Mommy Porn and the Christian Woman

Dr. Juli Slattery believes there's more to authentic intimacy
Mommy Porn and the Christian Woman

When the book series Fifty Shades of Grey was published in 2012, it lit a fire in women of all ages. Mothers with toddlers afoot and older women alike snapped up the erotic fiction, sending it quickly to the top of the New York Times best-sellers list, setting a record by besting even Harry Potter as the fastest-selling paperback book. The success of the Grey trilogy has boosted sales of all women's erotica—literature about sexual love—making it the fastest-growing genre in publishing today. Now many fans of the series are lining up in theaters to watch a new film based on the book.

So are these fictional, sex fantasies just harmless fun that help awaken the libido of women who may feel sex-starved? Or are they dangerous for our hearts and minds? I met with Dr. Juli Slattery to talk about women and erotica. A TCW featured contributor, Juli is a psychologist, co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, and co-author (with Dannah Gresh) of the book Pulling Back the Shades (Moody Publishing). This new book explores some of the deep longings and desires women have that draw them to books like Fifty Shades of Grey and champions what Scripture says about our God-given sexuality and desire for relational intimacy.

Erotica has become the fastest-selling genre in book sales right now. What's fueling this trend?

I think there are a couple factors fueling it. We live in a highly sexualized culture, and women as well as men are getting bombarded with temptation. Traditionally we've thought of pornography as a man's problem. But over the last 10 to 15 years, it's increasingly becoming a woman's issue too. Pornography, at its most basic level, invites us to be sexually active with something that's not real. It's a false intimacy—an imitation just to get a cheap thrill. For a man that might come in the form of visual stimulation. But for a woman, erotica is a particularly powerful form of pornography because there's a storyline—there are characters, imagination, and fantasy that involve sexuality. It involves the whole of what a woman is longing for, but it's elusive and it can become addictive.

In Pulling Back the Shades, you and your co-author, Dannah Gresh, talk about sexual fantasy and the questions a woman can ask to discern whether her thoughts are leading her in a good or bad direction.

Fantasy is a form of fiction, but not all fiction is fantasy. Fiction is a story that hasn't happened, but fantasy is a story that couldn't possibly happen. The laws of nature have to change for the fantasy to occur. For instance, Star Wars tells you right away, "In a galaxy far, far away," establishing up front that the laws of nature are changing—we're leaving reality. And in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with its magical creatures, you know that the assumptions about how we live are being altered.

This is also true for sexual fantasy. Laws are changed. The way reality is supposed to work is manipulated, but you don't realize it's happening. So in a storyline like Fifty Shades of Grey, unbelievable things happen as if they're normal. In the sexual realm, this includes dangerously unbelievable things, like a man who has a red room of pain and finds pleasure in bringing sexual pain to women, yet he is also a loving, charming man who becomes a wonderful husband. That doesn't happen in real life. Women begin to believe, I can flirt with this or I can be with a man who's somewhat dangerous and scary, and it's going to all turn out fine. We know that the laws of how we relate to others—how we psychologically and morally interact—have consequences, but sexual fantasy wants to pretend those consequences aren't there.

A book like Fifty Shades of Grey is intended to inspire you to be discontented with your marriage or your life—and that's a very dangerous place to be.

Another question I challenge women to ask with regard to fantasies is, What does it inspire? For example, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is intended to inspire you to think about spiritual truths, about right and wrong. But a book like Fifty Shades of Grey is intended to inspire you to be discontented with your marriage or your life—and that's a very dangerous place to be.

So do you think bondage or sadomasochism—sexual activities featured in Fifty Shades—have any place in a Christian marriage?

When you talk about bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism [also referred to as BDSM], there's a spectrum. It goes from a married couple who blindfold one another all the way to behaviors like going to a bondage parlor where a stranger engages with you in role-playing and violence. Places like this and similar websites are absolutely exploding in popularity because of Fifty Shades of Grey. Unfortunately, even Christian women are starting to say, "That sounds like fun to act out." And that's a really dark place to go. The whole spirit of the Christian bedroom is to bless each other. We should avoid anything that causes harm or humiliation, and BDSM often involves both.

