You’re not curious in the slightest about Fifty Shades of Grey, are you? No Christian or self-respecting woman would want to read this "mommy-porn," would they?

Or perhaps you've read E.L. James’ novels, convinced they've been the best thing that’s happened to your sex life since you said "I do."

Wherever you stand with regard to this trilogy and erotica like it, the Barna Group’s research found that nine per cent of American adults have read Fifty Shade of Grey. The real shocker, though, is that the same proportion of practicing Christians have also read the novel.

Why do Christians seem to be no different than unbelievers when it comes to erotica?

Here’s the truth: Women, including Christian women, are drawn to erotica. They’re lured in by the fictionalized stories of romance, even ones stripped of pure love and clothed in chains, pain and false gain. That may sound like an unfair overgeneralization about the female gender, but how else could erotica seduce its way into the position of the fastest-selling genre to female readers?

What are the risks and rewards of erotica? And is it worth it? Read on for answers.

What’s wrong with a little "mommy porn"?

The advent of the Internet opened the floodgates for men and boys of all ages to access pornographic content with a quick click. And increasingly more women wade through the crude content, too. But now, Fifty Shades makes it less crass and more culturally acceptable for women to delve into the X-rated files.

Some proponents soften the guilt of the genre by calling it "mommy porn." But we all know putting the word "mommy" in front of something doesn’t make it any more family-friendly.

Others ask whether embracing erotica could be sexually empowering for women – a genre for the modern-day feminist. In reality, mainstreaming this type of "literature" has quite the opposite consequence. At best, it’s a double standard to applaud mommy porn while maintaining that regular porn (daddy porn?) is taboo. Not to mention that supporting the genre supports the objectification of women and sex.

Even before the book’s reception, the layers of wrong began at the book’s conception. E.L. James admits to intentionally redefining morality and bending the lines between black and white in her novel. Readers make an intentional decision, too. To read erotica is to choose selfish sexual pleasure rather than sexual intimacy with your spouse. And while it can be a one-time choice, the effects are not single-shooters, as you’ll read later.

Your needs and erotica

Fifty Shades doesn't shy away from the s-word – or at least the idea of it. That’s right, it’s time to talk about submission and why it’s so tantalizing in erotica and sadist sexuality, yet shirked in Western society.

In Pulling Back the Shades, Dannah Gresh writes that "erotica strategically and masterfully pulls you in by exploiting what your heart secretly longs for." And what do women long for? Psychologist Juli Slattery, co-author with Gresh, identifies a woman’s five desires:

  1. To escape reality
  2. To be cherished by a man
  3. To be protected by a strong man
  4. To rescue a man
  5. To be sexually alive

All of these needs are God-breathed since Eve, the first woman created as a "helper" for her man (Genesis 2:18). Yet the modern woman’s I-can-do-anything-you-can-do-better attitude casts these relational longings as antiquated and even offensive.

"Now we secretly yearn for the very thing our independence has destroyed – strong, confident men," Slattery continues. "There is something wonderful and even erotic about trusting the strength of a man who can provide, protect, and lead. So, women are caught at the crossroads of wanting the strength of a man, but not wanting to be controlled."

Strategically, Fifty Shades hits on all of these needs. When tossed into a blender of bondage and dominance, somehow these longings are socially acceptable. "Because our culture has rejected the notion of female submission and male leadership, the deep hunger to return to how we were created to function leads us to counterfeits—like BDSM," Slattery writes.

Your brain and erotica

Reading pornographic content doesn't just arouse your sex organs, it also stimulates your brain. Specifically, when your body experiences new and exciting sexual encounters, it releases different chemicals than oxytocin and dopamine, which are released during "normal" intimacy. Instead, phenylethylamine and adrenaline surge through your synapses. Their effect is similar to that of cocaine on your brain.

Here’s where it gets dangerous: To experience this same sexual high, you constantly need to experience new sensations. That means that these addictive chemicals could lead a loving, happily married woman from romance stories to erotica to having an affair – all to satisfy the insatiable craving she’s awakened.

But erotica isn’t visual to the eye, so it’s not as bad as watching sex tapes, is it? It is, because reading explicit content is mentally visual, piquing the imagination to conjure images of your ideal sexual encounter. This personal mental and emotional exercise, which can lead to fantasizing, can be even more compelling for women than staring at images or scenes directed by other people.

Your relationship and erotica

According to a Michigan State University study, young adult women who read Fifty Shades are more likely than non-readers to have a verbally abusive partner and signs of eating disorders. For those who read all three books in the trilogy, they are at an increased risk of binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.

But that’s not the relational aspect of erotica that people talk about.

You may have heard it before, or even said it yourself: Reading erotica helps me get excited about sex again. It gives me ideas so I can be a better sexual partner for my husband.

Though the intentions may be honourable, the methods are not – and they aren’t helpful, either. Reading about imagined, aggrandized sex in a novel leads to having a fantasized view of sex that a real-life, hardworking and loving husband cannot – and in the case of the abusive relationship in Fifty Shades, should not – live up to. Instead, "normal sex in your marriage – the kind that requires communication, sometimes involves frustration, and doesn't always end in rapturous orgasm – will now be disappointing," warns Gresh.

When you married your spouse, the two of you became one flesh (Ephesians 5:31). At that moment, you were given the go-ahead by God to "know" each other in the Biblical sense. But "erotica like Fifty Shades of Grey is aimed at awakening your physical sexual desire without any connection to emotional, relational, or spiritual reality," Slattery writes. "Even if the main characters are ‘in love,’ you are not!"

You are not in a love-triangle with the characters in the book, so what right do you have to be sharing in their physical intimacy, even to the point of sexual arousal? And how can you benefit your marital intimacy by reading about what pleases Christian Grey?

However you answer, being involved in someone else’s sex life, especially one as abusive and void of morals as Christian and Anna’s, will never bond your heart, body and spirit to your spouse. The opposite is more likely to happen. When consistently shown images that reinforce a specific sexual relationship, such as BDSM, women will begin to see that as normal and anything different as subpar for sexual satisfaction.

All that to ask: Who’s in your sacred marriage bed? In Passion Pursuit, Juli Slattery and Linda Dillow are strict about who has admission into your bed of love:

"The marriage bed is to be kept pure. This means that it is never acceptable to involve someone else in sexual intimacy, including images, movies, fantasies, and even sexually explicit romance novels. The real or imagined presence of someone else will taint and compromise God’s design for intimacy. So you do not bring someone else into your one-flesh intimacy in your mind, in your heart, on a DVD, on a computer screen, or on a piece of paper."

Cara Plett is an in-house writer for Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2015 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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