If every woman on Earth is immersed in EL James’s erotic S&M novel Fifty Shades Of Grey, what’s now expected of men? The Independent’s Sophie Heawood puts us right
Be honest, when you first heard that an erotic book for women was doing the rounds, you barely looked up. Then, the world went Fifty Shades Of Grey mad (in the UK alone, sales of the paperback have hit 4.9m since April – and more than 10m in total – making it the biggest-selling novel for British adult audiences, and it’s become the first book to top one million digital sales).
On top of that, it got personal. Your girlfriend read her friend’s copy in one sitting, female colleagues spent Friday night drinks discussing the sex in minutiae – and a nagging uncertainty grew. What makes this Christian Grey character so attractive? Is S&M something that women secretly yearn for? And does this mean I should be bossing my woman around like a galley slave too? Fear not. Sexy though the book is, its success doesn’t mean that every 21st-century woman now wants to be stalked by a wealthy weirdo. Here’s everything you actually need to know…
1. In reality, sex should not be a business deal
The main thrust – sorry – of the book is that Christian Grey is a powerful, handsome, billionaire businessman who produces a written sexual contract. Anastasia Steele, who is younger and a virgin, must comply with this contract, as their relationship progresses. There are endless clauses and sub-clauses, all of them light in the laughter stakes. Honestly, it makes the 10 Commandments look like a wedding invitation.
As well as all the stuff about whips and chains, it says Ana must not drink to excess, must sleep eight hours every night and train at the gym four times a week. She can only eat certain healthy foods, and must not snack between meals, unless it’s fruit. In short, the whole deal is about as sexy as having Gillian McKeith going through your fridge and waiting outside your toilet with Tupperware.
You know, if we women wanted to have our new year’s resolutions turned into a legally binding contract, written in our own blood, then typed up by a robot with deathrays for eyes, we’d have said. Yes, having both parties agree on ensuing sexual practices is an important part of a burgeoning relationship but, like you, we prefer this to be done in an intimate setting, such as bed on a Sunday morning, not via a lawyer’s letter. Still, it’s possible that sex feels even more thrilling when you’ve had to wade through a 20-page document to get to it. Which would go some way to explain the popularity of the Hollywood pre-nup.
2. Old-school control freaks are not back in
This bloke emails and phones all the time. If Ana doesn’t reply to his demands while his BlackBerry is still warm, there’s trouble. He’s like the stereotype of a nagging wife, only he’s a dude. Nobody wants 19 missed calls just because they left their charger in the car, but Mr Grey is a control freak. As a sexual encounter draws close, he undresses, folds his clothes and hangs them neatly on a chair. He looks at her in the bath, where she awaits him lustily, and informs her: “Water and iPods – not a clever combination.” Finickity is not the word. Every woman wants to feel cared for, but a man who assesses the potential risks surrounding electrical gadgets when sex is clearly on offer needs to think long and hard about his priorities.
Remember in Sleeping With The Enemy when Julia Roberts realises her scary ex has found her because she comes home and all the tins in her kitchen cupboards are facing the right way? That. In fact, Ana even says to herself at one point: “I am daunted by his kitchen. It’s so sleek and modern.” Is this really the dream – a woman daunted by your kitchen? Personally, I’d prefer it if a new lover looked at my Ikea set-up and thought to himself, “Why, this kitchen is so welcoming and user-friendly, it inspires me to whip up a couple of cheese toasties immediately. Just look at this inviting place. She’s bound to have Red Leicester.”
3. Don’t bring out the gimp
There is a whole room in Christian’s house, the ‘Red Room Of Pain’, devoted to sadomasochism. Look, if bondage is your thing, you’ve found others who share your thrills and your leasehold says nothing about drilling a St Andrew’s Cross with accompanying manacles into a partition wall, then go ahead and build one. But if you’re just a normal bloke wondering whether you need to convert the utility room into a torture garden, don’t bother. There are ways of showing your adventurous sexual spirit without shackling your girlfriend to a dungeon wall. Talk about what you’d both like to try together, take it slow and do not under any circumstances whip out a gimp suit until she expressly asks you to.
4. Surprises: nice, stalking: scary
Christian keeps Ana on her toes – or rather, on her back – by turning up unexpectedly to find her. Outside a bar when she’s drunk too much, at a hotel table where she’s sitting with her mother, even at her bedroom door – wherever there is danger, he’ll be there. However, this kind of behaviour is more commonly known as ‘stalking’ and in the real world would most likely result in a restraining order. But there is also something to be said for the occasional surprising romantic gesture.
I remember an ex-girlfriend of Pete Doherty’s saying that he wooed her by turning up at her bedroom window with a guitar, and hey, he went on to date Kate Moss, so I’m not totally ruling it out as a technique. I’m just saying that if, like Christian Grey, you have a desperate urge to see what your new girlfriend’s bedroom looks like, you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences. Personally speaking, it takes me so long to let a new man see my bedroom that boyfriends can often mistake my delaying tactics for some kind of sexual modesty. In truth, it’s just that it can take several weeks to persuade Time Team to excavate the wet towels, magazines and various science experiments being conducted in mugs.
5. Women do love a guy with a helicopter
The guy flies his own helicopter and I cannot lie – this would really do it for me. This would really do it for anybody. Heck, a staunch Green Party female MP would struggle in the face of a magnificent man with his own flying machine. “When you fly at night, you fly blind. You have to trust the instrumentation,” Christian tells Ana as he pilots her through the sky. It is about the sexiest thing he says. Once, on the jammiest press trip ever known to woman, I got taken on a helicopter ride across São Paulo by Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden. Beforehand, I thought he was a thoroughly nice man, although a bit short for me and probably not my type. A mere 20 minutes later, I would have accepted a ring on my finger before my heels hit the helipad.
So, my advice to men is – if you are feeling just the tiniest bit concerned that you must now provide women with fast cars, nights of bondage and days of obsessive emails – don’t worry. Christian Grey is so humourless that if you have only ever laughed at a washing line landing on a kitten’s head on You’ve Been Framed, you’re still one step sexier than him. And as for the bedroom antics, the key is that he comes across as masterful and unexpected. He pays attention to her body. He loves it. He surprises her. He finds out how she feels. This is all do-able stuff, open to anyone, so go for it. Failing that, just save up and buy a helicopter.