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Shades of Grey Phenomenon

Every generation has one – its own dirty book that sells in truckloads, from Portnoy’s Complaint to the Happy Hooker and going all the way back to Fanny Hill in the 18th century. So far, the dirty books of the 2000s have been the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy.

50 Shades is essentially an old-fashioned romance (good girl heals bad boy through the transformative power of love) wrapped up in S&M pornography. It’s also an interesting development in the history of erotica, with so many women – especially older women (hence its designation as “mummy porn”) – open about their interest in it, and the sexual experimentation it inspires.

The book was written by Englishwoman EL James but was first published in limited runs by a small independent press here in Australia. At the same time it was sold online as an ebook, and that’s where it really took off, hitting the New York Times ebook bestseller list in 2012. Fast forward to today, where it’s achieved sales of over 90 million worldwide – and now there’s even going to be a movie (released on Valentine’s Day, how romantic!).

Of course buying online makes it easier for people to indulge in erotic fiction – just click n’ purchase, without having to face a shop assistant. Even better, ereaders like Kindles prevent the worry of being seen reading a naughty book. You can read in public (on the tram! in the waiting room!) without arousing suspicion, as long as you can avoid stickybeaks looking over your shoulder – and keep your panting down to a minimum.

As for the book itself? Well, even some of its biggest fans admit the writing isn’t, shall we say, the best. (A sample quote: “"I feel the colour in my cheeks rising again. I must be the colour of The Communist Manifesto.") But then, that’s not the point, is it? The racy content has inspired many couples to get more adventurous in the bedroom, leading to a significant increase in the sales of rope and handcuffs. Unfortunately this has also led to a rise handcuff “incidents” that have needed assistance from the fire brigade. It has also been blamed for an increase in STDs in older people, who are inspired by the book, but forget to use protection. It’s even been credited with creating its own baby boom!

Whatever you think of it, this series is definitely encouraging people, especially women, to get their freak on and have more candid discussions about sexuality. And who can throw shade at that?