Why I Won’t Read Fifty Shades of Grey

They look pretty innocent until the handcuffs….

If you haven’t yet heard of the Fifty Shades trilogy, you probably don’t spend much time on the internet.  The series is so popular that when I put the number 5 into Google, it autofilled “50 shades of grey.”  For those of you so fortunate as to have avoided the books so far, let me summarize the first for you in the words of noted news source Wikipedia:

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic novel by British author E. L. James. Set largely in Seattle, it is the first installment in a trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism (BDSM).

So let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: these books are not wholesome.  They are “explicitly erotic,” featuring all kinds of…sketchy practices.  And not just implied filth–graphically-described filth, stuff so bad I can barely google the novels without feeling the need to scrub my brain.  From a Christian perspective, I just don’t know how you can excuse that.

Now, I generally won’t take a stand against a book I haven’t read myself.  I wholeheartedly support Harry Potter as an innocent fantasy series because I’ve read every word.  I wasn’t even willing to condemn The Da Vinci Code until I read it–now I’m glad to warn people against it.1  So when a reader asked me to write about the book, warning Christian women away from it, I said no.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I can’t tell people not to read a book that I haven’t read, and I can’t read that.”

But last week, I mentioned this exchange to one of my kids.  “You can’t hide from the truth,” he said.

“I’m not afraid that these books will expose some truth that threatens my nice little Catholic world,” I said.  “I’m afraid of what they’ll do to me.  I knew The Da Vinci Code wouldn’t destroy my faith, so I wasn’t worried about reading it.  I’m not as confident that these books won’t affect me.”

Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t going to destroy your faith,” he said, giving me a kind vote of confidence.

“Alex, it’s not that I think I’m going to read these books and suddenly abandon my life of chastity for some wild S&M fantasy.  I just refuse to put myself in a situation where I’m walking up the aisle to receive communion and a graphic image of bondage sex presents itself to my imagination.  I’m not hiding from anything, I’m protecting myself.”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it wasn’t enough just not to read the books.  I may not know everything about these books (thank God!), but I know enough to take a stand.  Since I haven’t read them, I guess I can’t exactly tell you what to do.  But I can say that I wouldn’t read them for ten thousand dollars and that I really, really hope no Christian women do.

In case you’re on the edge, here’s why I won’t read these books:

  1. They’re pornographic.  People who like them call them mommy porn.  These aren’t even the books’ detractors–these are their fans!  Men who watch porn think they’re porn.  The only people who seem to insist that the books aren’t porn are people who want to believe that reading these books isn’t unchaste.2
    As these books prove, something can be pornographic without having images, and it makes total sense that women would be more drawn to words than images.  While many women claim that the books have revitalized their sex lives, marriage is about so much more than sex.  It’s about love and honor and chastity and seeking holiness together.  So I don’t care what Fifty Shades has done for your sex life, it is not great for your marriage.  This isn’t just harmless fun–pornography damages marriages as well as souls.  Someone’s getting hurt.
  2. Good, because most women really need to lower their standards for men.

    They’re not just erotica, they’re bondage erotica.  If I can’t even handle good old Mr. Darcy, why on earth would I want to read about a wealthy, experienced, powerful man getting a young virgin to sign a contract consenting to God knows what?  Because yeah, love is all about escape–ha–clauses and signing on the dotted line.  I know from reading articles about the book that there are safe words, whips, straps, and a “red room of pain.”  I don’t even need to read the graphic lines to have a serious problem with the image of sex and “love” that the books present.

    And yet apparently Christian Grey is such an attractive character that women are falling head over heels for the sick man.  This kind of fiction skews our idea of love to be about pain and domination.  I don’t care what happens with the love story–I refuse to make that kind of man my standard, as so many women seem to have done

  3. It’s terrible writing.  From what I’ve heard, it’s not even very well-written.  I mean, it evolved from Twilight fanfic.  That’s right–an author so devoid of ideas she sponged off of Twilight.  The books, evidently, are so full of misused words, trite language, and broken record clichés (“my inner goddess) that even the most undiscerning readers can’t help but cringe.  Honestly, I wouldn’t be interested even if they weren’t porn.

So I’m not going to touch those things with a ten foot pole.  And I feel a lot more comfortable, after all the research I’ve been doing,3 in saying that they have no place on a Christian bookshelf. Even if they’re not smut, they’re too close for Christian comfort.

