Tag Archives: 50 Shades of Grey

Five Overused Romantic Sub-Plots (And How To Fix Them)

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Being a self-professed romance fan, I know more about the intricacies of romantic sub-plots than most men would ever dare admit. I’ve consumed an absurd amount of romantic media over the years and I’ve noticed more than a few common themes, some more endearing than others.

However, by consuming so much romantic content, I’ve also seen certain themes get overused and badly mishandled. I could list countless instances promising romantic sub-plots collapsing because it fell into a narrative trap. Sometimes, it’s because of poor writing. Sometimes, it’s because the story has too many constraints. I’ve even cited a few famous cases that exhibit both.

Whatever the case, it’s not hard to screw up a romantic sub-plot. I’ve done that more than a few times with the stories I’ve written. Lately, though, there are certain types of sub-plots that have lost their luster. They’ve either been done too many times or haven’t innovated in way too long.

Overused or not, I believe there are elements of these sub-plots that are worth saving. They just need some refinement and polish. What follows is a list of five overdone romantic sub-plots, why they’ve become so bland, and how to fix them. I’ve covered some of these elements before. This is just the romance lover in me offering some tips for future romance stories.


Romantic Sub-Plot #1: Best Friends Turned Lovers

Why It’s Overdone

I think you can thank sitcoms like “Friends” and movies like “Clueless” for this sub-plot to fall out of favor. Personally, I blame Ross and Rachel for giving this theme a bad name. They took the whole friends-falling-in-love plot way too far. Towards the end, it was more annoying than compelling.

These days, this sub-plot isn’t as common as it used to be. I think a lot of romance fans were burned out on it in the 1990s and early 2000s. There’s only so many times a character can say in so many words “I didn’t realize that what I was looking for was right here in front of me” and sound genuine.

How To Fix It

Simply put, this sub-plot needs to shake up the setting. Too many times, a story about friends becoming lovers is built around one friend having had feelings for the other over many years. That can be sweet when done right, but it’s way too easy to be done wrong. These days, it almost comes off as a long con or stalking.

To fix it, the emphasis needs to shift towards two characters undergoing major upheavals. Perhaps they go through a tragedy or trauma that changes the way they feel about other people. It can’t just be restricted to their friend/lover, either. This upheaval should affect their entire world and from there, they come together in a new way.

It has the potential to show two characters go through major growth as individuals, which eventually turns into growth as a couple. That kind of growth can work wonders for any romance and could offer something more meaningful than old friends hiding their feelings.


Romantic Sub-Plot #2: Love Triangles

Why It’s Overdone

I’ve already made my hatred of love triangles very clear. I’ve gone so far as to cite one from the X-men as the worst of all time. Beyond the comics, though, it’s not hard to see cases of this sub-plot done horribly wrong. Even contemporary romance like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” have made this troubled trope more insufferable.

Simply put, love triangles reduce everyone involved to prizes or plot devices. It’s next to impossible to make every character in a love triangle feel like a real character. It turns romantic development into a competition and in the long run, nobody wins and certain characters lose badly.

How To Fix It

I’m tempted to say that love triangles should be abandoned and killed with a 12-gauge shotgun, but I’m not a fan of throwing away romantic themes, no matter how much I despise them. For this particular theme, I think it needs more than just a fix. It needs a complete overhaul.

By that, it can’t just involve two people competing for someone else’s affection. That gets old fast. If there is going to be a love triangle, then it should actually take the time to show why someone is torn in the first place. It needs to be clear that someone genuinely loves more than one person and there’s a reason for that love.

This is also a sub-plot that may benefit from shifting taboos. Non-monogamy is becoming more mainstream and there aren’t many real romance stories about that idea that aren’t bad pornos. A love triangle has to stop being an either/or plot and become a why/how plot. There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure everyone involved gets some sort of emotional resolution that doesn’t involve someone getting screwed over.


Romantic Sub-Plot #3: Destined Lovers

Why It’s Overdone

If you’ve gone through any high school English class or are just familiar with certain literary traditions, you’ve probably seen this in all kinds of media. “Romeo and Juliet” is probably the most famous, but it still shows up frequently throughout romantic media. It’s prevalent in movies like “Titanic” and comics like “Superman.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have a soft spot for star-crossed lovers who are destined to fall in love, but it’s a very bland sub-plot. There’s no real sense of conflict. You know two characters are going to end up together and where’s the intrigue there?

How To Fix It

For this sub-plot, I think a simple shift in context would help. Most romance featuring destined lovers emphasis how they come together, despite the obstacles in front of them. I think it might be more compelling to explore why these characters are star-crossed to begin with. Is it just destiny or are there other forces at work?

