Fifty Shades of Grey, But Only Two Shades of Lust

A Mormon sex addict in recovery considers the phenomenon behind the bestselling book and the new movie, Fifty Shades of Grey.

So the movie Fifty Shades of Grey comes out this weekend. I read in Time that more tickets for Fifty Shades have been pre-sold than any other R-rated movie ever. It cost about $50 million to make and based on pre-sold tickets, the movie should earn about that much in the first weekend. So we need not worry; Universal Pictures will not go out of business as a result of having made this movie.

Fifty Shade of Grey, the movie, is based on the first volume of a paperback series of the same name that has now sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, more copies than just about anything in print that doesn’t involve Harry Potter. It’s not a surprise that I haven’t read the book and won’t go see the movie. That won’t however stop me from commenting on both, or rather what’s going on in today’s society that has caused us to embrace them both.

A great reminder that lust is what I'm addicted to.

A great reminder that lust is what I’m addicted to.

The story basically goes like this. A college student and something of a plain Jane, Anastasia Steele, meets for an interview with sexy and mysterious bazillionaire, Christian Grey. There’s chemistry and some sparks. Turns out that Mr. Grey is not only rich but also into kinky sex of the BDSM variety. He’s a dom and he’s looking for his sub. Ms. Steele eventually signs a contract to the effect that she’ll do whatever he tells her to do. Oh, and then there’s an over-the-top amount of sex of all shades (of course). The author of the series, EL James, struck gold when she wrote a story about what goes on the mind of a young woman as she “finds herself exploring her own desires for the first time.” Did I mention that there’s lots of sex in a story written by a female author for a female reader base? Instead of the usual “in your face” sex that male writers frequently steamroll us with, Ms. James managed to write kinder, gentler porn that appealed to the more delicate sensibilities of women.

One Actor Hopes His Daughter Never Sees the Movie.

Jamie Dornan, the actor who plays Christian Grey, said he won’t let his daughter see the movie and even after she becomes an adult, he hopes she won’t go see it. That’s not something you hear every day. According to the reports, the movie makers had to change the story because the Anastasia character in the book was too submissive. They made her more assertive, more of an “equal but voluntarily submissive.” Apparently Hollywood believes that moviegoers have less tolerance for the dehumanization and objectification of their female leads than do erotica bookworms. Regardless, hundreds of millions of dollars have changed or will change hands as a result of what EL James pecked out on her laptop.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Fifty Shades of Grey is not expected to be much of a date movie. Instead, the projected demographic of those attending will be massive groups of female friends, meaning that it has the potential to unseat the grande dame of adult-themed chick flicks, Pretty Woman.

A great time to talk some more about lust.

So, um, I have some opinions. I’ll leave the hellfire and brimstone moral criticism to others better equipped than I. Instead I’ll just talk some more about lust, the drug that is wiping out individuals, marriages and families with escalating violence. I’m addicted to lust. That means that before recovery, just like an alcoholic and his obsession with booze, I was unable to consume lust and remain sane. From an early age, I sucked up my drug in any way I could. Hardcore porn, softcore porn, midcore porn, swimsuit porn, nonporn porn, the bra section of the Sears catalog, the girls and women at school, the girls and women at church, the girls and women at the store or gym or movie theater or park or swimming pool or hiking trail.

What is lust? Lust is using myself, other people or things to self-medicate and avoid reality without concern for any negative effects on myself or others. This is different from the dictionary definitions of lust, although if you read those definitions, you get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Lust is a weird animal. Most people have no idea what it is. I’m still learning. It continues to surprise me when I discover a new strain of lust in my life. Often it’s almost disappointing because I was really enjoying the rush that came from inhaling that bit of lust. As I uncover more lust in my life and pitch it out the window, I lose one more method of self-medicating. I have to (get to) deal with real life these days as opposed to disappearing into a fantasy world all the time where all the women love me, think I’m wonderful and tell me how glad they are that I’m there with them.

Lust isn’t just about sex.

