"It's the Bondage Version of Harry Potter": How is 50 Shades of Grey Affecting Your Sex Life? (Updated)

Categories: Books, Sex

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Now that 50 Shades of Grey has (apparently) become the only work of erotica produced in the entire world since D.H. Lawrence banged out Lady Chatterley's Lover, it's only fitting that it's become the Lady Chatterley of the twenty-first century.

Well, OK, it and its two sequels made their way into bookstores without the benefit of an obscenity trial, and they've sold a combined 10 million copies in six weeks, but libraries across the country (specifically Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; Gwinnet County, Georgia and Brevard County, Florida) have banned the books from their shelves, not because of lack of literary merit, but because they're just too damned dirty. Goodness gracious! Do they know what other kinds of filth are lurking on those shelves?

Here in St. Louis, the libraries are full of copies of 50 Shades of Grey. The St. Louis County Library has 249, but the waiting list to get at them is 1350 names long. The list is shorter at the Municipal Library Consortium, a mere 253, and the St. Louis Public Library allegedly has three copies available for checkout.

But that doesn't really address the principle behind book banning, that the books will give people ideas and then they will act on them!

There are no records of how Lady Chatterley affected sexual behavior among its early readers, if there was an uptick in upper-class women making love with their gamekeepers in open fields. In any case, Lady Chatterley and Mellors only needed grass and flowers and mud. But we live in a new world now, with a wealth of sex toys. And since Christian Grey, the hero of 50 Shades of Grey, is a billionaire, he has quite a lot.

The New Yorker's Page-Turner blog reports that Babeland, a sex toy store in SoHo, offered a class for people to learn how to perform some of the sex acts they read about. Sales of BDSM gear had increased 20 percent in recent months, since 50 Shades of Grey first became a thing, said the store's owner, and customers were looking for some guidance.

"A hundred or so women, four men, and one Chihuahua" crowded into the shop for a fifteen minute lecture on various toys and products akin to the ones that appeared in the book, some of which came in a variety of colors to coordinate with bedroom decor.

But those were New Yorkers, who like to believe themselves more forward-thinking and adventurous than those of us in the staid Midwest. Are St. Louisans getting more into bondage and S&M?

Well, they're not shopping at the local sex toy outlets. Neither Cheap TRX nor Pure Pleasure Adult Megacenter has seen a dramatic change in sales. At Patricia's (formerly TLC Priscilla's), manager Lindsey Ebert keeps a small display of the three 50 Shades books on the counter, which sometimes sparks interest in customers, but she finds that they're not showing up just because of what they read in the books. Except for one thing.

"The ben wa balls have gone crazy."

But at Hustler Hollywood, the local outpost of a fourteen-store chain (and also the RFT's Best Place to Buy Sex Toys two years running), the books have been a cash bonanza says Hollie Petillo, the chain's book buyer.

"People are coming in and bringing little lists!" she tells Daily RFT. "It's kind of like the bondage version of Harry Potter." Unlike the Harry Potter books, though, all the magical toys and accessories mentioned in the 50 Shades trilogy already exist and are conveniently for sale at Hustler Hollywood, a fact the store has capitalized on with prominent signage and sales displays.

Like Patricia's, Hustler Hollywood has been selling a lot of ben wa balls (in addition to sex play, they're also useful in Kegel exercises), but it's also been doing a brisk business in blindfolds, under-the-bed restraints (which can be tucked away when not in use) and grey neckties, re-purposed from the Naughty Schoolgirl costume.

Though St. Louisans were enthusiastic buyers of bondage gear even before the books came out (especially in comparison to other stores in the chain), Petillo says that those customers were the advanced group who already had some experience in tying each other up. 50 Shades is more like bondage for beginners. "The bondage themes are pretty vanilla," Petillo explains."It's a new crop of business."

Later, those customers may return for whips and riding crops. And they're happy!

"Kevin [Carter, the St. Louis store manager] told me that while he and one of the employees were putting together the sales display, they were talking about whether they would see any sales," Petillo recounts. "A customer overhead them and said that while he tried to read the book and couldn't get into it -- he said it was a bit of a chick thing -- his wife read it and confessed that she'd been interested in trying out some of the things in the book. He bought $200 in fetish items and $75 in toys and lube. Without the book, they never would have figured that out.

"The customer said, 'God bless that book!' So, in a way, it's been bringing couples together."


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