Whether you read it out of curiosity, boredom, escapism or a wild longing for sexual adventure, the fact is that E L James caught us out—all of us happily married, peachy-clean, “I’m not into all that rough stuff” types.
It got us thinking: what does Christian Grey have (insane wealth and to-die-for looks aside) that, like, our husbands don’t? What it boils down to, ladies, is that the man is a spanker.
And it’s emerged that more than just a few of us are up for a bit of a spanking.
Now before we all get our feminist knickers in a tangle, I am not advocating violence against women; we can’t simply label this a case of patriarchal brainwashing and women wanting what keeps us disempowered. There’s something more here that we can’t sweep under the Playroom carpet.
What is it about the idea of spanking that gets us a teensy bit frothed up, if not outright sweltering? First of all, It would hurt—how could that possibly turn us on? Don’t we all want the people who love us to, well, not spank us?
Actually, it turns out that this is why Christian Grey is so hot. The man isn’t afraid of a little edge. And it’s that edge we all need in our own Fifty Shades of Vanilla relationships to keep passion going long-term.
There are two extremes that can kill intimacy over time: too much conflict, and not enough.
Relationships that are volcanic or abusive are toxic highways and the sooner we pull over and get the hell out of them, the better. Good spanking must be consensual, we know this, right?
But relationships in which couples ‘never fight’’ and always agree are on the long winding back roads to a dead-end. Harmony is lovely in music and even as a girl’s name, but in relationships it can lead to bed-death. Without a bit of fight, passion is running a slow leak. Couples that don’t fight, generally don’t shag.
Lust and romance aren’t built to last more than 6-18 months. Once they’ve burned up (and they always do) we enter into the emotional attachment phase of intimacy. The closer we become to each other emotionally, the more familiar we become; but familiarity can breed boring sex. Sex less often, sex the-same-way-we’ve-always-done-it and sometimes—no sex.
The more we feel we know our partners, the more we squash the mystery out of them.
It’s almost as if the energies of familiarity and eroticism pull us in opposite directions. For our erotic response to keep up with our emotional attachment, we have to negotiate the often contradictory energies of intimacy (security and familiarity) and passion (eroticism and desire.)
Intimacy needs both security and strangeness.
Sex is a carnival of thrusts, grabs, tussles and squeezes, as well as stroking and cuddling. The softness and gentleness makes us feel safe; but the excitement comes from the friction—that stuff that pushes us to the edge of ‘ouch’.
The hottest sex is often make-up sex, when we like our partner the least. Having sexual fantasies about someone we intensely dislike is a clue to the sexual psyche. Conflict can be sexy. The best movie moments happen when he throws her to the floor or up against the kitchen counter after a fight.
Antipathy easily turns to intense sexual energy. Boredom on the other hand, never will.
Now if actual spanking doesn’t do it for us, we can think about it metaphorically. We want someone to push up against; to challenge who we are at all levels. Obstacles trigger parts of our personality that help us grow. A healthy level of tension and stress is enlivening. Arguments can be exhilarating. The coveted ‘harmony’ between two people could be the result of repression or denial. When we bite our tongues and hold back, we lose ourselves and our relationships becomes a kind of anti-love, an absence of real connection.
To keep intimacy alive, we don’t have to please and placate our partners so that we polish all the friction away. When we do this we lose a sense of differentiation of self (“Who am I again?’) To keep the erotic impulse alive in our relationships, we need a bit of friction. The one way we can get that tension happening is by fighting.
Problem is, some of us can’t or don’t know how to fight. Maybe we’ve witnessed fighting turn to violence or rejection in our families of origin. But, there are healthy ways to fight, disagree, challenge, push or engage with our partners. We all need to experience positive, robust confrontation that ends well. This is so we learn that fights are not catastrophic; to be loved we don’t have to agree with our partners all the time and we can stand up for ourselves and assert our beliefs.
While writing this article, I tell my husband our relationship is way too peaceful and we need to fight more—especially if he wants more sex.
“I hate you, you bitch,” he tries. I blink at him a few times.
“Is it working?” he asks hopefully.
“Try again,” I suggest.
He turns the TV on to the sports channel and puts the volume up really high. He turns to me again, expectantly. I huff and leave the room.
Fighting is one thing. Now irritating, that’s different.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Lauren Savory / Editor: Bryonie Wise