Lust isn’t just about sex and I think that’s an important point that nearly everyone is completely missing. Lust is assumed to be all about sex, and not just regular sex, but naughty, nasty, illicit sex. Most people get lust mixed up with passion. They get a lust-drenched marriage confused with a passionate marriage and think they’re doing great because things are hot and steamy in the bedroom. Too often, people (including lots of Mormons) wrongly assume that naughty, nasty and illicit are OK if you’re doing naughty, nasty and illicit with someone you love.

In the White Book of Sexaholics Anonymous and elsewhere, you’ll read about how lust is a drug that humans use to try to fill up what’s lacking inside themselves. That’s what all addicts do with their drug of choice. They’re hurt and they’re trying to self-medicate so they hurt less. In my opinion, lust achieves a level of perniciousness that perhaps nothing short of crystal meth can rival. This is because so much of lust is so hard to spot and even when you do, it’s hard to see the harm that it’s doing.

What does lust feel like? Well, it feels like desire, not necessarily sexual desire, but massive, possessive, obsessive desire. I want to possess–something. I want it. It’s going to solve all my problems. It’s going to fix me. It’s going to make me hurt less. It’s going to make me happy. Before I understood lust, I thought I wanted to possess the latest target of my romantic affection. This girl or that woman apparently had this intangible quality about her that was going to do all those–solve, fix, remove the hurt, make me happy. She never did and never could.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized that I was a connection and relationship junky. That’s a core part of my lust addiction. I desperately want to connect with the women around me. I want a relationship of some sort with them. I want them to make me feel better about myself.

We lusted and wanted to be lusted after.

To put it another way (again from the White Book): I lust and I want to be lusted after.

Those two shades of lust encompass pretty much all the facets of lust. I want to lust after others–I want to possess them or something they have. And I want to be lusted after–I want others to want to possess me.

Lust is liar’s love.

Lust is liar’s love. It is an imitation. I used to say it was a cheap imitation of love, but I don’t anymore. Lust is actually quite lavish and expensive. Lust is a great big giant candy wagon like that creepy one in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Lust is loud and ostentatious. It’s brash and unashamed. It’s all that garish clothing and jewelry that Isaiah describes when he’s talking about tinkling brass.

See, lust has to be loud and covered in flashing lights in order to drown out the truth about love. You know how SWAT teams throw in the flash-bang grenade just before they storm the hostage taker’s lair? The purpose of the grenade is to so massively overwhelm the bad guy’s senses that he become helpless and confused and is (hopefully) easily overpowered. Similarly, lust doesn’t want us to think about love, true love.

Jesus Christ taught us what true love is.

This is the truth about love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” This is more truth about love: “O my father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And some more: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” When you read those things, doesn’t something calm speak ever so quietly to you in your heart and tell you that this is the truth about love?

Apparently love doesn’t have much if anything to do with sex. True and godly love transcends sex. What then is the proper place of sex in the context of love? Ah, the grand question! There is a simple answer. Few people actually want to hear it and I think that’s absolutely tragic. When folks like me talk of the truth about love and sex, most people simply cannot fathom what we’re talking about. It sounds to them like the words of a fool. I’m no fool.

The truth about sex.

Truth: When lust is eliminated from a marriage, the sex becomes simple and completely satisfying. There you go. In a lust-free relationship, there is no need for a woman or a man to “find…herself [or himself] exploring her [or his] own desires for the first time.” There is nothing to “explore,” because the couple has already found simple and completely satisfying sex as a wonderful byproduct of eliminating lust from their lives.

See, the Anastasia character in Fifty Shades was missing something in her life and she was looking to fill it up with something that Christian was pitching, and it sure wasn’t love. Clearly it was lust. Same for Christian. He wanted Anastasia to give him–something. Both of them were “exploring.” But see, what I know of lust is that lust is never satisfied. Lust always demands more lust. Some lustful behavior may satiate desire for a time, but the obsession will return and demand more. That means that in real life, the “exploring” never ends, becomes more and more extreme and violent, and becomes less and less satisfying to the body, mind and soul.

