50 Shades Of Shame

Guest writer, Erin Fahey, shares her insight about the controversial book, 50 Shades of Grey

We don’t have to look too far for sex. It’s often a medium to attract attention and push sales. Our curiosities keep us looking. But at the same time, sex is a private matter not to be discussed beyond the confines of a secure relationship. Curiosity and privacy are driving forces of human nature. Sometimes they build off one another. It’s an interesting relationship and paradox, and it’s this fine line that the book 50 Shades of Grey redefines.

We all know what it’s about; we know that behind its cover is a text full of X-rated content. (It brings up an interesting discussion on what’s acceptably sold in a family store. After all, wouldn’t Target make headlines if it suddenly offered Playboy magazine?–which, compared to 50 Shades of Grey, is tame.) But here, I focus on the fact that this book symbolizes another step in our society’s strange relationship with sex: behind closed doors; yet so out in the open. Fifty Shades of Grey wiggles through the crack in this back-n-forth, bringing up one of the most compelling and fascinating subjects out into the open while still reflecting our struggle with keeping the most intimate matters private.

This book is a step because it introduces conversation and thought not just about sex, but about nuances within our desires and curiosities that are deemed even further beyond what is acceptable to discuss–let alone possess. The author, E.L. James, showcases our own conflict and confusion through Anastasia’s (the main character’s) indecision regarding the practice of sadomasochism. (This is also known as S & M, and is the act of inducing or receiving pain to accompany sexual activity.)  What this character, and this book’s popularity reveals, is that such “deviant” sexual behaviors–and especially thoughts–may not be as deviant as we assume. Most important, though, it shows that such thoughts and desires are not something to be ashamed of. (Note: this of course is not to suggest that any and all such activity is okay.)

I think we confuse shame and privacy, that we mistakingly use the idea of privacy to keep us from discussing such feelings and thoughts with anybody. The social institutions (political, religious, cultural) we’ve created reflect this shame and teach us to keep such thoughts hidden and repressed. As a result, we bury our desires, leaving us with unanswered questions and conflicting beliefs that just circle around in our head. We feel guilty and ashamed and begin to think something is wrong with us. However, the truth is that it’s natural to have desires–even so-called deviant ones–though not everyone does.

More than just bring up such desires, Fifty Shades of Grey also illustrates that they can be especially confusing when we have no one to discuss them with. So instead of our social resources being used as a mute button for these topics, we should use these powerful channels to have discussions about sex in order to help alleviate the shame we experience when we feel we have to hide our feelings, thoughts, and desires. But despite these resources being public, we don’t have to (nor should we) share all the intimate details about our lives with everyone. Privacy is what makes them special. Where would intimacy be if we opened such aspects of ourselves to everyone?!

But it is for that reason we should choose not to share or partake in discussions, not because we are ashamed to.

That’s the beauty of Fifty Shades of Grey: it encourages the discussion without necessarily intruding on our privacy. It’s behind the cover, and yet its prevalence means we can reflect on our own desires with honesty and share those reflections as we choose. It is time to confront our desires and the feelings that those desires provoke; what you do beyond that is up to you.

to new plateaus,



3 Responses

  1. While I haven’t read the books and have no intention of doing so, the author’s website says she is based in London. Which got me thinking… Europe’s standards for what is considered “taboo” are much different than ours here in America. Things we gawk at are common nature in many areas across the pond. Openness about these things shouldn’t be scoffed at, as it’s a natural part of human existence. Glamourizing S&M, though, is a different story…

    1. Fir

      @doubleduty. I think that you might be a bit young (going by your picture) to comment on S & M stuff. And not having read the books and having formed an opinion. That is proof of at least being immature.

      I started reading the first book, then switched over to flipping through it. It is a bit of a silly book, good for a few grins. If women were as excitable as all that over any sexual area we guys would be dropping dead like flies trying to keep up.

  2. ejfahey

    Agreed @Doubleduty. Fifty Shades of Grey is a story, one that can be used to open eyes and discussions to a topic that we have mixed feelings and thoughts on. It’s an opportunity to stop and think about what we believe and why; a chance to see others’ standards and consider the reasons they are different from our own; to create a new level of awareness.


What say you?