The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has turned out to be quite a phenomenon as it explores a hot topic (pun intended). Since the movie came out, there have been even more reactions to the story of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. Reading a few of these, I’m not convinced that those reacting have read any or all of the entire trilogy. I myself might have been dissuaded from reading it by all the negative hype if a therapy client of mine hadn’t told me about it. I had read part of the first book and put it down because it was–how shall I say this–quite erotically stimulating. (It also reminded me, a post-menopausal woman with a sleepy libido, that I’m not dead yet. Hooray!)
When my client mentioned it–even said she owned the books and was reading them for the second time– I asked her to tell me more. “He changed his entire life so he could be with her,” she told me. Wow. I picked them up again. I have just finished reading the third book.
This story is a female fantasy, or, in other words, a wish, a longing, a dream for one’s life. They come in as many forms as there are human beings. When a dream becomes a fantasy it gets filled out into a story. It’s not something you actually expect to come true but it sure does feel good to imagine.
Female fantasies are often about relationships. Think about a mistreated stepdaughter forced to sweep the cinders on the hearth while her two stepsisters go to the Prince’s Ball . Through the magic of her fairy godmother, she goes to the ball, meets the prince and—you know the rest— they get married and live happily ever after. Yes, a fairy tale.
Or Anastasia Steele, an inexperienced, new college graduate who meets Christian Grey, five years older, handsome, fit, rich and very interested in her. Contrary to what you may have heard, they do not begin an abusive relationship. When he learns that he would be her first sexual partner, he sets aside his BDSM practices and suggests they begin by making love. Melting at the thought, she agrees. Her first sexual experience leads to her first intensely pleasurable orgasm and then to several more as the night goes on. Now she knows what all the fuss is about! Yes, it is a fantasy. A woman’s first sexual experience does not always result in even one intensely pleasurable orgasm. But wouldn’t it be great if it did?
Thus they begin to negotiate what kind of relationship they might have. He presents a lengthy legal contract for her to sign her agreement to engage in a dominant-submissive relationship with him, which is all he knows. Bewildered and despite her nearly overwhelming desire for him, she refuses to sign. What she really wants is to get to know him better and have him as her first regular boyfriend. That could have been the end of it, but they each find the other fascinating. So they continue to talk.
Finally, she decides to try it a bit, to let him do what he wants to do. He gets carried away and hurts her. Ouch! She breaks off the relationship, making it clear she will not be his submissive, and goes home. For five days they don’t see each other. Both are miserable. In his misery, he rethinks his whole way of relating. To him, there is something special about her. He doesn’t understand it but he can’t quite walk away. He decides to give up his BDSM habits, if that’s what it will take to win her back.
Just as the prince pursued Cinderella, he pursues her. He begins to enter her world, offering to escort her to an event he knew she planned to attend: the opening of her friend’s art show.
Reluctantly over time, he answers her questions about his past. She learns he was severely abused as a child; his mother was a crack whore with a violent pimp. He has scars on his chest he won’t let anyone touch. After his mother died, he was adopted by a wealthy family and saved from that destructive environment. As a teenager, however, he was seduced by one of his adoptive mother’s friends and taught to be her submissive. Their dominant-submissive relationship lasted years. He is a deeply wounded man.
And here is another aspect of a female fantasy: will Ana be the woman whose love heals his childhood wounds? Hearing all this, she is filled with compassion for him. As he trusts her with more of his story, they grow closer. He lets her touch him—physically and emotionally— in ways no one ever has. She comes to understand that his controlling tendencies operate as a protective defense. She loves him but she is not a woman to be controlled by a man. As she asserts her independence, they struggle.
And next another aspect of a female fantasy is revealed: Christian is a man willing to seek help. He has a psychiatrist and even gives Ana his permission to meet with him. She wants to know how wounded is Christian, can he be healed? Dr. Lynch reassures Ana, advising her to be patient and to give Christian the benefit of the doubt.
He protects her from danger, something women also fantasize about: from one of his former submissives who has a psychotic break and comes after Ana with a gun and from Ana’s boss who tries to sexually assault her. Their relationship continues and deepens as they deal with these crises. Christian strives to protect her, providing her with security in the form of his trusted bodyguards. At times she rebels from being guarded, believing he is being over-controlling, which leads to more danger and more exciting reading.
To repeat: this story is a female fantasy. And what do many women (okay, what do I) fantasize about? A marriage proposal. Christian realizes he needs to propose to her to keep her in his life. Completely taken by surprise, Ana tells him she has to think about it. Eventually she says yes. They announce their engagement at his family birthday party. His family—parents, brother, sister—respond with great joy and embrace her as one of the family. His mother’s evil friend— whom no one knew abused him as a teenager— is at the party. She scoffs at their engagement, which exposes to his family the nature of their former relationship. As a result, she is banished.
The fantasy continues: they have a wedding and a three week honeymoon in Europe. He buys her a beautiful home with a beautiful view of the water and renovates it to her specifications for them to live in. She becomes strong enough in her own power to confront the interior designer, a sexual predator, who makes a play for Christian.
Throughout this story, they have frequent and mutually pleasurable lovemaking sessions. The author leaves little to the reader’s imagination and seems to want to demonstrate that women do enjoy erotic passion in a monogamous relationship. (Yes, we do.) Ana’s love becomes the salve that heals Christian’s wounds and transforms him into a loving family man. Ana’s sexuality blossoms under his erotic attentions. Her confidence and personal empowerment grow under the lamp of his love and care.
And so they live happily ever after. It’s the perfect fantasy. I submit that its popularity stems from this fantasy aspect. Women enjoy reading a story that shows their fantasies can come true, that love will last, will heal our wounds and provide a sanctuary where we can grow and be loved for who we really are. When I read this story, I look at my partner (now my fiancé) and remember that he truly is my dream come true. After disappointment and heartbreak, divorce and life as a single parent, I have found the shelter of his arms. And I want to pour my love into him as he pours his into me and watch amazed as we both blossom into more of who we really are. And I want to cherish the time we have left in this third chapter of life and enjoy our love in the way we both like best.