You are on page 1of 23

50 Shades Bared: Scrutinizing Contemporary Erotic Literature through the Eyes of Moral Philosophy and Religion

A Term Paper presented to: Mr. Roger Garcia English Department

By: Veronilla, Lenie Rose C. Pahuyo, TC C. English 27- NA

Thesis Statement: Contemporary Erotic Literature such as Fifty Shades of Grey and Bared to You contain perversions of sexual intimacy that deviate from the views of moral philosophy and teachings of religion and are thus considered as unethical.


I. Introduction: Eroticism is an element in literature that stirred controversies through its development. A. Erotic literature are works from fictional (novels, short stories, drama and poetry) and nonfictional (essays, autobiographies and treatises) genres that dominantly contain sexual themes. B. The development of eroticism in literature from the ancient world to the present expands from subtlety to obscenity. C. Contemporary erotic literature prominently contains the theme romantic erotica or erotic romance and explores the world of BDSM (Bondage, Dominance/Submission, and Sadism/Masochism). It is largely patronized by women, contradictory to the previous belief that only men are aroused by erotic literature.

II. Body: Works in contemporary erotic literature are reviewed critically by two ethical standards- moral philosophy and religion.

A. Written by EL James, Fifty Shades of Grey is the first book in the Fifty Shades Trilogy, which narrates the affair of literature student Anne Steele with a dark and sexy enigma the young billionaire Christian Grey. This book has sold millions of copies, set records in sales and received overwhelming diverse reactions on its take on romance and eroticism. B. Written by Sylvia Day, Bared to You is the first book in the Crossfire Trilogy, which describes the relationship of Eva Tramnell and Gideon Cross, who both have dark pasts that mirror each others and how these played a role in their sexual behavior. This book has been dubbed as the next Fifty Shades of Grey for its take on romance and eroticism are parallel. C. Philosophers definitions of sexual perversion vary and thus influence the moral address to erotic literature. 1. Plato argued that sexual activities that are neither procreative nor consistent with courage and self-control are unnatural. 2. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas condemned all sexual acts not open to procreation as sinful. 3. Immanuel Kant claimed that all sexual activity outside monogamous, heterosexual marriage is immoral. 4. Sigmund Freud conceived the Psycho-Sexual Development Theory and claimed that perversions result from a discrepancy of the normal sequence of the theory. 5. Thomas Nagel argued that perversions involve an unnatural psychological,

not physiological, structure. 6. Robert Solomom argued that corruption either of structure or content of sex as a language composed of bodily gestures that express interpersonal attitudes is perverted. 7. Russell Vanoy suggested that sexual perversions are self-defeating. D. Erotic literature elicits sexual perversions that are analogous to pornographic representations. E. Religion suppresses the propagation of erotic literature, which inspires unconventional sexual liberalism. 1. Christianity views eroticism as something that does not stand against its teachings regarding morality as long as: a. The sexual experience involves two people that are under the bond of marriage. b. A person who has chosen to experience life within the grounds of celibacy should be consistent in controlling sexual impulses, to the point its suppression and sublimation. c. Young people who are not yet married are prohibited from engaging into premarital sex practices and following that intuition, exploration of these young beings to sodomy is also considered immoral. 2. The moral theology only accepts the idea of conventional sex within the married couples for the purpose of procreation and raising of children

within the bonds of family unit, as God stated in the Old Testament (Genesis9:7), "And you, be ye faithful and multiply; Bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply therein". 3. Any diversions to the standard practice such as burrowing into other sexual practices including B.D.S.M, oral & anal sex, and reading erotic literature as sources for sexual arousal and aggression are banned, repressed, and are considered as unethical since it deviates from the purity of Christian faith. III. Deduced from the standpoints of moral philosophy and religion, erotic literature contains sexual perversions that are deemed unethical.

