50 Shades of Feminine Hygiene

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 post mentions sex during menstruation.

We now come to the absolute only part of this awful, trashy book that I like.

I’m pretty sure E. L. James did this without meaning to.  Well, no.  I mean, she did intend to write this book, and she probably did intend people to like it.  What I mean is that she has at last done one simple thing that has impressed me, and I doubt that it was done for any other reason than for the sake of writing erotica.  She likely wasn’t trying to create something beautifully feminist here, as evidenced by the entire rest of this mess.  I’ll bet you’d like to know what that is, right?  Okay, here you go:

Ana and Christian have sex during her period.

I know, I know.  That should actually be kind of squicky.  Many women do not enjoy sex during their periods for a variety of reasons.  That’s perfectly fine too, so don’t think I’m trying to make it sound like now everyone should just suppress any unpleasant feelings and grin and bear it.  I just think that this is probably one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read; it’s certainly the best one so far in this book.

The first thing I like about it is that Christian is not all grossed out by Ana’s period.  Talking about menstruation is, for a whole lot of men, an absolute no-no.  On the flip side of that, some men use it as an excuse to trash women for being “emotional” or “irrational,” blaming every feeling a woman has on PMS.  It’s either something so awful it can’t be discussed, or it’s a running joke.  I have so much appreciation for Christian in that moment because he does neither of those things.

I also absolutely love the sensual quality of the beginning of their intimacy here.  He tells her to look at herself, to appreciate her body.  His words to her about how beautiful she is are tender and reverent.  We women are taught from a young age to fear and hate our bodies.  Far too many of us have struggled with self-loathing.  It’s pretty realistic (even if E. L. James hasn’t written it very well) that Ana doesn’t find herself attractive.  For her to not only be told that she’s gorgeous but to have Christian use her own hands to show her is both erotic and achingly lovely.

What follows is slightly more awkward, due to the poor quality of the writing.  I was a bit annoyed by the way Ana’s own stupid brain breaks the magic of their intimacy, just as it often does.  It bothers me less here, however, because I appreciate the overall tone of the scene.  Some people are grossed out by the part where Christian removes Ana’s tampon; that didn’t faze me at all.  I know it’s kind of yucky, really, but once again, what I appreciate is that Christian isn’t disgusted by Ana’s blood. In fact, after they make love and are situated in each other’s arms, he says exactly that:

“I’m bleeding,” I murmur.

“Doesn’t bother me,” he breathes.

“I noticed.” I can’t keep the dryness out of my voice.

He tenses slightly.  “Does it bother you?” he asks softly.

Does it bother me?  Maybe it should…should it?  No, it doesn’t.

In this tender moment, they both affirm the absolute normality of her period.  I see this as a huge step, that a basic part of human biology is treated with such respect.

I need to say a brief word here because I know that one can be a woman without menstruating.  But the fact remains, for the majority of women, this is our experience for approximately forty years of our lives.  To have it dignified in erotic literature is an incredible thing.  I can’t help believing that there is hope we might overcome the stigma of our monthly cycles and that people with much more skill than E. L. James might be willing to take that leap too.

As I mentioned, I’m not sure that was E. L. James’ intent.  It seems to me (though I could be wrong) that she wasn’t trying to do some bold, feminist thing.  She was actually attempting to eroticize menstruation and put period sex in the same category as whips and chains–that is to say, deviant and possibly icky.  What I’d like to see is the same sort of sensuality in the context of a healthy relationship (that is, not one that involves stalking and abuse).  And while I typically wouldn’t care about the BDSM elements, I also think that it would be good if we could see menstruation and sexuality in a context other than something some people might believe is deviant already.  It would remove the link between the two, which are really unrelated.

I suppose this is just proof that even something like Fifty Shades gets it right now and again.  While I still dislike this book–for all the reasons I’ve already stated–I’m glad to know that there is at least one thing I don’t despise.  Don’t get too comfortable with that, though.  I’m sure that next week I’ll be back with more snark.



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