Christian sex activists warn against the "dangers of mommy porn" and "50 Shades of Grey"

Writers urge women to "put down Cosmo and pick up the Bible" -- or trade "50 Shades" for their Bible-based manual

Published February 5, 2015 9:15PM (EST)

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in "Fifty Shades of Grey"                 (Universal Pictures)
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in "Fifty Shades of Grey" (Universal Pictures)

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is not a book that inspires neutrality. E.L. James’s blockbuster erotic romance has sent fans into a frenzy with the impending film release, but it’s also inspired antagonism from groups who might otherwise have little in common, from BDSM practitioner and The Rumpus co-founder Stephen Elliott, who told International Business Times, “I feel like anyone with kinky desires should boycott this film,” to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which is calling for a boycott of its own.

Entering the fray are Christian authors Dannah Gresh and Juli Slattery, who have turned their disapproval of the kinky novel into a marketing strategy: Through February 14, readers can trade their copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey” for a copy of the book co-authored by Gresh and Slattery, “Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart.” Gresh and Slattery have coined a hashtag for the campaign (#TradeYourShades), which also includes webinars and a series of videos in which Gresh claims we live “in a culture where feminism has crushed the strong man and where the strong woman is just reigning.”

Slattery, a psychologist and founder of the ministry Authentic Intimacy, has read the risqué trilogy (for research, of course). Gresh, whose blog post “I’m Not Reading Fifty Shades” sparked debate within the Christian blogosphere, still refuses.

Slattery told Salon via email that while the pair is not officially calling for a boycott, she “wouldn't suggest that anyone go see this movie.”

“We are more concerned that women are asking themselves questions about intimacy, sexuality and seeking an authentic relationship with God,” Slattery wrote.

The team isn’t sure how many of the 100 million readers who’ve bought “Fifty Shades” will want to trade it in for a book that tells them, “If you want a great sex life now or in the future, put down Cosmo and pick up the Bible,” and that anal sex has “a high risk of infection and illness” but “you should enjoy a great deal of freedom” when it comes to sex toys. She says it “could be five, could be 10,000.” And no word on what the Christian authors-against-Christian-Grey plan to do with all of those extra books if the 10,000 estimate comes through. “We are not sure, but most likely just have the dump truck take them,” Slattery told Salon.

Slattery says they started the campaign to change the conversation about sex that the wildly popular book and hotly-anticipated film adaptation have sparked. “Everyone seems to be talking about ‘Fifty Shades,’ whether you read it or not, are going to see the movie or not, love it or hate it. We want to shift the conversation toward a woman's longing for intimacy. Trade Your Shades provides an opportunity to women (and perhaps men) to see the issues of sexuality and intimacy from a different perspective,” she said.

Slattery admits that erotica, including “Fifty Shades of Grey,” can spice up sex lives, including those of married women. “However, there are two dangers in seeking sexual arousal in this way. First of all, erotica/porn teach you to be sexually aroused by looking away from your partner, not toward him. You may be engaging your body with him, but your imagination is with some fictional character. That's not intimacy,” she said.

“Secondly, erotica and porn impact your brain in a manner that breeds tolerance. What was sexually arousing a few months ago will no longer be enough to produce the same sexual high. This is how men and women get drawn into increasingly hard-core porn and/or sexually acting out what they have seen or read,” added Slattery.

Slattery hopes their book will offer a different perspective on reading erotica like “Fifty Shades.” “Hopefully, it will cause her to ask some questions about why she liked the books, the potential dangers of ‘mommy porn,’ and what she believes about sexuality, intimacy and her relationship to God,” she said.

Though their message is geared toward women, Slattery believes men can benefit from the book and their campaign, too. “I think some men may be initially happy that their wives/partners are interested in something so sexually explicit. What they may not realize is that books like ‘Fifty Shades’ sets them up for rejection,” she said. “Just like a woman can't compete with the porn her husband is looking at, a man can't compete with a fantasy man like Christian Grey.”

The book offers a detailed analysis of James’s work by Slattery, including the character of Grey’s therapist’s thoughts on BDSM and Ana’s repeated use of “Master” and “Holy.” But the authors make it clear that the "Fifty Shades" series itself is not the sole culprit, but rather a stand-in for a secular culture run amok. “Romance novels, chick flicks and TV shows like ‘The Bachelor’ can fuel the same kind of unrealistic expectations and fantasies that you find in erotica. To the extent that they keep you from satisfaction with a real man and investing in a real relationship, I think they set women up for loneliness,” said Slattery.

What else will readers find in “Pulling Back the Shades?” Here are five key points the authors make:

Erotica is fantasy. “Here’s a reality check: you cannot pursue the kinds of relationships you read about in erotica without an outcome very different from the ones in the books. If you read ‘Fifty Shades’ and then invest in a relationship that is built around sexual sadism, you will not end up in a loving, caring, committed marriage.”

Erotica steers sex away from the marital bed. “Reserving sex, sexual fantasies, and sexual expression only for your husband means more than just what you do physically—it also includes what you look at and what you think about…We believe that both porn and erotica are ‘lustful passions’ that awaken an appetite for unrestrained, indiscriminate, sexual desire for men or women other than the person’s marriage partner.”

Porn and erotica use are selfish. “Becoming a great lover requires you to exercise the muscles of temporarily suspending what you want in order to understand and bring joy to your husband. Instead, erotica teaches you to selfishly chase after your immediate desire with no thought of love.”

Women flock to BDSM because they want strong men. “BDSM can appeal to women who are desperate to have a man act more like a man. We believe this longing is rooted in the intentional creation of God. As resourceful as you may be, you were created with the desire to lean upon a strong man. The relationship between husband and wife was designed to mirror Christ’s relationship to His bride, the church…Because our culture has rejected the notion of female submission and male leadership, the deep hunger to return to how we were created to function leads us to counterfeits—like BDSM.”

Spanking is maybe okay, if you call it “sex play.” “If you have moments of playfulness that include pushing each other around without harm, holding one another up against the wall, or ripping off one another’s clothes . . . that’s between you and your husband. Be careful not to use rough play as a defense for hurting one another.”

By Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel is the author of "Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays" and the editor of more than 70 anthologies, including "The Big Book of Orgasms" and the Best Women's Erotica of the Year series. She teaches erotica writing workshops online and in-person, writes widely about books, culture, sex, dating and herself, and Tweets @raquelita.

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50 Shades Book Christian Feminism Fifty Shades Of Grey Love And Sex Movies