Several years ago, I read a story about an incestuous father-daughter relationship. It was beautifully written: simultaneously disturbing, compelling, and – in parts – erotic. It was supposed to be erotic. It was in a collection of erotic stories. I found myself being strangely aroused by this horrible story of abuse. Such was the skill of the writer.
But obviously that doesn’t mean I want to sleep with my father. It simply meant that a particular piece of writing could have the power to both arouse and disgust . It meant that sometimes, we are turned on by awful fantasies.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve observed the rising outcry over the Fifty Shades movie with interest. The movie is based on an erotic novel that sold millions of copies. In other words, millions of readers – primarily women – found the story of a damaged, violent man to be arousing.
Now that the movie has been released well-meaning critics are up in arms. “This movie condones domestic violence!” “It’s dangerous for women!”
But I disagree. No work of fiction can condone anything. It is simply a fantasy. It is simply a story that is both disturbing and erotic. And it is okay for women to find it arousing. Women are allowed to have their fantasies.
I resent this policing of other women’s erotic thoughts. Women are not stupid. Women know that Christian Grey is not a real person. And they know that the 50 Shades storyline is implausible to the point of ridiculous. They get that. No-one reads the book and takes it as a blueprint for living. They find it arousing, because fantasies of domination are common and completely normal. But the readers no more wish to re-enact the storyline in real life no more than I wish to actually sleep with my father.
Sex, for so many women, is steeped in shame. Sexual thoughts, for so many women, are steeped in embarrassment. Yelling “Fifty Shades is dangerous!” at women who find it erotic is just shaming them further. It is implying that there is something wrong with them for being turned on by a story.
This shaming, to me, is far more ‘dangerous’ than any movie. This shaming, to me, is what truly damages women. Yes, domestic violence is evil. But a fantasy about being dominated by a crazy, handsome man is not domestic violence. It is a fantasy. Many, many women fantasise about being tied down, or smacked, or sexually bullied. Many, many women fantasize about lesbian encounters, or group sex, or even sex without consent. Some women will enact one or more of those scenarios in a safe environment; some will keep them forever lodged in the most private parts of their minds.
But either way, fantasies are not reality. And it is okay to feed fantasies with a bit of visual stimulation. If you get off on Fifty Shades, there is nothing wrong with you. You are okay. And you are not condoning domestic violence. You are just having a little erotic fantasy.
Don’t be ashamed.