He holds out his hand and in his palm are two, shiny, silver balls, linked with a thick black thread... I am going to put these inside you, and then Im going to spank you, not for punishment but for your pleasure and mine... Then well fuck... Open your mouth... he puts the balls in my mouth. They need lubrication. Suck, he orders. (James, 2011, p. 253)

Obscene, repugnant, scandalous, and yet to most, sexually arousing this is a paradoxical reaction to erotic literature. The Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature points out that erotic texts frequently appeal to all of the senses, from the evocation of the sensation of bodily touch, taste and smells to the screams, whispers and silences that can accompany the sexual act (Brulotte, 2006, p. xii).

Eroticism comes from the word eros. Eros is the Greek god of love and sexual desire as depicted in the Iliad by Homer. According to Socrates, a Greek philosopher, this sexual desire is insatiable by nature. Hence, eros is a longing for physical completeness that can never be fully satisfied (Brulotte, 2006, pp. 425-426). This description of eros is fitting to the definition of eroticism by Georges Bataille, a French philosopher. According to Bataille (1993, p. 124), eroticism is always a matter of going beyond the bounds that custom sets on sexual life. Eroticism, therefore, is a domain of violation, of the accursed, and of the prohibited.

Eroticism in literature has been described as old as writing itself. Erotic literature generally encompasses fictional works, such as novels and poems, and nonfictional works, such as essays and autobiographies, that dominantly contain sexual themes. Erotic literature is often associated with pornography. The distinction between the two depends on arguments that are essentially subjective. Pornography always aims to portray behavior that causes sexual excitement while erotic literature does not always aim to arouse its readers. Case in point is of necrophilia (sexual attraction to corpses), a sexual behavior that does not arouse most readers but considered as erotic in literature. From a sociological perspective, eroticism is linked with aristocracy while pornography is considered a lower-class pursuit. However, throughout history, such as during the French Revolution, erotic writings influenced the quest for equality. On the other hand, according to the gender of the author, pornography is produced by men while erotica is written by women. Yet, this is a weak argument due to anonymity or the use of pseudonyms. Lastly, from an ethical point of view, pornography is frequently associated with perverted sexuality and described as what other people find erotic (Brulotte, 2006, p. x). Therefore, it is agreeable to consider erotica and pornography as synonymous.

The development of erotic literature from the ancient world to the present relied on the attitude of the people in each generation toward sex. In the ancient

world, sex was unashamedly celebrated both in reading and in practice. The highly civilized Greeks, the puritanical Jews, and the respectable Roman were tolerant. Sex carried no more taboos than food or wars. In fact, in English, as in all languages, some of the oldest writings were the most vulgar. Eroticism began as part of religious ceremonies. Sumerians in Asia Minor, the oldest civilization with recorded literature, produced the first love song about four thousand years ago as part of the sacred marriage of the king and a priestess of Inanna, goddess of love and procreation. The song included these verses: You have captivated me, let me stand trembling before you, Bridegroom, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber. During the Dark Ages, erotic literature was limited to humor. The

Exeter Book, one of the oldest books in English, was a collection of then popular
literature and included a number of riddles in the form of double entendres. One of the shortest in the book was Riddle No. 45: I have heard of something growing in a corner, swelling and standing up, raising its covering. At that boneless thing this a proud-hearted bride grasped with her hands; a princes daughter covered that swelling thing with her robe. The thing was a lump of dough and if anyone thought otherwise, he obviously had a dirty mind. As Western civilization worked its way out of the Dark Ages, so did erotic literature. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio were Renaissance Italian writers named as the great triumvirate. Of the three, Boccaccio was known

