Why We Love Fifty Shades

There are many things that can be said about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. I have been asked by people to explain why women readers find this trilogy so HOT. I have spent 28 years working in the field of sex therapy listening to women talk about what they want and I have also explored the psychological dynamics of power play in the BDSM world. I would like to offer my thoughts as to what it is about the character of Christian Grey is so very sexually appealing to women.

#1 His intense focus of attention to Ana and his ability to understand her non-verbal cues, using sexy words of affirmation and encouragement. Women love the feeling of adoration, of that sense that their signs of arousal are erotic and beautiful to their partners. So many women have significant negative internal messages about their bodies, especially their Yonis (a term I prefer because it encompasses the vulva, clitoral system and vagina), that they need to hear from their partners -- in the moments when they are becoming aroused -- that they are sexy because they are opening to desire. This is why the notion that women should be instantly horny and ready for sex does not work. This leads to reason number 2.

#2 His ability to build the sexual tension, staying behind her arousal curve by teasing her expectations rather than simply constant groping or rubbing. Alternating gentle stroking and intense touching, then backing off and using words to continue to arouse her, he builds her desire. It is important to note that men should not use distinctly male dirty talk unless they know their partners enjoy it. Ana's anticipation of his next touch and her inner experience of wanting more truly demonstrate the kind of energy that stokes her fire. To use the metaphor from basic fire building skills, Christian starts with tinder before adding more fuel. He is not in a rush to simply have an orgasm and to release his own inner tension. Men who practice Taoist and Tantric techniques will tell you that the ultimate orgasm will be far more intense as they build their own sexual energy. This leads us to reason number 3.

#3 The scenes are edgy. Playing close to the edge is one of the most interesting things about erotic sex, whether it is officially defined as BDSM or not. Restraint is one of the basic elements of power play, as is holding off orgasm. When Ana and Christian are in the "playroom," he starts with restraint and that he does this creatively is reason number 4. However, the erotic component of restraint helps Ana let go of any control and surrender completely to the experience, knowing that she can use a safe word at any moment to be released. Both the total surrender of control and the trust that she can stop the action immediately if she wants to are essential. Ana and Christian joke about the "vanilla" term commonly used in the BDSM world to refer to rote sexual behaviors that, used repeatedly, become boring. But even then they create very erotic "vanilla" experiences -- humorously using ice cream in very creative ways, which brings me to reason number 4.

#4 Christian is very creative in his options for sex play, an aspect which may seem impossible for the men reading this blog to duplicate. But the point is to learn as you explore, rather than throw your hands up and just say, "that's too much work" or "I'm just not that type," as if there is a genetic factor that some men are born with (I would say the same for the phrase "I'm just not the romantic type," which I hear over and over from men). The most common reason women tell me they don't care if they never have sex again is because it has become extremely boring to them. After years of accommodating the 'touch here, rub there, then let's get to intercourse and orgasm in the most direct route possible' approach, which is the norm in our pleasure limiting culture -- yes, I really mean that -- women simply give up. What they are really saying is "I don't like the kind of sex we have in our relationship." Now to be fair, both partners will need to move out of their rote routines and get creative, but the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy ought to give couples a great start for ideas.

#5 Ana and Christian develop the quality of emotional transparency which deepens their intimacy as the story unfolds. Emotional transparency is the most powerful aspect of truly great sex. The definition of intimacy is 'the desire to know and be known by another.' And there are so many levels of revelation in the discovery of 'who are you' in relationship. Much can be learned from verbal communication, especially when you remain open and curious about what your partner tells you. Then there are the many levels of non-verbal communication that lead to a feeling of complete nakedness in the moment, which is edgy and scary but also very sexy. At first, Ana has to guess who Christian is, but as the romance develops, he reveals layer after layer of himself, which keeps Ana fascinated. Christian begins the process of knowing Ana through her emerging sexuality -- as he leads her along the path of awakening sexual responsiveness, she discovers more about herself which is also extremely sexy.

The characters in the trilogy never stop growing and the moments of anguish and conflict are essential parts of the process. This is no simple boy meets girl/fall in love and live happily-ever-after story. It is raw and gritty and very romantic. And here's the message to the men out there: romantic is not only flowers and cards. It is intense sexual interest and taking time to build the fire. It is edgy, it is creative sexy talk and action and it is emotional risk-taking. Wow, now that is HOT.