In Pulling Back the Shades, you talk about the five core longings that women have and how successful erotica exploits these longings. Can you unpack that a little bit?

One thing women long for is excitement. We're not built for boredom. And so when you're taking care of kids all day or going to the same job, and then you're doing the dishes, going to bed, and starting it all over again the next day, life can feel very mundane. Erotica offers an escape from this, although this isn't the healthiest way to get it.

Erotica also focuses on the fantasy of being rescued by a man and being loved by "the guy." Whether it was the football star in high school or the successful businessman today, there's a longing in a woman's heart that she will be the beautiful woman that no one really recognized until this one man sees her value and spends lots of money pursuing her.

Another longing for women is simply to be sexual. In the Bible's Song of Solomon, the woman initiates sexual activity with her husband, thinks about him, fantasizes about him, and plans rendezvous with him. In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul says there's not only a wifely duty in the bedroom, but there's also a husbandly duty—that a woman has needs her husband is told to fulfill. Unfortunately our culture (and especially the Christian culture) often doesn't recognize the fact that women have sexual longings. Then along comes Fifty Shades of Grey which says, "We recognize you have longings, and we're going to tap right into them and exploit them." Erotica does a great job of identifying the desires of a woman's heart and getting her hooked.

But what about seasons when a woman doesn't feel that longing to be sexual? For example, I remember when I had three kids under the age of five and it was such a physically exhausting time. At one point, I may have had one child at a breast, one on my lap, and one hanging on my back. For a woman in this stage, she's literally being touched all day long! So by the time her husband gets home or they've reunited at the end of her workday, the last thing she wants is more hands on her. Could "mommy porn"—as Fifty Shades of Grey and other erotica are often called—just be a way that women are finding some means to reignite sexual desire?

Erotica will do that. It will temporarily get your mind focused on sexual things, and it'll get your hormones flowing—but at what cost?

At some level that's absolutely true, and that's what we hear from women who justify reading books like Fifty Shades of Grey. They'll say, "Hey, I'm married. This is a good thing. My husband and I have a spark that we've never had before. All of a sudden I'm interested." Erotica will do that. It will temporarily get your mind focused on sexual things and it'll get your hormones flowing—but at what cost?

The way I like to think about it is that for a woman to go from taking care of her kids and being tired to really enjoying being with her husband is like running a ten-mile race. When you're at the starting line, you feel like you've got a long way to go. How do I get my mind there? How do I get my body there? How do I get into this? And a lot of times a wife just decides she doesn't have the energy to run that race, so she shuts down that part of her life and resents every time her husband asks her to run that race. Or what she might do is find a shortcut, like erotica or pornography, where all of a sudden she can get to that perceived destination—not by running ten miles but just by running five steps. There's not really a lot required from her. She doesn't have to get her body ready. She doesn't have to feel close to her husband. She doesn't have to be sensitive to his needs. She just goes somewhere in her mind where she's automatically ready.

Now the problem with that is she might get to the finish line physiologically and might feel satisfied physiologically, but it's at the expense of intimacy. And when a husband or a wife continues to take that shortcut, what they're really doing is creating a distance between them emotionally and spiritually. Soon sex in their marriage becomes all about a physical release, and down the road that is going to create a huge chasm between them. The husband can't ask his wife in the middle of sex what she's thinking about and she can't answer honestly (and vice versa) because they'll end up feeling betrayed. While erotica is a very tempting shortcut for a tired woman, in the long run it's going to lead her away from what she's really looking for: true intimacy.

Read more about sex, love, and longing with Dr. Juli Slattery here.

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Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Marian Liautaud

Marian V. Liautaud is director of marketing at Aspen Group. Follow her on Twitter @marianliautaud

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