There are a lot of factors that go into romance, even those of the non-destined variety. Why not explore the concept of destiny, as it relates to love? Why not dig a little deeper into the intricacies of how it unites people so completely? That wouldn’t just offer a meta-perspective of love, as a plot device. It would give us all an opportunity to reconsider what it means to be in love.


Romantic Sub-Plot #4: Love At First Sight

Why It’s Overdone

This sub-plot is very similar to the destined lovers trope. It’s often a pre-cursor to two people finding out they’re destined to be together. For many of the same reasons, it’s pretty bland and basic. One character sees another, some sappy music starts playing, and the love story is effectively laid out.

We see it happen very overtly in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Titanic.” We see it manifest in some form in most romantic comedies. A character just sees someone they find attractive and that becomes the catalyst for their love. It’s sweet, but not very deep and it has just become too predictable at this point. When two people fall in love at first sight, what other story is there to tell?

How To Fix It

This one can’t be fixed with the same methods as the destined lovers sub-plot. This is one of those plots that doesn’t have to be radically altered, but definitely needs fresh nuance. Finding that nuance means injecting more than just love into the mix when two characters first meet.

The first encounter between two characters is always pivotal. It helps set the tone for their relationship, romantic and otherwise. To make this sub-plot work in new ways, characters need to intrigue each other in new ways. It can’t be enough that they’re attractive. There has to be something else about them.

Maybe the character has a skill that someone has never seen before. Maybe the character causes someone to re-think a past assumption. Maybe it sends them on a new journey that their love interest can join. There are many opportunities here. There doesn’t have to just be one.


Romantic Sub-Plot #5: Sex Complicating Love

Why It’s Overdone

This one is probably the most overtly sexual romantic sub-plot that also happens to be the most predictable. Ironically, it’s “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” that summed it up best. Things go from “Don’t worry, it won’t get weird” to “It got weird, didn’t it?” That’s every sex-complicating-love story in a nutshell.

This one also has the burden of being weighed down by long-standing sexual taboos. While it may seem like those taboos have faded in the 21st century, it’s still the slutty women and stud men who die first in slasher movies. Sex, even in a romance story, still comes off as something dirty that somehow undermines a romance.

Even though sexual attitudes have evolved a great deal, the idea that sex complicates/ruins a relationship hasn’t moved very far. It’s why sex tends to be an afterthought in modern romances. Sometimes, it’s ignored or assumed and that’s just a waste of quality sexual chemistry.

How To Fix It

As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’ve been working on that for years. While I can’t claim to have a definitive answer, I have surmised a few ideas turn sex from a complication to a catalyst. It doesn’t have to be overly titillating or pornographic, although that can work. It just has to supplement the romance rather than subvert it.

Sex in romance is often treated like an endgame. It’s marks the culmination rather than the progression of a relationship. I believe that’s a missed opportunity. In any romance, sex should function as a progression, of sorts. It takes the relationship to a new stage, one where new opportunities for emotional and personal growth emerge.

When two characters have sex, it can be more than just a chance to depict genitals and female breasts. It can be an exercise of intimacy where two characters strengthen their bond, rather than sully it. That gives greater meaning to the sexiness and nothing makes romance hotter than genuinely meaningful sex.

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Filed under Marriage and Relationships, media issues, polyamory, romance, sex in media, sexuality

When Regressive Gender Politics Inspire Deviant Sexual Taboos

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Take a moment to think about the many non-criminal, but still deviant behaviors that  society considers taboo. From not tipping the pizza guy to not asking for permission when you borrow your roommate’s toothbrush, there are plenty of behaviors that may not be illegal, but still make us recoil to some extent because they subvert social norms.

Now, consider for a moment that there was a point in time when these behaviors weren’t taboo. For some, you don’t have to go back too far. For others, you may need to go back a century or several, but the point is these taboos didn’t just arise randomly. There were factors that inspired it.

I’ve talked about the origins of taboos before, as well as ways to break them. When it comes to sexual taboos, though, it gets even more complicated, not to mention kinky. It’s one thing for an inane social norm to take on a life of its own. Add a powerful, instinctual drive to the mix and that taboo may gain a few extra lives in the process.

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Few things inspire more elaborate taboos than sex. Anyone familiar with a particular area’s porn consumption understands that to some extent. Sex is such an integral part of life, love, and passion that it’s bound to inspire more than a few taboos. We don’t usually think about where those taboos come from, but there’s usually a catalyst of sorts that inspires them.