I’m not condemning you if you’ve read them.  Maybe my imagination is just more vivid than most, and that’s the problem.  Likely I’m much more of a prude than most.  But I’ve got to ask: would you blush if your pastor (or mother or Sunday School teacher or friend from church) saw you reading them?  Would you snatch them from your child if she flipped to a page at random?  Do you honestly feel that these books are good for your soul?

Maybe I’m missing the mark, but when St. Paul says “flee immorality,”4 I take him seriously.  So when I see those books, I’m happy to turn and run.  And I’m hoping you’ll join me.

  1. If you’re strong in your faith, read it if you must. It’s not filth, it’s just lies. I understand that it’s fiction, but the Church is my Mother, and when someone writes a book all about how your mother is a liar and a murderer, sticking it in the fiction section doesn’t make it more palatable. []
  2. There are advocates of the book who reject the term “mommy porn” because they find the term condescending. “I’m a big girl and I read big girl porn, goshdarnit!” []
  3. God help me, I had to close some of those websites really fast. []
  4. 1 Cor 6:18 []

About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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23 Responses to Why I Won’t Read Fifty Shades of Grey

  1. Amanda says:

    I wonder if there isn’t something to be learned from the popularity.

    Women are apparently finding something in these stories that they crave, and I don’t think it’s necessarily “a red room of pain.” Have their husbands become too submissive, so women are attracted to Mr. Grey’s extreme dominance? Has the mainstream misunderstanding of Church teaching made marital sex boring, so much so that BDSM looks like a good alternative?

    Maybe we need a Christian sexual counter-revolution…one based of course on marital chastity, but also on sexiness? One that doesn’t just reiterate “babies and bonding,” but clearly says how fun bonding (not to be confused with bondage) should be? Something along these lines, perhaps – http://becomeoneflesh.com/kama-sutra-for-christians.html

    Do you know of any such movement? Any parishes stepping up to fill the void? Seems sorely needed given the explosive interest in the fifty shades of filth. Maybe after a little more marriage experience, I’ll start one.

  2. Nicole says:

    Thanks for posting this Meg! Pornography can leave vivid images and unrealistic expectations for men and women. Men are mostly partakers in porn, but I feel like this series of books is the way to popularize it for women. Porn hasn’t helped men be better husbands, so I don’t see why getting women to participate would help. I think Amanda is on to something- women are craving something from their marriages, but I think it has to do with love, not sex. You cannot separate the two.

    • bmonk says:

      I’ve heard it put something like this: men crave sex (and are visual, hence porn) and some are willing to give romance for sex. Women crave romance, and some are willing to give sex for romance.

      In that case, the equivalent of porn for women would be precisely this: romance and the false intimacy suggested in such books.

      And I agree that the real problem is that, once read, the images can never be fully erased. I can discount Dan Brown, having once read him, because his most egregious errors and falsehoods were intellectual–historical and literary. But images are harder to erase.

  3. Jenny says:

    I had no idea what these books were about, thanks for the mini course. Vivid word images are so very dangerous and can haunt a soul forever; they become an easy button for satan, so I completely agree with everything you stated.

    Amanda brings up a very interesting point,

    “Have their husbands become too submissive, so women are attracted to Mr. Grey

    • bmonk says:

      Another problem is the image of husbands (and men in general) that so much media stuffs down our throat: as weak, ineffectual, objects of ridicule and sarcasm. No wonder women are seeking a stronger image.

  4. Anon says:

    This is so stupid
    Having good sex and reading about sex and being sexually curious is completely healthy and human
    These books won’t destroy a marriage or your faith or hurt anything, if they are that weak you have bigger problems
    It’s not perverted it’s just sex
    Don’t be so judgemental
    They are fictional consenting adults

    • Rebecca says:

      God does want us to have good sex. However, that has to be placed in the context that He has set up for man and woman. After the Fall, however, things are a bit sketchy – we are sinful, fallen human beings in need of grace and redemption. In addition, as humans our processes of thoughts, feelings and emotions are influenced, for ill or good, on the information we take in to your minds by our senses: sight, hearing, touching, imagining, etc. Jesus was explicit when He said in Matthew 5:28 that to even look at another lustfully was to commit adultery with that person in your heart.
      Statistically, the women who have the most satisfying sex are religious and monogamous (even in their hearts).

    • bmonk says:

      “Just sex”? Any time you need protection against your intimate partner, that is a clue that something is wrong. “Safe sex” is an oxymoron.

