Fifty Shades of Caution
Women are asking, "Should I read Fifty Shades of Grey?" I hate to see them falling into the same trap that has claimed so many men.
Recently my wife, Merry, asked, “I’ve been hearing about this new book, Fifty Shades of Grey. I wonder if that would be good to read?”
To answer her question, I began by looking up the book on Amazon and reading the description:
When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.
“Actually, this description doesn’t reveal much about what the book is really about.” I said to Merry. “From what I’ve read, this is a book about sexual bondage and sadism. So … does that sound like something you want to read?”
“I don’t think so.”
It was an easy decision for Merry, but apparently there are many Christian women today who are hearing about this book and are wondering, “Should I read Fifty Shades of Grey?” Many women love stories about romance, and here’s a book that has become a national sensation—the book and its two sequels rank 1-3 at the top of the New York Times paperback bestseller list. So many women are talking about the book that others want to become part of the conversation.
For some women, the decision of whether to read it is simple once they learn what the book is about. Others are curious and want to try it out, so to speak. And others can’t understand what the fuss is about. “Isn’t this just a book?” they ask. “It isn’t real, after all, it’s just fiction. It might even spice up your sex life with your husband!”
Falling into the same trap
Words like these sound awfully familiar to me because they’re the same justifications that men use for consuming pornography. And that’s why I’m writing, as a man, about a book written primarily for women. I hate to see women falling into the same trap that has claimed so many men.
I’m writing these words a few hours after watching a preview session from FamilyLife's upcoming Stepping Up video series for men. In this session, men were challenged to “stand firm”—to step up and do the right thing no matter what temptations you face or what circumstances you find yourself in. As 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 tells us, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”
One of the ongoing battles for any man is with lust, and each day he is tempted to look at images that feed this lust. At one point the video session focused on one man’s struggle with pornography and how it nearly destroyed his marriage. And it struck me that there’s little difference between the effects of a man choosing to view pornography and the effects of a woman reading books like Fifty Shades of Grey.
The right place for sexual desire
Some people will say it’s unfair to criticize a book I haven’t read. Often I agree with that sentiment, but not when it comes to erotica or pornography. Here are a few points to consider:
1. Erotic photos, videos, and books are all designed with one thing in mind—to stimulate sexual desire. From a biblical standpoint, sexual desire is good as long as it’s in the right context. But I think it’s safe to say that the creators of erotica and pornography are not very concerned about whether they help couples build stronger marriages. Instead, using these media invites men and women to fantasize about sexual relationships outside of marriage. That’s a dangerous path to walk. It leads to unhealthy comparisons with your spouse and a host of other problems. If the sexual relationship in a marriage is weak, reading erotica or viewing porn is not a good way to add some sparks.
2. Erotica and pornography promote a corrupted view of something God designed as beautiful. Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says it well:
Rightly understood and rightly ordered, marriage is a picture of God’s own covenantal faithfulness. Marriage is to display God’s glory, reveal God’s good gifts to His creatures, and protect human beings from the inevitable disaster that follows when sexual passions are divorced from their rightful place.
The physicality of the male and female bodies cries out for fulfillment in the other. The sex drive calls both men and women out of themselves and toward a covenantal relationship that is consummated in a one-flesh union. By definition, sex within marriage is not merely the accomplishment of sexual fulfillment on the part of two individuals who happen to share the same bed. Rather, it is mutual self-giving that reaches pleasures both physical and spiritual.
A man who directs his sexual drive toward the one-flesh relationship in marriage, Mohler writes, “is the perfect paradigm of God’s intention in creation.” By contrast, a man involved with pornography subverts his sex drive toward lust and self-gratification. “Rather than taking satisfaction in a wife, he looks at dirty pictures in order to be rewarded with sexual arousal that comes without responsibility, expectation, or demand.”
3. The particular genre highlighted in Fifty Shades of Grey, BDSM, is even worse. BDSM stands for bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism. These practices are the opposite of the “mutual self-giving” that should characterize a holy, biblical sexual relationship in marriage.
4. The fact that a book is fiction doesn’t negate the damaging consequences of reading it. Words can penetrate your mind in negative ways just as images can. In Philippians 4:8 the Bible tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Can you truly do that while simultaneously reading this book?
5. You don’t need to join every conversation. We like to think that teenagers are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure, but sometimes I wonder if it’s just as bad for adults. Think of what a mother tells her kids: “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do the same thing?” The same goes for friends urging you to read erotica or look at pornography.
Is it good for your marriage?
“I’ve been studying what God says about sexuality for 15 years,” writes Dannah Gresh in a blog post titled, “I’m Not Reading Fifty Shades of Grey.”
According to Him, there is only one who should stimulate sexual desire in me: my husband. Since that’s God’s plan for my sexual desire, anything other than my husband creating arousal in me would be missing the mark of God’s intention. (Translation: it is sin.) Jesus said it this way: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The same is true of a woman looking at or reading about a man.
Erotica, especially the genre involving bondage and sadism, easily leads to a corrupted view of something God created as good within the context of marriage. It sparks physiological reactions that require greater and greater levels for fulfillment; it causes unhealthy comparison to a real-life spouse; and it leads men and women to be preoccupied with sexual fulfillment at the expense of other relationships, including their relationship with God.
So you’ve got to ask yourself: Is any of that good for your marriage?
My hope and prayer is that Christian women, when faced with the temptation of a book like Fifty Shades of Grey, will “be watchful” and “stand firm in the faith.” Don’t fall into the same trap as men do with pornography.
Copyright © 2012 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
This article originally appeared in the June 18, 2012 issue of Marriage Memo. Click here to read emails readers sent in response to the article.