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Sex and Politics

Cinderella Disguised as Porn, Oh My!

Could it be that we have reached the point in society where it’s more acceptable as adults to read porn than to read an adult fairytale?  I’m not saying that would be a bad thing. In fact, quite the opposite.  I’m delighted that a book billed as “erotica” has gained such wide-spread acceptance.  I think that’s a very good thing and an exciting indicator of the shift in society toward a healthier view of sex and sexuality.  I’m just asking the question, prompted by my recent reading of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the run-away success of this book is more about the Cinderella romance than it is the erotica.  This is Cinderella after the shoe fits, as we get to see his hand go up her leg and discover her dripping wet and ready for him to ravish her in a perfect sexual encounter!  I think that the readers are more carried away by the romance than the sex, but it’s more acceptable to read porn than it is to read a grown up fairytale.  It’s more acceptable to imagine yourself being spanked than to imagine yourself not having to work for a living and being taken care of by a very wealthy, handsome (or beautiful) partner.

Those of us with young children or grandchildren are aware of the social taboo against princesses and happily-ever-after stories, encouraging our young female children to covet the white lab coat of a doctor or the business attire of a lawyer over the frilly skirts and glass slippers of a princess.  Disney is now politically incorrect, Mother Goose is frightening, Bert and Ernie can no longer live together and the Cookie Monster is now eating broccoli.

But fairytales originally were very sexual – intended for adult readers – before they were “cleaned up” for children in modern times.  Quite a few authors have published books with erotic versions of the fairytales we heard as children.  Erotic author Mitzi Szereto published a book in 2009,  “In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales”,  where she restores the explicit sex in the 15 tales in the book.  Each tale is prefaced by a brief introduction telling its history and the sexual culture in which it was originally composed.  And Jean Johnson published “Bedtime Stories:  A Collection of Erotic Fairy Tales,” just to give two examples.

So why did this trilogy capture everyone’s imagination?  Perhaps because it doesn’t overtly declare itself a fairytale.  Perhaps because we don’t read it with the negatives we’ve been subjected to around fairytales but, rather, as erotica.  Or perhaps, with the chaos and uncertainty in our world there’s an allure in the simple, a desire to be safe and cared for in ways that aren’t very realistic in the lives we lead today.

For those of us females who grew up yearing to be a princess rescued by a knight on a white charge or who (horror of horrors) wished on every evening star for a man who would take care of us and treat us like those princesess, there is a heavy sense of shame and perhaps some underlying disappointment not only that we ever believed that was what we wanted but also that it never happened.

Now, today, we get to visit those dreams in the fairytale romance story in “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  Even the names are the stuff of fairytales – Anastasia Steel and Christian Grey.  These two magnificently beautiful, perfectly-bodied souls live a fairytale life, financed by his $100,000 an hour earnings.  There’s a twist (plot spoiler warning!) in that in this fairytale it’s she who rescues him, but it’s still a fairytale.

The sex is perfect too, by the way.  They always climax at the same moment, she (having been a virgin until she met him) is able to climax on command, he’s into S&M and she happens to like rough sex.  Neither one ever has gas and, other than some muscle soreness, every fairytale encounter leads to another one as her insatiable appetite for sex meets his unquenchable thirst for her.

But it’s not really a very erotic book.  The sex scenes tend to be similar and, even with the little raspberry swirl of bdsm, pretty vanilla (and improbable).

All of the conversations I’ve had with my friends and colleagues, as well as my own reaction to the books, have led me to believe this is much more about the romantic fairytale than the erotica.  And it’s not a book or a story I would have bothered to read had it not been billed as erotica and on the NY Times best seller list.  Even then, having read the first book, I wouldn’t have bothered to go on to the second and definitely not the third because ….well, because it’s just not that extraordinary and there are so many other books I’d rather be reading.

Even so, I did read to the end of the third book, although I found myself skipping the sex scenes altogether by the end of the trilogy.  And I did find myself yearning, just for a few brief moments, for the simplicity of those happily ever after fairytales and a life that included $100,000 an hour income.  And it was that vision, much more than the sex, that kept me reading to the end.

Early porn films (and even some today) employ an often silly ruse to get the participants together so they can have sex, giving the film the pretense of a story line. Here we have seem to have the porn or erotica providing the pretense to disguise the forbidden fairytale content and make it more acceptable.

What do you think?  Did you read the book?  We’d love to know what you think and so we’ve set up an informal survey.  It’s quick (about 3 minutes) and it’s anonymous.  Click here to share your impressions of the book.

 

  • Thanks very much for the mention of my fairy tales book. Interesting article!