What Do 50 Shades of Grey And Ben Wa Kegel Balls Have In Common?
By CLOE CABRERA | The Tampa Tribune

It might be the first bit of chick lit to make even guys peek between its covers.

The “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy has introduced many women — and their men — to a form of erotica they’ve been too embarrassed to share.

Sales of the racy books, the sexy merchandise tied to them, and even the music played during some of the naughty passages has taken off.

“It’s a guilty pleasure,” said Kim Golombisky, associate professor and graduate director, Department of Women and Gender Studies at the University of South Florida, who has read all three books and “couldn’t put them down.”

“It’s safe sex. Safe, but hot sex. We’re not talking about same-sex or serial sex with many partners. We have a young, heterosexual couple in a monogamous relationship that culminates in marriage. She saves him from his tortured self and he initiates her into the ways of love. That’s a Disney love story — with handcuffs and ticklers.”

At Todd Couple’s Superstore, a display features the “Grey” books alongside some of the sexual props kinky billionaire Christian Grey introduces to his naïve lover, Anastasia Steele. They include blindfolds, riding crops, ropes and other fetish and bondage products.

The biggest “Fifty Shades”-inspired seller: Ben Wa kegel balls.

“We can’t keep them in the store,” said Laurie Hailey, spokeswoman for Todd Couple’s Superstore, removing a pair of Ben Wa Balls from a sparse display case. “They sat on the shelf for years. But since the books came out, we’re selling about 100 pair a week. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The books have even spurred a new type of clientele. While many couples shop together, Hailey is seeing a lot of men show up, shopping list in hand.

“The women know exactly what they want,” Hailey said. “The men will come in and say ‘my wife read the books and she wants me to get these things.’ And they’re not complaining.”

“Fifty Shades” also has been very good to the adult party industry, as libidinous ladies and gents look for ways to create their own bondage boudoir.

Teresa Anthony, an independent consultant with Passion Parties, which specializes in adult sex toy parties (tca4partyz.com), has seen her sales and party bookings increase by 50 percent since the books came out.

“It’s really helped bring women’s inner-goddesses out, so to speak,” said Anthony, who lives in Deland and travels up to three hours to do parties. “Summers are usually quieter. But I’m adding a lot more parties to my schedule and traveling a lot more. Business has been really good.”

The toy parties tout a “Shades of Summer” theme, featuring a collection of romantic bath products, from shower gels and scrubs to sexy paddles, crops and personal vibrators.

“A lot of hostesses have parties based on the ‘Fifty Shades’ theme because that’s what women want,” Anthony added. “They round up their girlfriends and host a party with food and drinks from the books. They really make an evening of it.”

Originally written as “Twilight” fan fiction by British author E.L. James, the bestselling erotic romance novels have sold more than 40 million copies at last count.

The red-hot reads currently occupy the top three spots on The New York Times’ list of best-selling print and e-book fiction.

Obsessed readers’ palms are twitching in anticipation of who will play the lead characters on the big screen. Pinterest, on the web, has a page devoted to photos of the actors women think should play Christian and Anastasia.

The books also have boosted orchestral music sales. “Spem in alium,” a classical piece that serves as background music during one of the couple’s steamy escapades, has been near or at the top on iTunes’ classical charts. And a “Fifty Shades of Grey” classical album will be released Tuesday.

Also, The Heathman Hotel in Portland, Ore., where the star-crossed lovers enjoyed a few trysts, is offering “Fifty Shades of Grey” add-on packages.

“Let your inner Goddess scream! Unwind and loosen your tie in that favorite shades of grey,” says the hotel’s marketing spiel.

Guests can channel their inner Christian and Anastasia for the “Inner Goddess” and sip the same wine enjoyed by the couple for $40, or take flight in the “Charlie Tango No Limits,” that includes drinks, appetizers and a private helicopter tour for six over the city. Charlie Tango will set you back $2,750 — S&M amenities not included.

Fresco’s Waterfront Dining in St. Petersburg recently got some “Grey” love when they hosted a “Fifty Shades” Party on a typically slow Wednesday night and drew some 70 women — and a handful of men. The evening included specialty drinks such as the “Red Room of Pain,” “Twitchy Palm,” and “Kinky on the Rocks,” and menu items such as “Plain Vanilla” ice cream.

Each guest received a signature gray tie.

“I hear women discussing it all the time. I wanted to create an atmosphere for people who read the book and wanted to share their feelings and interpretations,” said Dave Sockol, the restaurant’s owner and an attorney who proudly says he’s read all three books.

Cheryl Reid, of St. Petersburg, who sipped a kinky palm with friend, Erica Hayes, said the event was a great way to bond with other women.

“I love the books and I like sharing my thoughts with other women about the book,” Reid said. “I read all three books in two weeks. I couldn’t put it down. It’s definitely a great ice-breaker.”

Even sex experts are getting in on the action.

More than 80 people paid $25 each, $40 for couples, to learn how to create their own “Fifty Shades”-inspired evening in the bedroom during “50 Shades of Fantasy,” an event flowing with cocktails, sex toys and bondage advice.

“Women are becoming aroused by the books,” clinical sexologist Jo-Ann Bird said. “It’s putting them in that state of mind where they want to get into the fantasy and learn more about it.”

Teresa and Bob Ball were among the couples in attendance hoping to bring more sparks to their 17 year marriage.

“We were curious,” said Teresa Ball of Spring Hill. “We’ve been married awhile and we want to keep things fun. Well see what happens.

Alternative lifestyle expert Onna Baxter says it doesn’t surprise her that couples are satiating their curiosity about other lifestyles in the bedroom. She’s glad the book series has shed light on a subject considered by many to be taboo.

“Every part of society tells people who enjoy alternative lifestyles that they need to be fixed,” said Baxter, who has read the trilogy and calls the novels “enjoyable reads.” “[The books] allow people to see they are not weird and show couples that these techniques could become possibilities if done correctly. … Everyone has been afraid of fully opening that door. This book is the first one to finally kick down the door.”

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