Fifty Shades of Grey: Viagra for Women

Best book group ever: over fifty women, ages 20-70, drinking champagne at the local bookstore in my small town, discussing whether or not they’d like to be dominated in the bedroom. Never in my 25 years of selling sex toys would I have imagined a single book making that possible, but thanks to the meteoric rise of the erotic novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, I was invited to host a discussion at Gallery Bookshop about what and why this book has been tearing up bedrooms around the world. And I mean around the world, it has currently sold 31 million copies and is being translated into 30 languages. It has effectively spanked all other best sellers (DaVinci Code, Twilight) with its rapid ascent to the top of the charts. There are spoofs by Ellen and Saturday Night Live; there’s even a musical.

In case you’ve been under a rock, Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James is the first volume of an erotic trilogy that chronicles, very explicitly, the kinky sexual adventures of rich, handsome Christian Grey and his young, sexually naïve paramour, Ana Steele. We had some fun taking potshots at the writing (can you guess how many times the word “inner goddess” appears? 58!) and debating the female submissive in a post-feminist world (one fan asked if this book would have been popular if the book had been a derivative of Hunger Games with the female character Katniss as the dominant one, what do you think?).

But the one takeaway I wanted everyone in the group to leave with was this: nearly every person who reads Fifty Shades of Grey has at least one orgasm, so that’s a modest 31 million orgasms generated by one piece of writing. That’s a lot of sexual bliss, making for a lot of happy partners and plenty of “thank god I still got it” mom moments. When you factor in all the sex that’s going to come because of the new tricks and toys folks are picking up (at Babeland.com we have sold over 500 of the ben-wa style balls since the book came out, compared with 16 in the same time period prior to its release), we are looking at a mini sexual revolution; folks are even talking about a baby boomlet to come.

I’ve tried to explain the fascination with this book, but what has eluded me is what tipped it into a cultural phenomenon, I mean why now and why this book? There’s something about the combination of the e-book format, the Twilight/romance novel formula, the non-stop sex, and the seductiveness of kink that worked for folks. But I’m offering you my secret theory about why this book caught fire. It’s called “sluts revenge”. Women’s sexuality has taken a beating on the national stage this year (remember Rush Limbaugh calling the female Georgetown University student, Sandra Fluke, a slut for wanting birth control covered by health insurance?). By reading, sharing, talking about, and having orgasms from this book, women everywhere are livin’ the slut’s life in full view of their neighbors. How’s that for a gigantic middle finger (or should I say clit) being waved at Limbaugh and anyone else who attempts to diminish or sideline issues of women’s health and sexuality. What do you think of my theory?

By the way, that's the best cake ever in the photo, inspired by the book and prepared by Shani’s Sweet Creations.

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