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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