In my first opinion, I wrote about my initial reactions to the popular Fifty Shades of Grey books and attempted to open a discussion about their morality.
The opinions poured in! Unfortunately, most of these opinions were not shared in the comment section on the blog itself, but rather through Facebook and other social media.
Many of the comments argued with me on whether or not these books would be considered pornography by the Church. In my original post, I wanted to get away from the plethora of Christian bloggers who are deeming these books inherently sinful. I acknowledge that there’s a danger in these books leading to sin, but I made the argument that I don’t think they constitute a grave wrong in and of themselves.
I was wrong
I spent days searching to try to find an answer about whether or not erotic literature was considered pornography in the eyes of the Church…in vain. I couldn’t get a clear cut answer from any of the sources I looked to, and so went about trying to interpret the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s comments on pornography to see if they applied to books like these.
One of the things I did was a Google search for “Catholic erotica” (a potentially dangerous proposition). Surprisingly, it was not inappropriate stories about Catholic school girls that showed up, it was news reports from Germany about some German bishops who owned a stake in a publishing company that sold erotic books. A German newspaper reported that the Catholic Church was selling porn, and the bishop’s threatened to sue saying that erotica is not porn. Chalk one up to me, I thought…even the German bishops agree with me!
A few months later, Pope Benedict addressed a letter to the Church of Germany that covered a variety of topics, but included a line or two in reference to the publishing company scandal. Here’s what he said (emphasis mine):
A relationship that does not take into account the fact that a man and a woman have the same dignity represents a serious lack of humanity.
With the materialistic and hedonistic tendencies that seem to be gaining space in the West, there is a growing form of discrimination against women.
The moment has come to energetically halt prostitution as well as the widespread distribution of material with an erotic and pornographic content, including through the Internet in particular.
The pope said the Holy See would encourage and assist the Catholic Church in Germany so efforts against these types of abuse would be more decisive and clearer.
So, while there still seems to be some kind of line between erotic and pornographic – clearly the Pope is indicating here that both constitute a grave wrong that should not be continued. Shortly after this letter, the German bishops sold their share in the publishing company.
So, these books may not be porn, but even erotica is disordered in the eyes of the Pope and if it’s good enough for the Pope, it’s good enough for me. After all, there is a legitimate concern that what starts as not lustful could easily turn into lust, and I can admit that while in the short term, my conscience is clear of grave sin, I don’t yet know the long term effects that reading these books could have on me or my marriage.
The Bigger Problem We’re Missing
The discussion that ensued after my last post also brought up another problem I think is even more important to acknowledge and discuss – a big problem. Throughout these comments and discussions there’s a question that keeps nagging me. I asked it in my original post, but didn’t clearly answer it:
Why are these books so popular?
These books are hanging tight at the top of the New York Time’s bestseller list, and libraries are reporting waiting lists of 300 people or more who want to check them out. They’re most popular among married women over 30 – and as I mentioned before, those women are reporting that the books are “relighting a fire” in their marriages.
The crux of the issue…
One woman commented on my last post saying,
Think about what the husbands … are asking. “Here hunny, read this. My buddy said it made his wife desire him more, and I don’t think you desire me enough, so I’m giving you this illicit book to hopefully get the affection I need from you…since I’m not enough on my own.” The message is much more subtle when delivered, and might be missed, but it’s there.
She’s absolutely right. The fact that these books are so popular – particularly among that specific demographic speak to a widespread epidemic of passionless (or at the very least passion-fading) marriages. The women I know who love these books love them because they spark arousal they had forgotten – they remind them of a desire they have for their husbands that can overcome even the worst day of changing diapers or office politics. No more “headaches” or “I’m just too tired” in these bedrooms – these women have read something that rekindled their passion and sensual confidence. It’s no wonder husbands are asking their wives to read them!
Falling Through the Cracks
One person who engaged in the discussion commented:
I’m not judging the book or you Kristin but I have one question, Is there a better book you could have read, a book with Christian values, instead of the 50 shades of grey book?
What a great question! If there is, I don’t know of one…and that’s a problem. The Catholic Church has some amazing books written about holy, married, sex, but most of them are written in a way that’s inaccesible for the average person. Pope John Paul II’sLove and Responsibility gets pretty specific in talking about what an ideal sexual encounter between a married couple looks like – including suggestions on using foreplay to build up to the woman’s climax so that both spouses can ideally orgasm together. But as much as I love JPII, his book is not an easy read – it’s not super accessible.
We also have Christopher West’s The Good News about Sex and Marriage. West also gets pretty explicit – he talks openly and honestly about all kinds of questions married couples would have including things about oral sex, anal sex, sex toys, and orgasms. While his book is an easier read than Love and Responsibility, it reads more as a Catechism than something designed to enhance holy married sex.
That the Fifty Shades of Grey books are so popular – and specifically among that certain demographic – indicates a huge area of need in our Church. They indicate the need for us to support and encourage holy married sex – the need for us to help women and men find a way to spice up their marriage and rekindle their desire, but in a way that is not so dangerous or have such potential to lead to sin.
Called to Greatness…Not Comfort (In Bed)
The topic is often uncomfortable for our Puritan prudish senses, but our discomfort does not relieve us of the responsibility of serving marriages in this way.
So how do we do this without crossing the lines? How can we help these married women who are looking to books with perverted themes and borderline pornographic scenes to rediscover their desire for their husbands? How can we help husbands to encourage that arousal in their wives without sending them to the erotica section of the bookstore? How can we talk about holy married sex in a way that does its best to avoid leading people into lust?
I don’t know the answers to these question, but I know that the popularity of these books is screaming at us to notice this previously hidden and private problem and do something about it.