When I saw a silver-haired woman in her sixties casually reading it in an airport lobby, I realized that Fifty Shades of Grey was not going away anytime soon.
E L James' fanfic-cum-novel about a virginal good girl's unconventional sexual relationship with a mysterious businessman has become a massive -- and massively unlikely -- literary sensation. You might even call it the Da Vinci Code of erotic fiction.
While the book's literary merits are contentious, it keeps selling. And selling. And selling. The widespread popularity of the Fifty Shades series has fostered discussion, acceptance and even experimentation of BDSM (Bondage and Discipline/Dominance and Submission/Sadism and Masochism) and kinky sex play among its readers.
"The books have really opened up sexual dialogue for the people that may not have ever thought about exploring outside of their comfort zones," says Gaia Morrissette, a sexual healer, sex coach and sex educator.
Morrissette will be running a workshop for kinky newbies entitled Fifty Shades of Play on Sunday, Aug. 12 in Toronto at Come As You Are. She believes the novel and her workshop will impact and benefit the sex lives of one demographic in particular.
"The people who are really talking about (Fifty Shades of Grey) tend to be heterosexual or bisexual women in their mid-age range. The soccer moms. A lot of other demographics that might already be exploring sexually (so) it's the middle-aged women that are really excited about opening up the possibilities."
Morrissette says Fifty Shades of Grey is actually pretty tame in the world of BDSM and is not the most accurate representation of what an actual relationship looks like in the kinky world, but it's a great (a-hem) entry point.
She will be presenting a food play and kink workshop (think 9 1/2 Weeks and you're getting warmer...for various reasons) next month as part of Montreal Fetish Week. For Canadians outside of Montreal and Toronto, you can participate in Morrissette's ongoing series of webinars no matter where you are. She is also available for one-on-one online workshops for the particularly shy.
Jamye Waxman, an American sex educator, speaker and author, also thinks there is some value in the Fifty Shades phenomenon.
"Most things that bring the conversation around sexuality to the mainstream are good things because we don't talk about sexuality enough," she says. "As long as there are teachable moments around it, I'm all for talking. Having a discussion on erotica and bondage and kink (in the mainstream) exposes the ideas to people who may not otherwise know about such things.
"I don't think everything in the book is necessarily healthy," Waxman adds. "But having a conversation around that too can be valuable."
Both Waxman and Morrissette emphasize the importance of communication, trust and non-judgment between partners when negotiating and exploring the world of kink.
"The most important thing is creating a space where everybody feels safe," says Morrissette.
There have been many works of erotic fiction revolving around BDSM in the past. Why did Fifty Shades of Grey take off?
"I think because it was more accessible to the average woman in some way," says Waxman. "The writing is nothing to write home about, but the fact that it's a woman who's exploring her sex life literally for the very first time might make her more accessible to women who have been settled in the same routine for many years. They can explore together."