By Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg, LMFT
The movie, Fifty Shades of Grey, opens Thursday night just before Valentine’s Day, and it is reported it will be Fandango’s top five advance ticket-sellers in the company’s 15-year history. That’s right up there with Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight movies. Interest in the movie grows as people look for an exciting girls’ night out or as a date night for Valentine’s weekend.
Virtually every man and woman under thirty knows about the movie and are talking about it, but their mothers are also scrambling to get a copy of the book. What’s all the hype about a movie that shows BDSM or Alternative Sex? The book is referred to as “mommy porn,” yet people think of it as a love story. Someone describes it as 80% porn, and 20% storyline, “but it’s a girl’s dream.” Women who have read the book say, “It is so sexually charged, it gets me sexually excited.” The book not only sells online, it has sold out at Costco and was the fastest book to sell one million copies! Why?
BDSM encompasses a broad range of sexual behavior that until recently was considered a sign of mental illness by the mental health bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Until the latest revision of the DSM was published in 2013 (the DSM-V), if someone asked their partner to tie them to a bedpost or asked to be slapped hard while in the throes of having sex the information could be used against them in family court custody cases. But because of a huge effort by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), an advocacy group founded in 1997 “to advance the rights of and advocate for consenting adults in the BDSM-Leather-Fetish, Swing, and Polyamory Communities,” the DSM revised the definition of sexual disorders that involve BDSM. The new definition makes a distinction between a behavior—like consensual rough play in the bedroom—and a symptom of mental illness.
Beyond the book and movie, Alternative Sex is appealing to women of all ages, and from a CEO to the stay-at-home mom. Understand that those who practice Alternative Sex are not walking the streets wearing leather and chains, but may be the shy, quiet girl at the office by day who turns into a whip-wielding mistress by night.
Fifty Shades of Grey has popular appeal for many reasons. Keith Miller, LICSW, explains:
- Women want their partner to have more passion and see them as sexual.
- Women want more creativity and inventiveness in the bedroom.
- Pure voyeurism and curiosity about kinky sex.
- Identifying with the innocence and naiveté of Ana (the women seduced into Alternative Sex).
- Attraction of making a “bad boy” good.
- Comfort in numbers: Validation to hear another woman’s struggle against manipulation.
- Desire to explore the possibility of enjoying surrender during sex.
Given the book’s broad-based appeal, here’s my question that gets to the point and the real danger in Alternative Sex. Why do wives, even Christian wives, who frequently lack sexual interest in marriage and perhaps would never be in submission to their husbands, want to read about erotic practices involving BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, and Masochism) and then consent to engaging in Alternative Sex?
First, we must understand the terms. Sadism is getting sexual pleasure from inflicting pain. Masochism is getting sexual pleasure from one’s own pain or humiliation.
For the last twenty-four years I have counseled thousands of Christian couples from across America in our weeklong intensive counseling program. In over 90% of marriages, the wife lacked sexual interest and described herself as feeling like a sexual object when engaging in sexual intimacy with her husband. They also consistently reported that they are in control of their husbands and yet complain: “I feel like his mother,” or “my husband is like one of my children.” The number one sexual problem facing married couples is inhibited sexual desire; the second is discrepancies in sexual desire. The problem is not related to age. You can be newly married, or past your fortieth anniversary. The problem is present in marriage of all ages, but is most destructive in the early years of marriage.
Many believed that the scientific sexual revolution of the 1970s, inaugurated by the work of Masters and Johnson, would dramatically enhance sexual function. Surprisingly to many, it didn’t happen. Experts recognize that there are as many sexual problems today as there were in the 1970s. So the stage is set for the Enemy to offer a solution to this massive sexual problem that is also in the today’s church.
When wives lack sexual interest, and husbands are described as “being sexually hardwired,” we can easily forget that all women are created in God’s image and are created sexually equal to men, and fallen too. The result is that books and counseling may offer solutions that actually fall short. When you understand the real problem and that erotica seems to offer what women created in God’s image want, it all begins to makes sense. Regardless of the lack of sexual interest, women are sexually hardwired too! In a different a different period of history, Paul understood that men and women were created equal and both have a sin nature. “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her sexual rights, and like the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan many not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor. 7:2-5).
Given the wide range of practices, some of which may be engaged in by people who do not consider themselves as practicing BDSM, inclusion in the BDSM community or subculture is usually dependent on self-identification and shared experience. Interest in BDSM can range from one-time experimentation to a lifestyle. Regardless, the appeal is that it offers increased intensity of sexual pleasure, particularly for women, and opportunity to experience a “safe” controlled experience of being controlled or controlling.
Some experts on Alternative Sex who are Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists see no harm in the practice and readily state that Fifty Shades of Grey does not portray accurately the value of mutual gratifying and consensual Alternative Sex. You also have others saying, “You don’t need Christian Grey’s red room of pain to elevate the discussion about sex in your relationship. There’s a risk that reading the series or seeing the movie will reinforce the common myth that ‘other people are having more and better sex than me.’” Make no mistake; God has created us for not only meaningful sexual intimacy in marriage, but to achieve that, spiritual, relational, and sexual maturity for the glory of God must be the desire that motives us. In other words, increased intense sexual pleasure is not the goal, not only for the individual, nor for the couple engaging in consensual Alternative Sex.
Finally, as a very experienced Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I caution you not to read the book or see the movie. Having counseled thousands of couples in which either the wife or the husband lacked sexual interest, I can unequivocally state that this is not the solution to the problem. Rather, seek to develop spiritual, relational, and sexual maturity in your marriage.
For a more detailed description of the myths of Fifty Shades of Grey, read Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery’s excellent book, Pulling Back the Shades.