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Fifty Shades of Grey: Two smart women weigh in. Praise from the Therapist (‘It’s good for women’), boos from the Healer (‘This is not the way’)

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jul 31, 2012
Category: Fiction

If you saw C. on the street, she’d get your attention. And not only if you’re male. She may have kids, she may be 40, but she’s a tall, cool beauty. And smart — bright eyes, whirling mind, quick wit. In a word, the very picture of a sophisticated New York woman.

So I was stunned when she told me that she’d read “Fifty Shades of Gray” — all three volumes.

“But it’s…” I sputtered, and started to launch into the rant I shared with you a few months ago — a rant that did not keep "Fifty Shades" from selling 20 million copies.
“It’s not just me,” she said. “It’s every woman I know.”

I have met many of her friends. They’re like C. — best of breed. It is simply beyond belief that the Upper East Side of Manhattan has embraced a book this comically stupid, this badly written. [But if you want to buy the paperback of "Fifty Shades of Grey" from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

I asked around. It is so.

Clearly, these women — and maybe you, the brilliant readers of — are not reading the book I did.

Time to bring in some experts.
Jennifer Slingerland Ryan thinks “Fifty Shades” is good for women. And she’s got credentials: M.Ed., LPC-S. She’s worked in the mental health field for 15 years and has been in private practice for 10 years. And this: She’s the author of a 70-page Kindle e-book, A User’s Guide for Fifty Shades of Grey: Hot Tips for Couples to Spice Things Up. You can read more about Jennifer at her web site.
Mary Traina is no fan of “Fifty Shades.” An acupuncturist who practices in Westchester, New York, she is finishing a book on men and women seen through the lens of yin and yang. Her blog is The Tao of Gender
Ladies…have at it.

Why I Recommend Fifty Shades of Grey
Jennifer Slingerland Ryan

A friend responded to my sadness over the Katie and Tom days of thunder saying she wasn’t nearly as sad about the end of their marriage as she was at the realization that Christian Grey isn’t real. She’s not the only one. Millions of women have found themselves in love with a fictional billionaire in a book that is rumored to lead to hotter, steamier sex.

The premise of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is this: girl meets billionaire, billionaire has baggage along with other troubling psychological issues, and girl saves billionaire boy. And oh yeah, he’s into bondage, spanking, and floggers.

Whether a fan or not, you may be wondering why on earth millions of women would be so enamored with such an unlikely story.

Reviewers ask: Do women lack self-respect so much that they want a man to abuse them? Do women want to be controlled? Are they aware that it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever date a twenty-seven year old billionaire? And can’t women see how horribly written these books are?

What makes me different than most readers of this erotic sex novel is that I am a marriage and family therapist. One may wonder why someone like me — in addition to my years in practice, I’m a thirty-something mom of three and a devoted wife  — could be so captivated by Mr. Fifty Shades!

