I went to http://www.poshallure.com and purchased our first toy to reenact some of what we read about...and it has made an amazing difference in our sex life. If you to to http://www.poshallure.com and scroll down to the bottom of the page, there is a banner that takes you to items that directly relate to the book. Check it out, and share it with your friends!

    September 11, 2012 at 00:57 | Report abuse | Reply
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