Why Middle-Aged Women Crave 50 Shades of Grey

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I must have been about 11 or 12 when I had my first sexual encounter. It was voyeuristic sex, not the real thing. Now, after all these years, the crazy-popular new “mommy porn” trilogy has me experiencing flashbacks of those early encounters.

As my blurry memory serves me, I read Judy Blume’s novel Forever, a very steamy read about a young couple’s love affair, wherever I could: under my desk at school, which I’d hide under my plaid Catholic school uniform skirt whenever the teacher walked by, and under the covers of my bed, well past my bedtime. My obsession with Forever reminds me of the current mania over author E. L. Smith’s trilogy, beginning with Fifty Shades of Grey: The audience is comprised of much of the same readership that burned the midnight oil reading Forever some thirty years ago.

To be honest, that several of my middle-age mom friends are devouring Smith’s trilogy like they’re chocolate mousse and Brad Pitt rolled into one or, rather, Brad Pitt dipped in chocolate mousse, has me scratching my head.

As a 12-year-old growing up in a conservative Catholic family, access to a sex-fueled novel like Forever taught me about stuff I wouldn’t have found out about otherwise. But now, as a middle age woman, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on the subject. So I really don’t feel the urge (no pun intended) to read Smith’s books, which have been labeled soft porn or, in some instances, mommy porn.

In fact, the passages that I have read—thanks to the Internet’s copious coverage of the book—have me feeling a little embarrassed for the middle-aged moms eating this stuff up. Take this passage, for instance; that is, if you haven’t already read the book:

“It slips down my throat, all seawater, salt, the sharp tang of citrus, and fleshiness… ooh. I lick my lips, and he’s watching me intently, his eyes hooded.”

Really?

Apparently so.

Smith’s trilogy was first brought to my attention a month or so ago by a fellow soccer-, suburban-, 40-something mom with whom I’ve spent a lot of time on the sidelines of Baltimore sports fields cheering on our sons. Generally a no-nonsense woman — what mother of two boys isn’t? — she turned to me with a sly grin on her face and asked me if I’d read Shades of Grey.

“Never heard of it,” I admitted. I was, at the time, reading Erik Larson’s compelling and frightening account of the rise of Nazism, In the Garden of Beasts. “Any good?” I asked.

“I couldn’t put it down,” she gushed. “I’ve read all three. They’re unbelievable.” She strongly urged me to read them, suggesting with a goofy grin that my husband would be glad I did. The mom sitting on the other side of me told me her gynecologist was recommending them to all her patients, especially those who admit to having a low libido.

An S&M-slash-love story? Not for me.(Not for Ellen DeGeneres either. See video above.)

Personally, I’m a sucker for memoirs, especially of people who have overcome great odds and done amazing things with their lives. Take Andre Agassi, whose book Open addresses his wacko dad who forced him to play tennis, causing him to hate the game yet though he ultimately ended up a phenom pro tennis player. Or how about New York Times journalist David Carr, whose book The Night of the Gun describes his descent into serious drug addiction and how he managed to haul himself out of it? Those books had me bug-eyed for hours on end.

I suppose each of us gravitates toward books that reveal worlds we find fascinating—and far removed from our own. I guess that explains why I, having lived a very average life, am riveted by books that tell the back story about how superstars, especially underdogs, make it.

As for Smith’s trilogy, a reader who lives in Brevard County, Florida — where, incidentally, the trilogy has been banned for its smutty content — aptly sums up why so many middle-age women can’t get enough of the books:

“It’s a little saucy and most of us moms who have kids in school don’t have a real life like that,” said Doreen Sley.



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  1. I’m with you on this Elizabeth. EVERYONE keeps saying I should read this book! It actually sounds a little boring, like someone who’s trying too hard to impress everyone with their dirty little secret. The more I hear about it, the more I think these folks need to take some responsibility for making their sex life a little more interesting than reluctantly taking the missionary position just to get your spouse to stop begging. If you’re into S&M, fine… but maybe my fellow bored soccer moms should give themselves the gift of letting their husband know what they like (besides a clean house, mani/pedi, no stupid questions, & no fighting children). Maybe just surprise him with initiating sex (yes, I know, with all your spare extra energy after a long day of work/kids/meals/driving to activities). It’s not like women are NEVER in the mood!

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