Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Fifty Shades of Complexity: Exploring Technologically Mediated Leisure and Women's Sexuality

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Fifty Shades of Complexity: Exploring Technologically Mediated Leisure and Women's Sexuality

Article excerpt

In our experience, every woman remembers when she first heard of Fifty Shades of Grey. It is not unlike an historical moment forever embedded in the collective consciousness that reflects a particular time and place. Whether through a friend, a sister, a website, a blog, or a newspaper article, women recognized that the Fifty Shades series was a phenomenon that was sparking a new era of womens sexuality. Not wanting to be left out, diverse groups of women recognized the need to participate in the cultural moment in which they could openly claim-some without shame-that they read erotic material and enjoyed it. In large part, this cultural moment was fuelled by various technologies that enabled women to read the books privately on e-readers, but quickly moved from the private realm to the public as women openly read hard copies in their leisure.

We, too, recognized a significant moment in time and like other women, read the books for leisure. That is, we found the books amusing, entertaining, and pleasurable. As feminist scholars, we acknowledged the books offered opportunities for exploring the links between leisure, technology, and womens sexuality. However, the books also troubled us because of their adherence to traditional, heteronormative, and dominant patriarchal ideals for women's sexuality. We questioned whether we could knowingly enjoy the books given that we understood they had potential negative implications for women as a social group. Others, too, have realized this dilemma specific to the consumption of sexually explicit material by women. For instance, Ciclitira (2004) demonstrated that women wrestle with their enjoyment of pornography while simultaneously worrying about exploiting women who work in the industry. Similarly, Tisdale (1992) revealed her own enjoyment of pornography as a way of knowing herself sexually, while also recognizing the wider debates amongst feminists who see pornography as dehumanizing and oppressive for women (Dworkin, 1987; MacKinnon, 1987). Yet, as feminists, we wanted to acknowledge the liberatory possibilities for women who were reading the books through their own lens.

Aware of the complexities of being readers who are also feminist scholars, we thought the Fifty Shades of Grey series served as an excellent exemplar of why sexually explicit material geared towards women should be an important area of leisure studies. Surprisingly, this subject has received scant attention in the leisure literature, even though consuming sexually explicit material is a leisure practice that has significant personal and social relevance (Shaw, 1999). There is some research on sexual practices within the leisure literature, however. For example, there is a growing body of leisure literature on sexual identity (Barnett & Johnson, 2013), some research on specific sexual practices (e.g., sex tourism, swinging) as leisure (Jeffreys, 2003; Worthington, 2005) and a limited number of studies that explore health experiences (such as infertility and depression) and the implications for sexual wellbeing (Parry & Shinew, 2004; Berdychevsky, Nimrod, Kleiber, & Gibson, 2012). In terms of sexually explicit materials specifically, however, little research on this topic exists within recreation and leisure studies. Shaw's (1999) study is a notable exception, but her research focused on men's consumption of pornography and the implications for women's lives. Since then, technological advancements have made pornographic and erotic material more accessible, affordable, and anonymous, what Cooper (1998) refers to as the Triple A engine. Part of this engine includes new forms of erotic and pornographic materials made by women, for women (Sonnet, 1999). We argue this shift has significant implications for women's leisure and sexuality, especially given the popularity of the Fifty Shades series. Yet, to our knowledge there is no research on the interplay between leisure, technology, and women's sexuality. …

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