primarily for a monumental erotic work, titled as the Decameron. It contained a set of stories within a story about ten young Florentine aristocrats, composed of seven maidens and three youths, that fled the city to escape the plague. Each member of the group told a story for ten days, hence the title. The first slightly scandalous tale was told by one of the young men and was about a lusty monk who brought a pretty farm girl to his cell. Due to his enthusiasm, the monk made more noise than he meant and was caught by his superior. But then the monk tricked his superior into engaging the girl in the same play and blackmailed the superior. Consequently, both of them satisfied their lust frequently and without interference thereafter. In the middle of sixteenth century, rulers discovered threats in unrestricted reading by their subjects and thus censorship came. However, it was not aimed at erotica and literature of sex remained as free as that of the Greeks. The Church and the state suppressed books only for their own and for their mutual protection. Still, during this generation, erotic literature took a leap forward and sensual love was sensitively described. Hints and innuendoes became more stylish than frankness. However, erotic literature in this generation was not always as elegant as that of Shakespeare, a famous Elizabethan writer of Romeo and Juliet. In the eighteenth century, a classic erotic literature was introduced. Fanny Hill, written by John Cleland, narrated the life of Fanny from her defloration as a young girl, which was preceded by her introduction to Lesbian delights through the madam of the brothel in which she worked, to her eventual marriage to the one man she really loved. The sexual adventures of Fanny were just about every conceivable sexual activity

there was. It was no doubt an explicit how-to-do-it manual, hence the other title,

Memoirs of a Lady of Pleasure. In the twentieth century, literature was obsessed

with sex to an extent that the world we lived in was increasingly pornographic (Loth, 1961, pp. 17, 47, 58-59, 63-65, 69, 71, 75, 108).

Today, contemporary erotic literature prominently contains the theme romantic erotica. This may be likened to a type of obscenity called romantic

obscenity, which lies between Dionysian obscenity and perverse obscenity. When
an artist presents the human interest of love or passion for what it is, in its entire gusto, we call the artist obscene. When this intensification of emotion is a sexual one, the result is Dionysian obscenity. It celebrates sex and is consists of what society regards as excessive sexualism. With perverse obscenity, sex is dirty, and it engages itself with sex for the sake of the dirt. For the perverse, sex is desirable only because it is forbidden. Therefore, romantic obscenity can be define as an obscenity that preserves the sense of sin yet celebrates sexuality in spite of it (Rist, 1975, pp. 29-30, 32-33).

In addition, contemporary erotic literature explores the world of BDSM, an acronym for Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, and Sadomasochism (Bell, 2012). Bondage & Discipline is defined by Sergens Medical Dictionary (2012) as a form of sadomasochisic sexuoeroticism in which one partner is chained, tied, handcuffed or otherwise restrained in one position, while the other partner

assumes castigatory and/or authoritative roles and performs a variety of punitive erotic acts involving obedience, servitude, abuse, torture or enslavement. Sadomasochism refers to sexual sadism and sexual masochism. Sexual sadism is the recurrent, intensely sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviours involving acts in which the psychological or physical suffering of the victim, who may be consenting or not, is sexually arousing to the person. Sexual masochism is the recurrent, intensely sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviours involving the acts of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer (Videbeck, 2011, p. 491).

Two of the best-selling contemporary erotic literatures are Fifty Shades of Grey and Bared to You. Written by E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey is the first book in the Fifty Shades Trilogy, which narrates the affair of literature student Anna Steele with a dark and sexy enigma, the young billionaire Christian Grey. This book has sold millions of copies, set records in sales and received overwhelming diverse reactions on its take on romance and eroticism. Written by Sylvia Day, Bared to You is the first book in the Crossfire Trilogy, which describes the relationship of Eva Tramell and Gideon Cross, who mirrors each others dark past and desires. This has been frequently associated with Fifty Shades of Grey for its take on romance and eroticism is quite parallel. Both literatures portrayed a blunt attitude and humor towards sex. Are you sleeping with anyone? The question was asked so casually

it took a second to process what hed said. I inhaled sharply. Why is that any business of yours? He looked at me and I saw what Id seen the first time wed mettremendous power and steely control. Both of which had me taking an involuntary step back. Again. At least I didnt fall this time; I was making progress. Because I want to fuck you, Eva. I need to know whats standing in my way, if anything ... Listen to yourself. Why even call it a fuck? Why not be clear and call it a seminal emission in a preapproved orifice? (Day, 2012, pp. 45, 61). The portrayal of sexual intimacy of both literatures is more peculiar than its candour and jest. The sexual adventures of the characters tease on BDSM. Youre a sadist? Im a Dominant. His eyes are a scorching gray, intense. What does that mean? I whisper. It means I want you to willingly surrender yourself to me, in all things. I frown at him as I try to assimilate this idea. Why would I do that? To please me, he whispers as he cocks his head to one side, and I see a ghost of a smile (James, 2011, p. 72). The approach to sex of both literatures is contrary to some of the stands of sectors in society. In fact, contemporary erotic literatures such as Fifty Shades of Grey and Bared to You contain perversions of sexual intimacy that deviate from the views of moral philosophy and teachings of religion and are thus considered unethical.