Something that has always bothered me about fiction is that writers and movie makers can often convince us that a character’s behavior accurately reflects real life when it fact it’s flat out wrong. Thus, in stories like Fifty Shades of Grey, EL James can simply write that the lust-drenched “explorers” found what they were looking for, and it becomes so because the author said so.

The immutable laws of lust and love.

If Fifty Shades of Grey were taking place in the real world, the immutable laws of lust and love would be in effect. The lust-driven “exploring” would become more and more extreme, less and less satisfying, more and more desperate, resulting in less and less happiness. Finally something would break. In the real world, Anastasia and Christian’s relationship wouldn’t have survived through three volumes. It probably wouldn’t have survived through one. Lust destroys. That’s an immutable law. A relationship based on lust cannot survive–unless it’s in a work of fiction and the author, as god of her universe, decrees it so.

So one of my points here is that EL James ignored the immutable laws of lust when she wrote Fifty Shades of Grey. But that’s not my only point. The other has to do with the people who are consuming Fifty Shades. These are folks who, simply put, enjoy the intoxicating effect that lust has on their minds and bodies. They self-medicate with lust. They are hardly alone.

Have we always been self-medicating?

We are a society of self-medicating individuals. I don’t know that we’re any more self-medicating now than we were a century or a millennium ago. Maybe we’ve always been self-medicating. It’s just that today the choices for our drugs are far more abundant. In the past there was wine. Now there is crack and heroin. In the past there was beer. Now there are video games and porn and mainstream novels like Fifty Shades of Grey. In the past there was gambling. OK, maybe some things never change. No wait, even gambling has become massively more complicated and has so many more offerings than in the past.

We can self-medicate and not even realize that we’re doing it. Few people recognize the lust inebriation that accompanies porn consumption. Even fewer people recognize the effects of porn that doesn’t involve images, like porn novels. We check out with this stuff. We go to la-la land for a while and when we return, we think we’re no worse off. But lust changes us. It hardens us. We lose the ability to empathize with others. We lose interest in making honest, healthy connections with the people around us. We become self-absorbed. When we hear things like “Greater love hath no man than this…,” we shrug, turn away and mutter, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever!”

Of course, Fifty Shades of Grey won’t by itself bring the world to its knees. It’s just part of the larger wave of lust that is crashing over us. But for 100 million or more people who read that book, I am certain that the book changed them all at least a little bit. Compassion and empathy in these people’s lives took a hit. They all became a little more self-absorbed, less able to focus on things of a spiritual nature. They felt the rush of lust and for at least a moment or maybe more, they forgot about what true love feels like.

Silly people doing silly things that destroy them.

The apostle Paul talked about the last days when he wrote to his friend Timothy. I find it interesting that he wrote about “lust” in the same sentence with “learning” and “knowledge.” Since I started thinking about the imminent arrival of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, I’ve seen that sentence in a new light. Second Timothy 3:6-7:

For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

When I read about “silly women,” I picture 100 million of them sitting there in their houses reading Fifty Shades of Grey and then reading the second and the third books in the series before moving on to the next “porn without pictures.” I also picture 100 million “silly men” who sit in their houses with their faces glued to a computer monitor watching one porn video after another after another–obviously “porn with pictures.” All of them, every single one, is “Ever learning [about sex and lust], and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth [about lust and love].”

Learning to speak about lust.

It amazes me that it took a bunch of downtrodden and despairing sexaholics to finally articulate the simple problem that is eating us alive as a society. “We lusted and wanted to be lusted after.” These sexaholics were willing to get honest and became willing to do whatever it took to overcome the lust that was destroying them. People laughed at the first sexaholics and continue to laugh at us. “Lust never hurt anyone,” they say. “You just need to get over your church-induced guilt and learn to enjoy lust.”

No we don’t. We are allergic to lust. It harms us. As I watch a giddy nation prepare for the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, a film that even one of its stars doesn’t want his own kid to see, I am even more convinced that sexaholics aren’t the only ones hurt by lust.


