Hide your Fifty Shades of Grey…or better yet, talk to your kids about it

Recently, a woman at my exercise class offered her copy of Fifty Shades of Grey to anyone who would take it off her hands. “I can’t keep it in the house,” she said, “I have an 11 year old son who is a voracious reader…”

Another woman chimed in with a story about a friend’s 13 year old son who knew she had a copy in her house and was waiting for the grownups to go out so he could have a peek.

“I have them on my phone to avoid them being read by little eyes,” is the response of another woman.

I began to wonder about this issue of moms keeping their copies locked up or hidden away from their young sons and daughters.

Online it’s easy to find chat room conversations with moms explaining their reasoning. For some just the fact that there is sexual content is enough, for others it’s the BDSM aspect, and the belief that their kids will think “that sort” of relationship is actually okay. (A few write jokingly that it’s because it’s so poorly written and if their kids are going to read a book with sexual content they’d rather it be of a higher literary quality such as something by Henry Miller or Anaïs Nin.)

My first thought was of the false sense of security that comes from hiding a single copy of it from one’s child. As if they couldn’t get a hold of a copy if they wanted it badly enough. Even before the internet changed the face of porn, kids were finding Playboy magazines and the like and sneaking off to enjoy stolen moments gazing at the pictures, yet perhaps boys more than girls and maybe this is the difference. As a society, for generations, we have abided by the “boys will be boys” edict and assumed they will have sex on the brain while working to keep our girls chaste and more closely monitored when it comes to any sort of sexual exploration. Yet, in today’s world, chances are if your child—boy or girl— has any interest in reading erotica or looking at porn, he/she will find a way to indulge in it.

The author of the Average Slob blog writes a tirade on the subject of libraries banning the books. “By taking 50 Shades of Grey out of the libraries means you’re taking it away from adults who now have to sit in Barnes and Noble and read it in front of everyone. (Do you know how difficult it is to order a triple venti white mocha with whip cream while sporting a full on erection?)

Do I think kids should be given porn? No. Can any kid find porn in a matter of .0005 seconds. Today, Yes. Tomorrow it will be faster.”

Given that reality, if your child does have any interest in reading something with sexual content, why not use it as a teachable moment? Here’s a golden opportunity to have a real conversation with your child about sex and relationships and perhaps most importantly to some parents, to impart your own values to your child. So rather than worrying they’ll find a copy of Fifty Shades, just talk to them about it. If they’re not used to discussing sexual matters with you, some might be horrified at the thought of having a conversation with their mom or dad about it, but it doesn’t hurt for you to let them know you’re open to a conversation just in case they change their mind.

Jeanne Sager wrote a blog post ’50 Shades of Grey’ Reviewed By a No-Holds-Barred Teenager Will Make You Blush for The Stir in which she included a review of the book done by a 15 year old girl. The girl tears it to shreds. She’s not fooled by Grey’s suave sexiness or his money. She thinks Ana is a fool and Grey is a jerk. So I also think some of the fears that young girls will be fooled by this story into thinking they should do whatever a boy wants are unfounded. Are there girls who already think that way? Yes, of course. Sadly, there are grown women who think that way. Do we as a society need to be very concerned about that? Yes! But one poorly written sex/romance novel is not to blame. Again, I think this is a great opportunity to start a conversation with girls and boys about healthy sexual relationships and impart your values to your kids.

And since I keep throwing around the term “healthy sexual relationships” and this is a book about BDSM, I think it’s important to note that for the majority of people a master/slave dyad is not their relationship model for a healthy sexual relationship, but for some segment of the population it is, and on a side note, they weren’t all abused as kids, nor were they all introduced into the BDSM lifestyle by an older adult when they were teenagers, as is the case with the character Christian Grey.

For those outside of the BDSM community, there may be some valuable lessons to be learned about relationships from BDSM. Due to the dangerous and/or painful nature of some BDSM practices, the insistence on clear communication before, during and after sexual activity, is something that all couples could aspire to in order to improve their relationships and sex lives. Sometimes we all need a safe word. But a conversation about that can come in good time with one’s child, or not at all, depending on one’s values.

When I was 11 years old, my mother worked at our local library. Once when they were doing a major clearing out of old books, my sister and I got to look through them and pick out whatever we wanted. I found a beat up paperback called The Rite by Gregory A. Douglas (1979). On the cover was a picture of woman with her hair thrown back and a look of ecstasy on her face. I read the back cover…

The Sacrifice, the Ritual. The moon was full! The hour was midnight! And the mass had to begin now!

Sounded like just the summer reading I was craving. Not only did I read it from cover to cover, but I read the juicy parts several times and shared them with my closest friends. The juicy parts involved sex rituals with a beautiful virgin who had been kidnapped and was being held against her will by a strange and terrifying band of devil worshippers. I honestly don’t remember how it ended, but it certainly left an impression. The question is what sort of impression? Being the intelligent and worldly 11 year old that I was, I didn’t adopt the “kidnap and rape” model as my idea of what sexual relationships would or should be for me or anyone else, but I certainly found the fantasy of it sexually exciting, which I think is the point of erotica and pornography. Not to mention, that as a kid, just the thrill of reading something naughty is exciting.

For many of my peers (myself included), the V.C. Andrews books that were so popular in the 80s also played this role. You don’t get much more taboo or kinky in our culture than consensual incest between a brother and a sister, and that was only part of the juicy plot.

I would encourage those parents/caregivers who are squeamish about their kids reading the Fifty Shades trilogy, to consider what it would be like to talk with their kids about it instead. By banning it, they are building a wall that is perhaps only protecting themselves from their own fears, and perpetuating a cycle of ignorance about all sexual matters. Millions of middle aged women are devouring these books and eagerly awaiting the movie. Could our sexually repressed culture have anything to do with that cultural phenomenon? If we begin having real conversations with our kids and teens about sex, would we find a new generation of people comfortable with their sexuality, and would a mediocre book like Fifty Shades not even get close to the bestseller list? We can only speculate.

Meanwhile, having finished the first book, I just ordered a copy of Fifty Shades Darker and yes, I’ll read the third one as well (as a sex educator I have to keep up with these things) and when I finish them, they will sit on the bookshelf with my collection of sexuality books. My son is almost six years old and just learning to read, so he’s not much interested in my collection yet, but as he grows so will our conversations about sex and he’ll have plenty of reading material when he’s ready for it.

Remi Newman

Remi Newman, MA, earned her master’s degree in sexuality education from NYU and has over ten years of experience creating and facilitating sexuality education workshops in both English and Spanish. As a new mom, she created “Having the talk before they can talk” a workshop for new and expectant parents to help them feel confident as the primary sexuality educators for their kids. Originally from the streets of Philadelphia, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, son, sister and one of her best friends. Find her online at Healthy Sex For Life.

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2 Responses

  1. Meagan says:

    What I really don’t understand is how hard is it to say to your child:
    This book is for adults who are mature enough to have sex. It has lots of sex, and kissing and all that stuff that adults do.
    Not a lot of fun for kids. Any questions?
    Yes?
    Answer them. Big deal.
    My daughter and I talked about sex and procreation barely a year ago, I went to the library checked out a ton of books for girls in that puberty stage that helps to answer questions that sometimes they themselves don’t know how to ask and I opened the door for questions.
    This is only a big deal if you make it one.