Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last couple of years, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Fifty Shades of Grey book and upcoming movie. There has been much written both for and against the books/movie. Among professing Christians there are those who are very supportive of the books which I found very surprising. When Aimee Byrd wrote her recent article asking Christian women to think twice about reading what amounts to porn, there were many Christians women who argued strongly in favor of the books.
In reading the comments there and elsewhere, I’ve come across three basic arguments supportive of Fifty Shades and similar books:
- Who are you to judge? Why are you so concerned about consenting adults having sex when there are real problems in the world?
- Reading Fifty Shades is just harmless fun. No one is getting hurt. It’s just fantasy.
- It might be sinful to read Fifty Shades, but we all sin in so many ways. What’s the big deal about this one sin?
In considering how to answer these kinds of questions and how to answer more generally why I’m not reading Fifty Shades or going to see the movie, I came across a recommendation for a book that seeks to provide the answers: Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart.
Pulling Back the Shades was written by two women: Dr. Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh. Both women are Christian authors who have written other books on the topics of marriage and intimacy. While the book was written specifically to address Fifty Shades, Pulling Back the Shades discusses the concerns that the authors have with all erotic fiction:
We believe that the release of the Fifty Shades of Grey series was a transforming moment that fueled the erotica craze, normalizing its use. The series has done for women and erotica what the advent of the Internet did for men and porn. (10)
Pulling Back the Shades is written as a devotional of sorts. Each chapter ends with a question for the reader to contemplate, and there is a study guide with questions at the end of the book. The authors explain their purpose for writing:
In the pages ahead, we’ll embark on the journey of Pulling Back the Shades. You might consider this a double play on words. Not only do we want to pull back the shades of Grey for you to see God’s truth about what it and other books like it can do in your life, but we also want to pull back the shades on your own sex life. This book is not meant to be merely a reaction to the Fifty Shades of Grey series. Ultimately it is about YOU — your longings, your questions, and your wholeness as a spiritual and sexual woman. We hope to offer you something you deeply need. (13)
It is their hope that this book will bring healing to many women who have bought the lie that erotica is good harmless fun.
One of the things I liked best about the book was the authors’ balanced approach to women and sexuality. Women have sexual longings and desires. They also have sexual struggles. Because of both the appropriate desires and longings and the effects of sin in our lives, most (if not all) Christian women will struggle with some form of sexual sin. It is a topic that deserves to be addressed, and I appreciate the authors’ work for this reason.
For many Christian women struggling with longings and desires that don’t seem to be met, Fifty Shades and other erotica seem to offer a safe way outlet:
Then along came Fifty Shades of Grey — a book offering a bounty of explicit, erotic sex scenes all wrapped up in a love story. Suddenly, there is a sexual outlet for the spiritual woman that seems to be perfectly acceptable. Their longings and fantasies finally have a place to be expressed in erotica, which promises to revive sexual passion in marriage or channel sexual desires for singles. (14)
The authors’ address five longings that many women may seek to meet through erotica:
- To escape reality
- To be cherished by a man
- To be protected by a strong man
- To rescue a man
- To be sexually alive (16)
The longing themselves are legitimate and reasonable desires, but the problem comes when we seek to meet them in ways that are not God honoring.
Having set the stage this way, the authors move on to why they believe Fifty Shades and erotica in general are dangerous. Erotica is dangerous because it is a type of fantasy that manipulates moral and relational laws. “Right and wrong get morphed into a morally grey universe that becomes impossible to untwist (26).” And this this redefining of morality is no accident:
EL James states that redefining morality was part of her agenda in writing the books. In one interview she said, ‘What I wanted to demonstrate is that I do not look at the world in terms of black and white — and I find people who do rather scary. I think it’s all shades of grey.’ (26)
The danger of this type of fantasy is that if you were to attempt these types of relationships in the real world the outcome would not be the happy ending portrayed in the books. “If you read Fifty Shades and then invest in a relationship that is built around sexual sadism, you will not end up in a loving, caring, committed marriage (26).” Erotic fantasy is unreal, deceptive, and it makes you want more. But it will never satisfy.