Fifty Shades of Grey, But Only Two Shades of Lust — 14 Comments

  1. Thank you ! You bring hope when a wife hears that one trapped in this addiction can come to this place of teaching such truths .

  2. Thanks for these well-written posts–they’re providing us with “experience, strength & hope”–badly needed in many of our marriages!

  3. Well articulated post. Lust is truly a medicating drug that is killing us. I am afraid that our country will not recover from the 100 years of progressively intense justification.

    We, in the church, CAN recover through 12 step programs, meetings, and professional help, but as you’ve said many times, it is the hard road.

    Thank you again.

  4. I guess I disagree a little bit with your post. I am also a recovering Mormon sex addict, and for me and my fellow addicts, lust is toxic. Toxic for me means that lust progressively destroys me and my life–takes the place of good things and makes my life unmanageable. But I don’t think it’s necessarily that way for everyone. We could talk about the negative effects of alcohol, but there are plenty of people who drink but are not alcoholics. Is alcohol a good thing? Probably not. But it doesn’t destroy the life of everyone who takes an occasional drink. Just as there are plenty of people who can stop at one drink of beer, there are plenty of people (Mormon and non-Mormon) who can allow some lust into a relationship and not go into a downward spiral. I’m certainly not saying that people SHOULD lust or drink, or even that those things are OK, but I don’t think it’s fair or helpful to apply addiction principles to non-addicts. Same goes for lust. And to the extent that we shame people for feeling something as universal as lust, I think we encourage non-addicts to take their feelings and behavior underground–a practice that quickly makes non-addicts into addicts.

    • Dan: I agree with you. Frequently I’m too heavy-handed when I write. My primary point wasn’t to shame anyone although that may have been the end result. When I was in my addiction I engaged in so much mental gymnastics to keep from seeing how big of a problem I really had. I split hairs and made artificial distinctions about certain behaviors to minimize the problem in my head. I wish I could have just run across someone who could put my reading of pornographic novels and other behaviors into the context of a lust-driven life. Someone to tell it like it is–without shaming me.

      Also, you’re right that my writing too frequently seems to assume that anyone and everyone with a lust problem is a lust addict. I do think that lust is harmful to everyone because it diminishes one’s capacity to feel empathy for others and it promotes self-centeredness, among other things. But you’re certainly correct: lust is a killer for me whereas for many other people it doesn’t have nearly the same effect.

      I appreciate your comments. They are a good reminder that I need to be more careful about how I say things.

  5. I need to comment on Dans comment that lust can be present in a relationship and not cause destruction or a downward spiral to addiction . I feel , just personally , lust is ALWAYS harmful to the relationship . In an addictive state or occasionally used any addictive type substance is harmful , has many harmful components . Now we all know of drugs used to help our lives or even save it IF used in the perfect conditions with the oversight of a responsible authority . That authority in my relationship and life is God . He has zero room for lust , 0 , none , 0 …NO ROOM . He expounds on the harm of using lust in any form or measure as a trap , a path away from life with Him ,.. to say the least ! The moment I feel lust in my own heart or sense it in my husbands heart I feel harm coming , danger , or have been harmed . I guess it’s just why ever in the world would a man doing active 12 step work – or anyone – play with the snake of lust ? What ever would be the benefit ? WHY play near the edge ? And to Andrew , please , please never apologize for writing too ” heavy- handed “, there are far to few writing ” heavy – handed ” !! Your writing gives me hope .

  6. I also have to add , Dan said lust is toxic for an addict . Toxins are toxins , for the cancer patient or child more harm is life threatening, but it is till toxic for all . In the right timing or enviorment those toxins suddenly become the killer , avoidance BEFORE sickness for us all is beneficial right ? Thanks for the analogy Dan 🙂

  7. Thanks for the comments. All I’m saying is that I personally know plenty of couples who occasionally take a drink of lust (sexy movie, lingerie, etc.) and their lives do not spiral downward. They are good parents, serve in church leadership, and do not stray from their partner. Why? Because they are not addicts. Are they taking a risk? Perhaps. Is lust toxic for everyone? Maybe. But so are trans fats and high fructose corn syrup and UV rays from the sun.

