Fifty Shades of Grey…A Second Opinion

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

Tell my husband to mark it on the calendar – these are not words I often say!

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.

When I read that quote I imagined Papa Bene face palming and saying, “Duh!”

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.

Please? Someone? Because the culture is doing more than just talking about it – it’s screaming at us. We have a responsibility to respond in a way that’s full of Truth and Love, but that’s also accessible and real.

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.

Are there resources out there that I’m just not aware of that can help with married couples rekindle the fire and rediscover their desire that are not erotic or pornographic?  If so, please, please share them in the comments!

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20 comments

  1. RRMM · May 17, 2012

    great follow-up blog, KB…you hit the nail on the head about what missing in Catholic media/culture/education/etc. for married folk trying to live their vocation to the fullest, in the way God intended…i am honestly not interested in reading the series you write about (in fact, i had never even heard of it before you wrote about it…yeah, i’m out of the loop!)…but i would be interested in Catholic literature that is specifically directed at helping “reignite the passion” in marriages…the two books you mentioned are great and i would add Fulton Sheen’s “Three to Get Married”, but it’s pretty heavy on the theological side, too…maybe this blog will inspire someone to fill this gap in our Church…maybe we can petition Scott Hahn to write one b/c i think his writing is so accessible while remaining true to the Church and orthodox…

  2. irishbutterfly · May 17, 2012

    Looking for an accessible book about Love & Responsibility? Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love by Edward Sri is AMAZING. It may sound funny, but reading it got me excited to go love on my now-husband — in a completely chaste and holy way! — because it dives into the beauty and holiness of pure and true love lived out. And seeing our relationship reflected in its pages and being affirmed: Now that’s hot. 😉

    I know it’s not Catholic, and it’s not even written for women, but I would recommend anyone read Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. It’s an amazing book looking at what men really want out of life (a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue, and an adventure to live), what women are really looking for when they are attracted to the “bad boy”, and much more. I gave it as a gift to a few guys, then actually decided to read it myself: GREAT book.

    AND you absolutely have to read Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things that Really Matter. If you really want to feel affirmed and beautiful (and honestly, isn’t this better than porn for women??), you absolutely need to read this immediately. And start reading Hallie Lord’s, Jennifer Fulwiler’s, and Simcha Fisher’s blogs immediately thereafter!

    I haven’t read them yet, but I also have 2 more book recs for you:
    Mark Hart and his wife Melanie just came out with a Scripture study for couples called Embracing God’s Plan for Marriage. If you’ve ever heard Bible Geek Mark Hart talk about how much he loves his wife, you know that it’s enough to make you cry sometimes, so I can only imagine what this book will be like.
    And #2: a multiple-author book edited by Scott Hahn, that I own, but haven’t cracked open yet: Catholic for a Reason IV: Scripture and the Mystery of Marriage and Family Life

    Also, don’t underestimate listening to Christopher West or Jason Evert on CD: it may not be a book, per se, but they have an amazing way of making the theology come alive.

    So there you go: So many things that are better than erotica 😉

  3. mm · May 17, 2012

    For fear of embarrassing myself or my husband, I’d like to share a book we just ordered called Holy Sex! A Catholic guide to toe-curling, mind-blowing, infallible loving by Dr. Gregory Popcak. (I blushed just typing that sentence, ha!) Can’t wait to see what it’s all about 😉

    http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Sex-Toe-Curling-Mind-Blowing-Infallible/dp/0824524713/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337282857&sr=8-1

    • ymkbird · May 17, 2012

      MM – I just ordered this book too – upon recommendation of a friend. Hoping I can write a way more uplifting review and give it a great recommendation … without sacrificing my husband and my privacy and embarrassing us both 🙂 I’d love to know what you think when you’re done with it!

    • Michele · May 21, 2012

      Holy Sex by Greg Popcack is awesome and will definitely ‘spark’ your marriage! Our bible study did it a few years ago as a summer book club and we all loved it!

