Its title has seeped into Facebook statuses and tabloid headlines, comedians have staged dramatic readings, and at Chapters in Downtown Victoria, the racy book and its two steamy follow ups are the store’s top three best-sellers.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James – the first in the series of sadomasochism (SM) erotica which has been widely criticized for its poor quality of writing – has become one of the fastest selling books of all time, and one local sex therapist began experiencing an onslaught of women bent on getting in tune with their sexual side like never before.
“It’s interesting to me, how the people who have never really been interested in sex are suddenly interested in erotica and more of an erotic life for them and their husbands,” said Jayne Weatherbe, a Victoria-based marriage and family sex therapist in practice for the last 30 years.
“What I’m also noticing in friends and family is that people who have never really been interested in sex in their marriages are suddenly getting really interested.”
Next week, the 63-year-old therapist hopes to address those desires she attributes to the book by offering three free workshops aimed at women of all ages who would like to feel sexier.
University of Victoria political science professor Janni Aragon specializes in pop culture and gender issues and sees some troubles in Fifty Shades.
Aragon completed her thesis on women in sadomasochism at San Diego State University and says the research reveals most women in SM play the more dominant role, unlike the submissive role portrayed by the lead character in the book.
She likens the work, which initially began as fan fiction linked to the Twilight series, as similar to any other fad women are told to buy into – from the South Beach Diet to Brazilian waxing.
“Too bad it’s not good writing,” Aragon said. “Too bad it’s not more philosophical, but people want some sort of feel-good thing and if this is causing women to be more sexual or sensual, that’s positive. I just hope lots of women aren’t buying into that they need to be submissive … this want to be submissive and to have a man take care of you is very Twilight-esque, very Harlequin-esque.”
Metchosin and Vancouver-based contemporary romance writer Susan Lyons – who also writes under the pen name Susan Fox or Savannah Fox – has noticed a marked boost in her foreign sales since the rise of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon.
“The industry is responding,” Lyons said. “Publishers are repackaging books to look more like 50 Shades of Grey – the kinds of covers that women will take out in public.”
On July 11, Aragon noted, Penguin Group rereleased Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy repackaged with a Fifty Shades-esque cover and a line that reads “If you liked Fifty Shades of Grey, you’ll love the Sleeping Beauty trilogy.”
Lyons, like Aragon, is unwilling to purchase the book due to her disinterest in a theme of female submission. Weatherbe admits the writing may not be of high literary merit, but it’s having an effect on the women around her.
“The one good thing about this is that women are talking about sex and sexuality,” Aragon said. “Sorry to be so cliché: that’s a win. Now if we were talking more about female orgasm, positive sexuality, positive body image – I’d be happier with that.”