I’m reading Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James because I have to find out what all the fuss is about. I’m on page 142, and I have no idea. So far, it seems about as traditional as a romance can be.

I’ve heard it gets kinky, and that’s what made some reviewers call it “mommy porn.”

Or maybe the sentence should be written this way: I’ve heard it gets kinky, and that’s what’s made some reviewers call it “mommy porn”???

Some people don’t like Fifty Shades being referred to as porn. Some people don’t like any erotic material written by and/or for women to be referred to as porn. I don’t know if Fifty Shades is porn, so I turned to someone who’s pondered the distinctions between porn and other types of erotic material, author Sylvia Day. In her blog, Day says porn is “stories written for the express purpose of causing sexual titillation.” Plot, character development and romance are optional. Erotica, on the other hand, is “about the sexual journey of the characters.” Emotion and character growth are important, but erotica need not show the development of a romantic relationship.

In erotic romance, Day says, “sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development, and couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline. Happily Ever After is a REQUIREMENT.”

Since I haven’t finished Fifty Shades, I don’t know if it meets the definition of erotic romance. But by Day’s definitions, I think can I say it’s not porn.

On the other hand, I have read a few novels and short stories that purport to be erotic romance, but are really as porny and porn can be. A woman douses herself with a hose in the backyard on a hot day; the hot guy in the house behind her comes outside with an erection; they have hot sex in several orifices.

The biggest development here is not in the characters, but in the character of the writing. Using words like “cock,” “cunt” and “puckered seam,” and dialog like, “I’m going to fuck you hard,” it sounds like the kind of writing that, thirty years ago, was aimed exclusively at men with the exclusive goal of causing arousal. So now I wonder, when did the kind of writing that was universally regarded as porn for men become don’t-you-dare-call-it-porn for women?

I’m hesitant to say it’s a simple case of hypocrisy or double standard. But according to ABC News, “about one in three women now admit that they watch porn.” So why should it surprise anyone that they’re also reading it?

Or offend anyone?

Angie Rowntree, whose sssh.com specializes in erotica, told ABC that the fair sex’s demand for sexy material is growing. What women want is passionate love scenes “filled with chemistry and sensuality.” And a storyline.

Oh, yeah. The storyline. Comedian Ritch Shydner said about men and shopping in an HBO special twenty years ago that “most guys don’t like to shop. We’ll buy it, but the process throws us off. We don’t have the patience. There’s something prehistoric in our makeup. We have to bag it and drag it back to the cave as quickly as possible.”

I say that’s our attitude about erotic material, too. Story? It’s about sex—get to the point already.

Of course, I had to subdue those primal urges when I was writing Fast Lane. While Fast Lane has sex scenes, there’s more to the story than sex. After 142 pages, I’m not sure that’s the case with Fifty Shades of Grey. Sex has been the only topic on the agenda, and it’s got me thinking “get to the point already.”

For the last 141 pages.

Maybe the real question, though, is what constitutes porn. A female friend said she’d never read Fifty Shades because she’s not interested in “anything to do with that sickness.” But a million readers can’t all be perverts. Right?

Maybe what all the fuss is about is that while there may be fifty shades of James’ hero Christian Grey, the number of shades of grey in the area of erotic literature may just equal the number of people living on planet Earth.

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