Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).
Additional warning: Today’s topic is orgasms. Turn back now if you don’t like discussing them.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to write for today’s post. The second half of chapter 18 is, for me, a snooze-fest. After Ana actually eats her lunch, she and Christian proceed to have pages and pages of unimaginative sex. It’s not particularly intense in terms of BDSM, and it’s not especially well-written (gee, what a surprise). In short, it’s exactly the sort of BDSM that most fan fiction writers use unless they have a pretty deep understanding of the subject matter. It’s written to titillate using familiar characters; that’s all. The chapter wasn’t a literary high point.
Since the worst of the chapter is in the first half, I was curious about what other bloggers had to say. I wondered if they had the same feelings about it that I did. Sure enough, both Dave over at 50 Shades of Dave and writer Jen Armintrout seem to have had the same sense. Both have written witty, snarky posts about the Red Room of Pain scene, but this part of the book seems mercifully light on the theme of “Christian is an abusive bastard.”
Jen did raise a good point, though. Midway through the scene, after Christian has induced Ana’s first orgasm with a riding crop and is now having standing intercourse with her, Ana thinks (just before her second orgasm),
I feel the build up again. Jeeze no… not again… I don’t think my body will with-stand another earth-shattering moment. But I have no choice… and with an inevitability that’s becoming familiar, I let go and come again…
And then again, a few minutes later, when Christian is giving it to her from behind (yes, I chose that wording intentionally), Ana thinks,
…I can feel a gathering deep inside me. Oh no… and for the first time, I fear my orgasm… if I come…
Who the hell thinks these things in the throes of passion? For real, Ana, most sexually active women would love to have the orgasmic power you do. Not sure why you think it’s something to “fear.” Regarding this scene, Jen writes,
I think Ana might be the only person alive who doesn’t like orgasms. Seriously? “Jeez no… not again…?”…I wonder if this is some symptom of our messed up culture, we can show the heroine of an erotic novel having orgasms, just so long as they’re portrayed as mildly unpleasant? I suppose only dirty, dirty sluts…enjoy multiple orgasms.
And right there, I see a huge problem with this chapter. Jen is absolutely right. For one thing, this is one of the problems I have with porn. In porn, because it’s intended largely for a male audience, it’s the male orgasm (in particular, ejaculation) that is of the greatest importance. It is of little market value for women to orgasm on film. At the same time, the female orgasm is largely misunderstood, including how female sexual pleasure functions. (For a fantastic film on the subject, I recommend watching Orgasm, Inc. If you have Netflix streaming, you can find it there.)
Before someone gets up in my face (and my blog comments) about this, I am not suggesting that all women everywhere are either failing to enjoy sex or fearing their orgasms. But I do see this as a cultural failure. Overall, the messages sent to us by media–which are reflected in Fifty Shades–are typically one or more of the following:
- Women can, and should, have multiple or successive orgasms which they achieve in uncommon ways (e.g., being whipped in the clitoris with a riding crop or being penetrated from behind without clitoral stimulation) or with uncommon speed
- If women are not achieving orgasms in this way, they are sexually dysfunctional
- If women are achieving orgasms this way, they should be afraid of experiencing such intense pleasure
Guaranteed, someone is going to private message me (because who wants to discuss their orgasms in the comments section?) to tell me that none of this applies to them. They get happy from ordinary missionary-position sex and nothing else or they can climax in under two minutes or they just love orgasms and have never seen what the big deal is. I’m glad for you, but please know you are very unusual. Also, I don’t really care to read graphic descriptions of your personal sex experiences, so please do not email them to me. And really, really do not email them to me if you are a man describing your sexual partner’s experiences. That would be creepy.
Back to the topic. Unlike the domestic violence in Fifty Shades, for which I do blame Ms. James (she should have known better), I do not blame her for repeating the cultural messages about sex. They are so deeply ingrained that we often don’t even notice them. If it hadn’t been for Jen’s blog, my brain would have skipped right over Ana’s distraught musings about her climaxes.
Over time, I’m learning to see these things and I have come to realize that this is one significant way in which the church has dropped the ball when it comes to sexuality. There are so many truly screwed up messages about sex, beyond the church dichotomy of single = bad, married = good. Churches would do very well to address some of the deeper problems; in so doing, there would be an increase in the overall sexual-spiritual health of congregants. It would be a huge service to people of faith to understand why so much of porn is problematic, for example, rather than just labeling it “bad.” Even merely saying that it objectifies people isn’t enough–we deserve to know more specifics. We also need to have several important conversations about consent and what it looks like, including within an established relationship. We need to understand the various ways in which domestic violence manifests and how those things are interrelated (like Christian’s use of sex to manipulate and abuse Ana).
To sum up, I think this chapter of the book–like the rest of it–was crap. But this time, I’ll give Ms. James a pass. If she ever writes another book, though, I expect her to do some thorough research so she can avoid perpetuating these disturbing cultural norms.