The Female Gaze: Fifty Shades of Bondage

Each week in The Female Gaze, Faith Newport engages the trends, events, and issues that affect women—and the men who care about them.

It started out as Twilight fan-fiction, with a darker edge and a whole lot of x-rated pseudo-BDSM sexuality—and somehow skyrocketed from Internet obscurity to international infamy. Today, the Fifty Shades of Grey series has sold over thirty million copies worldwide. It’s been on bestseller lists for months and even beat out Harry Potter for the title of fastest-selling paperback. It’s been published in 37 countries worldwide, and a movie adaptation is just around the corner.

Phenomenons like Fifty Shades and the buzz over movies like the much-anticipated Magic Mike illustrate just how close women’s desires have come to being mainstream. The so-called “mommy porn” trend is nothing new—FSOG is far from being the first erotic novel filled with graphic sexuality and aimed at women. Paperback book stores are full of bodice rippers featuring minimal plots, lots of romance, and heavy emphasis on passion. However, none have ever been as universally in demand as EL James’s controversial work. It’s a reminder that women too are equally capable of having cravings that are purely sexual. Rather than being unique to the male experience, getting a little hot under the collar for reasons other than poetry reading or meeting a man who knows how to do laundry is part of our wiring as well.

The old stereotype that women are biased toward the emotional, while men are biased toward the physical, just doesn’t ring true to me. So much of a woman’s sensuality and sexuality is tied up in the physical. We feel a powerful connection to touch. We craft with our hands. We dance. We buy silky cocktail dresses, or cashmere sweaters. We hug, snuggle, stroke, and groom our friends. Two female friends will fall asleep close to each other, exhibiting a physicality in their affection that guys are much less likely to.

Society has done us a great disservice by neglecting the physical nature of women and how it impacts us sexually.

However, by the same token, getting wrapped up in Hollywood eye candy or the pages of a steamy novel neglects an important aspect of our nature as well—our spirituality.

As Christians, we believe that sex at its best is uniquely spiritual. Author and pastor Rob Bell speaks of the consummation of marriage as a covenant like those Abraham formed with God under night sky full of innumerable stars, and says it’s the only covenant pact our faith still requires bloodshed to seal. We read in scripture of “two becoming one flesh,” and marvel. We believe that marriage creates a space for sex to be more than pleasure—that it opens up a new reality in which sex can be holy and bring us holiness (or wholeness) as a result.

Sex, at its best, can be healing and redemptive, a perfect picture of God’s love.

But to be whole requires utter vulnerability. Just like you cannot experience intercourse while fully dressed, we can’t experience healing through our sexual intimacy if we are hiding pieces of our inner selves. Isolated fantasy during intercourse is an escape from intimacy, a way to experience the moment while detaching ourselves from it. It’s a mental barricade that can separate us from ourselves, our lover, and our Creator. It can be dangerous, because it can control our intimate lives and prevent us from being free to experience the beauty of the moments we experience in our real lives.

Good sex requires us to be emotionally available and mentally present. Good sex means casting out fear and freeing ourselves of our doubts one touch at a time. As Joan Brusenko writes in her book, A Woman’s Journey to God, “There is no way to relate to God as a lover, to have holy, passionate sex, if we’re disconnected from the process.”

Despite all the jokes to the contrary, books like Fifty Shades are highly unlikely to rejuvenate our marriages or fill some forgotten need for passion. Their allure is based in fantasy alone, and for that reason the series falls remarkably short. Only a willingness to engage more fully with our Creator and what He was given us can free us to be passionate in deeper, truer ways.

About Faith Newport

Faith Newport writes, knits, drinks lattes, and sings in the shower in a small Midwestern town. She lives with two cats, too many books, and her very patient husband. Follow her on Twitter @knittybarista.

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