Three of the other moms in my kids’ dance class are triathletes. One is a nutritionist. They talk a lot about training and diet and upcoming races. I am in awe of what they accomplish, but I’m also not that interested. So I read a lot. Sometimes we take a break from workout talk and talk about our kids, or cooking, or laundry, or funny stories from the aesthetician about waxing male body hair. I put down my book then. But mostly, I read. It’s a lovely hour to myself in a world of my choosing.
A couple of weeks ago, one of the women recommended a book, Fifty Shades of Grey. She said that she thought of me when she read it and knew I would like it. She mentioned that it was recommended to her and that she was surprised (and embarrassed) at the bookstore when they pointed her to the Erotica section. So I guess I knew it would be sexy. But I thought it was “Erotica” like the Outlander series is “Romance,” categorized that way, but genre-crossing. I was expecting maybe something in the Jacqueline Carey oeuvre.* Erotic, graphic, hot, but not… you know… one of those books.
Three pages in, I could kind of tell it was one of those books. I used to read romance novels. And by romance, I mean smut. I love romance novels. I used to think (and still sometimes think) that I would like to write them for a living. My high school AP Calculus teacher, as well as many of my classmates, signed my senior yearbook with references to wanting a copy of my first smutty novel. At 17 and a virgin, valedictorian of my high school class, my career aspiration was to write fabulously dirty fiction, and I made no secret of it. OK, so it’s one of those books, OK. Oh look, a ludicrously rich, ludicrously handsome guy. Shocker. I bet he has a ludicrously large package as well. Those kinds of clichés are why I eventually tired of romance novels. But still, they have… hmmm… a certain appeal. Skim skim skim… let’s get to the good part.
Um, this isn’t regular porn. Are they really going there? Wow, they’re going there. This book is not just porn. It’s kinky porn. It’s full-on BDSM porn. Wow. And that lovely, put-together mom at dance class said she knew I would like it. Holy hell. What did I say in that room to make her think that? I’m pretty open with my friends about sex. I like talking about it and joking about it. I am quick with a “That’s what she said,” and even quicker with a slightly raised eyebrow when innuendo presents itself. But these dance moms, they’re… proper. A few of them know each other from the Catholic school their kids attend together. I thought I had been discreet. Not discreet enough, apparently.
A few days later, a BlogHer post about the Fifty Shades trilogy popped up in my facebook feed. I found out that it was originally written as Twilight fanfic,** and then re-written with new character names and removing all references to vampires. Hmm, well, that explains the parallels I noticed. I assumed it was just lazy writing and that all female characters must forevermore be self-deprecating, clumsy, and have flighty mothers. But no, Ana(stasia) was originally based on (Isa)Bella. That makes sense. The blog also talked about this book as a phenomenon. Apparently it is being passed from woman to woman like Judy Blume’s Forever was in the junior high cafeteria. That makes me feel a little better. My fellow dance mom recommended it to me because that is what happens with this book, NOT because I somehow tipped my hand and revealed myself to be some sort of closet perv. The fact that I am kind of a perv was just luck on her part. Heh.
The success of the Fifty Shades trilogy has spawned a new genre: “mommy porn.” Mommy porn? Seriously? I kind of want to be irritated about that. There’s something demeaning about the phrase “mommy porn.” Just because I’m a mommy doesn’t mean I don’t want real porn. Or… something. I don’t know. It annoys me. But in any case, it’s sort of accurate. The next week at dance class, we talked about the book, and it turns out that one of the other women is scheduled to read it for her book club. Her book club?! I want to type a jaw-drop emoticon in here right now, but am restraining myself. No emoticons in my blog. Please just picture my dropped jaw. This woman has monogrammed bags and shops at Pottery Barn. Her child is always perfectly turned out in Lelli Kelly Mary Janes with seasonal ribbons in her adorably styled hair. She is on the decorations committee for the galas at her kids’ Catholic school. And she is reading S&M porn in her book club. I am utterly mystified. This book is being passed around like a Pinterest recipe for hot fudge Oreo brownies. Except instead of a brownie recipe, it’s S&M porn.
W. T. F.
I imagine the success of these books was unexpected. All of a sudden, soccer moms know about things like safewords, spreader bars, and the sexual uses of a Wartenberg wheel. That’s interesting, and kind of cool. On the other hand, BDSM urges are pathologized to some extent in the books. Not cool. For better or for worse, and almost certainly not by design, Fifty Shades is representing the BDSM community to non-kinky people. I wonder how the community feels about that. But the bigger question for me is why these books are so wildly popular among non-kinky, carpooling, meal-planning moms? Do mommies everywhere secretly just want to be bent over the pool table, (consensually) spanked, and taken?
Um, never mind. Yeah.
I am currently in the middle of the third book, and I’m glad I’ll be finished with them soon. I bring my kindle with me everywhere. Five minutes early to pick up the kids at preschool? I pull out my kindle and read a little. Kids playing sweetly and the laundry is already in? I put my feet up and go into fictional worlds until the next spat requires my intervention, or until someone wants Cheese-its or a glass of water or needs a snuggle or their butt wiped. But for the past week or so, instead of dropping into a gripping story, I am dropping into… well… you know. Stuff. It’s been very distracting. I’m not sure that “mommy” and “porn” mix so well during the daylight hours.
But maybe the time is right for me to revisit my high school career ambition. The minivan set is openly reading smut. That’s new. And right at a time when I am thinking about what I’ll do when the kids go to kindergarten. Maybe it’s a sign.
*If the kinkier scenes in Fifty Shades were your cup of tea and you have not read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, run, don’t walk. They’re much more extreme kink-wisemuch more extremebut they tell an epic story set in an exquisitely crafted world, and are stunningly well written. If I could sit down with any writer, alive or dead, it would absolutely be Jacqueline Carey. [Edited to add, because a few people have misunderstood, that Jacqueline Carey's work is NOT porn. The Kushiel and Naamah books are graphic and sexual, but that is just part of the story, not the point of the story.]
**In discussing this series with my friends, I was surprised at how many didn’t know what fanfic meant. Fanfic is fiction written by fans. The writer takes the universe and characters of a book, TV show, or movie and uses them to tell a story of their own. By story, uuuuuusually I mean porn. Not all fanfic is porn, but a lot of it is. Hot sex scenes you didn’t get to see on screen, or between characters who never got together in the original story. I don’t mean to belittle fanfic. It’s not all porn. Some of it is quite well-written. Sometimes you discover moving, original stories that just happen to take place in someone else’s copyrighted universe. But most of it… yeah… you know. And not that an innocent girl like me would ever read such things, but if you like yourself some good X-rated Buffy-Spike action, this bit of fanfic might make you happy. Enjoy. Don’t say I never gave you anything.