In analyzing sexual perversion, criteria for what can be considered as sexual and perversion must be taken in to account and these accounts are logically independent from each other. For example, if what makes an act sexual is that the act is procreative, then acts that are not procreative might be perverted, but not sexually perverted, since they do not have the criteria as sexual acts. Another example is that of the traditional views of sexual perversion. It identifies perversion with unnaturalness, and from there, with immorality. Philosophers have expressed different positions on sexual perversions: Plato argued that sexual activities that are neither procreative nor consistent with courage and self-control are unnatural. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas condemned all sexual acts not open to procreation as sinful. Aquinas even ordered these unnatural acts in his

Summa theologiae and graded masturbation as the least sinful and bestiality as
the most sinful. Immanuel Kant, on the other hand, claimed that all sexual activity outside monogamous, heterosexual marriage is immoral because these activities objectify our selves or others, hence violating our moral duty. Sigmund Freud conceived the Psychosexual Development Theory that explains that child development is a series of oral, anal, and genital satisfactions. Perversion results from a discrepancy of the normal sequence of this theory. Thomas Nagel argued that perversions involve an unnatural psychological, not physiological structure. On this account, sexual perversions lack mental sophistication or the awareness of each others arousal and desire. Robert Solomon argued that corruption either of structure or content of sex as a language composed of bodily structures that

express interpersonal attitude is perverted, hence deceptive sexual interactions are perverse, as such that of sadomasochism. Finally, Russell Vannoy suggested that sexual perversions are self-defeating. Sadism, for example, desires for absolute conquest over the partner, however, this desire is doomed to frustration because the partners death limits the suffering the sadist can impose, thus absolute conquest is thwarted by the continued life of the partner (Soble, 2006, pp. 767-770).

Since contemporary erotic literatures contain acts that are not procreative, acts that are unnatural, and acts that are deceptive, it can be classified as unethical according to the judgment of philosophy.

Furthermore, the issue on sexuality and eroticism has always been controversial in the eyes of the religious sectors, particularly on Christian Catholics. Historically, the church viewed sex as evil and some of the Fathers of the Church, linked the concepts of sex with the original sin. If it had not been for this offense, St. John Chrysostom thought that God might have used other ways of procreation rather than sex (Curran, 1966, p.50).

On the other hand, the widespread development of erotic literatures which introduced uncommon ways of sexual acts have brought tension between those who accept and propagate liberalism and those who are adherent to the traditional

teachings of the Christian Church. In the essay made by Jack Dominian on Taylor's book about Sex and the Thoughts of Contemporary Christians, it has been said that those sexual expression deviating from the goal of procreation in marriage and as well as those written and talked pieces of information that invades the private activities in the bedroom are greatly convicted (Taylor, 1972, p.183).

Moreover, the words "erotic", "obscene", and "pornography" are terms that are distinguishable from one another. As Jack Dominian quoted, Erotic is the appropriate term to designate everything that concerns sexual passion and refers primarily to the beauty and joy of the human body. . . there is an evidence in the Old Testament that the erotic, far from being repudiated, was appreciated, particularly in the Song of Songs. Obscene refers to the capacity to disgust or offend . . . And, Pornography is the sum total of the written and visual material that is trivial, cheap, nasty. It is sexual stimulation without reference to beauty, personal relationship, or love. It is a distortion of all that truly belongs to authentic sexuality (Taylor, 1972, pp. 184-186).

Erotic acts are therefore not regarded as anything that goes against the Christian morality, since the act itself is natural; that is, it involves the affection of an individual towards another person's body, which from there, establishment of mutual relationships are drawn. Obscenity and Pornography are still distinctive

towards each other, but is relative in terms of its immorality.

