My ‘Fifty Shades’ of newfound embarrassment

by | Jun 24, 2012 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It’s official.

I’ve become a prude.

I thought this happened only in adolescence. I thought once you got past those awkward teenage years, everyone grew up about sex.

I thought we were supposed to laugh about how red-faced sex made us feel in high school.

But high school was easy. I was relatively OK in high school. Now? Now I feel about 50 miles behind.

Or, rather, “Fifty Shades of Grey” behind.

That book – and its two follow-ups – has not just taken over the literary world, its weekly sales numbers blow away the number of people buying even the hottest selling CDs. Millions of copies have flown off shelves or e-book sites.

And it is all about sex.

Not your typical sex. Kinky sex. Sex with ropes. Masks. A few devices you previously only read about in “Popular Mechanics.”

And women are loving it.

Racy reviews

I read the first “Fifty Shades” book. To me, it was 120 pages of foreplay – nothing more than breathless longing – followed by a contract between the dominant and the submissive, followed by countless pages of erotic action best summed by the sentence, “You can DO that?”

I put it down.

And I felt … prudish.

It’s not just those novels. It’s everything. Last week, several new “art” films opened in town. One was called “Hysteria.” It followed the invention of the vibrator. Really?

The other was called “Turn Me On, Dammit!” which a Boston reviewer described as “a short, dry, nicely observed comedy about a girl and her hormones.” In the film, the teenage star fantasizes about sex with just about everybody. Does this leave the reviewer shocked or embarrassed? No. Instead he writes, “What’s refreshing… is how direct the girls are. They use the coarse names for penis that everybody else does.”

Well, then. There’s your Oscar.

The fact that a reviewer even uses the p-word in a newspaper leaves me feeling awkward. That’s how behind I apparently am. I don’t even like saying “behind.”

Even flipping through TV channels isn’t safe. You can innocently hit upon “Cathouse,” or “Real Sex,” or “Girls” – and that’s just on HBO, the cool channel you are supposed to watch if you’re a mature American adult. Except that “Cathouse” and “Real Sex” speak for themselves, and “Girls” – which critics again hail as brilliant – was so depressing in how bland and blasé the casual sex is that it left me feeling as if I were raised on another planet.

Less is more

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? I’m not telling people how to behave about sex. It’s not my business. I’m just asking, when did I fall so far behind? When did all this stuff become so front and center? Or frontal and center?

There was a recent ABC show “Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23” (The name is enough, right?). It opened with the lead actress stealing her roommate’s boyfriend and having sex with him on a birthday cake. This was before the first commercial.

And it’s a comedy. On network TV.

When it comes to sex, what once was hidden is broadly in the open. What once you didn’t talk about, now you can read in a movie review. Modesty is a lost word. If there isn’t some shock involved, it isn’t worth doing anymore.

I never thought, as a child of the ’60s, that I’d reach an era where I wanted to say, “Whoa, slow down,” but it has happened. I want a little less p-word, a little less v-word, a little more mystery and a lot less detail.

This no doubt makes me uncool, out of it, no longer in vogue, whatever. That’s OK. I have a feeling I am not the only one. In fact, maybe there is unity in embarrassment and blushing.

If so, I might even write a bestseller.

I’ll call it “Fifty Shades of Red.”

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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