Understanding the Appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey



Why has the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy been so popular? And why are Christian women and girls reading them at the same rate as non-Christians?

Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart, by Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery, tries to answer this question. Juli read the trilogy. Dannah did not, but she did gather stories from countless women and teen girls who have read them. Why are they reading these books? And why, as the young man wrote to Dr. Miriam Grossman, are so many girls almost obsessed with them?

As Slattery read the books, she identified five unmet longings in women:

To escape reality.
To be cherished by a man.
To be protected by a strong man.
To rescue a man.
To be sexually alive.

Meanwhile Gresh, from her interviews, identified five characteristics of successful erotica:

Focuses on female fantasy
Presents an innocent female protagonist who makes a man forget other women even exist.
Presents a controlling alpha male who dominates the female.
Characterizes the female protagonist as the only one who can meet the deepest, darkest needs of a man.
Offers detailed descriptions of sex.

Both authors were astounded at the correlation between their two lists! EL James seems to understand what women want. But is what she offers what they need to fulfill their longings?

Gresh and Slattery wrote with two goals in mind: (1) to help women see the potentially devastating effects of Fifty Shades and other books like it on their lives, and (2) to “pull back the shades” on the sex lives of the women who read their book — their longings, their questions, and their wholeness as a spiritual and sexual woman. There is a right way and a wrong way to satisfy those longings. A way that is destructive and a way that is healthy.

What your teen and tween girls need to know:
. . . that their sexual desires are good, a gift of God (Genesis 2:18; 1:31). They don’t need to be ashamed of them, or keep them secret. Reading erotica doesn’t satisfy those longings; it leaves you feeling more unsatisfied.
. . . that even though in God’s sight women are equal to men (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28), he has built into women a desire for a relationship with a man who can provide, protect, and lead. In today’s culture, women may not admit this openly because they’ve been told they should be independent. But the strong man we desire shows his strength not in dominating, abusing, or humiliating, but in loving sacrifice, as modeled by Christ (Ephesians 5:23).
. . . that a girl should expect her future husband to love her, to nourish and cherish her, to delight in her, to bring out the best in her — as Christ does for the church (Ephesians 5:25, 28-29).
. . . that woman was created as a completer, or “helper,” for the man she marries (Genesis 2:18, 21-22). A woman has a deep, imbedded desire to make a profound difference in the life of a man. This desire is biblical. But in her own power a woman cannot change a troubled man. God can, but she can’t; to believe otherwise is fantasy.
. . . that if as a single person she refrains from sexual intimacy, as God intended, she will have sexual struggles: loneliness, unfulfilled desires, temptations. She needs to be honest about these unmet longings, and she needs to find a safe place to talk about them so that she doesn’t choose destructive ways of dealing with them. Erotica erodes real intimacy.

You – and your teen girls — need to be spiritually discerning. Don’t let anything else replace God’s Word as the source of truth or comfort in your life. Instead, as Gresh and Slattery write, let God “build a wall of truth around you, equipping you to live in this world with love and holiness.”


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