What I Learned at a 'Fifty Shades of Grey'–Inspired Sex Expo

You can find examples of true love anywhere, even at a workshop dedicated to teaching older couples paint-by-numbers BDSM.

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Feb 12 2015, 9:30pm

Photo by Flickr user Mike Mozart

I started masturbating when I was five. Long after my parents had gone to bed, I'd hump a pillow while watching whatever scrambled pornography I could find on our then top-of-the-line satellite dish. When I was alone, which was often, I'd raid my father's nightstand and rub one out to his dog-eared copy of Penthouse Forum. I didn't understand all the words, but I got the gist.

Many children who become hypersexual at an early age do so as a result of being diddled by a family member. I was not. I was just a precocious, intellectually advanced little shit who had learned to read by the age of three. That, coupled with the fact that my non-religious parents never taught me to fear or hate my body, made it easy to know the ins and outs of sex a full decade before I actually experienced the ol' in-and-out.

Of course, I am an anomaly. Most girls don't discover that their bodies can be sources of sexual pleasure until they're well into their teens; a great many don't achieve that enlightenment until adulthood. It can happen in any number of ways—from consulting the internet, reading a book, watching a film, or, in the case of a group of women I recently spent a weekend with, attending a sexual health expo in Los Angeles.

This expo, the "first-ever upscale consumer event dedicated to sexual wellness," was composed of "the best advice from leading professionals for making sex hotter and boosting intimacy between couples." Sexperts gave seminars in prostate play, dirty talk, post-menopausal sex, female ejaculation, and "fellatio fun" to ballrooms full of eager learners. Outside of the seminars, exhibitors peddled vibrators designed to look like conversation pieces, sensual candles, and, of course, Fifty Shades of Grey paraphernalia.

The Fifty Shades trilogy is an inescapable pop-culture phenomenon—the series of pulpy novels, which has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, introduced countless women to paint-by-numbers BDSM. A major motion picture based on the series' first novel, starring Don Johnson's daughter, will be released this Valentine's Day for those who hate the act of reading, or who want to relive the book on the screen.

As harsh as critics have been about Fifty Shades, it opened up a world of sexual possibility to a group of women who had lost their proverbial mojo. Sure, they might read salacious sex tips in Cosmo, but most were too terrified to act on them until a best-selling novel gave them permission to do so. As a result, they are ready to start living, as Oprah would say, their "best lives."

And so these women came here. One hopes they were not too late. After all, according to an uncited study in the expo's glossy, Cosmo-esque guidebook, which was given to all attendees upon entry, "more than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, with 87 percent of couples reporting lack of intimacy as causing a major strain on their relationships." If they couldn't relive the glory days of lust they shared with their husbands before kids gummed up the works, and stat, they might very well find themselves replaced by a younger model.

"The pain of a passionless relationship furrows on their faces. Every day feels like a slow walk toward a grave instead of the ecstatic aliveness of a fully expressed sexual passion between them."

On another page of this guidebook, an "award-winning somatic sexologist" relayed a harrowing tale of the perils of lost lust to them:

Black tears are running down her cheeks. He shifts nervously on the red velvet lounge chair. In front of me is a couple deeply in love, yet they are not connecting sexually. The pain of a passionless relationship furrows on their faces. Every day feels like a slow walk toward a grave instead of the ecstatic aliveness of a fully expressed sexual passion between them.

A "slow walk to the grave"? Christ—this was literally life-or-death shit. If these women didn't learn how to fuck right, they could die. I could see why they were so eager to do so. Their Fifty Shades–inspired enthusiasm for BDSM, which was rampant in the expo's guidebook and reflected in its programming, could be seen as a by-product of this eagerness. Not only do I want to learn how to fuck, it said, I want to learn how to fuck like CRAZY.

As I perused the guidebook in the tastefully decorated lounge, trying to decide which of the expo's seminars I should attend ("Male G Spot: Prostate Pleasure" or "Fellatio Fun: The Fundamentals of Oral"?), a middle-aged woman to my right read a passage about "mind-blowing orgasms" aloud to her bored-looking husband, a man who wore glasses connected with a croakie around his neck. He was not particularly engaged in what his wife was describing; most of the other men, however, were. I watched old flames reigniting all around me—couples wandered the exhibition floor hand in hand and nuzzled one another while listening to seminars dedicated to "creating bedroom bliss."

One such seminar, devoted to "Long-Term Lust: Imaginative Ways to Keep Sparks Flying in Your Sex Play," was the last of the day and brought the audience out en masse. The event was standing-room only. As a couple composed of two little people sitting side by side in a single motorized wheelchair listened intently to the presentation, I found myself becoming insanely jealous of their closeness. Why wasn't I sharing a wheelchair with my beloved? Why was I single, childless, and alone?

The more I witnessed, the more I learned, the more paranoid I became. I mean, I've had some pretty degenerate sex, the kind that would make your average Fifty Shades aficionado throw up. In fact, I insist on it. I've always thought I knew what I was doing. But God—what if I didn't? What if my sexual hubris was entirely unwarranted? What if I was just as clueless as the other attendees here—full-grown women I assumed to be the kind of gals who still used pads during their menstrual cycles because they're afraid of their own vaginas?

If I had attended a backdoor-sex workshop ten years ago, would that have changed the course of my life? And would my attending it now ensure that, during the twilight of my years, I'd have an anal and wheelchair partner to call my own? It seemed to be working for the couples around me.

"Life is short," the woman teaching the long-term lust seminar told us. "You've gotta be fuckin' stuff."

It was sound advice, regardless of age. I decided I would do just that— now, before it was too late. Although, as my fellow expo attendees reminded me, it is never too late. You can never be too old, or too young, to fuck stuff. All you need is the inspiration, and the knowledge, to do so. And if an inane pop-cultural phenomenon like Fifty Shades is what makes people want to achieve sexual satisfaction, who am I to judge? I haven't been laid in months.

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