In the immortal words of Louise Belcher of Bob’s Burgers, “All I know is that sex sells, so we need to find some sex and sell it.”
Well, someone found some sex to sell in one of the bestselling books of all time, even if the writing was savaged by critics. You may have heard that the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey is out today. It’s got all the ingredients of a truly sexy story: a young and mousy woman ready for a transformation, Keira Knightley’s ex-boyfriend as a bossy sex-closet-haver, and a phallic-looking plane. The trailer is also accompanied by a slowed-down, “sexy” version of “Crazy in Love.” Check it out:
If you’re looking for someone to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t read the books or see the movie, this isn’t the place. There are plenty of people who have weighed in on that matter already. The books have been insane bestsellers; the film will be a box-office hit, if not an Oscar nominee or a critical darling. But sex does sell, and I’m not so sure that’s always a bad thing.
Or, rather, talking about sex sells. And it’s not just money we pay–we pay in time and attention, too. I know more than one Christian woman who has a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey tucked away in the bottom drawer of her nightstand because, for all the church’s (good and important) talk about saving sex for marriage, there has been little to no follow-up conversation about how good sex can be, or how it takes time to figure it out, or what role a person’s fantasies might play. I am not, to be clear, suggesting that Fifty Shades of Grey does this conversation well. I have never read the books, but there’s plenty behind the premise that I object to–not the least of which is the poor quality of the writing that has been widely decried.
Nor am I suggesting that pastors take to the pulpit to talk about the goodness of sex, although that’s certainly part of what can happen. What I think churches and other faith communities need are places to safely and privately talk about sex. We don’t need to roundly condemn people who don’t hold to our faith for acting outside of our values. We don’t need to try to learn from them, either, but we would benefit from taking the opportunity to recognize that sex is a topic that Christians may need to talk about more openly in small groups or individual conversations. As my friend Courtney Reissig recently wrote, “Promising amazing sex in exchange for purity doesn’t serve anyone.” We need a more robust theology of sex than just, “Wait until you’re married and everything will be great.” It’s a cosmic bartering system that bears more resemblance to a vending machine than a good God.
If God created us as people with bodies, and gave us good ways to use those bodies, we might start in using our minds and being honest when it comes to sex. You don’t have to see or read Fifty Shades to understand how the Christian conversation has fallen short, and you don’t have to imitate it to have a good sex life. But when the topic arises, strange though it may seem, it could be a great precursor to a better conversation.