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Beyond the Hype of Fifty Shades Of Grey

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William Giraldi's ascerbic essay-review on Fifty Shades of Grey delivers a very important point: that we are what we consume.

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Relationship expert Dr. Drew similarly refrained from sugarcoating his opinion of the series, which he describes as "pathological and poorly written."

In contrast, quality sexual literature (fiction and non-fiction) depicts sexual relationships realistically with depth and insight.

I asked a panel of ten experts for their views on the cultural implications of the Fifty Shades phenomenon, and their recommendations on high quality literature:

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William Giraldi, a professor at Boston University and Fiction Editor for the journal AGNI:

"I'd tell men and women to put down these books because they are bad for their health, but people never listen to advice about their health. Quality sexual literature can be found among the poems of Sappho and Catullus, in the satires of De Sade, and in the novels of Nicholson Baker. The Story of O and Venus in Furs [have] some psychological depth and the prose isn't toxic. The best sexual literature knows what to leave to the imaginative and what not."

Lily Zheng, president of Kardinal Kink, an advocacy and support group for the kink community at Stanford:

"Most people who read Fifty Shades find themselves fantasizing about or imagining the non-consensual, dangerous interactions as legitimate, as positive, as desirable. Owning Regina, a novel by Lorelei Elstrom written in diary format, displays kink as it is in real life: consensual, communicative, and imperfect, a dance between people. Unlike Fifty Shades, there is no magic telepathy between people, no porno-levels of endurance, no 'perfect' interactions or scenes, no encouraged non-consent."

Jennifer Hamady, psychotherapist and online columnist at Psychology Today:

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"The more violent aspects of the book concern me because our current cultural context does not hold women on an equal footing to men (watch any video if you need evidence). The book therefore can be seen as agreeing with the idea that violence against and subjugation of women is sexy, and even necessary for young women who want to be in relationships."

Lonnie Barbach, couple's therapist and intimacy expert:

"I would recommend Delta of Venus and Little Birds by Anais Nin, which feature fantastic erotic writing. I have edited several erotic anthologies. Pleasures is of real experiences and reveals what women really like. Erotic Edge features excellent writing for couples to enjoy together via the exploration of men's and women's perspectives on sex."

Russell J Stambaugh, chairman of the AASECT AltSex Special Interest Group:

"Market theory says people automatically get the entertainment they deserve. Aesthetic theory suggests mostly that they deserve better. Excellent scene writers like Pat Califia, or Laura Antonieu have written much-admired works like Macho Sluts and The Marketplace that BDSMers find genuinely hot.

I would personally recommend Mary Gaitskill's Bad Behavior and Two Girls: Fat and Thin. Gaitskill writes with economy, precision and feeling about outsiders and their sexuality. Bad Behavior contains 'Secretary,' from which the screenplay for the Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader movie (2002) was adapted."

Avital Norman Nathman, a writer, advocate, and contract employee with the Yale School of Public Health:

"There is a general sense that women readers will accept and enjoy sub-par quality, especially when it comes to erotic writing, and that's simply not fair. There's definitely an art and skill to writing in the genre. Part 1 and Part 2 of this roundtable I facilitated offers some great suggestions for quality sexual literature."

Tania De Rozario, award-winning writer on issues of gender and sexuality:

"I had the misfortune of hearing some excerpts from Fifty Shades before I got a chance to read it, [which] put me off it forever. There's good sex and then there's bad writing."

Russ Linton, speculative fiction writer and former FBI Investigative Specialist:

"We deserve better books, film, television--all manner of stories which explore sexuality. As a society, we are much more willing to let mutilation, murder and blood-letting of all kinds infiltrate our fiction than we are to allow people to explore their sexuality. The better stuff is out there if you want to look beyond the high-profile, traditional channels which have only opportunistically grabbed the spotlight of this genre."

Cliff Burns, literary pioneer and founder of Black Dog Press:

"Sexuality is our most fearless and pure expression as human beings. The hottest sex scene I can think of on paper is a torrid moment in Terry Southern's Blue Movie. There are erotic poems like William Butler Yeats' 'Leda & the Swan' and verses of quiet yearning by Sappho. There are long, sumptuous passages in the works of D.H. Lawrence, William S. Burroughs, and Henry Miller's up close and personal couplings."

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JESS C SCOTT's fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a variety of online magazines and literary journals, such as Bards & Sages Quarterly, Word Riot, The Online Citizen, Akashic Books (Fall 2014), and The Maine Review (Fall 2014). Jess (more...)

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Beyond the Hype of Fifty Shades Of Grey