Instead of being simply a harmless escape, erotica, or “mommy porn” as it has been named, represents a battlefront in the war between good and evil. Spiritual warfare is a real issue, and I was pleased to see that Pulling Back the Shades addresses this aspect:
I believe this genre of literature and Fifty Shades books specifically are very spiritual books with an aggressive spiritual agenda. Reading mommy porn is not just a little guilty pleasure. It doesn’t simply represent a love story with some kinky sex scenes. It takes you on a wild emotional and sexual ride. But unlike an exciting roller coaster, you will not be dropped off right back where you started. These books take you on a journey that has a spiritual impact and an intended spiritual destination: destruction. (33-34)
The authors’ believe that these books represent a spiritual issue because sex is spiritual:
Because sex is a portrait of God’s sacred love, Satan will do anything he can to destroy the beauty of it. He has tried to twist, tarnish, and distort the beautiful and holy picture of sexuality in every way possible. From creating shame about sexuality in Christian women to sexual abuse and prostitution, his agenda is to separate us from ever celebrating sexuality within the context of God’s holy design. (34)
The spiritual danger in erotica is that it isolates the physical acts from the rest of our sexuality. There is no connection to the emotional and spiritual elements of a relationship. Sex should not ever be just about physical pleasure, not in God’s original design.
Another spiritual danger is that we, as a culture, have made love and sex into idols. We live and believe and worship the lie that we must have a fulfilling sex life in order to be whole. God made sex for our enjoyment, but is it supposed to be our reason for living? No, our reason for living is to worship and enjoy God.
This was my favorite part of Pulling Back the Shades. In so much of the current discussions in Christian circles about sexuality the prevailing wisdom is that if you follow all the rules, then your marriage will be blessed by the best sex ever. The authors of Pulling Back the Shades take a different approach. We should follow the rules. Sex is meant to be enjoyed within the bounds of marriage. But that is not where we should look for our satisfaction in life.
“Life is hard; not every longing you have on earth will be fulfilled (84).” Marriage and a good sex life are good things, but we aren’t owed them by God. Our hope should not be in these things, but instead in Him. He is our Prince and the lover of our souls. What we long for is a Savior. (86) Nothing will satisfy our need for intimacy except the One who knows us and loves us and saves us. If we have our needs met by Him, we can be content regardless of our circumstances.
So in considering the three arguments I listed at the beginning of this article, let’s see what the authors of Pulling Back the Shades would answer.
1. Who are you to judge? Why are you so concerned about consenting adults having sex when there are real problems in the world?
The authors point out that in the Fifty Shades books the relationship between the main characters is not healthy. The bondage contract makes one the master and the other subservient. It is demeaning and debasing. As Christians we should reject this line of reasoning. These things are not morally neutral. And so it is appropriate for us as believers to judge the books to be sinful.
2. Reading Fifty Shades is just harmless fun. No one is getting hurt. It’s just fantasy.
The authors believe that erotica is fantasy, but it’s not harmless. It’s spiritually and emotionally damaging. It can destroy you.
3. It might be sinful to read Fifty Shades, but we all sin in so many ways. What’s the big deal about this one?
In Pulling Back the Shades, the authors address the serious nature of the sin involved in erotica. They also point out that as Christians we are called to stand out and to be different from our culture because of our beliefs:
We’re supposed to be making different choices and living a different kind of life than the rest of the world. While you certainly can and should celebrate your sexuality, there is also discretion required of the Christian woman who seeks to have her sex life be what God designed it to be: a picture of His passionate love for His people! God’s Word clearly calls us to live our lives as He designed them to be lived in all areas, including sex. This demands that we choose a different path than the world’s way. He calls us to holiness. (94)
I’m very thankful for Pulling Back the Shades. It was a challenging book as it made me assess some of my own enjoyment of romance in books and movies. It also was very equipping. I feel better prepared for answering the challenges I’ll face for not going along with the cultural trends. I would highly recommend the book for anyone, but especially for those who have pulled into the dangerous and destructive world of erotica.