“Christian Grey is watching us,” announced Divalysscious Moms founder Lyss Stern, to the hundreds of women gathered outside Carlyle on the Green in Bethpage, Long Island, waiting for a luncheon Monday to celebrate E.L. James‘s bondage erotica trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey. The series, recently released in paperback by Vintage. has sparked everything from an SNL skit to jewelry to sex workshops at erotic boutiques. The women, who paid $85 to hear the British author, had read every page—in many cases multiple times—and were quick to point out purple dresses among them, like the one worn (and removed) in the books.
Upon entering, we were greeted by couches draped with lacy black panties, feather boas and torn jeans, along with quotes from the book on mirrors, such as, “Miss Steele, I do believe you’re making my palm twitch.” Alongside a Fifty Shades Freed (the final book in the trilogy) cake, were tables adorned with handcuffs and more quotes, including, “I don’t know whether to worship at your feet or spank the living shit of you.” But the talk in the room wasn’t so much about masochism as movies, with strong opinions about who should play Anastasia and Christian (definitely not Twilight stars Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson was the consensus).
After speeches by Stern, personal trainer Kristen James (no relation), and How to Get Your Husband to Have Sex With You author Logan Levkoff (“We are all sex goddesses”), Ms. James the author entered the room from a side door to thunderous applause and a shout of “Where’s Christian?” Ms. James, dressed in a black-and-white-polka dot blouse and black pants, not looking at all like a diva, sat down to greet her fans.
The author said her motivation for the series, which started out as Twilight fan fiction, was to explore what would happen when someone into the BDSM lifestyle met someone who wasn’t. She seemed a bit shy, copping to wanting to have dinner with Oprah—and all her new fans—giggling through a few answers. “I’m completely stunned by the crazy reaction to these books. I’ve been reeling.”
She went on to answer questions like whether she’d prefer a mountain getaway or a beach house (“beach house, with a cabana boy and fully stocked liquor cabinet”) and said that most of her research happened online, though her husband was happy to help with the hands-on aspects. “If my computer ever gets confiscated by social services,” Ms. James joked, “my children will be taken away from me. It’s amazing what you can find. Once, one of my editors said, ‘This is not possible’ and I said, ‘I’ll send you the YouPorn video.’”
Bay Port teacher Cindy Campanella, 34, said that everyone at her job, including her boss, is reading Fifty Shades. Yes, it’s raunchy, but, in her opinion, tastefully so. “I’ve been married 10 years and it made me think of when we first started dating,” said Ms. Campanella. “My husband will say to me that he can see me blushing across the room.” He hasn’t read the books, but he has reaped the rewards of her reading, she reported.
In the lobby, Joy of Moi vibrators were selling for $100 and $125, but one passerby scoffed at the selection. “Everybody’s looking for ben wa balls,” she tossed over her shoulder.
Ms. James (the trainer) was hawking her 50 Shapes workout, inspired by the books. “The conversation with my friend quickly went from what are they doing to how are they doing it,” she explained, noting the use of bondage equipment like spreader bars. “The entire pelvic floor needs to be trained to enhance orgasms. I have an exercise called the dirty diamond, to help your endurance.”
Cathy Devine, 40, of Deer Park, bought the entire trilogy for two friends who she felt could benefit from it. “It sparks conversation, whether at Costco—where I met a therapist buying it for her client—to a school event.”
For Manorville mom Diana Melton, 35, Fifty Shades is her first foray into romance novels, and fellow readers include her mother, mother-in-law and grandmother. “My mom sent me a text saying we all have to get silver balls,” she said. “I’m happy for her. But my husband said, ‘Who does that?” And I said, ‘Everybody does it now.’”
Whether E.L. James has changed what America is doing in its bedrooms (or dungeons), she’s certainly made a splash. A woman at our table had read the whole trilogy three times, but said after today she was done. “Unless she writes a fourth book from Christian’s point-of-view. That one I’d read.”