The Rise of Erotic Fiction

MOLLIE JONES considers whether blindfolds, sex toys and Christian Grey really are what women want.

50 Shades of Grey Books Crossfire E.L.James Erotic Fiction literature Sex sex toys

“Put down your book and pay me some attention.”

My friend meets me in the middle of my prescription Caffè Nero midday coffee. I’m not only interrupted by the arrival of my friend, but also by an elderly couple sitting next to me.

“It’s Fifty Shades of Grey, she’ll be there a while,” the man, who’s old enough to be my grandfather, jokes.                                                              

On this rare occasion when I am actually denting my reading list, I find myself questioning how E.L James’ erotic novel has become just as much of a household name as Harry Potter. Throughout the summer, we’ve been bombarded with news of the racy trilogy; Universal Pictures and Focus features have bought the film rights, 10 million copies have been sold worldwide, and two housewives in Hertfordshire have set up their own sex-toy website, aptly named ‘Box of Grey.’

Moreover, we’re also being peddled the idea that being tied up, blindfolded, paddled, flogged and stroked with a furry glove whilst listening to classical music is sexually liberating and exactly what women have been craving all these years.

And, to an extent, it is. After reading the book, women apparently want sex three times as much, whilst couples are also becoming more sexually adventurous. Sales of sex toys featured in the books have increased by 400% and 47% have said that they are now willing to experiment with handcuffs, blindfolds and other bondage gear.

Erotic fiction, or ‘mummy porn’ as the Fifty Shades and more recent Crossfire trilogies have been dubbed, is clearly a turn on for housewives, students and women everywhere who are encountering porn for the first time and – shock horror – finding themselves aroused.

But, crucially, unlike its visual counterparts, erotic writing doesn’t require the exploitation of real human bodies, making ‘mummy porn’ an accessible and guilt-free pleasure. As Samantha Brick said in her interview on This Morning, “Giving it this name of mummy porn, using this kind of safe, middle-class word, makes women think it’s okay to read it.”

This time, Samantha Brick is right. Will fans of the novel happily leave their comfortable suburban sofas to sit and watch the novel’s leading lady succumb to Christian Grey in an X-rated, pornographic feast for the eyes? Something tells me that the Hertfordshire housewives might find themselves hiding behind their cashmere pashminas.

Admittedly, the reading of the books themselves might be sexually liberating, but the erotic events of the trilogy itself are generally about as far from sexual emancipation as Samantha Brick is from being hated for being ‘beautiful.’

Call me crazy, but when I imagine my perfect man, he is not “standing over me grasping a plaited leather riding crop,” and about to arbitrarily “punish” me.  Nor is recovering from a childhood so traumatic that he tries to rape me in his sleep (à la Gideon Cross in Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series). In fact, much as I enjoy being tied up and blindfolded, I also find the inability to run away far from sexually liberating.

So why are James and Day among the Gordon Ramsays and Nigella Lawsons whose cookbooks dominate the Amazon bestsellers list? Ironically, the answer lies in the power balance of the provocative relationships they describe. Christian Grey might be able to belt Anastasia Steele until he’s blue in the face, but he is still “utterly, utterly broken, a man in agonizing pain,” as soon as she leaves him.

Likewise, Gideon Cross can’t help but come running after Eva Trammel as soon as she flees from him. Both women manage to charm an obscenely attractive man who wants nothing to do with an emotional relationship into falling head over heels in love with them.

The leading ladies of these novels attain the sacred ‘more’ that women dream of in relationships and it’s easy to believe that, as Fifty Shades writer E.L James has said, the books merely tell an old-fashioned love story. This is seemingly where the appeal lies, fulfilling teenage fantasies and middle-age daydreams alike.

But this time, it’s the woman who must charm and beguile the emotionally coquettish Prince Charming before he possesses her, not through a kiss, but with all manner of ‘kinky fuckery.’

The Tab’s own work of Cambridge-based erotic fiction, 50 Shades Of Blue, continues tomorrow.