By Loukia Borrell
I first saw the phrase, “mommy porn” in late April, while I was online reading news items and checking e-mail. The words intrigued me, so I clicked on the link and read about a new book, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” an erotic romance filled with so much intense sexual content, it was dubbed “mommy porn” for its popularity among wives and moms.
The book follows virginal college student, Ana Steele, and her relationship with Christian Grey, an older, successful businessman with a passion for kinky sex. My interest didn’t ebb, so I searched the Internet for more information about the book and the fast rise of its author, E.L. James, who based her characters on the “Twilight” lovers, Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. After reading more about “Fifty Shades of Grey,” it sounded like a combination of “9 ½ Weeks” and “Dirty Dancing.” Christian could be Mickey Rourke’s character, John, in “9 ½ Weeks,” while Ana could be Jennifer Grey’s innocent, but headstrong character, Baby, from “Dirty Dancing.” A sweet girl who likes the bad boy. Put them together and watch them ditch the dance floor for a riding crop, cable ties and a firm mattress. I get it.
A few days later, as I wheeled my shopping cart through the grocery store, I spotted a stack of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and quickly put one in my cart – face down – before my husband could catch up to me. From there, a bit hurriedly, I wheeled down to produce and covered the book with bags of apples, kiwi, and mangoes. Undetected, I began reading that afternoon, even though I had another, safer book (the kind you keep in your purse and take out in the doctor’s office) I was trying to get through, Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley Under Ground,” a crime novel based around her charming but psychotic character, Tom Ripley.
Perhaps I felt embarrassed about reading “Fifty Shades” because, at age 49, I should know better than to immerse myself in a book I associate with the kind of sexual power that peaks in youth. I had read books like it before – paperback romance novels with an impossibly handsome rogue who sweeps away a lovely girl with large breasts and a small waist. She says: “When are you going to take me?” He replies: “Disrobe, miss.” I remember the raciest of these so-called bodice-rippers being “The Black Swan,” by Day Taylor. It was a hot read set during the Civil War and I read it when I was in high school, to escape the tedious but required reading for advanced English classes.
“Fifty Shades” is different from other books I have read with erotic themes, because I am different, too. I now have the experience to know when a man is “danger,” and that a guy like Christian usually isn’t worth the trouble. Had I read “Fifty Shades” 20 or 30 years ago, I likely would have allowed myself to think I could find everlasting happiness in a relationship with improbable beginnings. Being in a stable relationship, married to a man I have known half my life and having all the sexual obsession we had decades ago, meant I could put the book down and know I didn’t have to jump into any dating cesspools. I am safe, married, and in love so there was no emotional risk to read it, I told myself.
Another reason I decided to read “Fifty Shades,” is that James reveals a secret women have: We do want a man in control, someone to take charge. Many women are constantly making decisions regarding work, children and the daily operation of the house. Essentially, we solve problems all day. We want men who can help us escape that drudgery, especially in bed.
The book also appealed to me as an indie author. I look at James with a degree of envy and wonder. I wish I had her luck, her good fortune to catapult from anonymity to best-selling phenomenon in just a couple of years. After “Fifty Shades” gained momentum as fan fiction, it went to a small Australian press, and then the trilogy was published by a division of Random House. James, who is from England and has two children, was recently listed in Time magazine as one of The 100 Most Influential People In The World. She also is a champion for unconventional authors. That is comforting when you have to do your own promotion and keep your fingers crossed. The fact that some public library systems in the country have banned the “Fifty Shades” series as porn and not worthy of shelf space, means the books will be even more intriguing.
Having said all that, I admit “Fifty Shades” left me feeling conflicted. I enjoyed reading the racy content and like other women, it was an escape from driving kids to soccer, helping elderly parents, planning meals, homework, mowing the yard, laundry and other endless chores that take up many hours. But, as I read the first book, I also felt a deep sense of regret, as the book’s ending reminded me of a horrible time in my life, a time when I sought out a man similar to Christian. He was 10 years older, exuded sex appeal, and insisted I travel across the country to be with him, even though we hardly knew each other. I was still in college, on the East Coast, and he was living in San Diego. I had just turned 22. I was so delusional, that I thought our chance meeting was a sign that we were the “meant-to-be” couple. I was ready to drop out of college, move in and get married.
Though I was not a virgin, I was relatively inexperienced about men, having had only two relationships in college and none in high school. Once he slept with me, it was over and I faced his rejection along with the profound scorn of my mother, who was ashamed of my decision-making, and of me. I became ill about a year after our brief liaison, and endured a series of AIDS tests at a time when even doctors didn’t know exactly what they were dealing with. I tested negative every time, but lost my self-esteem and took about two years to feel comfortable dating and being around people again. The decision to be with him was one of the first ones I made as an adult, as I tried to navigate my early 20s and become more independent. I sorely miscalculated. I did not do a good job of protecting the gifts I could give a man or guarding my body. Not long ago, I wrote about my ill-fated coming of age experience in an essay that is available online at http://todaysbiostories.blogspot.com/2011/12/traveling-salesman.html.
As I neared the end of the first book, my youthful indiscretions and internal conflict left me so uneasy that my husband, who by now knew I was reading “mommy porn,” sympathetically suggested I stop reading and go back to figuring out Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. I declined and announced that I intended to read all three books, because I had hope for Ana and Christian, through my own happy ending. Though the first book ended on a tearful note for Ana, I instinctively knew Christian would not let her go because he had followed her to Georgia. Unlike my story, a man who gets on an airplane for you is not likely to end things. He wants her and wants to learn to love.
As I proceed with “Fifty Shades Darker,” the second book in James’ trilogy, I have peeked ahead and know marriage is coming for Christian and Ana. I hope it works out and suspect it will, just as it did for me. I am with a man who understands me and gives me what I need, in and out of bed. After the rockiness of my earlier years, I have a partner who gives me the kind of stability and sexual intrigue I searched for, unsuccessfully, as a young woman. That is a good feeling to have at nearly 50 and is a tribute to my own fifty shades of being a woman.
Loukia Borrell is the author of Raping Aphrodite, a historical novel, available as an ebook and in paperback at http://www.amazon.com/Raping-Aphrodite-ebook/dp/B0063W6KMG and for Nook readers at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/raping-aphrodite-loukia-borrell/1107015445