Updated 12 February 2013

Why women love 50 Shades of Grey

If there's a well-worn copy of this sexy bestseller on your bedside, you're one of many women who love it. Sexologist Elna McIntosh tells why.

If you are like thousands of other women, you know that Fifty Shades of Grey is the first installment of a romantic trilogy penned by British author E.L. James. However, the book is probably unlike any other romantic novel you have ever read. Sure, there are sidelong glances, big muscles, and tender kisses, but the book doesn’t only feature pleasure. It also features pain — that is, pain in the form of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism, aka BDSM.

BDSM describes sexual activities that combine pain and pleasure. It has long been practiced in millions of bedrooms across the globe; even the Kama Sutra makes mention of erotic hitting, biting, and pinching.

Despite this history, BDSM has never been a popular part of mainstream culture. So why has Fifty Shades of Grey become a must-read for women everywhere? Consider the following:

Women like being able to let go. The modern woman has a million things on her plate, and it can be incredibly hard for her to find time for sexual energy and sexual thoughts. Even when she is having sex, she might be thinking of work or errands. Enter Fifty Shades of Grey. The heroine of the story is quite sexually inexperienced and even clumsy, but with her dominant lover, she has no choice but to lie back and submit. For most women, the idea of being swept away by a caring, dominant lover who knows exactly where to touch her can be very appealing. Essentially, he does all the work and she has all the fun!

Women still like being the “nice girl.” Even though it’s 2012 and we know that women have sexual needs and desires just like men do, we still live in a society that marginalizes women who enjoy sex. We shame women for being “whores” and “sluts” when they are open with their sexuality. Again, BDSM can help take away that shame and fear. If he is in charge and “making” her do all those taboo things, then she just gets swept away without having to take any responsibility. She still is a nice girl — just a nice girl with a very naughty sex life.

Women love fantasy. Fifty Shades of Grey contains very adult material, but it actually originally began as fan fiction based on Twilight. You might wonder what a teen romance about vampires has to do with BDSM, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to fantasy. While men often need visual material to spark sexual thoughts and feelings, women tend to rely on their brains. They crave stories, romance, erotica, and fantasy. Also, it is important to remember that just because you like reading about BDSM, it doesn’t mean that you actually want to try it. Fantasy can be simply that: fantasy.

And, it should be stated that no woman ever wants to be raped or be the victim of violence in real life. While some naysayers fear that Fifty Shades of Grey might promote violence against women, it’s important to remember that this is a fictional story and that the woman in the story is choosing to submit to her partner (and enjoying it very much indeed).

Whether or not you are titillated by BDSM, you can use Fifty Shades of Grey as a conversation-starter with your partner in order to discover what secret fantasies are hidden within each of you. Even if you choose not to act on those fantasies, it can be very erotic to share these intimate thoughts, and anything that gets partners connecting again on a sexual level is okay in my book!

(Elna McIntosh,, July 2012)

(Picture: Woman in mask from Shutterstock)


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