Sexology in the Media….50 Shades, Hysteria and now there’s hope with Hope Springs

Women either love or hate the infamous book/trilogy – opinions are polarized and as I discovered some don’t want to read or listen to anything with the words ’50 Shades’.

However story aside, what fascinates me as a sexologist working in the 21s century is how it has brought sex out into the open – and been a catalyst to revitalize sexual scripts and fantasies not just for Australian couples but worldwide. In some ways it is a modern-day version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – this too created a controversial storm in the early 1900s.

Yet despite living in our post-feminist era, and supposedly liberated western world there is an interesting paradox evident. We are obsessed by sex. It is used to sell so many things including food, motor vehicles and holidays. Yet for many of us, our views remain repressed, often a result of our upbringing and social development. Indeed it is our thoughts, attitudes and beliefs that ultimately influence the quality of our sexual wellbeing and journey.

Reports suggest that the erotic trilogy, dubbed ‘mummy porn’ has been driven by frustrated middle-aged mothers. E.L James, the author has described her books as “romantic fantasy”, which offers women a “holiday from their husbands”. Conversely I have seen some couples where the husband has brought his wife the book in the hope that it will recharge their sex life.

In hindsight we have had a tidal wave of sex thrust into the mainstream over the past year! First 50 Shades, then the film, Hysteria and more recently the film, Hope Springs, although this is more about intimacy – again something that many of us struggle with, even more so than sex.

Hysteria provides an entertaining, amusing insight into the invention of vibrators and perhaps is an excellent adjunct to the readers of 50 Shades if women really do want to escape or “holiday from their husbands”. Masturbation, particularly for women has generally been regarded as a taboo subject – even in 2012!

Anecdotal research suggests that sales of crops, ropes, various sex toys and of course vibrators have exponentially increased in recent months.

For any couple that has been together for longer than five years, Hope Springs is a great film to see and a good investment for your marriage/relationship. It’s real, confronting and thought-provoking and does not typify the standard ‘Hollywood gloss’.

Brilliant acting by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones portrays a couple struggling to reconnect their emotional bond. Their children have left home, he is nearing retirement, and their conversation is almost non-existent. In fact he could win an Oscar for ’50 Shade of Grumpiness’!

Obviously, the film’s message is in stark contrast to the “Fifty Shades” book series where women may find inspiration for their erotic endeavours in and outside of marriage. By comparison, “Hope Springs” is almost a turnoff, highlighting the pitfalls of a monogamous long-term marriage. It highlights the trap that many couples fall into: despite little, if any conflict, there is very little emotional intimacy and their everyday existence has become monotonous, boring and mundane.

It is apparent that their physical intimacy has significantly declined and as a result so too has their emotional connection. Most couples at various stages (even if young) are challenged with a disparity in their respective sexual desire, and usually the first thing that needs to be topped up to help overcome this is, is the need to re-establish emotional intimacy.

Hope Springs reveals that the deterioration of their marriage is not caused by a poor sex life, but rather the other way around. Love becomes difficult if not impossible to express because there is no love to be had. Instead, an empty space has widened between them – this is symbolized by separate bedrooms, schedules, and interests – and by the time they can no longer ignore it, they really struggle to bridge the gap.

Too often couples leave it too late and the damage has been done. It is crucial that couples learn the importance of nurturing their relationship and address issues proactively.

Indeed intimacy is confronting for most of us, and many would go running from having to engage in sensitive, intimate conversations. We become vulnerable, insecure or fearful that we may reveal or express too much of our inner self. Yet it is this ongoing journey that we have in life – not just with a significant other but also with ourselves that helps us to keep growing and evolving.

Towards the end of the film, the future viability of their marriage looks good, but viewers are confronted with the reality that in any long-term partnership or marriage there may be months or years of apparent challenges, yet it is the rich tapestry of a life built together as a couple that provides the ultimate pay off in later years.

That said, it does not preclude those of us who come from previous relationships to try again – as long as we grow and take the lessons learnt during our individual journey in life. Conflict is an integral part of our growth – both as an individual and couple and enables us to heal issues from our past.

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