To shed light on the “Fifty Shades” trance and reasons women have fallen under the “Fifty Shades” trilogy spell, I wrote a relationship user’s guide. [To buy the Kindle e-book of "A User’s Guide for Fifty Shades of Grey: Hot Tips for Couples to Spice Things Up" from Amazon for $2.99, click here.]
With a deeper understanding of the psychological underpinnings of this book, the genius of this trilogy is even more abundant.
Yes, I said “genius.” Here’s why:
Reason 1: Bottom line, the sex is on fire! The characters are hot, and their sexual escapades are even hotter. Their heat ignites something in us that we were all born with: sexual desire. During the course of our relationships, things become stale. We forget how much fun we used to have in the sack, the positions we tried, and the lust we felt for our partner before kids and careers. “Fifty Shades of Grey” has a bounty of ideas to help spice things up under the sheets!
Reason 2: Fiction is a nice distraction from mundane tasks of housekeeping, baby-caring, and job-doing. And erotica fiction is a FUN distraction! “Fifty Shades of Grey” will not disappoint your erotic fantasies with its explicit sex scenes.
Reason 3: “Fifty Shades” will remind you of the importance of foreplay. The foreplay I’m talking about is the kind that lasts all day. From a morning kiss on the cheek to an evening swat on the behind, you’ll feel reconnected to your partner. The books give foreplay ideas we’ve long forgotten, such as sending playful emails, texting sweet messages, sending flowers and unloading the dishwasher. We are reminded we can always step up our game, intensifying our emotional and sexual bond.
Reason 4: If you’ve never thought of using sex toys in your marital bed, you’ll certainly think about it after reading this book! You might find yourself interested in ben wa balls, spreader bars, floggers, and blindfolds. There’s no harm in consensual adult play behind closed doors, and this trilogy will give ideas you probably wouldn’t have dreamed up on your own.
Reason 5:  This may very well be the best possible reason to read this trilogy, and it is the reminder that love heals many things. If we are to grow, prosper, and be happy, joyful and emotionally connected, we need a steady supply of unconditional love and positive regard. What this book teaches is that none of us leaves childhood unscathed. Despite that — despite the behaviors we engage in that only seem to fill the detached void in our lives — we always have an opportunity to begin anew. When we feel loved unconditionally and cheered on, we can overcome incredible hardships. We can step into new lifestyles and choose experiences that are for our greater good, out of the confines of fear and bondage (pun intended). Change is easier with a cheering section!
Every reason given above is a topic I’ve discussed at length with 95% of my couples in private therapy sessions. I highly recommend this love story because it reminds us what’s possible. Within the sanctity and security of loving, trusting relationships, we have the freedom to explore emotional pains, sexual fantasies, and desire to simply…be joyful.
At the core of our being, we yearn for peace, joy and happiness. “Fifty Shades of Grey” reminds us under the right circumstances, we can have just that. Yes, those right circumstances may contain explicit sex scenes better left for adult playtime in the privacy of our own bedroom, but that will only serve to add to the passion and intimacy in our relationships.
Why does a marriage and family therapist like these books?
Because every relationship can use a healthy dose of fantasy, exploration, and emotional connectedness!
Women want a way back to men — but not this.
Mary Traina
Much of what has been written about the popularity of “50 Shades of Grey” focuses on the way it helps women put excitement back into their sex lives.
How can a novel do this?
By awakening the “need to be taken” that many women believe is what we want in sex.
Granted, women are looking for a way back to men. But it’s not as simple as surrendering to a guy whose idea of pleasure is female humiliation.
I don’t think women want to be “taken” nearly as much as they want to be wanted and loved as sexy and desirable. In order for this to happen, women have to get back to being more yin.
Yin is a fluid, deep nurturing energy, as inexorable in its path as is yang energy, but much less obvious. The power of yin is soft and yielding. Yin envelops, surrounds. Yang energy is hard, fast and aggressive. Protecting yin is its main job. It is ever expanding and hard to slow down or stop. We need both yin and yang to survive. And although we each have our own balance of yin and yang, men are mostly yang and women are mostly yin.
In simpler times, this meant that women were ideally suited to keeping the home fires burning (nurturing and enduring) and men were charged with doing what came naturally (bringing home food, making money, achieving status). Now that technology and education have opened up human society, women’s roles are not so rigidly defined. Women can choose to be anything from traditional stay-at-home mothers to professionals who can’t imagine doing anything other than the work they love.
Bottom line: Women have used a lot of yang energy to get power and money. This has not only disempowered and threatened some men, it’s added a chill to sexual interactions — the prospect of a yang female is not a universal turn-on.
How can women regain the soft sweetness that men find so exciting and irresistible without feeling like we are losing something? In “Fifty Shades,” the answer is to become totally submissive to a man, to jettison our yang energy. But we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. At work and in the world, women sometimes need to use yang energy.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” — a book that shows the opposite of how most women are relating to their sexual partners — seems to be a welcome break from this stalemate. And wow, it’s exciting! It gives us permission to be WOMEN. So it’s not a big surprise that many women are excited about behavior that is really kind of juvenile and more than a little perverse.
Though it seems to fill a deep need, like so much in our culture it misses the point while making a lot of noise. Because the problem isn’t how to integrate sex toys and dally along the razor’s edge of pain/pleasure while enlivening Saturday night sex with hubby. It’s that Anastasia Steele is yin to her toes as she’s swept away by the very yang Christian Grey — the ideal we have been moving steadily away from.
Many women have come to believe that to be smart, powerful and assertive means that you don’t also get to be feminine, receptive and sexy as hell. It means you forget how to offer yourself to your partner tenderly and slowly so he can do his job. But as surely as yang protects yin, he is ready and patient and will allow you to go at your own pace and to open to him in a way that will simply drive him crazy — and give you the greatest satisfaction.
The best sex involves mutual respect and caring, maybe even love, not a strict division of yin and yang.
That’s really hot — and a lot more enduring than an endless parade of cheap thrills.