Before the last word is said about Fifty Shades

Before the last word is said about Fifty Shades

Here’s a question: Does anyone have any idea why Fifty Shades of Grey has sold so many millions of books? I’m asking because in all that I’ve read about this book, I haven’t seen one mention of what it’s really about.  And why it’s been such a runaway success. Is it because of the explicit sex scenes? (No, I don’t think so.) Is it because of the BDSM? (Not likely.) No, the reason Fifty Shades has captivated so many American women is this: It’s a book about impossible love – made possible by courage, persistence, and luck. Just like Twilight: A young woman falls in love with a vampire.  Impossible.  But they make it work. In Fifty Shades a young woman falls in love with a deeply damaged man who is a sexual dominant.   He needs a submissive woman, and he’s had many such women.   But he hasn’t been able to fall in love with any of them.  So he’s deeply lonely. He meets the heroine, who of all the women he’s met, does not have a submissive bone in her body.    So it’s impossible. She too has never been in love before. But by the end of Volume 1, she has against her will fallen deeply in love with this tormented man.   In the first book . . . At the very end . . .  in a moment of profound tenderness, she tells him she loves him.  His response is brief.  “Oh, no,” he says. She leaves his place immediately, goes home, falls on her bed and is wracked with sobs.  She is broken. Except...
Still Further Along the Road Less Traveled

Still Further Along the Road Less Traveled

  “When my beloved first stands before me naked, all open to my sight, there is a feeling throughout the whole of me; awe.  Why?   If sex is no more than an instinct, why don’t I simply feel horny or hungry?   Such simple hunger would be quite sufficient to insure the propagation of the species.   Why awe?  Why should sex be complicated by reverence?”   The Spiritual Rewards of a Disciplined Life Why should sex be complicated by reverence?   Good question.  Why should sexual feelings touch us so deeply, almost at times in a similar way to religious feelings? The author of the passage quoted above, M. Scott Peck, published it in 1978 in The Road Less Traveled. His encounter with religious awe in the form of a woman’s naked body remains one of the book’s more quotable sections. Written at a time when America’s 1960’s love affair with personal freedom seemed to be souring, The Road Less Traveled suggested a return to more durable, old-fashioned values.   Peck taught that psychological growth required discipline, and that most psychological pain resulted from not having the discipline and courage to face one’s problems. Although The Road Less Traveled began with an emphasis on discipline, it went on to claim that the rewards of a disciplined life might include spiritual and sexual inspiration as well – a sense of wonder at God’s many gifts. The passage above about “awe” struck many readers as particularly inspired.   Peck’s sense of wonder at the miracle of sexuality resonated with many people’s intuition of a spiritual dimension to sex.   Peck and Open Marriage What was perhaps...
Eros and Technology:  Jonathan Franzen in The New York Times

Eros and Technology: Jonathan Franzen in The New York Times

SmartPhone Love “A couple of weeks ago, I replaced my three-year-old BlackBerry Pearl with a much more powerful BlackBerry Bold. Needless to say, I was impressed with how far the technology had advanced in three years. Even when I didn’t have anybody to call or text or e-mail, I wanted to keep fondling my new Bold and experiencing the marvelous clarity of its screen, the silky action of its track pad, the shocking speed of its responses, the beguiling elegance of its graphics.” So begins Jonathan Franzen’s essay, “Liking is for cowards. Go for what hurts,” in this week’s New York Times. Franzen goes on to discuss how our infatuation with new devices may ultimately diminish our human capacity for certain forms of human love.   The essay raises important concerns about how consumer devices appeal to our human need for self-affirmation – thus helping to make us even more narcissistic than we already are. As a sex therapist, I couldn’t help also responding to the erotic elements in Franzen’s essay.  The author “fondling” the device.  His experiencing the “silky action” of its track pad.   And his later noting that “our technology has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful . . . a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.” I’ve lately been immersed in a new book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts,  that also takes technology as its subject – in this case,...
Edith Wharton and the Nine Rooms of Happiness

Edith Wharton and the Nine Rooms of Happiness

Sex and Eros The average adult heterosexual man, in the average relationship with an adult woman, doesn’t ask for so much –   and doesn’t have so much to give.   He’d like a good meal, a little appreciation for how well he replaced the lightbulb in the bathroom yesterday.  Then he wants to be left alone to watch the Jets. This is the source of much tension among heterosexual couples. It extends to the sexual realm as well.  In my work as a sex therapist in Manhattan, one of the complaints I hear most from heterosexual women is that their male partners lack the capacity for erotic engagement. Not just sex.  But real eros.  Where the man truly yearns for the woman — body and soul.  As I have discussed elsewhere, the Twilight series of books and movies depict this kind of erotic engagement very well.   Not just having sex. But taking full notice of each other. The researchers tell us that this erotic dimension wanes in any marriage.  But that’s not a satisfying answer.  I feel strongly that a couple needs to keep an erotic edge to their relationship.   All sex therapists have their favorite techniques for this, and I have mine. Some of them I’ve described in previous blog articles, such as “Sexual Arousal for its Own Sake,”and “Dining and Differentiation.” But so often the problem seems to be bigger than any technique.  Many married women in my office tell me they’ve given up hoping their husbands will desire them in the way they need to be desired.   Edith Wharton and the Nine Rooms So it was with...
NYC Sex Therapist Diary:  Dining and Differentiation

NYC Sex Therapist Diary: Dining and Differentiation

  What’s the secret to keeping love and sex alive in a marriage? There’s no one best answer, and every couple is different.  But many sex therapists, myself included, talk about something called “differentiation” as a key factor.  Differentation means being able to take care of yourself, as a separate person, while you’re in intimate dialog with your mate. A popular book on the subject of differentiation is David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage. Schnarch has probably done more than any modern sex therapist to promote the idea of differentiation as a core value in a romantic partnership. Differentiation is hard. Especially if one hasn’t seen it demonstrated in one’s family of origin.  One of the benefits of a good enough marriage or any other deep partnership is that it provides a holding place in which differentiation can occur.  In which each partner can “become more truly oneself.” Differentiation is not easy to describe, as an idea and as a feeling.  Many couples tell me, “It sounds nice, but I don’t get what it’s supposed to feel like.”   Let me suggest an analogy: Let’s say you really want to go out for sushi, and your husband really wants pizza. You could (1) go along with his wish, (2) insist he go along with yours, or (3) decide to go to separate restaurants.  All pretty conventional approaches. None of them, though, are going to help you feel what it’s like to be more differentiated. But let’s say that instead you decide to (4) stand on the street bickering about it, getting more and more hungry and upset, and wondering if this relationship...