      Furthermore, there is no condom for the human heart. Why are breakups so hard, even when there is no sex to get over? Because we were made to love and be committed in intimacy, not to keep moving on to the next partner.

  5. This is a great piece. I feel that the books would never shake my faith, but what is the point in exposing myself to something like that when there are millions of other books I’d rather be reading.

    Also, aren’t we supposed to guard our eyes and our minds? While that stuff might not affect us directly, it most certainly desensitizes us into thinking that lesser sins might be permitable.

    Finally, to the comment saying that it is normal and healthy to explore pornography like this, I have to paraphrase Fulton Sheen. He says that in the end, the devil will come disguised as a benefactor, a philanthropist, as someone who is fighting for the “rights” of human beings. Standing up for so-called sexual freedom most certainly falls into this category.

    Again, love your blog 🙂

  6. PM says:

    Good for you, Meg! You nailed it. (I’d just delete those book covers…)

  7. Maggie says:

    God bless you Meg. Your blog reaffirmed why I didn’t read 50 Shades either.
    This is the quote from Galations 5:19 -21 that came to mind when I vowed not to read partake.
    “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness,
    idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions,occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

  8. Robin says:

    Meg, thank you. I had heard bits and pieces about these books but had already discerned that I should not read them. Now I have that discernment confirmed. Porn is porn, whether visual or written, and as Catholics NONE of us should be partaking of porn.

    I am concerned by the growing popularity of this particular “area” of sexuality in modern media, the whole dominance/ submission thing. With human trafficking and sexual slavery on the rise worldwide, and with girls being beaten and slapped around in EVERYONE’S neighborhood, why would we –as a society —find this particular perversion so… attractive? I have been with women shortly after they were raped… there’s nothing, NOTHING, (I want to scream it) NOTHING attractive about being hurt in this way. The violation of the human body is also a violation of the human soul, and the wounds left behind are lifelong. There is nothing romantic about being used.

    Anything that makes another human person into an object, something to be controlled/used/exploited, flies in the very face of God, and is the opposite of love.

  9. Ducky says:

    The fact that this popular series evolved from Twilight fanfic blows my mind. I read a plot summary on Wikipedia and I just don’t see what the big deal is… I really can’t imagine this is more worthwhile reading than any other soft porn? Why is this so popular?

    An aside, the author was named one of the 100 most influential people by Time in 2012. *After originally using Twilight character names in the story*. Seriously?? There is so much smutty fanfic out there (including BDSM)… much written by uninspired teenagers and 20-somethings… why don’t they all get book/movie deals?

    I’m glad you won’t be reading them… I won’t, either. Thanks for the heads up. I’d heard a lot of hype about this and might have checked it out otherwise.

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  11. Erica says:

    I can’t help but to pitch my experience with this series. I hear some negative but I can tell you that reading this series SAVED & IMPROVED my relationship. I 1st heard about this series on the radio, being that I turned the radio on late I actually missed what the books were about and only heard how this series help a woman & her husband’s marriage. They both read the books and they are thankful. My relationship with my fiance was heading downward and thought I would give the series a shot. Once again I HAD NO IDEA WHAT THESE BOOKS INVOLVED! Not that I am one of self help books but maybe this would talk about communication or whatever. So I began reading. I did not understand how this had helped this woman’s marriage but figured I would continue to read to see. Are these books a bit graphic, YES! I could have gone without all that. But what I actually took from them were the little things. The text msgs throughout the day, being held by the one you love, all the little things that people experience in the beginning of a relationship had died down in mine and I missed it.It reminded me that the little things do matter and that they shouldn’t die down. I finally opened up to my fiance and we seeked help from our priest to help improve our relationship & communication problems. Our relationship had improved soo much and we have now been married for 2 years and have a beautiful baby boy! Could I have been reminded this through another book? Possibly but I didn’t it was this book. And I am thankful! This may not be a book that I would want my child to flip open to a page and read but then again there there are other things I dont want my child to hear or see at his age. When he is at a respectful age and His father & I have gone over things with him I would NOT be ashamed if he had opened a page of this book. I understand others may not feel the way I do and I respect that but I did want to give a shed of light to this book for a change.

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  14. aidrouge says:

    I really don’t like writing bad reviews. I admire people who have the courage to put pen to paper and expose themselves to the whole world, especially those writing erotica. Having just finished this book, however, I feel compelled to write a review
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