However, Erotic acts in the modern world are greatly attributed to sexual exploration that are that involves inflicting pain to the body. In addition, more individuals recourse to sexual acts that utilize means other than the main sexual organs responsible for reproduction. These are almost always for the purpose of fulfilling sexual impulses and desires. Most of these acts of sexuality are presented in some of the masterpieces under erotic literature. By that and from the

definitions provided by Dominian, Erotic literatures in a modern sense can be excluded from the natural erotic acts and be considered as part of pornography, since the themes presented under this category are explicitly devious from the normative sexual acts.

Furthermore, the acceptance on the idea of eroticism does not always mean complete freedom in expressing sexual attraction to another person. For instance, the Christian Morality affirms sexual acts, given that two people are under the bond of marriage. According to Curran (1966, p.48), a Christian marriage is one in which the love of the husband and wife exist in accordance and in participation of God's love for His people. The husband must show affection to his wife similarly as God shows love for the church, her spouse. In addition, this love shall be productive, which means that the sexual union of these married couples shall be directed towards procreation, a concept always being emphasized by the church.

The marital sex, aside from its goal of procreation, also has the goal of developing the intimacy of marriage between two people through their sexual union. According to Gruenenfelder in Taylor's Sex: Thoughts for Contemporary Christians, the sexual act between a married couple shall become a sign of their natural union as one (Taylor, 1972, p. 108). Therefore, the sexual acts between married couples are not inclined to fulfilling sexual desires, but in the development of their oneness in the eyes of God and the Church.

The concepts of sexuality have long been known to be exceptional to those who chose a life of celibacy. The celibate life of the religious personalities such as the bishops and priests shall follow the principle of ascetism, which refers to the control of will. According to Adam (1957, p. 214), the purpose of ascetism is directed towards goal of limiting man's impulses for a successful transfiguration of his being and not to ruin them. The transformation process involve here is for the renewal of the man which is centered on a generous love. With this, a priest for instance, as a follower of Jesus, choses to renunciate everything he has; similarly to what the twelve apostles did as they took part in the ministry of Jesus.This act of renunciation is considered both difficult and holy; difficult in the strict sense that when one is inclined towards the total surrendering one's self to God, it always includes the fact that they are prohibited to have a family life. In contrast, it is considered as holy because through the sacrificial act, a celibate doesn't just able

to serve the Lord as their master, but are also accountable to the many souls assigned under their stewardship (Adam, 1957, pp. 216-217).

Given that celibacy involves the prohibition of family life, then it is imperative to say that sexual acts be not practiced too by the celibates. As stated earlier, sexual acts in the eyes of the church are aimed towards procreation. Other than that goal isn't accepted by teachings of Christian morality. In the case of priesthood, however, celibates who practice sexual intercourse shall move out from their calling to pursue marriage as they intend or they may have to learn to control their impulses to be able to stay in their vocation (Keane, 1977, p. 163).

The Christian teachings on sexuality also place emphasis on the issue of Premarital Sexuality, which is defined as sexual acts done before marriage (Keane, 1977, p.100). Premarital sex are greatly associated in the adolescent age group and a high rate of teenage pregnancies have been reported recently. Since almost all of the cases of this kind of sex don't follow procreation purposes, this kind of act is also a form of deviation from the teachings of Christian morality.

The high incidence of premarital sex among the adolescent group can come from a variety of factors or influence. In O'Neil and Donovan's Premarital Sexuality, it has been said that the extensive publicity on sexual liberalization today made it difficult for this generation to neglect erotic desires and sexual acts. Moreover, the

notion that "everyone is doing it" makes it harder for them to decipher the realities on sexual freedom, especially if they are naive on the ideas of sex and morality. Premarital sex and impure thoughts are deemed unacceptable because they influence the minds of the adolescents to avert from the traditional Christian morality (Taylor, 1972, pp. 133-136).

