When Is Sex Too Much Sex?

A friend and I went out for dinner the other night, and she asked what I was working on these days, so I told her about a story I was thinking about writing. I explained the complexity of the characters and the philosophical themes that wove their way through the plot. She listened dutifully, sipping on her wine and occasionally glancing around the restaurant. After several minutes, she started shaking her head. I stopped talking and braced for a critique. What I got was advice.

“No, no, don’t write that. I mean, it’s fine, but what you need to write about is sex. Erotica is hot now.”

She then tossed back her blonde locks, asked for another glass of wine, and began to enthusiastically describe various scenes I should put in my book, complete with a tall Swede who looks just like Eric Northman of True Blood — but maybe with a scar.

When I told her I didn’t want to write an erotica novel, that I don’t even like erotica, and that, to be honest, it infuriates me, she just laughed and said, “It’s just sex, Denise. Women empowering themselves, having fun. It’s what women have always wanted and now we’ve got it.”

I left dinner that night disappointed and a little discouraged because I knew that with the phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey she was right. That point hit home the next day when I read that Canada now has its own E. L. James. The book is called S.E.C.R.E.T. and the author writes under the pseudonym L. Marie Adeline. She hadn’t even written five chapters before her book was scooped up by publishers in 30 countries.

“I’ve been looking to sell out since I’ve started writing, if selling out means I actually make a living as a writer,” she said. “This is a good time to write erotica.”

That comment and news that sales of Fifty Shades of Grey had topped my beloved Harry Potter in the UK pushed me further into a depressed state.

I took a deep breath and asked myself, “Am I missing something? I don’t want to turn back the clock to a time when women’s sexuality was treated with shame and derision, when sex was merely for procreation and not to be enjoyed. But whips and chains? What’s happened to this generation of women?”

It reeks of the sex-positive feminism of the 1980s that declared sexual freedom to be the essence of women’s liberation, of the radical feminism of Naomi Wolf when she said, “Orgasm is the body’s natural call to feminist politics.” It stinks of sexualization, which brings women only harm, low self-esteem, distorted body image, depression, and anxiety. It makes me feel as if I’m living in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where monogamy is a dirty word, families are extinct, and people are expected to have lots of sex—all the time and with a lot of partners.

But maybe I’m over-thinking all this. Maybe it really is just about freedom; just about women having fun and empowering themselves. Maybe I shouldn’t judge. Christian women are reading erotica and don’t seem to care, so who am I to criticize? I certainly don’t hear men complaining about it. I get the feeling some of them are secretly enjoying it. Maybe I should just lighten up. Let girls be girls.

After all, where would I draw the line on sex in the media anyway? It’s been on television and in the movies for years now. Romance novels abound. Cable is like watching soft porn. What difference does it make that a red room of pain is now involved and that bondage and fear have replaced gentle caresses and shy kisses? Is there a breaking point in society? When is sex too much sex?