First, let me state right at the outset, I have read neither Twilight nor 50 Shades of Grey, I have no plans to do so ever, and yes I do know what I’m missing. And I don’t miss it at all. But, I also feel a bit funny commenting on books I haven’t read, so I mostly am quiet on the subject of 50 Shades. But I recently got turned on to Jennifer Armintrout’s hilarious blog, specifically her chapter-by-chapter recap/rants of 50 Shades. (If you haven’t read them, here’s a direct link to the link-page for the whole series). Jenny’s recaps are at once articulate, intelligent, and AGHJSHKHGHKLSDGARGH incoherent with rage. I had understood the books were bad, but I hadn’t realized how bad, nor how very very bad the messaging in the books is. But really, I don’t need to rehash all the terrible issues with those books, their prose, the plot, the characters, the tepid sex, and the rape-as-romance tropes: Jenny does a much better job and she’s actually read the books. Go read her blog.
But first, I want to talk about something else. Something I’ve noticed before, but it’s much more blatant in 50 Shades (especially the first one) so I actually noticed it consciously. Namely, the way we treat sexual awakening for girls in our media, particularly books. An almost universal (or so it seems) trope is that the sexual awakening of a girl/young woman happens because she meets her One True Dick (thank you Jenny) who magically shows her the Power of Orgasms, and then she falls madly in love and has sex always and only with that One Dick. Because Luuuurve. And Virgins.
With these girls and women, they never know what they want in bed because they have never even thought of sex before, never-mind masturbated or experimented sexually. So their One True Dick must teach them all the tricks, because she’s too naive/pure to know anything, and also of course, Dicks know better than vaginas.
Personally, I find this trope disturbing. Sure it’s frequently an accurate portrayal of the sexual awakening of young women in the Western World. We’re socialized to think masturbation is for boys, and only virgins get happily married, and if we don’t save IT for our One True Dick, we’ll die old and alone of some terrible, nameless disease before we’re 30. But this trope is part of that problem! Sometimes, fiction should not be accurate, but rather it should be inspirational! Instead of showing the world as it is, it should show it as it could be. The more we regurgitate these tired old Virgin/Whore, Purity of Naive Innocence, Masturbation is for Boys tropes, the more we reinforce those thought patterns in girls and young women. And that is a no-good-very-bad thing.
Sexuality is an intensely personal thing. It’s different (at least slightly) for every single person, and no other person can teach you about your body, they can only guide you towards learning about it yourself. That learning should be a joyful experience for everyone, and it should be something that begins before we even know what sex is. We should be learning about our bodies, and how they work, not learning to fear them. We should learn how to please ourselves, so that when we have a partner, we can guide them towards a better understanding of our bodies and how to please us (and vice-versa!). We should not be waiting passively for someone else to come along and take control of our sexuality, because when that happens you get Ana and Christian, and the manipulation/assault/degradation/lack of boundaries in that “relationship.”
So please. Can’t we start writing more sexual awakenings for girls that don’t directly involve a Special Dick (or even someone else’s vagina)? Can’t we start writing stories where girls take control of their sexuality and desires and guide their own destinies? The more they see that in their fiction, the more young women will start to follow suit, leading to more empowered and sexually-self-aware women in the world. Which can only lead to good things all around, both in and out of bed, for all people.