An Open Letter to Relevant Magazine: On Mommy Porn

Dear Relevant,

Normally, I am very much on board with the articles you publish. I share them on Facebook, digest them, and they add to my understanding of marriage, life, and current events. But I think you missed something in your article on 50 Shades of Grey last month. I know the hubbub around 50 Shades has died down now, but the movie is still playing in theaters, and the issues around the book and movie are not going to just disappear. So please bear with me for diving back into the topic for a few minutes…

It was this statement that struck me: “50 Shades of Grey is not just harmless ‘mommy porn.'” 

Harmless? Mommy porn?? Those two phrases don’t belong in the same sentence. And unfortunately, I think the reason for the huge success of 50 Shades of Grey lies in the very fact that our culture has spent 45 years and literally billions of dollars on “mommy porn” (everything from “romantic fiction” and “historical romance” to downright erotica) ever since the genre evolved in America in the early 1970s. 

Not only have we been desensitizing ourselves to the effects of descriptive sex, we have literally created the market for it. 

Check out a few of these excerpts from “Romance Novel” on Wikipedia:

“Harlequin had also failed to adapt quickly to the signs that readers appreciated novels with more explicit sex scenes, and in 1980, several publishers entered the category romance market to fill that gap. […]

A 1982 survey of romance readers confirmed that the new styles of writing were attracting new readers to the genre. 35% of the readers surveyed had begun reading romances after 1977. An additional 31% of those surveyed had been readers for between 6 and 10 years, meaning they had become interested in the genre after 1972, when Woodiwiss’s revolutionary novel was published. This means that two-thirds of those surveyed joined the genre after it had begun to change.[84] By the 2000s, romance had become the most popular genre in modern literature. In 2008, romantic fiction generated $1.37 billion in sales.”

In one year, romantic fiction generated $1.37 billion in sales. That is staggering. Publishers found the jackpot when they started adding explicit sex scenes to their romantic fiction books.

There is a slippery slope here, as the authors of Pornproofkids.com point out: “As viewers watch [or read] this ‘normalized porn’ they become desensitized to images that earlier would have shocked them.”

I can’t help but think that perhaps this is what has happened in your article on 50 Shades of Gray. You point to the abuse, the non-consent, and the control issues in 50 Shades and declare it wrong (which it is!) – but in the same breath, you normalize “mommy porn” as harmless. In reality, our culture’s secretive “mommy porn” habits are what have opened the door for even darker versions of sexuality to be broadcast in daylight (and to gross over half a billion dollars in one movie). 

The fact is that stories carry power… whether they are graphic or subtle, long or short, BDSM or historical romance. The stories that we dwell on will take us on a path – both as individuals and as a culture. They shape our expectations of real life and our experience of real relationships. And unfortunately, our culture has made some scary choices in the stories that we have allowed to shape us. 

For those of us whose emotional and sexual center is in our brain, stories that make us long for romance, love or a sexual experience can be just as powerful, enticing, and addictive as a picture of a naked woman is to a man. 

For those of us who are married, dwelling on “mommy porn” (no matter how tame!) stirs discontent with our own real-life, dirty dishes, late-night arguments, garlic-breath romance. It makes us feel as if there is something missing in our relationship – some spark that maybe we can find somewhere else. 

For those who are single, it creates an illusion of what true love will be like that is impossible to satisfy with the awkward and stop-start realities of real-life romance. 

For our teenagers and children who stumble upon it, it piques curiosity and exploration into a dangerously interesting realm. 

And for all of us, mommies or not, it opens up doors into a fantasy world that can haunt our imaginations and our day-to-day life. These are doors that are very difficult to close again. 

Our exposure to “mommy porn” is what has desensitized our culture to ideas and stories that earlier would have shocked us. That was the gateway drug… but we missed the warning signs, and now we have moved on to the hard drugs.

So, Relevant, I kind of feel like you missed the point on this topic. Next time, instead of granting a subtle approval or a half-smile or a pat on the head to “small” problems behind the scenes, I hope you can pull back the curtain on that sneaky billion-dollar habit, and expose it for what it really is: the starting line of the slippery slope, the doorway into discontent, false expectations, false reality, and addiction. 

It is anything but harmless.

Sincerely,

A Regular Reader

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2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Relevant Magazine: On Mommy Porn

Add yours

  1. The author of the article was not referring to 50 as “harmless mommy porn”.. She was simply repeating the phrase to show how other people are justifying watching 50–and the author was in fact rejecting it as an okay phrase to use. I think your issue is with those who view pornography and not with Relevant or the author.

    It was good for the author to point out this phrase (which she did not coin) because she is simply bringing attention to the idiocy that is encompassed within the phrase “harmless mommy porn”

    I’m worried you got hung up on the phrase and completely missed the point of the article.

    It’s okay to address the issue of domestic violence within this specific film without diving into the broad ramifications of sexually explicit material. It’s a single news article focused–and well done–on one issue; it’s not a thesis regarding morality in the film industry.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I do agree with you that it’s okay to address the issue of domestic violence without getting into all of the other ramifications… and I know I came across pretty strong in my critique of her article in order to make my point. But the author never indicated that when she said that 50 Shades “is not just harmless mommy porn” that she was rejecting that phrase. And my essay is not addressing morality in the film industry either – but rather the long, profitable history of acceptance of erotic & violent “literature” that has led us to the point where this book/movie can be so widely accepted.

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