The arguments presented imply that Christian morality affirms primarily the reproductive consequences of sexual acts between two opposite sexes, given the right people to act upon it on the appropriate circumstance and period. In the biblical sense, this assumption is supported in God's statement in Genesis 9:7, "As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it" (New international version, 1984).

Furthermore, in Jack Dominian's Sexuality: From Law and Biology to Love

and Person, it has been ascertain that historically, sexual intercourse was banned
and repressed by the Christological heresies that existed after the death of Jesus. Groups such as Gnosticism and Manichaeism considered the act as evil. However, the Church has considered sexuality as part of the union of married couples in relation to procreation guided with their love towards each other. Although accepted, its possible hazards are still taken by the church with caution (Leson, 2001, pp. 342-343).

Other forms of sexual practice not aimed towards procreation but rather on fulfilling sexual gratification are beyond what is accepted by the Church. Especially when it involves violence to the other partner, even if it doesn't cause death, is considered offensive and therefore, immoral.

In his book on Sexual Morality, Keane (1977, p. 171) attributed the likeness between the opinions of the clergies and the Church's teaching on sexual morality in the issues of sexual delinquencies. Any form of sexual activity involving brutality is one of the list of sexual assaults that are always included in the morally wrong actions. Other forms would include rape, prostitution, incest, and sexual abuse to children.

Talking about brutal sexual activities, it doesn't just include the absolute forms such as Sadism and Masochism. This also includes the delicate ones that involve physical assaults, which in it its own nature, can still be very degrading. Some of these acts are associated with psychiatric mental disorders but most of the incidences are carried out by normal individuals (Keane, 1977, pp. 174-175). Those whose brutal sexual acts are from the normal people can be considered us immoral since it offends the biblical view of the body as holy and as the temple of

God, taken from the notion that we are created in the image and likeness of God,
as stated in Genesis 1:26 (New International Version, 1984). Therefore, the body in its own sense shall be respected and dealt accordingly.

Since Erotic literatures involve sexual themes such as Bondage, Dominance, Sadism and Masochism, which in one way or another illustrates infliction of pain and sometimes exploring onto other practices such as anal and oral sex, the Christian Catholic's religious views may not affirm these kinds of literary pieces for it contradicts their teachings on moral conduct. As their stand on human sexuality has been presented, the pieces of information gathered are essential evidences to show that erotic literature, which has the main purpose of entertaining its readers through its explicit presentation of sexual activities, is to be considered unethical.

In conclusion, deduced from the standpoints of moral philosophy and religion, contemporary erotic literature contains sexual perversions that are deemed unethical. Therefore, the challenge for this generation is to be steadfast with their moral values in spite of the rise of sexually explicit literatures; as Jane Austen prompted in Pride and Prejudice (1813), How little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue.


Curran, C. Christian Morality Today: The Renewal of Moral Theology. Notre Dame, Indiana: Fides Publishers, Inc. 1966 Taylor, C. Sex: Thoughts for Contemporary Christians. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1972 Keane, P. Sexual Morality: A Catholic Perspective. New York, N.Y.: Paulist Press. 1977 Adam, K. The Spirit of Catholicism. Garden City, N.Y.: Image books, a division of Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1957 Letson, D. Sex and Marriage in the Catholic Tradition: An Historical Overview. Toronto, Canada: Novalis. 2001 Loth, D. The Erotic In Literature: A Historical Survey of Pornography as Delightful as it is Indiscreet. New York, N.Y.: Julian Messner, Inc. 1961 Rist, R. The Pornography Controversy. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Inc. 1975 Videbeck, S. (2008). Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing, 4th Edition. Philedelphia, PA: Lippincott William & Wilkins Brulotte, G. & Phillips, J. Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature 1st Edition. New York, N.Y:

Routledge. 2006 Bataille, G. The Accursed Share Volumes II & III. New York, N.Y: Zone Books. 1993 James, E.L. Fifty Shades of Grey. New York, N.Y: Vintage Books. 2011

Day, S. Bared to You. New York, N.Y: Berkley Books. 2012

New International Version. Genesis 1:26. 1984. Retrieved from New International Version. Genesis 9:7. 1984. Retrieved from