I recently learned that the book FIFTY SHADES OF GREY by E.L. James is a big hit in The Netherlands. One million copies have been bought in this country of 17 million people. I know that this book is an international best seller (over 40 million copies sold), but to hear that a million copies of this book are in just this little country, is just mind blowing.

To be honest, I have not read the book and have no plans to read it. There are two reasons for this: I have absolutely no interest in this subject and the reviews are enough to convince me to not read it. But I am obviously the minority as many people have embraced this book, people in 37 countries.So it is not just the Dutch who are drawn to this erotic novel. I am always happy to see a book draw so much attention, so I am truly happy that people are reading, but that does not mean that I have to read it too.

What I have learned in my brief time here is that sex is not a dirty word. It is not a word that is whispered as it is in many other cultures. You can talk about bodily functions and body parts and your face does not turn red. You can discuss sexuality without stuttering in this country. Children are introduced to sex education at an early age here, whether that is in school or at home…it is just not such a big deal. Does that mean that Dutch children don’t giggle when you talk about body parts of a boy or a girl? Sure they do, but the subject is brought up so much that it just becomes part of the family conversation.

Children are naturally very curious about the human body and that curiosity is not discouraged. There is no shame in talking about these things. By the way, The Netherlands has one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the world. Young people are taught about contraception and STDs at a young age and it seems to be paying off. Sex education is part of the science and health curriculum, and parents do not have to sign permission slips so schools can  talk about this subject.

Amsterdam has an actual sex museum that is supposedly very nice (notice I am making a point of stating that I have not been there).  It is also famous for its red light district. But I must promote the city that I love-Utrecht. They also have a fine red light district with a beautiful canal of houseboats, the drive-by lust tour, as I call it.  Sex is on parade and for sale…legally.

So back to the book. I know of two friends who have read the book, one in America and one here in The Netherlands. I was actually speechless when I learned that my American friend not only read the book but loved it. I was always afraid to recommend books to her that had any sex scenes in them at all, and here she was with this book?!My Dutch friend is someone who loves to talk about sex…is so comfortable with this subject that she could teach an adult class… so it was no surprise that she embraced this book. But I am guessing there are also some secret readers, some who would never admit that they have read the book, but have    read it again and again. They have underlined passages and turned down the corners of pages, and hidden it in their sock drawer. They will be ready for the next book and the next one….and then the movie will be out soon. You can also buy the calendar, the soap and all sorts of leather toys.

A few days ago, at the dinner table, the subject of sex came up. The children, age 11 and 12, were being told about sexually transmitted diseases and why condoms are so important (this was a perfect discussion over meatloaf). We were asked what a condom actually looks like and because this is a house without the need of condoms, we did the next best thing. A nearby innocent banana was grabbed and a virtual demonstration followed. The children were hysterical, but they got the point. And it led to a more serious talk about sex and after dinner, the best book for children about sexuality was brought out—IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL by Robie Harris. We had the edition translated into Dutch. This is a book that every family should have in their homes, by the way. There were a few more giggles, but that is okay. It was a time to answer questions and for them to know that they can talk about this subject without shame or embarrassment. And it is okay to laugh, as we know that adults laugh a lot about sex too. Before, during and after…and that is okay. So, other than socks, what is in your sock drawer?

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  • Jean Langley  On November 10, 2012 at 1:58 am

    …shades of grey caused a real dilemma for me. Library patrons were demanding it, the waiting lists were getting longer and longer….I eventually succumbed. Fortunately, patrons have donated the second and third of series so I didn’t have to pay money for them. I have to say, I checked the condition of the books carefully.. Yes, I am guilty of worrying about how “dirty” the books were. My problem with the book initially is that it seemed like we were following a double standard. If a man came in and said he wanted a book because it dealt with a woman being tied up and slapped, etc., I think many of us would be indignant. But because it’s erotica written by a woman, and women are enjoying it,then it’s okay. Granted, I haven’t read the thing (enough to read some of the spanking scenes), so I shouldn’t judge, but I don’t understand why this book became so popular. Erotica is nothing new; I read some of Anais Nin’s stuff. I enjoy reading sexy scenes in the context of a bigger story. So what’s the deal with this one?

    Dutch kids may be more enlightened than American kids about sex, but the things I’ve heard from middle school kids make me realize times have really changed. I was so dense at that age! Now whether the kids really understand everything they’re saying is another matter.

    Anyway, my socks drawer is pretty tame. Just glad you didn’t ask about my underwear drawer.

  • zeldesse  On November 10, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Just socks here as well. But I just had to share this Amazon commercial: http://www.dumpert.nl/mediabase/6412232/81010850/moederdag_problemen.html
    My husband actually thought it was a real commercial, so he thinks Americans to be much more liberal!

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