I bring all this up because we live in sensitive times where it doesn’t take much to inspire a controversy, especially when it involves a sex scandal. It’s a world where everyone seems downright eager to get outraged about something, be it a sex scandal or something a celebrity wore.

Some of that outrage is built on a foundation of good intentions. Say what you will about the extent of the anti-harassment movement, but the goal is commendable. A world with less harassment, sexual or otherwise, is an objectively better world.

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However, problems arise when that movement becomes a moral panic and few things bring out our collective eccentricities than those. Just ask everyone still worried about Satanic cults operating day care centers. Those same panics can also inspire taboos. They can even turn something that wasn’t a taboo before into something far less mundane.

As I type this, there may be a new taboo forming before our eyes in wake of the anti-harassment movement. I’m not saying it’s official or anything, but the factors are in place and since it involves sex, it’s sure to evoke a wide range of feelings. To illustrate the extent of this emerging taboo, consider the following scenario.

There’s a woman in a room, casually lofting about. A man enters. He’s big, strong, and aggressive. He storms over to the woman, passion and desire in his eyes, and pins her up against the wall. Then, without asking, he kisses her and starts caressing her body. The woman is shocked and overwhelmed, but finds herself kissing back.

Then, after overpowering her with his strength and lust, he strips her naked and has sex with her right then and there. He doesn’t ask for permission. He just does it. He’s aggressive, but passionate. He’s not out to hurt her. He’s just there to take her. When he finishes, he wraps his powerful arms around her and holds her close so she cannot escape and kisses her again in a final act of domination.

This brief, but steamy scenario is a fairly familiar scene. It plays out in countless pornographic narratives, from the most hardcore content you can find on the internet to the erotica/romance novels that I like to write. It was even a big part of a best selling BDSM novel called “50 Shades Of Grey” that I’m sure everyone has heard of by now.

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In the recent past, that might have made a certain crowd a bit uncomfortable, but it wouldn’t have been taboo. Now, many would see this scenario as outright sexual assault and demand that the man be thrown in jail. It wouldn’t even matter if the woman in the scenario said she liked it. In the context of a moral panic, the man is an abuser.

I understand, to some extent, why certain people would feel that way. From an outside perspective, not knowing the thoughts and desires of those involved, it seems pretty distressing. In the past, such concerns would be addressed privately or by police. In the post-privacy world of social media, hash-tags, and professional trolls, it’s much easier for these sorts of matters to gain public scrutiny.

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I know there are still those who say the anti-harassment movement isn’t at the level of a moral panic just yet, but it doesn’t have to be at the same level of the Satanic Panic to inspire taboos. That scenario I described above may not have checked all the necessary boxes before, but it sure does now and that’s going to complicate certain sexual attitudes.

The idea that such a scenario could become taboo didn’t cross my mind until someone on Reddit brought it up. They cited an article from the New York Times where a woman expressed outright dread that she was betraying the anti-harassment movement because she’d enjoyed those kinds of dominating experiences in the past.

In the article, a sex and intimacy therapist and psychologist named Michaela Boehm says that woman’s feelings aren’t deviant. She even goes onto make a statement that probably wouldn’t have been controversial a decade ago, but would certainly spark outrage now.

Many women like to be dominated in bed. “Not in their lifestyle, not in their career, but in the bedroom, many women would like to surrender,” Dr. Boehm said. This may explain why, on Amazon’s list of best-selling erotica — a medium that, unlike pornography, is mostly produced and enjoyed by women — themes of male dominance tend to, well, dominate.

Chances are if a man had said those words, he would be scorned as a modern day monster. Even though a licensed psychologist says there’s nothing wrong or unhealthy about women enjoying those kinds of experiences, the sentiment is there. As such, the roots of the taboo are already in place.

Now, the reasons why a woman may enjoy submissive sexual experiences are many and there is some research behind it, but I won’t go too deep into that issue. I want to focus on what happens when taboo is thrown into the mix. Even if there were no biological factors behind the appeal of that kind of sex, a taboo does plenty to complicate things.

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Think back to that same scenario again. Now, add a few other forces to the mix. It’s not just erotic. It’s dangerous. The man could get into a lot of trouble if word got out and the woman could get into trouble if she admits she enjoys it. If you don’t think that doesn’t add appeal to an experience, then you’ll have a hard time explaining the appeal of skydiving.

Call it the forbidden fruit effect. Call it misattribution of arousal, a real phenomenon where your brain may not know the difference between being in danger and being horny. Whatever biological factors might be behind it, taboo only adds more fuel to the proverbial fire.

