50 Shades of Grey has taken over the world, with women of all ages reading it. But is eroticising classics a step too far, Joanna Lowy asks?
There are 32 million females in the UK. 5.5 million copies of 50 Shades of Grey
have been sold here. Assuming that the majority of this number have been purchased by women (my husband excluded), that’s around 17% of the female population. There’s no grey area here – do the math.
News this week has also revealed that the UK’s largest e-book publisher of erotic romance fiction, Total-E-Bound
, have jumped on this seemingly new bandwagon and spiced up some of the classics, such as Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, by adding some more erotic content to them.
So what exactly is the deal with what has popularly been coined, ‘mummy porn’?
Have things changed?
“There’s definitely a more liberal attitude”, says founder of cliterati.co.uk and author of 25 internationally published books about sex, love and relationships, Emily Dubberley
, who also appeared on This Morning last week debating the benefits of feminine erotic fiction against Samantha Brick. “Sex and the City
massively changed people’s attitudes towards talking about sex and opened up topics of conversation - 50 Shades of Grey
is almost the latest addition to that. Throughout the industry there has been a gradual change happening over the last decade. It’s been 40 years next year since Nancy Friday wrote My Secret Garden
, which is when female sexual fantasy was first accepted as even existing, and at the time she got hate mail – just like we got hate mail when we first set up our website 11 years ago.”
“Women are more open to expressing their sexual desires and needs”, says ex-English teacher and author of Death of the Wantrepreneur
out in September, Claire Thompson. “This is something they recognise as their right now and something they are entitled to think about. Also, the taboo does not exist like it did before. Women can be sexually assertive in her desires and not be branded as a slut.
“The bigger picture shows that women are more free, expressed and educated than ever before and in many ways, are realising that by putting their needs first, they are able to give more in their relationships and live a more fulfilled life”, she adds.
“It’s probably a bit of both”, says clinical psychologist, Dr Abigael San
. “If we’re allowed to be more open about it, it increases the chances that women will be more into it.
“It’s not necessarily a gender split either”, she adds – “it’s just that sexual awareness and it being ok is much more accessible now so the attitudes have changed for both men and women.”
The introduction of e-books also has a big part to play. According to Total-E-Bound, people are increasingly buying erotic romance e-books because the e-reader allows people to read erotic books without embarrassment of being “caught out”. And the figures support this too, with the market for erotic romance fiction having increased by around a third in the last 12 months, with 50% of the sales through e-books.
“By reading erotic fiction, women can explore fantasies that they might be nervous of trying out in real life in a safe way”, Emily explains. “Good erotica can provide sex education and research shows that eroticised depiction of condom use increases people’s likelihood of practicing safer sex in real life. Erotica is often recommended by counsellors helping couples get over sexual issues and reintroduce passion into their relationships. And obviously, erotica can lead to self-pleasure which has been shown to help women relax. Women who regularly self-pleasure themselves are also more likely to get regular checks for cancer - possibly due to increased body awareness - and it’s free, making it a recession-proof way of having fun.”
And Dr San agrees. “It’s good that people will be more open and women feel more equal and don’t feel they have to suppress anything – I can’t see anything about it that’s negative.”
Changing the classics
Be all that as it may, many may feel affronted that their beloved classics are being defiled; their favourite authors mis-represented.
But according to the experts, the new, eroticised versions of the classics may be closer to what was intended than the originals themselves.
“There are lots of sexually explicit content in literature”, Claire says. “Sex is used in many classical pieces of literature and even before this during Shakespearean times.”
And according to Dr San, Jane Austen probably just didn’t think much about it purely because of all the sexual repression which was rife at the time. “You just absorb your environment”, she says.
“Women were writing these things hundreds of years ago”, Emily adds, “it’s just now more publically acceptable, and with the internet anybody can write what they want under guise or anonymity if they want to and share their ideas. Everybody deep down likes the idea of fitting in, so if you see lots of women out there saying things you’ve always thought, it’s a lot easier to take the brave step of talking about what you really desire rather than just sticking to the public conformity – that women don’t like sex and it’s just something that they do to keep their husbands happy.”
“Whenever I read classics from authors like Jane Austen, I often think about the potential ‘uncensored versions that the original authors were unable — or unwilling — to include”, says founder of Total-E-Bound Publishing, Claire Siemaszkiewicz. “After all, a lot of these stories are, at the heart, romances. With the launch of Clandestine Classics, readers will finally be able to read what the books could have been like if erotic romance had been acceptable in that day and age, redefining the boundaries and bringing the classics to a new generation of readers.”
Influencing the generations
It might be great for women, but what about the younger generations that could potentially be influenced? It’s always a concern when children have access to adult material, but is eroticising popular and well-loved classics just a recipe for disaster?
“There are all sorts of books that have erotic elements”, Dr San says, suggesting that this is not an issue created by the genre of 50 Shades of Grey
. “But if the erotic versions have got the same titles as the classics that might complicate things and is something to consider”, she concurs, “so I think it would be important to distinguish them from the original.”
“There’s always been stuff that parents have had that kids could have access to”, Emily agrees, “so obviously you should be responsible – if you’re buying any of that kind of material make sure you keep it away from your kids as best as you can.” Having said that, she’s not convinced that this would be such a recipe for disaster, anyway. “Kids are less curious about sex if they have good solid sex education”, she says. “If something’s kept behind closed doors, that’s a lot more enticing to a child than if you’re just open about it – in an age appropriate kind of way, obviously.”
And Claire agrees. “Young people are able to use this as learning about themselves and life rather than see this as a way of being exploited”, she says. “In literature, this is a device used by many authors and something they are able to speak about in a mature way. Many adults also often underestimate the maturity of teenagers as the reality is they are exposed, through film and TV, from a very young age. This is only another medium and it can be something they learn how to discuss in a mature way.”
However, for the time being, the new classics, which are clearly indicated as being more risqué than the originals, are only going to be available as e-books, so the chances of a young child stumbling across them are unlikely, anyway.
Claire Thompson also believes that the rise in erotic fiction is a response to a changing generation, not the other way around.
I believe the next generation is going this way anyway”, she says. “They are much more present to themselves as individuals and it is much more common to find young people understand if they are gay or not during their teenage years and are able to express this rather than suppress their feelings and shut them off. This is generally accepted in their peer communities.”
And Emily agrees and adds that “this is where the positive side of it comes out – letting people be and do whatever they want as long as it is within safe and consensual guidelines.”
“Sex and romance have always been around, whether it is talked about or not”, Claire Siemaszkiewicz says. “It is a positive thing, and I think it’s healthy to be open about sexuality and to portray it in a positive light for future generations.”
The scorching hot new versions of the classics will be available as e-books from the 30th July.