My husband and I had a bit of a crazy conversation the other day as we trekked to the capitol city to retrieve a guest from the airport. We shocked each other. We blushed. We made each other laugh. We passionately defended our points of view.
We were talking about sexual intimacy.
Somewhere in the journey, in the middle of that conversation, we happened to pass a billboard for the release of the “50 Shades of Grey” movie here in Costa Rica. He was repulsed that this is what the U.S. is exporting to other countries and asked me what my thoughts were on why this has become a phenomena, why women are so attracted to what this franchise sells.
I told him that I could not fully answer the question because I have not read the books nor do I have any interest in doing so, even for the sake of being able to create an argument.
But I have seen the vehement defense of the books, movies and what they portray over and over by women who I know to be smart, good, clear- thinking women.
And my assessment is this: that women find something in the script that feels empowering to them, invites them to own their sexuality and their right to play it dangerous a bit in that arena.
They are attracted to the titillation that allows them to feel that is normal to be a sexual being and to find pleasure in that, especially when the man with which are finding it is just a little bit bad.
I mean, can we just be honest and say that pretty much every sexual fantasy is composed of those elements: an experience that feels empowering and freeing, a little bit risque, and which we find pleasurable?
I don’t have a problem with a woman desiring any of those things. I think it is perfectly normal and healthy and I wish we would talk about it as such.
The issue I have is that 50 Shades sells us a bill of goods that what is empowering is to seek risky sexual behavior with a relative stranger, to allow yourself to be dominated, and in consenting to it, feel liberated and empowered.
A very important element is missing from the story line.
The reason my husband and I could drive in our car and laugh wildly at one another as we revealed shocking opinions about sexual behaviors, the reason I exhilarated and empowered by the conversation, is because we have shared seventeen years of sexual intimacy based on something much deeper that control, domination, and personal choice–we have shared seventeen years of mutual vulnerability.
And I hold that true sexual empowerment and liberation is that which drives us into a deeper vulnerability and thus a deeper intimacy.
It is true that the bit of fear of the exposure we face when we are intimate with someone contributes to the pleasure we derive from it.
But the kind of fear we should experience, the kind of fear that is truly empowering, is the fear that says, “Here I am naked before you, exposing parts of myself to you that no one else ever sees. Here I am before you trusting you with the deepest parts of me. Here I am risking a kind of pleasure with you I share with no one else.”
A deeply gratifying sexual relationship formed in the years and years of marriage comes from a learned intimacy. A faithful proving to one another that we are safe in each other’s arms. A developing relationship that gets more and more honest with each encounter because we know our past risks have been rewarded with acceptance, love and mutual respect.
Yes, there is a place for fear in a healthy sexual relationship.
But our empowerment and liberation comes from exposing our vulnerability to a spouse who has pledged to lay down his life for us and finding that the deeper we expose ourselves, the more we are loved, accepted and given safety, and in offering the same to him in return.
A person who capitalizes on our vulnerability to heighten that fear, manipulate our response and control us according to his will does not liberate or empower us.
Perhaps in reading or seeing it portrayed sensationally on a movie screen, it seems that way. We viscerally respond to the titillation of the fear and find some relief in seeing a woman that gratified by allowing herself to be manipulated, and, in my opinion, abused.
I do not think that response would be the same if this was playing itself out in the real lives of many of the women I see defending it. I don’t think they would find it empowering or liberating at all.
And it is important to consider that, because as we chirp on and on about how wonderful the movie makes us feel, we are telling the men in our lives that this is the kind of intimacy we desire. And we are telling other women, that this kind of domination is gratifying.
I would beg that we reconsider.
I wholly support our being honest about the fact that we as women are sexual beings who desire a mutually gratifying intimacy.
But let us be certain that as we discuss that, we empower ourselves by honoring the kind of intimate relationship that honors us, and that truly empowers us.
A relationship based on risking vulnerability, not domination. A relationship where we are liberated from our fears by the safety of love and respect, a relationship where one man and one women commit bearing the deepest parts of themselves to only one another and where every encounter affirms more deeply a love that binds in best of ways–with the laying bear of souls who seek the good of the other in their relationship.
Want to feel empowered? Take a long drive with your husband and have a long talk about what a truly gratifying sexual relationship should like. Make one another blush. Shock each other a bit. Laugh.
Then go home and love each in the deepest of ways.
It’s so much better than any movie version, anyway.