    Why do I care about this? Simply because by shaming people (who are not yet addicts) for feeling normal feelings (maybe not good or bad, but universal), we are causing them to take their behavior underground, where normal feelings become an addiction. I’d ask two questions:
    1. Why is there greater pornography addiction within the LDS Church than there is in the general population? I think the only thing you can point to is the shame.
    2. Are we (as a Mormon culture) winning the war against pornography with our “avoid it entirely” approach? I would say definitely not.

    I think we’re better off looking at sex addiction the way we look at food addiction. They are not identical, but are similar in many respects. They both take natural appetites and pervert them to the point that they take the place of good things and make people spiral downward. Is a double bacon cheeseburger or a pint of chocolate fudge ice cream good for anyone? No. But we don’t shame people for eating them the way we do for ingesting the slightest hint of lust. If we shamed people for eating, more people would take their over-eating underground and we would have an even bigger (no pun intended) obesity problem than we do now. It’s all about the shame. If you are adding to the shame, you are not helping anyone.

  8. Dan, I agree with some of what you say but also would argue that many of these people that “occasionally” partake in lust may be addicts or addicts in the making. I went for many years thinking I didn’t have a problem. After all I would only partake in lust or pornography every once in awhile. I could go a month or once I even went a year with no porn or MB. My life honestly was pretty good. I was a pretty good husband and father. I wasn’t extremely violent or angry and I never visited prostitutes or massage parlors or felt the need to have an affair…but I still felt something was missing. Until I read Andrews essays I thought I was a pretty normal guy just living day to day fighting the lust battle. Now that I am in recovery (2.5 years) attending meetings and fully plugged into SA, I would never want to go back to my previous life. Everything in my life…relationships, hobbies, spirituality etc…is brighter, clearer and much more fun again. Yes, I still lust and at times I know my wife and I maybe push things a bit into the gray area but as the white book says…”progressive victory over lust” is what we are after. I don’t know this, but I feel that a high percentage of guys, Mormon or Non, probably could use addiction recovery principles. Their lives would be enhanced and much more full of light.

  9. Since I have both lust and food addictions (and attend SA and OA meetings), I would like to add my two cents to the discussion:

    My experience is that food and lust addictions are very different for the following reasons:

    – It is impossible to completely abstain from food. Food is the demon I have to pet three times per day. I do not need lust for physical sustainment or survival – ever.

    – Lust cankers and destroys all things spiritual. It is a spiritual disease. I have never felt spiritual promptings or guidance after lusting unless I have repented first. However, I have eaten a whole 14″ pizza by myself on a business trip and still felt connection when praying and meditating later that evening.

    – The Word of Wisdom is not a commandment. “He who lusteth after a woman has committed adultery with her already in his heart” is. Keeping desires within the bounds the Lord has set is also a clear direction to me to avoid all lust.

    I really struggle with the reasoning that strict religious teaching produces shame. Sin mixed with pride produces shame. That is my experience. Knowing what I was doing is wrong yet wanting to do it anyway produced shame for me. I left the Church at 18 to live my addiction, not because the church was false or it shamed me but because I wanted to act out more than I wanted to follow Christ. It was really that simple. Sure, I justified and rationalized to cover my decision and make it seem like it was not my choice, but the truth is that is why I left.

    Teaching anything other than the Law of Chastity and complete abstinence from lust opens up a Pandora’s box for me. It would give an opportunity to justify any sexual behavior. I see this phenomonon too much already in the Church. Christ was not vague in what he taught; there is no “gray area” in the Gospel.

    Again, just my opinion based on my expereinces….