Suddenly, this simple manifestation of sex takes on a form of kink that it didn’t have before. Kink, much like skydiving, has appeal because there’s a thrill to it, both in terms of danger and the fact that it’s considered deviant. Add the basic pleasures that come with sex and suddenly, a mundane experience becomes a night with James Bond.

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I doubt that’s what those in the anti-harassment movement intended. It may very well be fine print in the law of proportional backlash that tends to affect major social movements. However, unintended consequences are often the pre-cursor to taboos and it may already be too late for this one.

Sexual attitudes are always evolving and at the moment, they’re evolving in a climate of fear and uncertainty. People are more vigilant with their sex lives and how they interact with women. That’s where practices like the Mike Pence rules comes in. There’s a risk that the way we publicly go about sex is making it difficult for anyone to know what’s acceptable anymore.

Conversely, taboos embrace the danger, the risk, and the utter abnormality of an act. They take something you didn’t once think was a big deal and make it seem like a trill ride at Disneyland. Given the ambiguity surrounding consent and inherent power of the human sex drive, this is one taboo that may be more potent than most.

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Now, that’s not to say that submissive sex is destined to exceed the Satanic Panic in terms of taboo, but the potential is there. History shows that efforts to re-shape attitudes is a messy process. Sometimes, it works beautifully. Sometimes, it fails spectacularly. There are many ways to combat a certain social ill, but making it taboo may end up doing more harm than good.

If you’re still not convinced, go to the nearest theme park and ride a few roller coasters. That should remind you of the kind of forces you’re working with here.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Why Quality Erotica/Romance Movies Are (Almost) Impossible

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A while back, I talked about the box office reception that “50 Shades Darker” received and the implications this had for the future of erotica/romance in movies. In my assessment, as someone with a keen interest in the future of erotica/romance, I painted a mildly optimistic picture.

I had good reason to. After all, “50 Shades Darker” turned a profit, just like its predecessor. Sure, it was panned by critics, but that has never stopped trends in movies before. Just ask Michael Bay. Critical reception aside, “50 Shades of Grey” made a lot of money for book publishers and movie studios. That should be all that’s necessary to spark a new wave of erotica/romance in movies, right?

Well, maybe it’s because I’ve had some spare time while recovering from a terrible cold, but I find myself re-assessing my assessment. In doing so, I’ve surmised a number of major, almost insurmountable obstacles that will keep erotica/romance stories, like the ones I write, from being Jaws-level blockbusters.

Now I say it’s almost insurmountable because Hollywood has defied the odds and/or common sense before. I thought the vomit-inducing shit storm that was “Batman and Robin” had killed superhero movies for the next several decades. Thankfully, I was wrong and three years later, “X-men” came out. However, the erotica/romance genre has challenges that even superhero movies never had to overcome.

With that caveat in mind, here’s a quick rundown of the obstacles that hinder erotica/romance in movies. Yes, they seem daunting, but keep in mind that when there’s money to be made, Hollywood usually finds a way to exploit the hell out of it.


Obstacle #1: The Porn Problem

While the Mike Huckabees of the world may hate it, porn exists. Porn, as a genre and an industry, exists in a big way. According to Forbes, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry with its own line of major brands, product lines, and superstars. Names like Brazzers, Adam and Eve, and Jenna Jameson are all well-known, even though many are still reluctant to admit just how much they know.

This may be good for the industry, but it’s also a big reason why the erotica part of erotica/romance has such a big problem getting into movies. It’s because porn is its own industry that there’s this hard, unambiguous line between porn and cinema.

Show any typical movie next to a typical porn and it’s usually pretty easy to figure out which is which. Even if none of the actresses involved have boob jobs, it’s painfully obvious which one was produced by a porn studio. If a movie is going to be overly sexual in any way, then it’s going to either get hijacked by porn or associated with it. In either case, the romance part will be lost completely.

This is why the erotica parts of movies like “50 Shades of Grey” and “Showgirls” are so watered down. Sure, you’ll see a pair of breasts. Sure, you’ll even see a penis or a vagina every now and then, if only briefly. However, it’ll never be as overt or uncensored as porn.

Some of this because too much T&A will earn a movie the dreaded NC-17 rating, which means no major theaters will carry it. At best, a movie with that rating will end up a late-night softcore porn movie on Cinemax or HBO, which directly ties into another obstacle.


Obstacle #2: The Acting Problem

Here’s a pop quiz everybody should be able to pass. How many Oscar-winning actors or actresses in the past 30 years have ever starred in a porno movie? If you can’t think of any, then congratulations. You passed.

