The authors of Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's Heart, meant to serve as a corrective to the wildly popular Fifty Shades series, believe one reason erotica has found a home among Christian women is because they are simply starved for Bible-based teaching and open dialogue on sexuality in their communities of faith.
Dr. Juli Slattery, a clinical psychologist who founded Authentic Intimacy, and Dannah Gresh, best-selling author and co-founder of Pure Freedom, spoke with The Christian Post about the dangers they believe are inherent in pornographic works like E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, which has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide since its publication in 2011.
Barna Group researchers revealed in the results of a survey published last year that "there is no difference between the percentage of Christians who have read Fifty Shades of Grey and the percentage of all Americans who have read the book."
Why are women of faith flocking to the series, the stories of which are centered on the explicit and violent sexual relationship of its main characters Anastasia "Ana" Steele and Christian Grey?
Slattery and Gresh took on that question, and more in an extensive interview with CP. Below is a transcript of the final part of their discussion conducted via a conference call.
- 'Pulling Back the Shades' Authors Claim 'Fifty Shades' Series Has 'Satanic Agenda' (Part 1)
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CP: The women you've interacted with who see no problem with reading Fifty Shades, what kind of reasons do they give?
Gresh: A lot of women are saying that it has awakened their sex lives and for the first time in a long time, married women are enjoying sex again. The problem is that oftentimes that's a very short-lived revival. We've talked with many of those women who believed that lie that went on to say that over the course of time they became less and less interested in their husband, and more and more interested in the erotica. And they couldn't wait till they could get into the privacy of a bedroom where they could go back to their story.
There's less research on erotica because it hasn't been as prominent in the cultural conversation as pornography has been in the last few decades, but the research really does tell us that both porn and erotica, when a man or a woman is engaging in them they do become less interested in real sex. It does draw you away from real people, not towards someone. That would be one example of why women are defending their choice to read the book, but we're really seeing that in the long-term that doesn't actually turn out to be a benefit for them.
CP: Why do you think there's so much frustration, confusion or discomfort when it comes to openly dealing with and discussing women and sexuality, specifically in Christian contexts?
Slattery: One of the reasons why so many Christian women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey is because there hasn't been good teaching coming from Christian sources on sexuality, so they just go to the world without having that discernment. Why is that? I think people falsely make the assumption that because sex is private, the conversations about sex should be private. In other words, you can teach about sexuality, the "Song of Solomon" teaches about sexuality and there are many places in scripture that mention sexuality, without sharing privately what happens between a particular husband and wife.
Also, there's just shame associated with sexuality. It's probably one of Satan's greatest schemes, is that he uses so many avenues to pair sexuality with shame. A woman who gave away her virginity in her teen years [may] feel shameful and guilty about her sexuality. A woman who was sexually abused as a child has any sexual response paired with terrible shame, and that just doesn't go away once you get married. There's still shame associated until the Lord really breaks those bonds.
In our ministry, Authentic Intimacy, we talk pretty frankly about sexuality in a Christian context and for some churches that's difficult for them to give us the freedom to address the questions that women have about sex because there's an element of, "Wait a minute, we shouldn't be talking that openly." But in fact, we should be talking openly so that women have a biblical source of getting their questions answered.
Gresh: Juli and I have been really intentional that we want to have a conversation that's frank. I think there's a growing number of transparent Christian leaders who understand it's necessary. And I think we have an example that Jesus did the same thing. In the book we write about Jesus meeting a woman at the well who had gone to the well of sexual expression so many times that she had this history and this reputation. … And Jesus broke racial, religious and sexual traditions when He spoke with her. Those customs were not important to Him. What was important to [Him] was rescuing her with living water. That's what's beating on my heart, that's what's beating on Juli's heart.
We might break some Christian traditions in this conversation. We will never break biblical mandates, but we will break Christian traditions if it means rescuing women who desperately need the living water of Jesus Christ.
CP: What do you say to women or men who are addicted to porn or erotica and feel trapped? How can they take the first step to freedom?
Slattery: I think based on what 1 John says, the first step is to admit it. If we pretend that we don't have sin, then we're a liar, we don't have fellowship with God. That may be what you feel like: "Nobody knows about this. I'm not even honest with myself. I feel trapped. I don't have any fellowship with God." Then its says if you confess your sin that God is faithful and just to forgive your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. That first step is just bringing what is in the darkness out into the light.
That's a huge first step, to go to say to someone that you trust, a pastor, counselor, a mentor or a good friend, 'I am in big trouble. I'm stuck here. I'm addicted to something and I can't stop.' I believe that in the spiritual realm, something huge is broken when you just make that statement. After that, you seek God's wisdom for what are the next step.There are, fortunately all kinds of help in our culture that address sexual addiction, that help retrain your brain and your sexuality towards healthy sources. But that first step is the biggest one, which is just being honest with your sin and with your need.
CP: Why do you think Pulling Back the Shades has proven so popular and is connecting with readers?
Gresh: I just talked with our publisher, and Amazon just placed an order for eight times what they ordered in the initial order seven days after the book released, so there's something happening. It's answering a need.
Slattery: The need is truth and Jesus. We can't change because we wrote this great book or we're so wise or anything. I just say thanks to the Lord. He knows that women are hungry. He knows they're lost. Going before this book and with it has been prayer and fasting and many calling on the name of the Lord just to bring us truth and set captives free. For every book that's sold we just give thanks to God that His power is greater than Satan. We've seen in a 100 million copies of Fifty Shades of Grey a movement of evil and a movement of Satan. We're just praying we can be a part of a movement of God to take back this ground.
Gresh: I think the key thing there is this is an honest and truth-filled conversation that we're having in the pages of Pulling Back the Shades. We haven't been afraid to use the language that we all know most of Christian media is afraid of. We answer questions about difficult things, like spanking and sex toys in this book. Beyond that, we also answer philosophical questions in truth and I think that some women just needed to hear that. …
We have a chapter in here [saying], '"e're gonna be honest with you. Life is tough and not everything goes the way that we want it to go." There are Christian married women reading this book who have husbands who are at war or who are physically unable to be sexually active with them. There are single women longing for a husband, and the Church is so quick I think, especially when it comes to sexuality to make promises and offer platitudes: "Oh if you wear your silver ring and you wait, God will provide a husband for you." Well maybe He won't.
I think in all our longing for the answers on practical things, there's also a longing in the Church for someone to just stand up and draw a line in the sand and say, "Look this is what God's Word says, and it's a hard truth, but we are called to obey it."
CP: What kind of feedback have you been getting on the book?
Slattery: So far, I've been getting really positive feedback. Just women who are saying, "Thank you so much for doing this." Great feedback from women whose perspectives have been challenged, but I anticipate as the word gets out that we're gonna get negative feedback, too. We're gonna get people that aren't happy with what we've written or disagree with it, and we're geared up for that. Part of writing a book like this, you seek the Lord's direction and truth as much as you possibly can, but you have to be humble, too to say, "We might not have gotten everything exactly right." We're starting a dialogue and as much as we want, we want to honor the Lord and His truth, but let's dialogue about what you disagree about so we anticipate that some of that will come as well.
Read a preview of Pulling Back the Shades (published March 1 by Moody Publishers):
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Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's Heart