  4. etremblay · May 17, 2012

    Your blog post was a topic today at our office. I have to confess I didn’t read it thoroughly, but rather skimmed through it after our conversation. Regardless, I have to tell you that putting a second blog out admitting that perhaps your first stance was wrong was very noble on your part. So many people would just let something like that drop rather than admit that they may have made a mistake – great job.

    I don’t know what people may have wrote in your facebook, etc, but I wanted to pass on an article regarding pornography and marriage. My husband has a blog that is theological and current event driven. He has a minor following and I wanted to at least send you one of his postings that had to deal with the topic you mentioned regarding pornography and marriage.

    http://catholic-skyview-tremblay.blogspot.com/search?q=pornography

    The part that specifically talks about marriage is under “third blog”. We have had this discussion so many times with married friends, and unfortunately even know a family with small children who is falling apart over the husbands escalating addiction to pornography. What seems innocent at the time like reading an erotic book, or watching movies with erotic scenes is like a teenager taking a puff on a cigarette. It seems fun and innocent at the time, but it is laying roots that eventually lead to desires that are never satisfied. The solution for conquering a marriage that needs “a little spice” is truly for the couple to grow in holiness. I am sure this sounds victorian to most people, but a couple who is truly rooted in our Lord will have the graces they need to get through what many consider “dry periods”.

    I am sure you have heard tons of peoples opinions – of which here is another!

  5. Julian · July 8, 2012

    I don’t know. Nothing a woman can do can keep a man from wanting a variety of younger women. It is not the wildness of the sex act itself, its that its the same person just older. Imagine if playboy released the same centerfold every month except that she got older. Of course botox, plastic surgery, keeping a perfect figure, wearing a variety of costumes to give the verisimilitude of variety can help but cannot completely satisfy the psychology of a man. That is why sexuality of women was always suppressed and society did not encourage the sex act itself, because they understood a fundamental difference between men and women’s sexuality. Men have undifferentiated lust (any woman who looks desirable, only physical qualities) while women have differentiated lust (their lust has a particular man in mind, emotional connection, etc) That is why it is very difficult for men to stay married these days.

  6. diana · July 11, 2012

    Well after reading these comments let’s not forget that everyone is a sinner! So stop with you are better than me attitude! This is American an if chose to read 50 shades of grey then so be it! I think the Catholic church has. Bigger issues to focus on…. like all the priest having sex or fondling our children! Maybe they have also read those books! Or maybe the most resent debate that the pope decided he like the health care plan until they really find out what it in tails…. now we need to be Christian an agree with the pope! I think not! How about we as Christians don’t Judge others! If you are truly a Christian an live your life as a Christian then why would ( kristina) judging anyone! That is not a Christian! Maybe someone needs to take a step back a take a good look at themselves! The judgment of others, the gossiping….. true Christian without fault. I think not!!!

  7. Beth Austin Roundtree · July 25, 2012

    a wonderful book, for any Christian, not just Catholic, married couple is Sex and the Marriage Covenant by the Kipleys. it does cover NFP also, but mostly it is about building a solid relationship that naturally wants to be expressed physically in a healthy loving way.

  8. Pingback: One Catholic’s Opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey | The Catholic Realist
  9. Pingback: How Romance Novels Almost Ruined My Marriage…In Bed | The Catholic Realist
  10. Pingback: 50 shades of Grey: Porn or Prose? «
  11. I have to admit that I am deeply consoled by your post. I was troubled at first, but consoled by your change of heart.

    You asked why these books are so popular. I would respond that they make sin look fun and glamorous.

    As someone who once had the choice to be “romanced” by the wealthy, glamorous, and powerful of the world if she wanted (but chose not to be), I am not amused. Men like that are some of the most evil, self-centered, narcissistic, uncaring, unloving men on this planet. They will talk about their wives and children as if they were such good parents, and two seconds later drip evil seductions from their mouths.

    I am so glad that the Pope speaks out, and that you have posted his words.