That’s because for actors or actresses, acting in porn or being too eager to take your clothes off is the quickest way to lose credibility in Hollywood. Now some actresses can get away with showing their tits more than others, as Angelina Jolie has proven, but those are the exceptions and not the norms.

For men, it’s even worse. Many male actors are willing to get naked on screen, as Leonardo DiCaprio has proven, but chances are they’ll never do a full-frontal where their dick and balls are clear for everyone to see. That’s usually the quickest way to get laughed out of any future audition.

This is a problem because good acting is important to a good story, especially one that involves romantic themes. However, good actors and actresses can’t get quality work if they’re too eager to get naked on camera. That’s because they’ll just be seen as quasi-porn stars of sorts who rely more on their sex appeal than their acting skills to make a living.

Now there’s nothing wrong with relying on your natural or surgically-enhanced sex appeal to make a living. Pamela Anderson is proof that this can work, even if she has become somewhat of a hypocrite about it.

However, for serious actors in Hollywood, it’s an unbalanced balancing act of sorts. Too much sex appeal means your acting skills become secondary. Without those acting skills, it’s hard to tell a meaningful story. Even if the actor or actress has those skills, there’s also the erotic acts themselves to consider, which leads to the next major obstacle.


Obstacle #3: The Performance Problem

By performance, I don’t mean an actor or actress’ ability to cry on cue. Think back to porn for a moment without opening a new tab on your browser. Why is it that many porn actors or porn actresses have such poor acting skills? Well, there’s a simple reason for that. Their acting skills are a secondary concern at best, if not an afterthought at worst.

The biggest challenge to being a porn actor or actress has nothing to do with actual acting. It has everything to do with actually being able to have sex in front of a camera, under weird lighting, and with a director barking orders behind the scene. It’s not exactly an intimate setting is what I’m saying.

Most men can’t exactly rise to the occasion under those situations. As a man, I can attest that our biology makes that difficult for us. Just as many women can’t exactly get in the mood either. That’s why male porn stars are judged more on their ability to keep an erection and why female porn stars are judged by their ability to keep the sex going, even after the mood has passed.

This is why sex in movies is so overly-censored. Even in softcore porn movies, it’s extremely watered down. If you do see a penis, it’s never erect. If you do see a vagina, it’s rarely that wet. That’s why the sex never looks real or genuine. It’s a matter of skill more than story.

Good actors and actresses have the skill to make a character seem real. Good porn stars have the skill to actually have sex in front of a camera. Few, if any, have the ability to do both, which is why erotica/romance has so much working against it.


Obstacle #4: The Stigma Problem

As I’ve pointed out before, Hollywood still has a few oddly outdated attitudes when it comes to sex. Again, just go see any slasher movie made in the past 30 years. The first person to die is always the man or woman who is too eager to get naked or have sex.

In any major romance movie, a relationship that has too much sex will be portrayed as shallow. A relationship that lacks sex or sex appeal will come off as more genuine. It’s an either/or scenario that rarely gets challenged and for good reason.

Too much sex in a movie will cause it too lose credibility. Too much sex in a romance will make it seem shallow. The idea that sex can actually complement a romance might as well seem alien to a Hollywood producer. That would be like claiming Seth Rogan can do a good movie that doesn’t involve weed. It seems outrageous.

Beyond the stigma within the movie, there’s the stigma outside the studios as well. As I mentioned with the acting issue, those involved in an overly sexy movie will get labeled as the kind of people who can only do movies that involve a lot of sex.

This is why few victims in slasher movies go onto win Oscars. They commit the sin of getting naked in a few too many scenes and they’re basically blacklisted in Hollywood. It’s not fair, but that’s how the industry works.


Reasons For Hope

Now if these obstacles make it seem like erotica/romance will never be a legitimate movie genre, I apologize if I give that impression. Granted, these are obstacles that few genres have ever had to overcome. Even with the success of “50 Shades of Grey,” it’s not like studios are clamoring to make knock-offs on the same level we’ve seen with superhero movies.

That said, there does appear to be an emerging market for more mature content that doesn’t shy away from showing nudity in more than a few scenes. How do I know this? It can be best summed up by three words: Game of Thrones.

Say what you want about the critical reception of “50 Shades of Grey.” There’s no denying the cultural impact that “Game of Thrones” has had since it debuted on HBO. It’s violent. It’s sexy. It’s downright gratuitous in the way it glorifies Emily Clarke’s breasts. It’s also a damn good story full of great acting and compelling characters.

Now that’s not to say “Game of Thrones” qualifies as an erotica/romance story. It’s very much a different kind of story, one that fits more into established fantasy genres. However, it’s willingness to use a balance of sex, violence, and story offer hope that this balance can find its way into other genres.