  10. I’m addicted to Lust, I’m also addicted to food. Like Andrew has said before, I don’t know how “normal” men perceive lust. I don’t know if it can ever be a healthy thing, just like eating a supersized triple cheese burger and an ice cream Sunday are ever healthy. Sure the burger isn’t killing you by itself, but is it healthy? I’ve heard about people that “role play”, that watch “sexy movies”, and wear lingerie to seduce or entice their spouse. I could be wrong, like I said, I’m not a “normal” guy. But WHY do these people initiate these types of behavior? WHY is wearing lingerie a turn on for certain men? If they are normal and don’t have any form of lust addiction and it isn’t a problem then why do it? Is it for “fun”? If it’s for fun, why is it necessary? If their completely satisfied with their relationship without these activities, then what is the point in doing them?
    To me, and I’m an addict so I don’t know NMB (“Normal” Man Behavior). If these activities give someone something “extra” to their relationship. A way of “bonding” that wasn’t present before, it stands to reason that there is something lacking and is trying to be made up for? That’s just my thoughts on it.
    And about shame, I don’t know if someone can really shame someone else if they aren’t meaning to. I know there are people that like to shame others. In my experience most addicts had parents that were good at this. But are there people that just feel shame when someone says something that triggers something the person already feels shameful about?
    Like I went to the doctor the other day saw how much a weighed, most I’ve ever weighed in my life, and I felt totally ashamed. I went through a couple days of feeling shameful and not realizing why until I remembered how I felt at the doctor’s. They didn’t do anything to shame me. I was already there.
    I know that’s kind of getting off the subject so I’ll go back to lust. I guess I don’t see the point in going on a website that is about lust addiction and then getting on someone for assuming that everyone has an addiction to lust. I would guess that most “normal” men, (and I use these quotations not as a pun or putdown or with any sarcasm. I now that being “normal” isn’t really normal because everyone is different. That’s why I put quotations around the “normal”, I’m just saying “normal” as in, people who don’t have an addiction.) anyways, I would guess that most “normal” men wouldn’t even be looking for this site or reading too far into it because they wouldn’t need to.
    I don’t believe that the Mormon church has more addicts than non-LDS people. I just believe that most of the rest of the world doesn’t see a big deal in masturbation, lust, sex, pornography, and so don’t ever answer surveys about it.
    I don’t know if there’s really a genuine point for what I have to say in this comment, just that my feelings were hurt that someone would suggest a little bit of lust is okay and saying their an addict also. I just don’t get it I guess. I think drinking any amount of alcohol is unhealthy. Sure, they may not go drop dead drunk, but going over the healthy prospects of drinking a little bit of alcohol, or that just a little bit doesn’t hurt, makes no difference if God decreed us not to drink it. God didn’t say, “If thou lusteth in thy heart it is the same….unless it’s with your wife, then a little bit is okay.” I think he asks us to stay away from these things because they have the ability to impair judgment. Because they have the ability to take away our control. They take away our ability to act, and not be acted upon. It’s the same with everything. When I am hungry and stop at a Carls Jr. or Burger King, that whopper meal supersized with a caffeinated beverage has power over me. I am acted upon by the thought of deliciousness. And that’s because I feel like the larger and juicier the meal, the further away from stress I’ll be.
    God wants us to be agents unto ourselves. That means that anything that exerts power over us makes us unfit for the kingdom of God. Whether it’s an addiction or not. Does overeating keep me from obeying the commandments? No. Does acting on lust keep me from obeying the commandments? Absolutely.
    Lust creates a false reality in me. If my wife wore lingerie, I would be looking at the fantasy of my wife, which isn’t my wife. If we role played it would be the same. If we watched sexy movies it would be the same. And for me to think that a little bit of lust is okay if I’m “normal” that just opens the doorway for me to lie to myself later on when I have long term sobriety. I’ll think, “well normal men can lust just a little bit. I’ve been sober for a long time, so I’m sure I can lust just a little bit.” And since so many men are addicted to lust, that 5% that isn’t probably doesn’t mind that I think as if everyone is on the path to becoming addicted to lust, or working on their lust addiction.