  12. PK · January 17, 2013

    “…the Church couldn’t possibly be any clearer in terms of the teaching on this little thing called pornography—something serious enough to be described as a serious offense, as stated in paragraph 2354 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    ‘Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, and the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.'”

    I guess you didn’t search very hard. Here’s an excerpt from Theresa Tomeo, where she quotes the Catechism…

    • ymkbird · February 5, 2013

      I’m not at all confused about the Church’s teachings on pornography. If you read through my previous post, you saw that I broke down that exact quote from the Catechism word for word. What I am trying to do here, is delineate what difference (if any) there is between pornography and erotic literature.

      • Greg · June 21, 2013

        Take Fifty Shades of Grey out and replace it with the Song of Solomon. What does this do to the discussion?

  13. scott · March 20, 2013

    As I read this, I couldn’t help but wonder if you would find Penthouse Forum or other similar “literary” imaginations to be pornographic or simply erotic? As a young man, I would read and re-read and re-read the graphic sexual excerpts (not the violent portions) of “American Psycho” for my own sexual arousal.

    I think your comment and some of your responders comments that it’s best “not to play with fire” is a good rule to live by. Why put your own limits of purity and self-control to a test that is unnecessary. Perhaps for some, this is easy. But, I believe it’s quite clear that they are a huge minority in our culture.

    On the other hand, one of my favorite movies is “40-Year Old Virgin”. I make the argument that beneath the filth and crassness is a moral tale that is unrivaled in any other mainstream Hollywood movie since I can remember. My recommendation of that movie comes with a litany of caveats. So, I probably really shouldn’t be recommending it at all, you know?

    • ymkbird · July 8, 2013

      Thanks Scott – and I agree. It’s a fine line to walk being “in the world, but not of the world.” There are so many things that have immoral elements that also have redemptive qualities. I can’t help but think that the New Evangelization is going to require us to keep taking the secular culture (including some of the things with which we find moral offense) and pointing out the sacred that lies within.

  14. AnneMarie Miller · August 5, 2014

    So I just now came across this post, and I don’t know if you will even see this comment, but there IS a GREAT book (which you may have/probably have heard of by now) that I recommend: “Holy Sex” by Dr. Greg Popcak. It’s awesome for married couples to go through together, super easy to read, really basic, and takes them through the foundation of their marriage, and to rediscover their spiritual ground as a couple, and also has sections on explicit sexual activities for married couples to do. So if you haven’t seen it yet, check it out!

  15. Bro. Randele A. Arcilla · September 25, 2014

    A like the 2011 novel and 2015 movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” and as them the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican of Our Pope was become the couples, relationships and spouses are stop the accusing the mistress a having sex as a obscene becomes a sinner and ask to lord almighty god are stop it for my obscene novel and movies as a devils and totally deadly sinner. While the Lord Jesus Christ and cast out of stone and the sinner of woman commit adultery and what name is Saint Mary Magdalene.

    In 2003 in the Philippines, former Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani of the Diocese of Novaliches in Quezon City from south of Manila was delivered to accusing of women comes to adultery and harassment of sex and ask of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in Intramuros, Manila and Bishop Emeritus Bacani was downfall and cut out as the Bishop is now resignation and now as a Emeritus, after the scandal, now Bacani was never repeat to accuse of harassment is a Auxiliary Bishop of Manila and Spiritual Adviser of El Shaddai is a Catholic Charismatic Group and a like the books and movie in this titled.

    Let us pray for our lord Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Mary Magdalene and we need has never to using things of obscene and mistress as sinner to accusing adultery and forgive us our lord was not repeat to accused them and leave me alone to devils and demons was cast out and save us and freed it to obstance and sustained of praise and come here to going in heaven and meet them to our praise to forgiveness of passion of our yours against sins and lead us to free to god. In Jesus name, Amen.

    Our Blessed Virgin Mary, Pray for us!
    Saint Mary Magdalene, Pray for us!

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