So while it may be a while before we see an erotica/romance movie, like my upcoming book, “Passion Relapse,” we’re a lot closer than you think. Sex still sells. Meaningful romance still sells. It’s only a matter of time before Hollywood finds a way to combine the two and make a boatload of money off it.

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“50 Shades Darker” And The Future Of Erotica/Romance Movies

What can we say about the state of sex in movies that hasn’t already been said by radical feminists and Christian fundamentalists? That’s not an entirely rhetorical question. Sex in cinema is as old as cinema itself. Like every major advancement, we kinky humans just love to take great technological advancements and wonder how we can have sex with it. Why else would sex robots be a thing?

It’s also a very relevant question to ask. Earlier this month, “Fifty Shades Darker” came out in theaters. It’s the sequel to 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey.” In terms of erotica/romance in movies, this is basically the alpha dog of the pack. This is the big gun and, in some respects, the only gun with any bullets in the chamber.

Why is that and why does it matter? Well if, at this point, you don’t know about the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon that started out as Twilight fan fiction, then you’re either just waking up from a coma or are too shy to ask your parents about why they keep ropes under their beds. It shouldn’t be too shocking. It’s not like E. L. James invented erotica literature or BDSM fiction. That has been around longer than movies, TV, or whatever else priests and mullahs thinks are corrupting society.

What makes “Fifty Shades of Grey” so important is that it achieved such staggering success. This wasn’t some niche title that a couple horny housewives read while their husbands were busy fucking their secretaries. This book sold over 5.3 million copies. That’s more than the last Harry Potter book.

For reasons that still baffle and frustrate many, especially in the Catholic Church, this book struck a nerve, among other things. It tapped into our collective libido like few things haven’t outside of Barry White music. The fact it’s finally manifesting in movies should shock no one. Like any form of successful media, Hollywood is going to milk that tit until it’s bone dry.

Now, I’m not going to gloss over some of the obvious here. I know that both “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Fifty Shades Darker” have been eviscerated by critics. At the moment, “Fifty Shades Darker” has a pathetic 9 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. For some context, the much-maligned Fantastic Four movie that came out in the same year also got a 9 percent. The sequel to that movie was promptly cancelled.

It doesn’t help that the first “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie scored only a 25 percent, but at least that movie can say it made a decent profit. According to BoxOfficeMojo, the first “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie made over $571 million worldwide on a $40 million budget. That’s nothing to scoff at. Even Roger Ebert would admit that.

As a rule of thumb, movies typically need to make double their budget at the box office to turn a profit. By that measure, “Fifty Shades of Grey” succeeded. At the moment, “Fifty Shades Darker” has grossed over $284 million on a $55 budget. It’s not exactly “Avatar” numbers, but it is a profit. Rotten Tomatoes can bitch about it all they want. If a movie makes a profit, then that counts as a success.

It’s the fact that movies like “Fifty Shades of Grey” are turning such a profit that the prospect for erotica/romance in movies is changing. It used to be that if a movie had too many erotic themes on it, it would be doomed to an NC-17 rating or left to whither in late-night time slots on Cinemax.

As a result, not many studios put much effort into these movies. There’s a reason why all those unrated movies or MA-TV series on Cinemax are just glorified softcore porn. Maybe that sort of thing had its place in the days before the internet, but now any 13-year-old can whip out their phones and look up the most hardcore sex acts this side of a German brothel.

Now, thanks to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” studios have a precedent. They now know that there is a market for movies with heavy erotic themes. Unlike cult classics such as “Showgirls,” it can be profitable. It can have a place in a market currently dominated by movies about superheroes and Legos.

That said, being profitable and being good aren’t the same thing. Just ask Michael Bay. Profitable movies that are not well-received will make some short-term profits. In the long run, however, audiences will catch up to the lack of quality and lose interest. Again, just ask Michael Bay.

It’s in the best interest of a studio and a genre for a movie to be both well-received and profitable. That’s how one good X-men movie or one good Iron Man movie can turn a franchise into a full-fledged phenomenon that culminates in a billion-dollar blockbuster.

In some respects, erotica in movies is in a similar place compared to superhero movies. While it’s hard to imagine now in an era where a talking raccoon can benefit from the superhero craze, but there was a time when superhero movies were box office poison.

In the mid-90s, thanks to the misguided efforts of Joel Shumacher, superhero movies and comic book movies were right up there with Paulie Shore in terms of things studios avoided. The idea that superhero movies could be so profitable was just ludicrous. It would only take away vital resources from making more Die Hard rip-offs.

