|Close Up: Shannon Ethridge: a Christian response to ‘50 Shades of Grey’|
|Tuesday, 11 September 2012 12:43 PM EDT|
Latest project: The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts (Thomas Nelson).
The book 50 Shades of Grey has become an international phenomenon. What do you believe is driving its sales? I think readers are naturally curious about all things sexual—single people because they’re eager to experience it and married people because the flames begin dying down and they want to light the fire again. But when sex is such a taboo topic in our society, especially in families and churches, it’s hard to know where to turn to quell curiosities in a healthy way. I can see how incredibly graphic fiction could easily draw their attention, especially with all of the media attention it’s received!
Have you heard of many Christians reading 50 Shades? I have, but many are afraid to admit it because of the potential for backlash from their Christian peers. There seems to be four quadrants of people: those who read it, enjoyed it and consider it a “love story”; those who read it, were offended by it and consider it a “lust story”; those who refuse to read it at all and are adamantly speaking out against it; and those who simply aren’t interested in reading and are scratching their heads as to what the hubbub is all about—which is why we’ve created synopses for all the books in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy at www.shannonethridge.com/fantasyfallacy, to help Christians understand why some find the books appealing and others find them appalling. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions about literature, so I don’t think there’s a black-and-white, right-or-wrong here. It truly is a “shade of grey,” and many Christians are choosing to read it for very admirable reasons, such as to be in touch with today’s culture so they can minister effectively. On one hand, I am concerned about the negative impact it could easily have, especially on young, impressionable readers. On the other hand, I’m grateful that this phenomenon is opening the doors for Christians to talk openly about sexuality like never before. The Fantasy Fallacy will equip readers with the right tools in our communication tool belts so that we can fully understand the deeper sexual issues at hand, and help others do the same. Otherwise, we could easily come off looking like uptight prudes.
If someone hasn’t read 50 Shades, why should they read The Fantasy Fallacy? We’re all sexual beings from cradle to grave, and we all wrestle with bewildering sexual thoughts on occasion. So do our children, our grandchildren, our friends, our co-workers, so it’s time we gained a greater understanding of sexual fantasy—how fantasies originate, what their roles are in our brains and what the rules are in our bedrooms. Otherwise, our ignorance can lead us to become a danger to ourselves and to others, or at the very least, it can plague us with unnecessary guilt and confusion. If we have any influence at all—in our study groups, circle of friends, around the office water cooler—understanding the deeper meaning behind the most common sexual thoughts known to man (and woman) will equip us to be a tremendous blessing to those who confide in us.
What is the difference between lust and fantasy, or are they the same? Fantasy is simply the brain’s way of trying to heal itself from some sort of past emotional trauma or tragedy. Our brain compartmentalizes that pain to make room for pleasure, because we’re mentally unable to experience overwhelming pain and overwhelming pleasure simultaneously. Lust becomes an issue, however, when we try to act out that fantasy, luring someone else into our mental projection of what we think will bring us pleasure. We must remember that sexual fantasies are merely a rocky road map from our past, not a reliable guide into future fulfillment. As the mantra goes, “The fantasy is always better than the reality.”
What becomes different in terms of fantasy when a person gets married? Often a spouse will feel the need to entertain some sort of sexual fantasy in order to get aroused enough to want to connect in the marriage bed. Although many—especially women—struggle with guilt over this mental dynamic, our creative imaginations are a gift from God. One woman told me that for 30 years, she didn’t want to have sex with her husband, and they almost divorced. But then she explained her dilemma to a counselor who asked, “If God designed your brain in such a way that you can become sexually aroused simply by entertaining certain thoughts, isn’t that a blessing rather than a burden?” Looking through this lens allowed her to give up the guilt rather than giving up on her marriage. Twenty years later, after 50+ years of marriage, she says their sex life is better than she ever imagined possible.
You address issues such as online sexual connections and gay/lesbian fantasies. In counseling, do you see a distinct difference between the believer and unbeliever with regard to these temptations? Based on my years of experience, there’s absolutely no difference whatsoever. Whether we’re Christians or not, we’re sexual beings with sexual fantasies that sometimes completely betray our religious or moral codes of ethics. In fact, I’d say that people of faith have an even greater challenge in coping with their sexual fantasies because sexual guilt and shame are something that are often ingrained in them by well-meaning spiritual parents. Then they don’t feel the freedom to say to their Christian parents or spiritual leaders, “Hey, do you have any idea why I would find such-and-such so sexually arousing?” so they sweep their fantasies under the proverbial rug and run the risk of tripping over it in the future.
Should singles or marrieds read your book—or both? People are “sexual beings,” whether they are married or single, male or female, young or old, Catholic or Protestant, Democrat or Republican. Regardless of our marital status, gender, race, economic background, political views, etc., we all must learn how to be good stewards with God’s gift of sexuality. The only person who doesn’t stand to benefit greatly from reading The Fantasy Fallacy would be one who’s no longer breathing because as long as you’re breathing, you’re a sexual being.
How does The Fantasy Fallacy help women embrace healthy sexuality? Sexual climax is mostly a mental activity for women, and a woman’s mental fantasies are often quite unconventional, such as being raped, dominated or spanked, having a much older or younger partner, having a same-sex partner or even experiencing multiple partners simultaneously. As women understand where their most intimate (and often embarrassing) sexual fantasies actually originate, they will learn that these activities are not what they actually want in reality—thus removing the guilt, shame and temptation. They will gain insight into the specific areas that are still in need of God’s healing touch. And they will take solace in the fact that sexual fantasies are merely the stories our brains create in order to make us feel safe enough to experience euphoric pleasure. In addition, The Fantasy Fallacy will help women understand why their husbands have certain sexual fantasies, and can equip her to become a source of healing in his life rather than a source of judgment and condemnation.
What’s in your book for men? Men will glean the same things as women—a deeper understanding of their own deepest, darkest sexual thoughts and fantasies, a game plan for how to control those fantasies before they control us, plus a greater empathy for the sexual struggles of others, especially their own wives and children. As the spiritual leaders of the home, it would be great for husbands and dads to be able to lead conversations with their wives and kids about understanding their own sexuality—conversations that have most often been avoided simply because parents didn’t have the tools to communicate effectively about such sensitive and taboo topics.
How might Christian retailers promote The Fantasy Fallacy? Who on earth hasn’t heard tons about this trilogy, or personally known several people who have either read it or are thinking of reading it? A salesperson can pique the interest of the customer by simply asking/stating:
“Have you wondered what all of the 50 Shades of Grey hoopla is all about? Or how Christians can respond to this cultural phenomenon?”
“Do you counsel women or lead any sort of women’s group? Is the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon something they’re interested in talking about?”
“Do you have daughters or friends who are reading 50 Shades of Grey? Would you like to introduce them to a book that dives even deeper into the topic of sexual fantasy, but in a healthy, holy way?”
Also, to kick off the conversations, consider in-store signage that says, “Finally—a Christian response to the “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy! or “50 Shades of Reality for Christian Readers!”
Read more of this Q&A online at www.christianretailing.com/ethridge.