I’ve remained silent, at least in the blogosphere, about 50 Shades of Grey because everyone seemed to be blogging about it and I didn’t want to add my rant to the cacophony. Frankly, whoever wants to see it probably has, and whoever was desperately against it has said their piece. 50 Shades likely benefited tremendously by the controversy.
I haven’t seen the movie. I haven’t read the book, aside from reading a synopsis, but this isn’t from lack of interest. Believe you me, there is a base level of me that wants to read the book and see the movie. I’d like to explain why I haven’t.
First Exposure to ‘Romance’
I was eleven or twelve when I had my first exposure to steamy literature. My Grandma had a romance novel (a conventional one, not ‘erotica’) in her bathroom. I picked it up, and in a few page flips, came upon a sex scene. I still remember it really well. The hero and heroine had a bath together, undressing and caressing in minute detail.
It was my first real peek at sex, and I guess I was curious. Soon I had another chance to read a romance, and I paged through it until I found that scene. I don’t really understand the biological reasons for why this had such an impression on me. All I know is that as a teenager, these books drew me like a magnet. Not to read the story, but to read the racy bits. I knew it was wrong—I’d been raised to believe that human sexuality was sacred—but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. It was only after confessing this in tears to a group of girls from church, much later in life, that I experienced a real breakthrough and no longer felt the dreaded pull. The library became a safe place again.
This may sound prudish to some of you, and by today’s cultural standards perhaps it is. As a Christian, my belief is that sex is an expression of love between (and only between) husband and wife, designed to be a means of bonding them together, and for procreation. I believe that if I follow this design, it will ultimately give me the happiest life. This belief doesn’t just define how I conduct myself with a boyfriend, but also how I dress, what music I listen to, what books I read, and what movies I watch.
Why Shouldn’t I Watch What I Like?
What is the harm of watching a movie with a racy sex scene? Maybe nothing—at first. But what about the compounding effect? Face it, we are bombarded with sexual material at various points in the spectrum. I don’t view hardcore pornography, and never have, but softcore porn is almost impossible to avoid. Sexuality is the selling point of media. If I view a movie trailer, there will be a hint of a sex scene (cutting away as the woman removes her top), or if I listen to the pop music station, there will be some line about ‘loving all night’. The magazine at the checkout has a girl in a bikini and says “best sex moves” on it. The rom-com has the couple waking up together, the morning after they consummate their relationship.
Brainwashing of the Sexy Kind
Like it or not, this has altered my perception of sexuality. I’ve realized there’s what I think I believe, and what I actually do/think. Here are some of the ideas that have taken residence in my head.
- Romance is primarily expressed sexually, and physical intimacy is a precursor to emotional/relational intimacy. The sex is the exciting part, and the conversation, shared experience, shared hardship, commitment, and work is ‘boring.’ I write fiction, and before the story ever hits the page, there is an incubation period where the story evolves in my mind. It seems I always have this conversation with myself, in which I decide what kind of romantic relationship the hero and heroine will have. Will it be a healthy, wholesome one? Or will it be an exciting one? Does there really need to be that dichotomy? No. That’s a lie I picked up somewhere. And it wasn’t from Bible study, I’ll tell you that much.
- People are primarily sexual objects/animals—or at least young, attractive ones are. Not that I go around fantasizing about every handsome guy I meet. What I mean is that I’m in the hunting mindset far too often. When I joined a very large church with a healthy population of young men, it was very difficult to not walk through the teeming hall going ‘there’s one, and there’s one, and there’s one.’ Whereas, if they don’t fit my type of ‘good looking’, they were dismissed. This is normal, I guess. But I wouldn’t want this done to me. Likewise, I am ferociously hard on my physical appearance. Do I want to be known as a person of good character, high intelligence, ambition and kindness? Absolutely! But face it, what do I spend more time on? My appearance. It’s a point of despair sometimes, because I will never, ever fit the cultural mould of beauty. I do alright, but my genetics just aren’t there.
- I’m a prude and sexually repressed. I’ve done it already in this article—apologized for being sexually conservative. Why should I be ashamed of my celibacy? Why should I apologize because I have a moral standard that I hold myself to? Don’t I have just as much of a right to NOT partake of sex as others have to be sexually free?
So Why Not 50 Shades?
So let’s loop this back around to 50 Shades of Grey. Why didn’t I watch it?
First of all, there are actually redemptive points to the story. Ana, a nobody, is noticed, desired and romanced (I guess) by a powerful, rich man. Many of us want to believe that though we are ordinary, we are worthy of love, we are noticeable, we are special.
The story is also a backhanded expose of childhood abuse and the lengths a person will go to to expunge their pain. In an article on XXXchurch.com, Craig Gross says, “The best available research suggest that 75% or more of those who commit acts of sexual or physical abuse against others were themselves abused as children. Christian Grey was abused as a child, a horrendous act that he never got over or dealt with or talked with anyone about. This has led him to some serious walls that have gone up in his life. and the only way he knows how to deal with it is to abuse someone else. He has done this to over 15 women and will continue. I heard this story was about sex, but this story at its core is about a broken man and his inability to love and be loved.”
That’s actually a very compelling story. It’s not the story, then, it’s the delivery. In the end, I have to keep that sexual imagery out of my head. My author’s imagination couldn’t handle it. I would never, ever get it out of my head. It would sit there, further selling me on ideas that don’t line up with my moral foundation. It would change how I view myself, and how I view others.
What do I want out of life? I want to have a loving relationship with my God. I want to view all people as inherently valuable as bearers of God’s image. I want to treat all with love and respect, and be treated with love and respect. I want to have a loving, trusting relationship with a future spouse, complete with a healthy sex life. Watching Ana and Christian get it on in the red room will only get in the way of that life.
What we take into our minds matters. In the end, do what you like. But don’t imagine that everything is neutral. Know who you want to be, and what you believe. Because whatever you’ve done, looked at, heard, and read in the past all added up to the person you are today. What you are doing now will produce the you of the future.
5 thoughts on “How Romance Novels Tried to Ruin My Life (Why I Didn’t Watch 50 Shades)”
Lovely closing paragraph!
YESSS just wrote something so similar to this in my last post feel free to check it out
Regardless youre so articulate. Keep writing!
Hey, thanks! And yours is also a great post. I love how you make an autoimmune disease (which I don’t really understand, I admit) into a positive thing, and simultaneously a reality check about love. Thanks for commenting!
Oh thats so sweet, thank you!!