It took a few studios with the balls to take risks, as well as some actual effort beyond just giving Roger Cormen a few bucks, to make superhero movies work. I’m not saying erotica movies can follow the same path, but there is precedent.

There’s also one other factor that’s working in favor of erotica movies and that’s demographics. According to census data, the population of major industrial countries is getting older. That means the market for more adult-oriented media is growing. Sure, kids still have their Disney movies and princess toys, but an older population isn’t going to be content with remakes of old cartoons and “Frozen.”

At some point, a standard PG-13 movie where the blood is CGI and all the boobs are covered just isn’t going to do it for some audiences. They’re going to want something else. The softcore themes of movies like “Showgirls” just doesn’t work anymore, thanks to the impact of internet porn. Tits and ass alone just aren’t enough. For erotica movies to grow, it needs both story and sex appeal.

I say this as someone who is trying to do that with his novels. However, there are already plenty of erotica novels out there that also have rich, engaging stories. I hope to write a few of them in the future with “Passion Relapse” being a stepping stone. For movies, however, the road is a bit longer.

Right now, I get the sense that Hollywood doesn’t know how to make a good erotica movie that doesn’t devolve into softcore porn. While “Fifty Shades of Grey” turned a profit, it’s poor critical reception does not bode well for the long-term prospects of the genre. However, that can change with only one movie. Just ask “Die Hard.”

What kind of movie would that be? Well, if I knew, I’d be working in Hollywood right now scheduling dates with Jennifer Lawrence and Megan Fox. Hollywood has a lot of problems right now and not just because of things like “whitewashing.”

Many Hollywood movies still are somewhat uptight when it comes to certain themes, especially those involving sex. Just look at slasher movies for proof of this. In those movies, characters who dare to be too sexual are often killed or are the villains. It’s extremely sex-negative, albeit indirectly.

For an erotica movie to work on a large scale, it needs to be more sex-positive. Movies like Deadpool were rare exceptions in that it was extremely sex-positive. The fact it was such a successful movie definitely helped.

It also needs actors and actresses who are just as sex-positive in spirit. That means those who rely on body doubles for nude scenes probably wouldn’t fit the role. That may be challenging because collectively, our culture still reacts like school-girls around a sick puppy when celebrities dare to show a nipple. However, I do believe that with demographics and more movies like “Fifty Shades of Grey,” this attitude will evolve.

At some point in every movie genre, there’s a moment where the situation is just right to get it going. The current situation isn’t quite there for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but I do believe it’s much closer than we think. I, for one, intend to have plenty of loose pants handy for when that day finally comes.

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The Sex That Alters Your State Of Mind (Yes, It Involves BDSM)

Let’s face it. We all have bad days. We all go through periods in our lives when we wish we could just alter our state of mind. I’ve come home from a long, arduous day wishing I could just bang my head against the wall until my brain matter reconfigures itself into a state that’s less miserable. It rarely works, but it’s not like we have much to work with.

Sure, there are mind-altering drugs, but the legal varieties only go so far. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a few glasses of whiskey or a six-pack of beer like anyone else, but between hangovers and lung cancer, there are plenty of risks. The risks for the more potent, but illegal drugs are even greater. Despite these risks, the desire to alter our state of mind is still strong because some days will just be that bad.

Surely, there’s some way of getting to an altered state of mine. Surely, there’s a way that’s legal and doesn’t involve damaging our liver, lungs, and brain. If we’re to believe that nature isn’t stupid and understands that human beings need to re-arrange their brain matter every now and then, then surely it has a natural way for us to do so.

It turns out that such a way exists. It’s legal, but it’s not something you can do on a school playground. It’s natural, but it sometimes involves accessories that aren’t found in nature. It also has an abundance of instruction material, some of which I’ve written.

Yes, I’m talking about BDSM, or Bondage, Domination/Submission, and Masochism. Yes, this is going to be another one of those articles.

I’ve written about it before. I’ve even incorporated it into some of my books. We already know, surprisingly enough, that BDSM has health benefits. We also know that BDSM played a big part in the creation of Wonder Woman. Surely something that helped create an icon like Wonder Woman has merit.

Well, it may actually have more than just merit. It may actually do more than just do more than just improve your mental health. At this point, I don’t think BDSM needs any more appeal. I think the success of “50 Shades of Grey” and the babies born as a result of it have proven that beyond any reasonable doubt.

