by Lauren Gilliland
While I have not read the Fifty Shades of Grey series, I have heard all the buzz on my favorite radio show, on the news, in my Twitter feed, from blogs I follow, and from some of my high school students. I was intrigued as to why something so sexually graphic would appeal to so many women, and then I realized that it was because the novels were so graphic that women are drawn to them.
I thoroughly enjoyed Shannon Ethridge’s response to the Fifty Shades series, The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts. It is not preachy or condemning, which I find to be true of many other “Christian response” books. Ethridge does a fantastic job of breaking down the different roots of unhealthy fantasy and how to act out fantasy in a healthy manner. There are many parts that are fairly graphic, so I am not sure I would recommend this book for a young person, but I would recommend it to an adult to use for teaching purposes. I would also share the caveat that if this book were used in a Bible study, it does speak about the necessity of correctional behavior: it compares same sex desires as needing correction.
Ethridge discusses how the term “fantasy” itself has a negative connotation in the world today. People who fantasize must be “lustful, perverted, sick, and twisted” (9). But Ethridge states that “It’s normal and healthy to want the most out of our sex lives, and sometimes fantasy is the best way to achieve that goal–to envision what you might find pleasurable and especially to envision what kind of pleasurable acts you would enjoy offering to your spouse” (9). A healthy fantasy is not lustful at all, lust is wanting something that isn’t yours, like wanting someone else’s spouse, for example (10). Ethridge addresses how most people equate sexual purity and salvation, which causes people to not want to discuss sex or admit to having sexual fantasies. This attitude is dangerous, as sexual purity is not equal to salvation (30).
Throughout this book the author breaks down fantasy from where it roots. She explores what healthy fantasy is: a shared desire between a husband and a wife, where both parties are consenting to the fantasy and no one is degraded, abused, or objectified. She encourages married couples to engage in the exploration of healthy fantasy.
We cannot simply ignore fantasy; our desires will not go away. Ethridge states that “Fantasies are really just the brain’s way of trying to heal itself and if you don’t learn to face your fantasies, they may bite you on the butt as you’re trying to run away from them.” Children suffer from emotional baggage, marriages fail, and families fall apart (18).
Ethridge talks about unhealthy fantasy and how many of our sexual fantasies that involve the objectification of our bodies or the bodies of others stem from something deeper within us. She breaks down fantasy into three categories: Autoerotic, meaning that it automatically produces sexual excitement or pleasure without another person or external stimulation; Erotic: intending to arouse or satisfy sexual desire within marriage that is acceptable to both spouses; and Illicit: meaning disapproved of or not permitted for moral or ethical reasons.
No one wants to talk about fantasy but statistics show that a majority of people have fantasies, and the exploration of fantasy found in books like Fifty Shades of Grey has opened up an entirely different world.
Many of the unhealthy fantasies that people have come from issues they have not faced and the only way their brains know how to deal with those issues is worked out in the form of a sexual fantasy. The issues may be parental, finding the fountain of youth, the spiritual idol, etc. (89). “The fantasy is not about a particular person, but what characteristics about that person can offer or is inside of you” (50). This is why pornography is so widespread. People are not interested in forming relationships with the actors/actresses in the films, magazines, and books; they are interested in what those people represent and can offer them.
People say pornography is harmless, but when people rely on pornography instead of nurturing a relationship with a spouse, they rob their spouses of deeper relationships. Pornography actors and actresses are objectified and are seen only for their sexual organs. The actors and actresses are overworked: for 45 minutes of film, they act out sex scenes for thirteen hours on average. There is more involved than one person and one pornography medium.
Finally, Ethridge makes a statement that should resonate with many who struggle with a healthy sex life and healthy sexual fantasy. “Sexual ecstasy is only half-baked when we divorce physical pleasure from emotional connection.” We are robbing ourselves of the beauty God created sex to be (82). People think they are craving sex but in reality they are craving affirmation, acceptance, comfort, and security. Thanks to media, we think that all we want is sex, and sex alone will leave us empty and unsatisfied (89). Ultimately we must realize that fulfillment cannot be found in a human being, not ourselves or others. No amount of physical satisfaction will satisfy our soul, unconditionally love us, and comfort us like our Creator (98).
On the topic of sex, and healthy sexual relationships in particular, the church often shies away from addressing anything that might be uncomfortable. Many churches seem to be in repair mode, offering divorce seminars and workshops, but why not offer something for hurting and dissatisfied couples before their marriage suffers? Churches offer purity balls and seminars for adolescents on abstaining from sex, but most don’t address the issues of pornography, masturbation, and the sexual desires and fantasies that consume our young people. Shannon Ethridge’s book offers an opening to discuss healthy sexual relationships and the issues that impede attaining those relationships.
Lauren Gilliland is a May 2013 graduate of the Center for Youth Ministry Training and is a certified candidate for ordination as deacon in the United Methodist Church. She serves as the youth minister at Munford First United Methodist Church in Munford, Tenn. She and her husband, Adam, live outside Memphis with their two cats.
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