Despite this, nature decides to go for broke and gives it yet another benefit. It turns out it can actually alter your state of mind. It can do for your mind what a cocktail of illicit drugs and alcohol also do, but with less damaging side-effects. Nature isn’t usually this overt so I think we better listen.

So what exactly is going on here? How is it that BDSM can significantly alter your mental state in a way that doesn’t involve risking a raid by the DEA? Well, the fine folks at ThinkTank lay it out once again. As is often the case with issues of intimacy and sex, it follows a perverse, but understandable line of logic.

One of the key components of BDSM involves stressing the mind and body in ways that don’t typically happen at the office, in the fields, or in the mines. It can turn the powerful into the weak and the weak into the powerful. It can take a mind from one extreme to another and back again.

Think about it for a moment, but in a way that won’t require clean underwear. You come home stressed. You’re upset, anxious, and unable to relax. Then, your lover enters the room. He or she offers to tie you up, lay you out, and make it so you can’t focus on any of the crap that’s stressing you out.

Or maybe your lover has a different approach. Maybe he or she enters the room in handcuffs wearing nothing but a mask, a gag, and leather boots. They offer you a chance to dominate and control them in ways that you can’t do in any other aspect of your life. Can you see how that would be a powerful rush for someone?

It’s a power that can affect both men and women alike. Both genders can be submissive. Both genders can be dominate. Both can do so in their own unique way, crafting their own unique strategy. It gives everyone the power to mold their own experience. That’s something you’re just not going to get with whiskey, cigarettes, or other illicit drugs.

If we’re going to apply this to caveman logic, as I’m prone to do on this blog, we can see why this mind-altering appeal is there in the first place. Our brains are not precise tools. They’re blunt instruments. That’s why they’re prone to malfunction in bizarre ways. That’s also why they’re prone to have multiple types of orgasms.

It’s because the brain is wired for both pleasure and pain that BDSM has a naturally broad impact. It takes a mind to multiple extremes, from pleasure to pain, in a very intimate setting. Being such a crude instrument, that’s bound to alter someone’s mental state. It’s also bound to impact brain chemistry, hence the mental health impact.

This means that feelings like love, intimacy, pleasure, and pain are all going to be mixed into one potent pool of experience. Our brains, being so crude, aren’t equipped to process every one of them individually all at once. There’s bound to be some mixing and mashing going on. There’s bound to be a flood of chemical cocktails swarming around in our brain matter. Like the chemical cocktails we drink, smoke, or inject, it alters our state of mind.

Like any mind-altering experience, chemical or otherwise, it can be abused and misused. People can overdue it. People can get hurt. Then again, people can drink too much and get hung over. People can smoke too much and get lung cancer. It all comes down to moderation and understanding what you’re doing. Like being a mechanic or a brain surgeon, it helps to learn and refine your craft.

I like to think I offer some help with my books, but I understand that only goes so far. As BDSM becomes more mainstream, the taboo that keeps people from exploring it will become less an issue. If people can more freely discuss their intimate needs, then I say that’s a net benefit, especially to those exploring their kinky side.

There’s still a ways to go. We’re still not at a place when we can openly discuss how we like being tied up or what sort of whips we enjoy without getting awkward glares at Starbucks. We’re on our way though and I do hope some of my books will help with that. Using BDSM to enter an altered state is just one of the many benefits that our capacity for intimacy offers. On top of that, the side-effects are way less painful than hangovers.

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A Nice Little Graphic on BDSM

Earlier this week, I wrote an article about the potential health benefits of BDSM. Later, I found a nice little piece on Cracked.com that sums it up a little better than I can. So if you’re not in the mood to read a whole blog post, just check this out.

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BDSM Is Good For You?

In the age of the internet, we shouldn’t be too surprised when we come across insights into the human condition that sound so counter-intuitive, but turn out to be true. The mere fact we can fact-check what adults and authority figures tell us is a pretty remarkable, and fairly new, concept that we’re still wrapping our heads around. As a result, it makes for some pretty remarkable insights.

Like did you know that BDSM and kinky sex practices might be good for your mental health? No really. The Journal of Sexual Medicine actually did a study on the impact of BDSM on couples and it turns out, there are elements of it that are beneficial. Go figure.

As someone who writes about BDSM and “non-traditional” sex acts, this makes some bit of sense. It takes a certain amount of mental fortitude and personal strength to practice these kinds of acts and get the most benefit out of them. For those who don’t write about this stuff, it may sound wrong on so many levels, but it’s hard to argue with science.

Here’s a video from the Think Tank channel that nicely breaks it down better than I can. In addition, it also gives me some added insight for my next book, “The Big Game.” When it finally comes out, I hope it shows.

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